Prof. Katerina Kolozova: The EU should unify and consolidate itself to remain a player

Instead of allowing patches of disillusioned nations and territories at its centre

I believe the EU must start to view itself more as a political force with geostrategic instead of technocratic priorities, keeping in mind that territory, size of market, building a sense of civilisational belonging are all pressingly urgent milestones if Europe as a continent seeks to remain a global power, says Katerina Kolozova, professor of political philosophy, in an interview to EUROPOST.

Ms Kolozova, at the end of March the EU showed more conviction in expressing its willingness to open accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania. The rationale behind it was clearly articulated - if the EU does not assume a leading role in this region of Europe, others will do it and are already doing it. How do Macedonians view this protracted process of promises given and conditions set?

Macedonians see the whole process as humiliating. North Macedonia was one of the first ex-Yugoslav countries along with Slovenia to sign the Pact of Stabilisation and Association, followed by an invitation to become an accession country in 2005. Again, the country was invited second in line after Slovenia, before Croatia and certainly before Serbia. Now, we find ourselves with a pending status, in a “package” with Albania. It is perceived as devaluation of the previously achieved goals and recognised merits, as the “package” with Albania seems to symbolise a similar level of institutional capacities and societal potential.

I believe the EU must start to view itself more as a political force with geostrategic instead of technocratic priorities, keeping in mind that territory, size of market, building a sense of civilisational belonging are all pressingly urgent milestones if Europe as a continent seeks to remain a global power. This is something that even the nationalist forces in the major Western European states should be able to recognise as national - and not only supranational - priorities: France or Germany are unlikely to remain the players they are nowadays should the Union, as an economic zone but also as a socio-cultural one, dissolve. If such are Europe's strategic goals, it should unify and consolidate itself geopolitically which means: it should not allow non-EU disillusioned patches of nations and territories at the centre of it. The approach should become more realist than proceduralist. The integration should be far faster whereas the processes inside the Union should be redefined and the power of the Union's institutions, including promulgating, fostering, mediating reforms as well as sanctioning should increase. In order to function as a global political power, perhaps certain principles in decision making, pertaining of the 90's style global neoliberalism, should be abandoned (the consensus vote, for example) whereas clear recognition which states are the true engine of Europe's advancement and power, as well as procedures that reflect that reality, should be introduced as well.

Is there any sense of fatigue with this whole saga among the Macedonian public and what do Macedonians expect from an EU membership? What EU policies are of greatest importance to your country at the moment?

One should not rely only on the polls that offer meagre information: support for the EU integration is relatively high. That is an indication of a pro-Western general sentiment. However, if one attempts a deeper, qualitative study combined with quantitative indicators (as I did with my colleagues six years ago), the disillusionment that is palpable will probably become evident and corroborated by data. The poll conducted by Eurothink-Skopje in October 2019 demonstrates the disillusionment I am talking about, especially among the ethnic Macedonians and more than ever among the right wing (only 36% of the VMRO-DPMNE, according the poll in question, still support the EU integration). Certainly, this situation may open possibilities for other geopolitical interests and influences.

Many believe, especially in the West, that the Eastern European countries are interested in the integration processes for economic reasons only and the possibility to participate in the pan-European labour market. I beg to differ, especially when Macedonia is concerned: vast majority of its citizens are already part of the European diaspora or the European seasonal workforce. Emigration in Canada and Australia are always options, and numerous families have emigrated there. The expectation comes down to a question of dignity and a still persisting sense of European identity belonging - to be recognised as a nation that is part of the European family of nations. The citizens have already interiorised this contempt of the West or its perception of innate Balkan inferiority - authoritarian governance is often justified by the citizens themselves through such self-perception. Thus, authoritarianism and sense of civic and civilisational inferiority - instilled in the years of the so-called transition, and non-existent in the Yugoslav era - constitute a vicious circle whereby one feeds the other maintaining the status quo. This has become particularly apparent during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Institute I work at as a researcher and a professor, Institute of social sciences and humanities - Skopje, has just completed a qualitative research of the social media which confirms the push from below towards authoritarian governance.

Many of the objections to the enlargement process that existed 15 years ago are still valid today - the negatives of a greater level of political, social and cultural diversity of the bloc; the need for greater budgetary solidarity; the inherent inability to achieve deeper integration. What has changed?

I have noticed that in the recent years, many prominent conference organisers, most recently Chatham House in 2019, have been setting up events, sessions, workshops on the question “how can Europe maintain its role of a global power in a multipolar world”, and similar. I believe most of what I could say in response to this question is part of my answer to your first question. Let us also remind ourselves of the recent analysis published by Jacques Rupnik et al. on the same topic, that raises the alarm of Europe remaining or becoming a true geopolitical force, whereby enlargement and deepening do not exclude one another but quite to the contrary build on one another: L'Europe d'après. Pour un nouveau récit de l'élargissement, published in Esprit in May 2020. 

