9th Conference European Sociological Association

RS03 East and West in Europe

2009-09-03 09:00:00 2009-09-03 10:30:00 Thursday, 3 September 09:00 - 10:30 Post-communist Transformations and East-West Division in Europe Building I, 1E4

Uses of "Europe" - Conflicting Interpretations

The Eastern Enlargement of the EU put questions about Europe´s borders, values and identities back on the agenda. Different uses of "Europe" had, in fact, played a decisive role in the extrication from communism. Reference to the "common house of Europe" set the metaphorical end mark to old Cold War confrontations; the "Return to Europe" was an escape route from Soviet hegemony back to interrupted national histories; "Europeanization" became a friendly name for an all-encompassing transfer of institutions, rules, laws and conditions from the old EU countries to the post-communist accession candidates.

Meanwhile is became clear that the processes described in this way are not following a smooth path of social evolution. The regained national sovereignty of the new members caused frictions with the post-national demands of western dominated EU-institutions - conflicts which led sociologists like Jürgen Habermas to accentuate the virtues of a "core Europe" against an unreconstructed nationalism in the East. The recent financial crises opened new divisions: some Mediterranean members do not agree that the vulnerable new democracies deserve special treatment in terms of financial assistance. Last but not least, the easy talk about a "New Cold War" seems to follow Huntington´s logic of clashing civilizations: the "New Russia" is widely perceived (especially in some former satellite states) in terms of "European values" against a resurgent "autocracy".

The paper will argue that conflicts of this type (as well as critique) have always been constitutive elements of the European discourse. Conflicts inside the enlarged union should not be dramatized: insistence on national sovereignty vis-á-vis the EU is a well-known game also in the states of "Old Europe". The EU has not exquisite authority to define Europe. The rift between the EU and Russia should be de-escalated; it should be understood not as antagonistic but as indicting specific problems of the Russian condition, esp. a stateness-problem much sharper than in most central-east European countries.