The article is by Richard Wagner, a Transylvanian German writer. (Well, former Transylvanian. Like most T-Germans, he emigrated from Romania as soon as he could get out.) While much of the article goes off on a red herring chase about whether “Galicia” is really European or not, the core of it is here:
Ukraine is firmly anchored in the Eurasian region that traditionally answers to Moscow. The cultural-historical fusion with Russia reaches deep into the past to the Kievan Rus, the original formula of the East Slavic concept of state, as does the Byzantine-Orthodox hold on mentality and society. The majority of the population speaks Russian and geographically and geo-politically speaking, the country has a number of non-European coordinates that are indispensable to Russia: the Black Sea, Crimea, the Caucasus. The Ukrainian economy is tightly bound up with its Russian counterpart, it is reliant on Russian raw materials and energy resources, and is organised along the same lines. The same goes for the political structure of post-Soviet society which, in both countries relies on the Byzantine habitus and the survival skills of Homo sovieticus. Oligarchic interests and a bizarrely ad hoc party landscape define the political climate in both Russia and Ukraine and no end of bold “Orange” revolutionaries will be able to change this. They have defended their honour, but they don’t hold the political reins.
A good many of the western proponents of the Ukrainian entry into EU and Nato are governed by imperial desires. These are either American strategies aimed at weakening Russia, or EU superpower fantasies. Yet it would be extremely hazardous to over-stretch the unconsolidated EU project. Precisely because Europe now has the unique historic opportunity to regulate its business, we should recall the Occidental idea at the heart of the project. This is something that was strongly emphasised by its founding fathers in the fifties, politicians like Robert Schuman, Alcide de Gasperi and Konrad Adenauer.
The Occidental idea is incorporated into cultural and geo-political borders…
And then off on the Galicia thing.
Austrian journalist Martin Pollack tried his hand at a response, but got sidetracked in much the same way. However, Pollack does ask one rather silly question: “How does an author who comes from the Romanian Banat region come to do such a thing, I ask myself.”
Well, that’s easy: it’s because Transylvanian Germans always saw themselves as a cut above, a breed superior to their Romanian neighbors. The T-Germans contributed a lot to Romania, but it was always very much de haut en bas. In that sense, Wagner’s screed is exactly what you’d expect.
But it’s worth engaging with, at least briefly, because it raises a lot of bad ideas and conveniently bundles them together.
“Ukraine is part of Moscow’s traditional sphere of influence”: Clearly this means we must kick Poland, Finland and the three Baltic states out of the EU at once.
This is not to say that we should ignore Russia’s legitimate security concerns, or pretend that the close ties between the two states are irrelevant. They’re important, and should be carefully considered. But at the end of the day, you know, independent sovereign state.
“It’s an Orthodox state that draws its cultural and political heritage from Byzantium”: Right, we must now kick out Romania, Bulgaria, Cyprus and Greece as well.
Late-breaking news: the EU has already grown far past the old Rome-Byzantium boundary line. Around 50 million EU citizens are Orthodox — roughly 10% of the population. The descent into Byzantine Caesaropapism and obscurancy is already under way. [Sarcasm.]
“Their economy and politics are dominated by oligarchs, and their mentality is still Soviet”: This is an excellent argument for not admitting Ukraine now, or any time soon. But since nobody is arguing that Ukraine should be admitted now or soon, it’s a straw man.
Just ten years ago, most of the Eastern European economies were dominated by oligarchs, and all of them were still struggling with the “mentality” problem. Some of them still are. But they’ve all come a very long way very fast. Wagner gives no reason Ukraine couldn’t do the same.
“EU superpower fantasies… imperial overstretch”: You can make an argument — maybe a strong one — that the EU shouldn’t expand further because it’s big enough, or too big already. That doesn’t seem to be Wagner’s point, though. He seems to be claiming that the EU wants to become a superpower, which is another silly straw man. (There are at least two traditional great powers in the EU; neither has any interest in having Brussels make their strategic choices for them.)
“Cultural and geo-political borders”: Dude.
The EU includes the Azores and the Falkland Islands. The EU includes the African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla and a group of islands off the coast of Newfoundland. The EU includes hundreds of thousands of Malay peasants planting rice and chopping sugar cane in Reunion, and nearly a million people on half a dozen different Caribbean islands. The EU has a land border with Brazil. The Oyampi Indians of the Guiana rainforest? They’re EU citizens, Richard — their currency is the Euro, and their vote for the EU Parliament counts the same as yours.
Even if you snip off all the confusing overseas bits — which means excluding about five million people, but let that ride — it’s still pretty much impossible to draw “cultural and geo-political borders” that include Norway and Cyprus, Ireland and Bulgaria, Estonia and Portugal, but clearly and obviously exclude Ukraine.
This is not to say there aren’t good arguments to be made against further EU enlargement generally, or against Ukrainian membership specifically. There are. But this article is a mishmash of bad arguments. — So why bother responding? Well, these particular bad arguments — Russian interests, too backwards, not ‘European’ enough — keep popping up again and again. So they’re worth knocking on the head.
It’s moot at the moment, and will be for years to come; Ukraine isn’t anywhere close to candidacy, and may never be. But it’s worth pausing for a moment to think how far the EU might go, and how, and why.