Europe of Sarajevo 100 Years Later: Was History Ever on Holiday? Part III

Cyclical. Cynical! Clinical?

In his luminary work ‘The New Asian Hemisphere’, Mahbubani accurately concludes that Gorbachev – not understanding the real success of Western strength and power, handed over the Soviet empire and got nothing in return.[1]

Is our history directional or conceivable, dialectic and eclectic or cyclical, and therefore cynical? The Soviet Union was far more of a classic continental military empire (overtly brutal; rigid, anti-individual, omnipresent, secre-tive), while the US was more a financial empire (covertly brutal; hierarchical, yet asocial, exploitive, pervasive, polarizing). Bear of permafrost vs. fish of the warm seas. Athens vs. Sparta. Phoenicia vs. Rome.

Thus, Soviets went bankrupt by mid 1980s. So did the Americans (the ‘white man burden’ fractured them already by the Vietnam war, with the Nixon shock only officializing it), but the United States managed its financial capital (or an illusion of it) insofar as to be(come) a debtor empire through the Wall Street guaranties.[2] Sputnik titanium vs. gold mine of printed paper.

Nothing epitomizes this better than the words of the longest serving US Federal Reserve’s boss, Greenspan, who famously said to then French President Chirac: “Indeed, dollar is our currency, but your problem”. Hegemony vs. hegemoney.

This very nature of power explains why the Americans have missed to take the mankind into completely other direction, towards the non-confrontational, decarbonized, de-monetized/de- financialized and de-psychologized, the self-realizing humankind. They had such a chance when, past the Gorbachev’s unconditional surrender of the Soviet bloc, the US – unconstra-ined as a ‘lonely superpower’ – solely dictated terms of reference.[3]Sadly enough, that was not the first missed opportunity for the US.

The very epilogue of the WWII meant a full security guaranty for the US: Geo-economically – 52% of anything manufactured in the world was carrying a label Made in USA, and geostrategically – the US had uninterruptedly enjoyed nearly a decade of the ‘nuclear monopoly’. Up to this very day, the US scores the biggest number of N-tests conducted, the largest stockpile of nuclear weaponry, and it represents the only power ever deploying this ‘ultimate weapon’ on other nation.

To complete the irony, Americans enjoy geographic advantage like no other empire ever. Save the US, as Ikenberry vividly notes: “every major power in the world lives in a crowded geopolitical neighborhood where shifts in power routinely provoke counterbalancing…”[4] The US neighbors are oceans.

Indeed, no successful empire does rely merely on coercion, be it abroad or at home. However, unable to escape its inner logics and deeply-rooted appeal of confrontational nostalgia, the prevailing archrival is only a winner, rarely a game-changer.[5]So, to the above asked question whether our history is dialectic or cyclical, the current Ukrainian events are like a bad-taste déjà vu.

‘End of the Cold War’ – such a buzz word, of a diametrically different meaning. East would interpret it as the final end of confrontation, while the Westerners have no such an illusion.

To them it is the end of war, which only came after the unconditional surrender of East. Another powerful evidence to support our claim: Just 20 years ago, distance between Moscow and NATO troops stationed in Central Europe (e.g. Berlin) was over 1.600 km. Today, it is only 120 km from St. Petersburg.[6] Realities have dramatically changed for the Atlantic-Central Europe and for Russia, while for Eastern Europe much remains the same – East still serves others as a strategic depth.[7]

In short, Atlantic Europe is a political power-house, with two of 3 European nuclear powers and 2 out of five permanent members of the UN Security Council, P-5. Central Europe is an economic power-house, Russophone Europe is an energy power-house, Scandinavian Europe is all of that a bit, and Eastern Europe is none of it.[8]

From WWI to www. 9/11 or 11/9?

Throughout the most of human evolution both progress as well as its (horizontal) transmission was extremely slow and tedious a process. Well to the classic period of Alexander the Macedonian and his glorious Alexandrian library, the speed of our transmissions –however moderate– was still always surpassing cycles of our breakthroughs. When the breakthroughs finally turned to be faster than the speed of their transmissions – that was a point of our departure.

Simply, our civilizations started to significantly differentiate from each other in their respective techno-agrarian, politico-military, ethno-religious, ideological and economic set-ups. In the eve of grand discoveries, that very event transformed wars and famine from the low-impact and local into the bigger and colossal.

