Let us be clear at the outset: it is entirely unacceptable when a police officer kneels on the neck of a defenceless person until they suffocate. However, it is equally revolting when some take advantage of the tragedy of George Floyd and use it for their political purposes to annihilate opponents.
Brutality of US police is a long overdue problem that roots deeply in American society.
It did not start with the inauguration of Donald Trump as some would like to see it, and it is not only aimed at black people.
It is undisputedly related to the ultraliberal right to keep and bear arms or the enormous social inequalities characteristic of the US.
Clearly, Mr Trump’s highly undiplomatic stint in office so far did not help ease the pain, to say the least. However, the liberal political elite and media can also be made responsible for aggravating an already difficult situation threatening with explosion.
Unfolding ideological battles will most certainly not contribute to eliminating social tensions.
Victims of this battle will continue to be those marginalized and called into fight on either side.
Unfortunately, it is the most symbolic element of this predominantly American social crisis that made its way to Europe, namely the vandalization of statues and historic monuments.
In Great Britain, statues of Cecil Rhodes became a target, who was not only a pioneer of British colonialism and supremacy in Africa, but also a generous sponsor of higher education. Statues of King Leopold II can be found all over Belgium, but certainly not because of the atrocities he conducted in the Congo but because of the development Belgium experienced during his reign. Some are calling now for the removal of his statues. Churchill’s statue was damaged and stained in my hometown Budapest.
Such developments are extremely distracting for several reasons.
If the Western civilization has any real value and advantage compared to other cultures, it must be freedom and plurality of expression that allows for a nuanced, layered and complex set of opinions and interpretations of – inter alia – history.
Through functional institutions such as parlamentarism, free academic and scientific research, media or civil society the plurality of opinion has shaped the collective memory of entire societies whereby historical figures such as the ones named above received their place in a nation’s pantheon, with all their greatness but also their failures and sins.
Americans or Western Europeans, who have experienced a linear development of democratic pluralism in the past centuries, might not appreciate this as much as those raised in post-Communist reality, where there is a continuous attempt to re-write and re-interpret history according to the taste of prevailing elites.
This mentality is a living legacy of Bolshevism, which is set to tailor everything to its own one-dimensional vision, eradicating everything that does not suit its beliefs. However, as Bolshevik-minded protagonists are visibly and abundantly present in Western elites, especially since the 1968 movement, developed democracies seem to be equally vulnerable to this tendency.
If there is anything that all Europeans can be proud of regardless of their nationality, origin or identity, it is most certainly the rule of law, transparency, access to legal representation and equality before the law. We can be proud of how our continent has been governed by these principles for centuries and, even if an aggressive regime has occasionally been able to drag its country away from them, we could always find our way back to them eventually. On the other hand, there has always been another system lurking at the frontiers of Europe, ready to spread its untransparent and self-interested laws – let’s call it tribalism, clan mentality or mafia. Weak monarchs or governments have been known to give in to or at least co-exist with the mafia or the oligarchs but strong leaders and strong societies refused to tolerate them.
For a long time, we may have thought that the European Union was such a strong community since we have heard so much about its values and strict but fair laws. We Hungarians had long been hoping to become a member of this alliance because we thought that its norms and regulations would protect us once and for all from the backward forces that have regularly attempted to drive our Central European country to another, Asian road. In short, we thought we would be protected from the political mafia, the oligarchs, the obscure informal networks and the consequent vulnerability, weakness and general social deprivation.
Parliamentary elections held in Serbia last weekend did not hold too many surprises for those familiar with recent political developments in the small Balkan republic. In an election originally announced for 26 April but postponed amid the coronavirus pandemic, Alaksandar Vučić’s populist right-wing Serbia Progressive Party (SNS) snatched over 60 percent of the vote and some 190 mandates in the 250-seat Skupština, the Serbian parliament. The dominance of SNS is further underlined by the fact that virtually all real opposition parties dropped out of parliament regardless of parliamentary threshold cut down to 3 percent prior to the elections. Ivica Dačić’s Socialist Party scoring second place with just over 10 percent of the vote functions more like a satellite organization in a permanent governing coalition with the SNS. Thus, the strongest and only opposition party in the Serbian parliament will be the novel formation of Aleksandar Šapić, barely scraping through the threshold.
Even critics of the European integration would concede to the argument that it has undisputedly contributed to an unprecedented era of reconciliation between hitherto hostile nation states.
Many factors played a part in reaching a consensus on the continent. The tragic common experience of horror and devastation on all sides in two subsequent world wars only partly explain the joint endeavour to build a European cooperation. Nothing ever was built on negation and negative experiences only. Creativity, goodwill, trust and vision are all necessary to construct a lasting mechanism. Without the cooperation and wisdom of a generation of like-minded political leaders, reigning in the Western hemisphere European integration could not have become reality.