Nationalism— “Financed with European Union Funds”

The renaissance of nationalism in Central European societies is one of the greatest paradoxes of united Europe. The more Poles or Hungarians benefit from EU membership, the more they support politicians who promise that their countries will never be anything like Europe.

Poles and Hungarians want to imitate European modernization (i.e. enjoy a steadily increasing living standard), but only a few are ready for European modernity (i.e. a Western lifestyle and customs).

The distinction between these two concepts, modernization and modernity, seems to be crucial. Central Europeans overwhelmingly accept and adopt Western technologies, but not necessarily Western ideologies (i.e. the visions of the proposed socio-political order contained in myths shared by the community). It is enlightenment without Enlightenment, a civilization without culture. It can also be called a relationship without obligations, a love affair without illusions.

Central Europeans want to benefit from the blessings of a multicultural and tolerant liberal democracy open to otherness. But not necessarily at home. Let our neighbours take this path. This is why the more Polish or Slovak towns and cities, subsidized under the European cohesion policy, resemble well-maintained towns in Holland or Belgium, the more confidently their inhabitants vote for nationalists and open Eurosceptics (even—or perhaps especially—when they themselves take seasonal jobs in the West). The last thing that Poles or Slovaks, forced to compete with Pakistanis for low-paid jobs in England, want is labor migration from outside Europe to their home countries. To put it simply, the more they come in touch with multiculturalism abroad, the more they do not want it at home.

Of course, there are also exceptions, these being the hundreds of thousands of young Poles, Hungarians and Romanians who have moved to the West permanently, not only because of the prospect of better earnings but also to lead a different lifestyle, far from nosy neighbours and the parish church. They generally do not vote, however, in their home countries, although they often send money there (in Poland alone it amounted to about 4 billion euros in 2018). This huge stream of money, together with incomparably larger EU funds and direct investments of Western companies – a real cornucopia, which from the Polish point of view is a fount of allegedly non-existent free lunches—makes Central Europe develop and get richer, and its inhabitants no longer feel like poor relatives of the West, as they did years ago. Today, they are masters in their own home and want to decide for themselves who to invite and who to show the door to.

The party headquarters of the Law and Justice party and Fidesz, the doors of Orban’s and Kaczyński’s offices, should feature plaques known from playgrounds, swimming pools or modernized railway stations: “Financed with European Union funds”. As a matter of fact, they would also be appropriate at the SMER and ANO headquarters.

Aleksander Kaczorowski

Aleksander Kaczorowski is an editor-in-chief of Aspen Review Central Europe, a Polish bohemist, journalist and author. His recent books include biographies of Václav Havel, Bohumil Hrabal, Ota Pavel and Isaac Babel. He won the Václav Burian Prize for cultural contribution to the Central European dialogue (2016).

Share this on social media

Support Aspen Institute

The support of our corporate partners, individual members and donors is critical to sustaining our work. We encourage you to join us at our roundtable discussions, forums, symposia, and special event dinners.

These web pages use cookies to provide their services. You get more information about the cookies after clicking on the button “Detailed setting”. You can set the cookies which we will be able to use, or you can give us your consent to use all the cookies by clicking on the button “Allow all”. You can change the setting of cookies at any time in the footer of our web pages.
Cookies are small files saved in your terminal equipment, into which certain settings and data are saved, which you exchange with our pages by means of your browser. The contents of these files are shared between your browser and our servers or the servers of our partners. We need some of the cookies so that our web page could function properly, we need others for analytical and marketing purposes.