Faster cycles of technological breakthroughs, patents and discoveries than their own transmission, primarily occurred on the Old continent. That event marked a birth of mighty European empires and their (liberal) schools of applied biologism, racism, genocide, organized plunders, ethno-social engineering and eugenics, and similar forms of ideological justifiers.

For the past few centuries, we lived fear but dreamt hope – all for the sake of modern times. From WWI to www. Is this modernity of internet age, with all the suddenly reviled breakthroughs and their instant transmission, now harboring us in a bay of fairness, harmony and overall reconciliation?[9]

In the hype of early 1990s Fukuyama euphorically claimed end of history. Just two decades later, twisting in a sobriety of inevitable, he quietly moderated it with future of history. Was and will our history ever be on holiday?

100 years after the outbreak of the WWI on 28th June 2014, young generations of Europeans are being taught in schools about a singularity of an entity called the EU. However, as soon as serious external or inner security challenges emerge, the compounding parts of the true, historic Europe are resurfacing again. Formerly in Iraq (with the exception of France) and now with Libya, Mali, Syria and Ukraine: Central Europe is hesitant to act, Atlantic Europe is eager, Scandinavian Europe is absent, and while Eastern Europe is bandwagoning, Russophone Europe is opposing.

The 1986 Reagan-led Anglo-American bombing of Libya was a one-time, head-hunting punitive action. This time, both Libya and  Syria (Iraq, Mali, Ukraine, too) have been given a different attachment: The considerable presence of China in Africa; successful pipeline deals between Russia and Germany (which, while circumventing Eastern Europe, will deprive it from any transit-related bargaining premium, and will tacitly pose an effective joint Russo-German pressure on the Baltic states, Poland and Ukraine),[10] and finally relative decline of the US and re-calibration of their European commitments.

All of this combined, must have triggered alarm bells across Atlantic Europe.[11]

This is to understand that although seemingly unified, Europe is essentially composed of several segments, each of them with its own dynamics, legacies and its own political culture (considerations, priorities and anxieties): Atlantic and Central Europe confident and secure on the one end, and (the EU and non-EU) Eastern Europe as well as Russia on the other end, insecure and neuralgic, therefore, in a permanent quest for additional security guaranties.

“America did not change on September 11. It only became more itself” – Robert Kagan famously claimed.[12]Paraphrasing it, we may say: From 9/11 (09th November 1989 in Berlin) and shortly after, followed by the genocidal wars all over Yugoslavia, up to the Euro, MENA or ongoing Ukrainian crisis, Europe didn’t change. It only became more itself – a conglomerate of five different Europes.


Prof. Anis H. Bajrektarević

Chair Intl. Law and Global Pol. Studies (and Editor of the Addleton’s GHIR Journal)

Vienna, 13. JUN 2014         



Post Scriptum


How can we observe and interpret (the distance between) success and failure from a historical perspective? This question remains a difficult one to (satisfy all with a single) answer…      The immediate force behind the rapid and successful European overseas projection was actually the two elements combined: Europe’s technological (economic) and demographic expansion (from early 16th century on).

However, West/Europe was not – frankly speaking – winning over the rest of this planet by the superiority of its views and ideas, by purity of its virtues or by clarity of its religious thoughts and practices. For a small and rather insecure civilization, it was just the superiority and efficiency in applying the rationalized violence and organized (legitimized) coercion that Europe successfully projected. The 21st century Europeans often forget this ‘inconvenient truth’, while the non-Europeans usually never do.

The large, self-maintainable, self-assured and secure civilizations (e.g. situated on the Asian landmass) were traditionally less militant and confrontational (or the nation-state ‘exclusive’), but more esoteric and generous, inclusive, attentive and flexible. The smaller, insecure civilizations (e.g. situated on a modest and minor, geographically remote and peripheral, natural resources scarce, and climatically exposed continent of Europe) were more focused, obsessively organized and “goal–oriented” (including the invention of virtue out of necessity – a nation-state).

No wonder that European civilization has never ever generated a single religion (although it admittedly doctrinated, ‘clergified’ and headquartered the Middle East-revelled religion of Christianity). On the other hand, no other civilization but the European has ever created a significant, even a relevant political ideology.


