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. His latest book is After Europe (Penn University Press, 2017). “Remember how nationalists and liberals were allies in the overthrow of communism in 1989. Central European liberals were aware of the political appeal of post-communist nationalism, so they did a lot to shape it and soften it. Appealing to national sentiment was critically important as a way of mobilising society against the communist regimes […] The Yugoslav wars made it impossible for liberals to define liberalism as anything but anti-nationalism. Over time, however, the equating of liberalism with anti-nationalism came at a cost. It eroded electoral support for liberal parties, making them totally dependent on the success of economic reforms and depriving them of powerful nationalist symbols. Meanwhile, an undeclared war between liberals and nationalists led to moderate nationalists being pushed to the illiberal camp. […] The example of Germany played a role. Central and eastern European liberals wanted societies to cope with their past much in the same way Germany had coped with its own. But was it realistic to expect that after 1989, we would all become Germans? That’s because central and eastern states were children of the age of nationalism that followed the breakup of Europe’s empires. But unlike German nationalists in 1945, central European nationalists in 1989 felt they’d come out the winners, not the losers, of the last war – in this case the cold war. In that sense, to ‘become German’ was impossible: most Poles felt it absurd to stop honouring nationalist-minded leaders who had risked their lives to defend Poland against Hitler or Stalin. Today we see the result. In the 19th century, and again in the 1970s and 80s, liberals and nationalists were able to shape a common platform – one that was inclusive, rooted in a culture of individual rights, and centred around a sense of national pride. But today’s central European nationalism has been narrowed down to ethnicism, fuelled by demographic fears and anxieties over Europe’s changing role in the world. Central European nations feel threatened not so much by migrants (who are in fact reluctant to settle in their countries) but by the void left in communities by the economic emigration over the last decade of so many of their citizens, creating a feeling of collective loss in those left behind. Liberals may dream of defeating nationalism just as nationalism itself helped defeat communism. But that hope is fast turning into political tragedy – because while communism was a radical political experiment based on abolishing private property, nationalism – in one form or another – is an organic part of any democratic political scene. Acknowledging this must surely be part of addressing its growing influence.”
    Photo: Peter Župník / Central European Forum