[Published by The British Council and University College London School of Slavonic and East European Studies, 2000]
One's initial reaction to glancing at this book and gently perusing its pages is apprehension about the impact of the westward extension of Central Europe upon the quality of printing. Despite the glossy paper and good photographs, the pages begin to fall out even before one actually engages with the text.
For readers acquainted with the region, this is a well-known phenomenon and might set in motion "fond" memories of the state of Socialist-time publishing, which unbelievably deteriorated even further after the changes of 1989.
A new take on an old topic
The joke apart, one is overwhelmed by the intensely intellectual nature of the presented discussion. Equally impressive is the conscious effort of all authors to steer well clear of the more familiar - and arguably mundane - aspects of European integration such as customs and trade, agricultural and immigration policy, etc.
The challenging title itself is a sign that this is a collection of papers aiming to give the expected questions an unusual twist and stimulate a kind of European thinking which goes beyond the everyday technicalities of contacts between the European Union and the Central Eastern European governments.
The declared "primary purpose of [the] Prague conference… was manifestly to give centre-stage to the participants from Central and Eastern Europe." Through its authorship the conference volume hardly does so; it is undeniable however, that the published material concentrates on the experiences and preoccupations of the candidates for membership in the European Union.
Less ostensibly and more by implication, it is also a discussion about the requirements for and consequences of the eastward expansion of NATO as the other element in the convergence of Europe.
On triple transformations
The conference concept paper by George Schöpflin - whose ideas clearly dominated the gathering - outlines a triple transformation taking place in Central Eastern Europe consisting of democratisation, the EU’s eastward enlargement and globalisation. Interestingly, only the latter two developments affect Western Europe.
Even so, their impact is much milder than on the former Soviet-bloc countries as in the course of the last half a century Western Europe has acquired "a high degree of cohesiveness, cultural self-confidence, experience of institutional and procedural activity with appropriate languages, semantic and intellectual skills."
In contrast, the post-Communist states have yet to overcome the legacy of their recently shed "far-reaching international isolation, next to no experience of multi-lateral co-operation, a memory of hierarchical Soviet control and corresponding mutual distrust." This is why the author predicts that the current eastward EU enlargement will be the most difficult to date.
Additionally, in Schöpflin's and in other papers, attention is drawn to the fact that there exists a certain "self-confidence" on the part of the West that its own modes of operation are cohesive enough to be imposed on the post-Communist states without large disruptions.The theoretical questioning of this assumption is demonstrated in the volume chiefly through a detailed examination of two spheres of considerable significance for Central Eastern Europe - those of legality and nationality. They had been chosen because although less immediately shattering, "the implications for the West are as far reaching as for Central Europe."
The rule of law
In Law as a Rule, Bargain or Aspiration Sonja Puntscher Riekmann distinguishes between laws and law. The adoption of the 80,000-odd pages of European legislation is just the first step towards actually consistently putting it into practise and educating both the political elite and the general public in respect of the rule of law.
This holds particular relevance for Central Eastern Europe where traditionally there has been a lack of confidence in the state and its institutions, including in the legal system. Therefore, the establishment of an independent legal and judicial system is a crucial precondition for the onset of a working democracy.
The author even goes as far as to say that "the velvet revolutions and even the struggle for new constitutional arrangements appear an easy task when compared with the difficult task of changing the political and legal culture."
Yet, she reminds that even though law "is at the same time a fundamental agent as well as the object of the European integration process," in Western Europe too there have been clashes between the legal traditions of some members and the supranational European legislation.
Puntscher Riekmann identifies a particular problem in the use of an enlightened top-down approach in introducing "western" European norms and standards in Central Eastern Europe which might have the side-effect of enhancing bureaucracy. The challenge for the protagonists of transformation in this case would be to ensure that Central Eastern European bureaucracy itself becomes an agent of modernisation.
The theme of the rule of law and its application in Central Eastern Europe is carried further by Anna-Mária Bíró in Westward Enlargement - Law and Enforcement: A Minority Rights Perspective from Central and Eastern Europe.
Bíró acknowledges that the state enforcement of democratic legislation in the region in the last fifty years has left the majorities and minorities with similar experiences but claims that the latter's position has been more difficult due to the persistence of systemic patterns of discrimination.
She also shows how the Cold-War-era Western insistence on a strictly person-centred approach to minority protection was abandoned after 1989 in favour of a more "communalistic" one. Attempting to address the central concept of the conference, Bíró's paper poses a set of questions about the two-way relationship between minorities and the process of European enlargement.