This work is at first published in Bahasa language, Jakarta 2011 (Seputar Indonesia). Its advanced version was published in Italian language, Rome 2013 (IsAG-Rome), and by the Foreign Policy Journal of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur 2013 (JDFR). The first English language version was published by the Routledge/Francis & Taylor and IAFOR (London – Washington 2013). This is yet, unpublished, expanded version of the text prepared for the 100th anniversary.  


*    All displayed maps per the author’s idea made by Anneliese Gattringer.


**   The 100-years anniversary poster made by Amna Mahić.




[1]Or, by the words of the senior UN diplomat who, contemplating with me over the question whether a middle-power foreign policy is adequate for a great power, recently told me in Geneva: “The difference between Russia and the Soviet Union is that the Federation desperately looks around for respect, but leaves the world responsibilities solely to the US. As known, admiration and respect is earned not given for free.” Clearly, the post-Soviet Russia avoids any strategic global competition with the US, but feels rather insulted with the current strategic global partnership – as both the US and China treat Moscow as a junior partner. Is it possible to (re-)gain a universal respect without any ideological appeal? That could be debated, but one thing is certain, even the mid-size powers such as Brazil, Indonesia or Turkey have moved on from a bandwagoning, reactive and slow to a proactive, accurate and extensive foreign policy.

[2] How was a debtor empire born? One of the biggest (nearly schizophrenic) dilemmas of liberalism, ever since David Hume and Adam Smith, was an insight into reality; whether the world is essentially Hobbesian or Kantian. The state will rob you, but in absence of it, the pauperized masses will mob you. The invisible hand of Smith’s followers have found the satisfactory answer – sovereign debt: relatively strong government of the state (heavily) indebted (firstly to local merchants, than to foreigners). With such a mixed blessing no empire can easily demonetize its legitimacy.

[3]One of the biggest ideological victories of the US is the fact that only two decades years after the Soviet collapse, Russia today has an economy, dominated by oil-rich class of billionaires, whose assets are 20% of country’s GDP –by far the largest share held by the ultra-rich in any major economy. The second largest ideological victory for the US is reported by the New York Times that the outgoing leader of the country that officially rests on ideology of oppressed working class has allegedly accumulated family wealth of 1,7 billion in less than a decade of his rule. Some in the US are not that happy about it, and are wondering – like Fukuyama in his luminary essay – “where is a counter-narrative?” To ease the pain for all balance-seekers: Even if the ideological triumph of the US might be a clear cut, geopolitically it remains undecided. While Russians were absorbing the shock of loss of their historical empire, the ‘lonely superpower’ didn’t know what to do with its colossal gain.

[4] Ikenberry, G.J. (2014), The Illusion of Geopolitics, Foreign Affairs Magazine 93(3) 2014

[5]There are many who would claim that the West was unable to capitalize on the collapse of the Soviet Union, and that the real winner of the superpowers’ playoff is actually the third. It is not only that Asia is resurfacing very self-confident. Deeper and structural, the issue is more subversive as well: One of the most remarkable achievements in the world history of capita-lism is happening under the leadership of the largest Communist party on this planet. The very epilogue of lasting ideological confrontation between Byzantium and (Sassanid) Persia and their colossal geopolitical overextension, was an appearance of the third power center on geopolitical and ideological terrain, gradually prevailing from the 7th century onwards.

[6]Despite the (formal) end of the Cold War, and contrary to all what we celebrate as a technological progress, our Gini coefficients’ distances are far larger than they were two decades ago. Additionally, as the EU was getting closer to Eastern and Russophone Europe, the socio-economic inequalities and politico-cultural exclusions there were growing wider.

[7]Before too long, Washington will have to decide: either containment or accommodation – a viable truce with Moscow or unconditional backing of Russia’s closest neighbours. If Putin finally abandons the non-confrontational course, and regularizes the play on a confrontational nostalgia card, the US-led West might award Moscow by returning Baltics, some central-southern portions of Eastern Europe, along with Central Asia and Caucasus to Russian sphere of influence. If the history of Russo-American confrontations is deep, wide and long, their ability to broker a deal is remarkably extensive, too. Or, as prof. W.R. Mead elaborates: “…In deciding how hard to press Russia over Ukraine, the While House cannot avoid calculating the impact on Russia’s stance on the Syrian war or Iran’s nuclear program.” (Mead, W.R. (2014), The Return of Geopolitics, Foreign Affairs Magazine 93(3) 2014)

