Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 0, No 12
14 December 1998

Sam Vaknin B A L K A N   E N C O U N T E R:
The New Colonies

Dr Sam Vaknin

Is the European Union treating Central Europe as an equal partner or as an economic dumping ground? Is the old colonialism to be the new model for Europe?

Mercantilism was the intellectual correlate of colonialism. The idea, roughly, was to physically conquer territories (colonies), subjugate their people, transform them into cheap labor, get hold of raw materials and ship them to the colonizer's territory to be processed in the home country to create finished products.

The beauty in the concept was the closed circuit logic. The inhabitants of the colonies - also known as "natives" - had to consume finished goods and products. Through tariff and quota regimes or through violence when necessary, the colonial power forced the finished products upon the natives - the products produced from their very own raw materials. Thus, the colonies were prevailed upon to sell cheap raw materials and to buy expensive finished goods.

If it sounds like colonialism and has the same economic effects, it is colonialism, and the relationship between the European Union and Central Europe is colonialism. Central Europe provides the European Union with raw materials and cheap labor. It buys finished goods - products and services - from the European Union. In the process, Central Europe incurs enormous trade and balance of payments deficits. Incidentally, Central Europe also serves as the EU's dumping grounds for anything from toxic waste to shoddy or outmoded products

Prague can take much of the blame for this current situation. The previous government did everything it could to alienate its natural allies in the Visegrad Group, and did a good job of it. Instead of negotiating with the EU as a bloc of some 60 or 70 million consumers, it ended up representing an ever-diminishing number of Czechs. Its haughty and corruption-laden behavior did not acquire too many friends in the West, either.

The approach should have been different. One says that the customer is always right, but the Czechs seem to have forgotten that Central Europeans are the customers: they are consumers for the huge corporation called the EU. As a consumer club or group, they could have dictated terms, rather than be subjected to them.

Consumers have a single, irresistible power: they can stop consuming. Imagine if 30 to 40 billion USD were to be deleted from the EU's books by angry consumers. The EU would have come begging and negotiating, instead of dictating condescendingly. The EU does not hesitate to pull every lever - however illegitimate, ridiculous, or downright dangerous - in its negotiations with the new applicants. The new applicants have not yet managed to comprehend their dual role as applicants (an inferior position) and as markets (a very superior position). They have concentrated too much on the former role of inferiority.

Having glimpsed the first real opportunity to become a part of the big Western dream and to be redeemed from the clutches of the wounded Russian bear to the East, the peoples of the region lost all judgment, self-esteem, self-confidence and negotiating skills. It was security and safety they were after, not prosperity

This basic misunderstanding underlies the great European project. The EU's thinking was mainly economic and marginally geopolitical (though it was presented differently). The Central Europeans' motivation was mainly geopolitical and marginally economic (though it was presented differently). The resulting misunderstandings are worthy of Moliere's pen.

Moreover, the Czechs have always been a religious breed. True, they are the most vehement atheists in Europe, but this is because they adopted other deities and intellectual fanaticism. (One of my Czech friends calls many periods in his nation's history "intellectual terrorism.") The swings some people have made lately from being youthful Communists to being vengeful ultra-capitalists are indeed breathtaking. This, of course, does not tend to enhance the realpolitik instincts of the nation.

Simply put, the EU got frightened. Excessive zeal can give anyone cold feet, especially the amphibian bureaucrats in Brussels. Entry dates are being pushed back, commitments hushed. Now, the Central Europeans have the worst of both worlds: they are being treated as a colony and their date of entry is ceaselessly postponed.

This should and could have been different. The Czechs should not have shown enthusiasm and anxiety. These are bad negotiating tactics. They should have negotiated with the EU as consumers do with producers elsewhere in the world. They should have extracted at least a commitment regarding the date of accession and detailed timetables. And they should have kept these timetables.

Dr Sam Vaknin, 14 December 1998


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