Ivan Krastev

    is a Bulgarian political scientist, based in Sofia where he chairs the Centre for Liberal Studies. He is the editor-in-chief of the Bulgarian edition of Foreign Policy and a permanent fellow of at IWM, the Institute of Human Sciences in Vienna. His publications in English include “Shifting Obsessions: Three Essays on the Politics of Anticorruption”, co-edited with Alan McPherson, the essay “Europe’s Democracy Paradox” published in The American Interest. In his latest book, After Europe (Penn University Press, 2017) he argues that that the refugee crisis threatens to widen the gap between elites and voters in ways that threaten the future of the entire European project. “Unfortunately, the illiberal turn in Hungary and Poland — marked by attempts to control the courts, tame independent news media, and interfere in civil society (not to mention politicians’ base nationalistic rhetoric) — have forced many Western Europeans to close their ears to what may be in some instances legitimate Central European grievances. The refugee crisis is a case in point. For Western Europeans, the Polish, Czech and Hungarian refusal to accept resettlement quotas adopted by Brussels in 2015 demonstrates that the Eastern European countries lack the solidarity necessary for the European Union. Eastern Europeans, on the other hand, rightly insist that the solidarity imperative must not trump a democratic mandate, and who belongs to a community is an existential question to be decided solely by democratically elected governments. The problem is that Hungary’s hysterical anti-refugee language has made it easy for other Europeans to dismiss Central Europe’s legitimate fears as objectionable nationalism. But if the countries of Central Europe face the same challenges, they don’t face them together. The dream of a united Central Europe, embodied by the 1991 formation of the Visegrad Group, no longer exists. Two of the group’s members, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, are trying to distance themselves from the other two, Hungary and Poland, which are bashing the European Union. Meanwhile, even as Poland and Hungary share a hostility to Brussels, they are divided when it comes to the relations with Russia. The governments in the region faced with Merkel-Macron initiative to reorder the union will soon be forced to choose between a future of deeper integration with Western Europe, or a future where Central Europe is increasingly marginalized. It’s a choice between Emmanuel Macron and Viktor Orban, Hungary’s hard-line nationalist prime minister. The jury is out on which choice governments will make. But Central Europe’s 20th-century experience may be summarized by the adage, ‘If you are not at the table, you are on the menu.'”
    Photo: Peter Župník / Central European Forum