Ethnicity and nationalism
Most importantly, these questions touch on the participation of minorities in the international and regional standards setting process. In other words, is it possible for minorities to benefit from the integration movement when they themselves have rarely been involved in the formulation of European norms and the stipulation of the enforcement mechanisms?
Another pertinent issue is that of double standards, namely to what extent international minority rights standards are equally and rigorously applied in both parts of the continent.
Notably, the paper is especially critical of the West's ignoring and stifling calls for autonomy in the East lest inter and intra-state tensions are triggered.
Bíró's contribution also provides the link between the themes of legality and nationality, as the non-correspondence of national and ethnic boundaries for the post-Communist countries has served to emphasise the importance of the minorities.
This is a matter explored by both Jaques Rupnik and George Schöpflin who agree that problems arising from nationality or rather nationalism are exceptionally difficult to tackle as they involve deeply rooted feelings and emotions which can hardly be subjected to legal regulation.
Even less so since newly re-discovered national awareness in Central Eastern Europe has resulted mainly from the overthrowing of Soviet control and regaining of sovereignty.
Such an explanation, however, should not mar the fact of the fundamental incompatibility between the predominantly ethnic identification of the candidate states and the need to accept the multi-cultural multi-ethnic reality in the EU.
In Nationalism and Sovereignty, Ethnicity and Citizenship and the EU Enlargement Process, Rupnik traces briefly the conflict between the proclaimed demise of the nation state in the West in the context of globalisation and the re-emergence of nationalist issues in the East's return to democracy.
He claims that the Central Eastern European rediscovery of sovereignty might account for some reluctance to move rapidly towards its immersion in a wider all-European identity. He also points out that the abandoning of the concept of the ethnic overlapping of nation and state could ease the prospect of European integration.
In Identity, Change and Adaptation in the Politics of Europe , Schöpflin carries the enquiry into ethnicity and nationalism into even more theoretical ground. He proposes that "the great transformation that has taken place in the last ten years has been the rise of identity politics", albeit not the identity based on class as forged by the former Communist regimes.
He asserts that ethnicity has demonstrated its appeal and power not only in the Eastern but equally in the Western half of the continent. If ethnicity is not to become a destructive power, it should be contained by the state and civil society. To a certain degree this process can be observed in the course of European integration which according to the author slowly but surely forges a common European identity.
A similar effect can be felt with the emergence of international civil society. This itself is only one aspect of the globalisation affecting not only the small Central Eastern European states but also the former Great powers of Western Europe whose cultural and political status can no longer be taken for granted.
Continuity and change
The issues mentioned so-far make another appearance in Ivan Gabal's The Tension between Continuity and Change - the Czech Perspective. Gabal
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The paper strikes another familiar chord in asserting that somewhere along this total overhaul of state and society, a new identity is being shaped even though the population is not yet at ease with it.
There remains a long road ahead before "the majority of society absorbs new identities and the institutional shift is converted into changes of social values and culture." In the meantime the tension between continuity and change presents the political elite with one major task, namely "continuing with change."
Poets and dreamers
Conference volumes are rarely able to relay the atmosphere of the actual conference and hardly ever mention the modifications of the original presentations upon the outcome of discussions. The proceedings of the Prague Conference overcome this by including a number of shorter, less theoretical pieces, notable amongst them are Gerald Dawe's "poet's view on nationality, citizenship and place" and Robert Cooper's appeal to Europe to dream in order not to die.
The different voices of the multitude of participants are however best heard in Ian Davidson's "conference report." It is worth mentioning on two accounts. Firstly,
On the other hand, the Central Eastern European contributors' attitudes seem to have mellowed in comparison to those displayed at a similar conference held in Prague eighteen months earlier. Hopefully, this is a good indicator of the evolution of the enlargement debate towards more maturity and patience (even though it could also be seen as scepticism) within the individual candidate countries.
Increasingly, enlargement is no longer perceived as a bestowed - or indeed deserved - benefit due by virtue of the sufferings under Communism. Instead it is recognised for something much more complex - a process requiring more than equal effort on the part of the applicants to meet the criteria set by the European Union.
Additionally, it seems that the Central Eastern Europeans have learned to distinguish the vague political noises and promises from the tougher reality of adopting European standards and regulations and actually putting them to practice.
In other words, they are well on the way to establishing a civil society - an essential element of post-Communist transformation. To this - through the provision of an intellectual forum for discussion and debate of current issues - the Prague Conference has also contributed.
Marietta Stanková, 26 June 2000
The author specialises in 20th-century East European history and teaches in London.