OUR WORLD IN 2014
n school history textbooks the description of the decline and fall of empires, great civilisations and legendary cities was al- ways factual and sterile. It never went into de-tails, never answered questions about the way these obviously monumental historic events were felt and understood by the people living through them. Did they recognise the process of decline? Did they see the fall coming? Did they rec-ognize events for what they were? Did they delude themselves? Did they gradually and unconsciously adapt to a lower level of self confidence, of living standards, even of self re-spect? Did they go through the
“five stages of grief”
(denial, an-ger, bargaining, depression and acceptance)? Knowing all this would be helpful to in-terpreting the contemporary flux in world dynamics as it becomes increasingly felt. It would also provide intellectual analytic tools to dissect the accelerating change on different levels and to put each flux manifestation into perspective. For the first time in human history, the modern shift in the global center of gravity is happening between oceans. A centuries-old paradigm based on the universal cultural dom-inance or hegemony of the West is fraying, as is the term “West” itself. Originally used to describe a comprehen-sive cultural model native to Europe, “West” expanded to encompass all points in the globe where this model was transplanted, either through colonial expansion as in the Americas and Oceania, or through imperial reach as in Asia and Africa. This is the reason why previous change, as the one following WW2, was not a change in paradigm but an internal re-arrangement with-in the existing one. Power shifted from Europe eastwards, but there it was stop-gapped by the same basic western/European cultured pow-ers, however changed and adapted by new evolutionary tracks. Even this comparatively minor adjustment of the center of gravity to- wards the Atlantic produced shattering effects felt around the world and re-shaped the old western cradle, Europe.Seen within this context, the current eco-nomic and geopolitical shift of gravity from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean underpins the many individual “crises” manifestations around the West. In West’s European core, the magnitude of the adjustment involved is expressed in the most grievous terms and is certainly been felt this way by societies long settled in the perceived inviola- bility of their supremacy. Across the Atlantic, at least across the Northern half of it, the effects, both actual and perceptual are mitigated by the fact that both the United States and Canada, have both an Atlantic East Coast as well as a Pacific West Coast. The United States was and remains an Atlantic power but also (or more so) a Pacific power.So does another “Western” continent/state in the South, Australia, which plays an in-creasingly important role in the Pacific. While these regional players are in a posi-tion to adapt or even to strongly influence the shaping of the new geopolitical environment, the real driving forces have no Western/Euro-pean roots. Obviously China and India are the main actors, together with Japan, Korea and Indone-sia. Other regional ascending powers may not have the global reach of the bigger and more established players but are rapidly gaining ground. A prime example is Vietnam. These countries would certainly deny that they are revisionist states. Some would even go to great lengths to disprove any such suggestions. But the sheer mass of their de- velopment leads to a revision of the existing geopolitical and geo-economic situation, as mass always tends to exert huge gravitational forces. Europe is subject to these forces. At the moment, perhaps partly as a result of their influence, it seems to be locked in an introver-sion stasis, as it is searching for a new place and role as an international actor. This period of flux may explain European navel-gazing as it may also explain the lack of any clear direction or statesmanship that might indicate such a direction. This may come after European societies go through the “five stages of grief” and are able to move on, adjusting to new challenges and new opportunities. Contrary to the optimistic declarations of European officials, there is no indication of positive progress or of inspiring vision. An increasingly bureaucratic “play safe” attitude in Brussels combined with uninspired political leadership in the member states attests to the more than demographic aging of the European societies that leads to a “circling the wagons” attitude based on past perceptions. The final stage of “acceptance” must be reached, the earlier the possible, in order for new ideas and approaches to be developed. So Europe goes down in future history books as one of the civilisations that reacted to stimuli, adapted and averted oblivion.
The five stages of grief
Shrinking Europe. The Brussels tourist attraction, Mini Europe has had a reprieve till 2016, but what about ‘big’ Europe?
BELGA PHOTO DIRK WAEM
Managing Editor, New Europe
By KONSTANTIN TSAPOGASVON TAUBE
Contrary to the optimistic declarations of European officials, there is no indication of positive progress or of inspiring vision
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