Time for a Concert instead?
Hungary once again finds itself in the line of fire. This time for a piece of legislation that prohibits schoolkids from getting into contact with LGBTQ-material. The critics are quick to brand this an assault on fundamental rights and freedom of speech while Orbán maintains that he supports gay rights, and that the new law concerns the rights of kids and their parents. And who wouldn´t want that?
The EU has reacted in the way it usually does. The Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte claims Hungary no longer “has a place in the EU”, while the Commission wants to discipline the country for breaking EU-values. Both Hungary and Poland have systematically been accused of this heinous crime, that is, opposing common values.
There is, however, something awkward about invoking “European values” for the purpose of disciplining member states when they by implementing obviously “European values” go against Brussels’ “European values”. In the same spirit Finnish EU-commissioner Jutta Urpilainen recently in relation to Hungary asked how “Europe will be able to function if everyone won’t respect our values?”. The obvious problem with this line of reasoning of course being who we are? The Commission? The political class? Europe?
The EU’s tendency to refer to these values is really a way of centralizing power, as this becomes the only way of showing a “united” front. In the process of course disproving the very idea of spontaneous and universal “European values” existing – something both Napoleon and Hitler experienced very bitterly during their own pan-European projects. With a certain level of centralization achieved regions, peoples and countries revolt as there are clear distinctions between the Atlantic, Central- and East-European cultures. Cultural commonalities which do exist, furthermore, are not embodied by the EU as it is largely a post-war ordoliberal construction and a continuation of American geopolitics.
Since the Reformation a united Europe has been an impossibility – rather there is an ongoing cultural struggle for precisely what constitutes “European values”. Already back in January the Hungarian government demanded a children’s book with LGBTQ-themes published in Hungary be accompanied by a warning text. Not only is this, ironically enough, reflecting the trigger warnings of the progressive movement, but more importantly the rhetoric points to the core of the European problem. According to the book’s writers the aim is to teach children respectfulness, which is identical to saying that this quality is absent if it is not taught. In Hungary precisely this kind of “education” is regarded as the propagandistic element in the same way Christian or nationalist values are regarded as unacceptable in countries like Sweden.
Europe needs, as the American hegemony cools, its own modernity. The only way for the EU to survive is to become the only thing it can be: a zone for the free movement of citizens, goods and services upheld by a coalition of strong, but different European nation states. All-encompassing plans, common hymns and values, budgetary discipline, directives, currencies and political agendas are doomed from the start. Enforcing European values in good 20th century fashion is equal to admitting they do not really exist.
The fact that nations are breaking away both to the West and East speaks of deep-rooted problems within the logic of the European project, not with these individual countries. A split that will only grow larger with the emergence of new federal plans for the post-Covid order. Historically, the strength and unity of Europe has been reflected in a concert of independent players. The very moment consolidated values are declared is always the moment Europe starts to crumble.