EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW/ Wolfgang Klotz: EU – Western Balkans, and the lack of an accession-process-model alternative

Wolfgang Klotz was born 1954 in Lower Franconia as son of a workers family and in an environment deeply informed by traditional Catholicism. Studying Theology and Philosophy during the 1970s in Würzburg and Munich finally resulted in an emancipation from such tradition deeply rooted in the 19th century. Full emancipation, however, required another few years as taxi-driver and in various other jobs ending in a Frankfurt-based publishing house. Arriving, finally, in a milieu of mainly “post-68-leftists” he got engaged into the project of building-up the East-/West-European Cultural Centre Palais Jalta followed by 10 years as managing director of the centre. In 1998 the idea and basic concept for the today Central and Eastern European Online Library was born and started under rather adverse conditions. While conditions didn’t really and considerably improve, the library is constantly growing since then and he is engaged in it today among an international team of ten colleagues.

 

Wolfgang Klotz, interview exclusively for The Bridge

How would you define Europe in cultural terms, and how would the Balkans fit in this definition?

Any attempt to find a definition of Europe (especially in cultural terms!), if done rather sketchily, will soon either end in a platitude or in the statement that “it cannot be defined” -which might be a platitude as well. Among the five persons being most competent and immune against any temptation of platitude when thinking about Europe, among them is for sure the Romanian philosopher Andrei Pleşu. He delivered a speech in Vienna in 2017 titled: “The Anti-European tradition of Europe”. As a Romanian thinker, of course, he spoke from the horizon and in wider context of all the problems characterizing Europe after the steps of enlargement since 1990. After those steps had been done, once upon a time, in the mood of “Europe as the Common Home” –presumably shared by Pleşu himself as by nearly all of us – he said in 2017: “The first failure of our ‘common home’ was the fracturing of the Roman Empire into a western and an eastern segment. Rome broke away from Byzantium, Catholicism from Orthodoxy, Protestantism from Catholicism, the Empire from the Papacy, East from West, North from South, the Germanic from the Latin, communism from capitalism, Britain from the rest of the continent.” And he added: “The spectre of division is what the Belgian philosopher Jacques Dewitte (admiringly) called the ‘European exception’”. So we can understand that Europe is not a part of the world that “cannot be defined” – it is rather the part of the world which is constantly refusing a definition and it is just this refusal which makes Europe European. – From where then to take a criterion to exclude the Balkans which, in history, has been involved in all those “failures of our ‘common home’”?

 

  1. Was the EU enlargement towards East a hindrance for deepening its inner integration?

Deepening Europe, in the past 30 years, has again been a process of failure, as the ingloriously ending development of a European Constitution makes evident in the showcase of the European museum. This failure didn’t happen due to the enlargement. Rather the enlargement gave additional plausibility for the need of a constitution. And today’s conflicts between Old (and mainly Nordic) Europe and Visegrad Europe are even emphasizing this plausibility –unfortunately an emphasis ex post and in vain. If today an inner-European schism between those two groups of member-countries is becoming more and more virulent, there are again two sketchy explanations: (a) Old members weren’t really aware whom they invited and accepted; and (b) New members weren’t really aware to what kind community they claimed access.

However, both explanations are static and don’t realize that today’s situation is (or at least might be) the result of processes of deep changes in politics and in public awareness on both sides. Let’s take as example just Ivan Krastev’s great analysis how a deep a sentiment of humiliation developed in the societies of accessing countries and how several politicians today can assemble their power by instrumentalizing the humiliation and making the sentiment a potpourri of populist re-sentments.

  1. What are, in your opinion, the main obstacles for the integration of the Western Balkans in the EU?

The inner-European schism just mentioned is the result of long years of the so-called “adoption of the ‘Acquis Communautaire’ into national legislation” by the new member states. EU-policy towards the accession countries has mainly been the “diplomacy of sticks and carrots” for all these years, with regular “Progress Reports” listing quite often, in contrast to their title, so-called “Missing Achievements” on many pages. That’s the background of the humiliation, diagnosed by Ivan Krastev.

Today’s conflicts between the EU-Commission and Polish or Hungarian government make for the perception of many Western-Europeans thousands of pages of Progress reports appear like waste. “Sticks and Carrots” didn’t prove to be a successful way of communication in the political-diplomatic area. Nor has been found a useful way and efficient intensity of communication between the societies to resolve many contradictions in European civic mind-sets. This is why Polish Prime-Minister Kaczyński can present himself today as the most passionate cleanser of any remnants of Communism in Poland, and tomorrow he may speak about the “liberal West” using all kinds of metaphors for “decadence” as they were quite specific communist patterns for decades.