[8]Does anyone still remember ‘heroic’ labor union Solidarność from the Gdańsk shipyards? Well, today there are no more unionists, their leader Lech Wałęsa is forgotten, as there are no shipyards ever since Poland (eager, but without careful preparations have) opened its EU accession talks… The similar termination of all public subsidies is stipulated in chapter 8 (Competition Policy) of the accession treaty admitting Croatia to the EU, and the European Commission has been closely monitoring the implementation of the ‘restructuring’ program for the Croatian shipyards. This ongoing shipyards demise will complete Croatia’s de-industrialization (adding to the already record high unemployment of some 25% in the coastal areas). All over the globe, states assist shipbuilding as it is a formidable job provider: In Italy, the Fincantieri shipyards are entirely in public hands; in France, the state is still a minority shareholder in the biggest yards such as STX-Chantiers de l’Atlantique. Even in South Korea, the world champion in naval construction, the state subsidizes shipbuilding. Seems that all what is globally acceptable is forbidden in Eastern Europe; all the way from Poland to Croatia, in the name of European integration.

[9]At this point, let me allow myself a little story in bracket. It is not to romanticise the past but to note on an erosion of one very important governmental post, which is a key for daily execution of international relations… By my free account, in 1815 at the time of Vienna Congress, there are not more than 50 ambassadors worldwide. By the Berlin Congress, their number is still well below 100. Each and every one of them is an exceptional individual of the high moral grounds, of a deep passion affection and loyalty, of an excellent professional standing. Well-mannered and well-informed, erudites, thinkers of paramount analytical insights, charismatic charming and highly intelligent, they represented intellectual crème de la crème of that time societies. By the 1945 San Francisco Conference, the world already counts several hundreds of active ambassadors. At present, there are some 25-30,000 individuals with this title (20-25,000 active national, and some 5-8,000 retired national, as well as up to 1,000 paradiplomats of ambassadorial ranks serving IOs). Sadly enough, in more than a few cases, this post is obtained today by persons who are simply career opportunists, without sufficient professional or moral merits to hold ambassadorial position (individuals who just climbed their careers by being yes-men, no-action-no-mistake-stance grey apparatchiks, disloyal bed mannered and ill-informed but well webbed-up in either nepotistic or crony networks, political removals, rich individuals who bought the post much like the car is purchased). In this gradual but total erosion of ambassadorship, something still remains firm and stabile: privileges, immunities and of course a paycheque /Source on figures: author’s free account./

[10] In late spring 2011 Chancellor Merkel has surprisingly but repeatedly and firmly promised to her fellow Germans the closing of all national nuclear plants. Mixing it with the growth and stability move, many applauded to this heated political rhetoric, as a long-waited and badly needed plan for the High/Green Tech renewal of the EU. Adding a flavor of emotional charge to it, most analysts have interpreted the Chancellor’s bold word of promise with the safety concerns related to that time brewing Japanese Fukoshima drama, as if Germany shared Japan’s geography, reactor technology and seismic activity. However, the majority of commentators remained silent on the timing which was well coinciding with the successful completion of the first phase of the so-called North Stream. It was the first of several planned, long pipelines that delivers hydrocarbons from Russia directly to Germany via the North Sea seabed. This arching pipeline eliminates any transit bargaining premium from the Eastern Europeans and poses in effect a joint Russo-German pressure on the Baltic states, Poland, Ukraine, and even as far as Azerbaijan and Georgia.

[11]In response to the MENA crisis, Europe failed to keep up a broad agenda and all-participatory basis with its strategic neighborhood, although having institutions, interest and credibility to do so. Europe compromised its own perspectives and discredited its own transformative powers’ principle by undermining the indigenous and authentic institutional framework: Barcelona Process (EU), the Euro-Med (OSCE). The only direct involvement was a military engagement via the Atlantic Europe-led coalition of the willing (Libya, Mali, Syria). The consequences are striking: The sort of Islam that the EU supported (and the means deployed to do so) in the Middle East yesterday, is the sort of Islam (and the means it uses) that Europe gets today. No wonder that Islam in Turkey (or in Kirgizstan and in Indonesia) is broad, liberal and tolerant while the one of the Northern Europe is dismissive, narrow and assertive.

[12]Kagan, R. (2004) Of Paradise and Power, Vintage Books (page 85)

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