From a philosophical standpoint, what is your take on the old Member States' attempts to “Europeanise” the new and the future ones as well as impose the same model through the process of so-called integration - measures and reforms dictated by Western technocrats?

I believe that the major European forces in the West have had hard time accepting that one half of the continent has been “backward” from the viewpoint of its own set of values, long colonial liberal and republican traditions, preceded or concomitant with a century long ruthless colonial exploitation of entire continents and regions. In reality, what is perceived as “long democratic tradition” is just a decades-old façade preceded by centuries of imperialism that included barbaric, ruthless exploitation of peoples that could easily be dehumanised. In the meantime, Eastern Europe under the communist rule built a whole system - irrelevant whether good or bad, totalitarian or otherwise, let us focus on the structure and not the semantics - of strong ideological vision, technological advancement, accelerated modernisation and its own rule of law, rigidly respected (hence, low crime rates at the time). This universe was destroyed in a blink of an eye. In the nineties there were merely ruins of a worldview and formerly existing economic system. These ruins populated by disoriented nations were declared dysfunctional states and their people innately inept to adhere to rule of law (“primitives” is implied) and its elites corrupt. In an absence of system - while a new one is being built - along with ex-nihilo created new type of institution, chaos is bound to reign. That anomie that was inevitable was projected (by the West) back on us, and we interiorised it. Maria Todorova's Imagining the Balkans is a groundbreaking book in this respect. Also, Ivan Krastev's and Stephen Holmes Light That Failed (2020) offer a very incisive insight into the situation as I attempt here to present.

Unfortunately, the Covid-19 crisis has overshadowed the commitments that Brussels was supposed to make this spring. At the video conference that acted as a substitute for the EU-Western Balkans Zagreb Summit, the bloc announced a €3.3bn relief package for the healthcare sector of the Western Balkans. Has your country received this funding and how will it be used?

I am not familiar with the fact of whether the funds have actually arrived, but I am sure they are on their way to the country considering such decision has been adopted. I have not run into any precise plan as to how these funds will be spent. All the relief funds for the economic sector have been provided by the budget of North Macedonia. I am not certain if the EU support fund is intended for the healthcare system only or for mitigating the crisis as a whole. It would be a good idea to be able to use it to counter the socio-economic consequences of the crisis.

How do you view the disputes between Bulgaria and North Macedonia on matters of history? I know that this is a vast topic, but can't we take some lessons, something positive from those?

I see them as a matter that can be solved in terms of contemporary political theory, cultural theory, interdisciplinary studies on matters of identity, contemporary studies of international relations rather than as something that can be solved in terms of history only. Historiography and the national myth are two different things. Each nation is built on national imagery and myth-making, which sometimes has rather loose connections with the actual historical facts. Historical links between the two nations are undeniable, and one must find a way to acknowledge and share that commonality. Bulgarian academia must overcome its anachronistic historicism and acknowledge the reality of a now existing Macedonian nation and standardised language whereas Macedonia must work on fostering more intense links, collaboration and sense of regional commonality with Bulgaria in order to overcome the still existing bulgarophobia. In spite of the widespread impression that the bulgarophobia is stronger than the other forms of Macedonian xenophobia, I have a sense that it may be a wrong perception. I have noticed that the nationalist opposition to the agreement with Greece has been much stronger, verbally violent than the opposition to the agreement with Bulgaria and the subsequent occasional confrontations between academicians or politicians from both sides.
 

Close-up

Dr. Katerina Kolozova is senior researcher and full professor at the Institute of Social Sciences and Humanities, Skopje. At the Institute she teachers policy studies, political philosophy and gender studies. She is also a professor of philosophy of law at the doctoral school of the University American College-Skopje. At the Faculty of Media and Communications-Belgrade, she teaches contemporary political philosophy. She was a visiting scholar at the Department of Rhetoric at the University of California-Berkley in 2009, under the peer supervision of prof. Judith Butler. Kolozova has coordinated numerous studies in the area of applied social research and policy studies dedicated to the problems of “illiberal democracy”, “state capture”, freedom of expression and the media as well as academic freedoms. Her most recent monograph is Capitalism's Holocaust of Animals published by Bloomsbury Academic-UK in 2019, whereas Cut of the Real: Subjectivity in Poststructuralist Philosophy, published by Columbia University Press-NY in 2014, remains her most cited book.

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