Main obstacle for integration of the Western Balkans in the EU is the complete lack of an accession-process-model alternative to and significantly more promising than the processes realized in the last decades.

  1. How important is the regional cooperation of Western Balkans for their EU perspective?

In 2010 the Serbian expert in Law and Human Rights Vojin Dimitrijević presented a proposal for regional cooperation for all independent republics on the territory of former Yugoslavia. The text, elaborated as an international agreement ready for being signed, can be read today as an evidence, how strongly at that time a concept of the region as a “Small European Union” suggested itself to a wise political thinker.

However, this interview is made one day after Mr. OHR Valentin Inzko has published his last “Bonn-Power-Decision” on the criminal liability of Genocide-denial in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and all (German) media today are full of the question: by whom and how and when will it be implemented?

If any country in the region is suffering from the lack of “political will” for whatever purpose worth to strive for, the lack of “political will” must always be overcome by a “social will” of majorities (which is in fact the democratic version of a “political will”).

  1. Germany and France, which have been hostile to each other for quite a long time, have become close partners due to the European construction. Do you think that there can be a parallel for Serbs and Albanians in their European perspective?

For Robert Schuman and Konrad Adenauer, the years after 1945 provided of course much historic “capital” they could invest and work with, even if the “capital”, in fact, was the experience of warlike cruelty and suffering and of Nazi crimes and annihilation.

But I would turn the wording of your question saying that the “European construction” succeeded due to the close partnership developed among the six signatory states of the Rome Agreements. And I would even personalize it saying that the close partnership could develop so fast mainly based on a “brotherhood in mind” between those two key-figures in the foundation of the European Economic Union.

Unfortunately, Aleksandar Vučić (the Serbian Prime Minister and Yugoslav Minister for Information 1998-2000) cannot rely on a period in his biography when he lived and worked as a reknown artist, as can well do his Albanian Prime-Minister colleague Edi Rama. Good arts is always widening the mind, propaganda aims at rather doing the contrary.

The European perspective for Serbs and Albanians, at any successful end, may be embodied as well in any kind of a written agreement. However, the agreement will embody a real achievement only if close partnership has grown before (or at least simultaneously) on many social levels and areas. Means again: If the Prime Ministers are not able to become “brothers in mind”, many Serb and Albanian individuals are able to do and to overcome the gap of political capacity with civic capacity and will.

  1. National identity vs. universalism, or, in other terms, collective selfishness versus solidarity: this is a problem for the EU as well, I think. What about the Balkans in this regard?

The perhaps most powerful representative of Universalism in European history has always been Catholicism – even if catholic universalism quite often was not expressed and accompanied by solidarity. It is an interesting historic phenomenon in many countries that the Catholic Church, especially its clericalist wings, in the 19th century period of Nation-Building turned from universalism to national sub-churches claiming to provide the most essential elements for the respective national identity. Thus, Holy Mary was not the mother of all of us any longer, but she became Patrona Bavariae, Patrona Poloniae, or Patrona Hungariae. Today, Holy Mary (in whatever function in whatever country, and especially in the propaganda of “Radio Maria”) is quite often mis-used as Patrona against all the “decadence” I mentioned above as a wording used by Jarosław Kaczyński or by Viktor Orbán. Only difference between both of them: Viktor Orbán’s species sometimes make the impression as if he is considering himself as the PATRONUSEUROPAE, hence replacing Holy Mary by himself.

If I feel any optimism for the Balkans in that respect, it is not because I find there a higher predisposition for Universalism. But I hope that “collective selfishness” will find its limits in the same “Laissez-faire-mentality” which already defined the limits of the “Acquis Communautaire”.

  1. To go back to the topic of the first question, to culture, what do you think about its role for peace and democracy in our region? Does culture make us more humane? If so, what kind of culture? I am asking this question taking into account that the Germans were considered, and not without reason, the most cultivated people at the time when the Nazis came to power.

A difficult question, and endless wide! To answer it well, more wisdom is required than I am able to use or to provide. However, it is basically European (as it should be Human) to participate in and to benefit from the wisdom of those are able to do. This is why I return to Andrei Pleşu and his Vienna speech – not giving really answers to this question, but involving us into an admirably intelligent and wise process of reflection on it.