Thursday, March 11, 2010

Example of "Western Europe" Trying to Teach Lessons to "Eastern Europe"

"Eastern Europeans should strive to present a more modern face to visitors" is the subtitle of this The Economist article. Some comments about the subtitle and the article:

1. it is really strange that "Eastern Europe" and "Western Europe" are expressions still in use. Of course, the history of Europe in the XXth century more than justified the emergence of those terms. But now in 2010, is there still such a difference?: whether "western" or "eastern", almost all countries subsumed into those two expressions are democracies, market-oriented economies, have multi-party systems, free elections, free mass media, are industrialized, have a big services sector, ... The XXth century is definitely extremely important today, it is part of the present, but when one considers the "absolute now", the year 2010, and one talks about very recent and very present things like the economic crisis - does that separation into "western" and "eastern" countries make sense, is it necessary, does it add or help anything for the comprehension of, say, the economic crisis, etc.? Or is it just "pure discrimination"?

2. on which grounds do "western Europe" base their superiority vis-a-vis "eastern Europe"? Is it history? Culture? Economy? Or what?

3. why these "international" and "inteligent" publications like "The Economist" believe "western Europe" can teach lessons to "eastern Europe"? Does the author of the above-linked article really believes "eastern Europe" is less modern than, say, England? And is it that England and the other "western Europe" countries, when visited by foreigners, don't put any emphasis on their past?

My oppinions are:

1. nowadays, "eastern Europe" and "western Europe" are expressions mainly meant for some rich and politically powerful countries perpetuate the prejudice that there is good and bad Europe (whether it is economically, politicaly or in terms of culture) and that, surprise, surprise!, "western Europe" is good, "eastern Europe" is bad.

2. whether "eastern" or "western", "central", "southern" or "nordic", relatively richer or relatively poorer, I don't see that there is any European country which could claim any sort of moral, historical or political superiority on any other or others. Even less legitimate would be to claim that a group of countries has some sort of superiority on other group. Refusing to accept this is the result of utter nationalism and extreme ignorance of the histories of European countries.

3. the idea that "being modern" is something important, specially when one country presents itself to others, is itself very much problematic. Here are some problems:

(i) What does it mean to be modern? Is it having "modern" institutions like "republic" instead of "monarchy", and fully-elected parliaments instead of existence of, say, lords? If this is the criterion, then, on average, "eastern Europe" would be more modern than "western Europe". Or is it having WiFi everywhere and many mobiles phones per capita? If WiFi matters, Estonia might be extremely modern, more modern than the "average western Europe country". If "modern" is something social like "female labor market participation", then Portugal is probably as modern as Sweden. Again, trying to find a "modernity' divide in the lines of "west versus east" or "north versus south" might be just a way to foment prejudice and impede knowledge.

(ii) If being modern means neglecting history, say, when a comitive of foreigners visits some country, then would it not be the case that "modern" is just a fancy word for "ignorant"?

(iii) Are perceptions about modernity in other countries realistic or mainly based on prejudice? And if they are mainly prejudice-based, why are those wrong and unfair perceptions always so much spread? Did The Economist ever write an article on, say, the pioneerism of Estonia when it comes to software, of Portugal when it comes to home-banking and, say, mobile telephony? Or is it that the "ranking of modernity" is, rather, something that "inteligent" publications purely assume, in the same lines as they separate good Europe ("western") from bad Europe ("eastern")? For sure, keeping these prejudices are mostly detrimental for "eastern" (or "southern") Europe; and one may not want to wait till The Economist and other "inteligent" publications from "good Europe" decide to treat with realism and fairness the "other Europe".

The final question is, thus, this: what did YOU do today to stop prejudice and nationalism within Europe and spread true knowledge about, say, your country?