h1

Eastern Europe’s Responsibility to the World

November 5, 2009

Claudia Ciobanu

Whether we are from Eastern Europe or just care for the region, I think it might be our role to see this group of countries in a different light. To leave aside the eternal victimization and point out some of its responsibilities towards the rest of the world. This might play a role not only in creating a more just world, but also in strengthening Eastern Europe itself.

As I am writing this text, the world is getting ready for the summit on climate change to take place in December in Copenhagen. One of the main issues to be settled is how much aid are rich countries willing to give to the developing ones in order for the latter to invest in green technologies, and thus grow without sacrificing the environment (as the global North has done). Meeting in late October, European Union leaders agreed that the developing world should receive 50 billion euros per year until 2020, but failed to make a strong commitment on how much money the union itself will give. The new Bulgarian prime minister, Boiko Borissov, came back satisfied from the negotiations. Nine Eastern European countries, including Bulgaria, had managed to persuade the other EU leaders that they need to pay reduced amounts. Borisov estimated that Bulgaria would save 40-50 million euros in this way. Whether the Eastern Europeans’ reduced contributions will deacrease the final amount made available by the EU is not clear. But what comes across from the attitude of the Eastern European leaders is clear: these countries are too poor to help others. However, the aid to be given by rich states to countries from the global South is a matter of justice. The global North has achieved current levels of prosperity through massive industrialization, which led directly to the environmental damage threatening the entire world today. Eastern European countries grew through state-driven industrial production, the other countries through capitalist industrialization, but it is environmentally-damaging industrialization in both cases. The responsibility belongs to Eastern Europeans too and the excuse that they are poorer cannot be used. Otherwise, why should countries in the global South accept the idea that their own economic growth strategies should take environmental concerns into consideration? After all, many of these countries are even poorer than Bulgaria.

Denying responsibilities to the rest of the world is quite a trend in the region, all explained away through self-victimization, i.e., “we are poor” and “we are victims of Communism”.

Some of the Eastern European countries now represent Europe’s borders, at a time when Europe itself is struggling to contain the continuous waves of migration coming towards it from Africa, the Middle East or Asia. Bulgaria is on the spot again, as it is the European country which, together with Greece, links Europe to Turkey. This is the land route that migrants coming from Asia or the Middle East use to get into Europe. Greece’s asylum acceptance rates are around 0.1 percent, making it a virtually closed access point. More migrants have turned to Bulgaria over the past years. The response was swift: in 2008, acceptance rates for asylum seekers were dropped radically; Iraqis were especially affected, the number of accepted asylum rates dropping from hundreds before 2008 to tens in that year. An Iraqi refugee I spoke to in Sofia told me asylum seekers from her country are being told by Bulgarian authorities that their country was safe, there was no reason for them to leave Iraq. But the UN said the real reason for the high rejection rates is that Bulgarians do not have the capabilities to receive so many refugees. Even truer is that they do not want to have the capabilities, as they still perceive themselves as a poor country which needs to put its own people first. They do not wish to see that the peace they enjoy is most valuable and really the main thing Iraqi applicants are looking for.

Contributions for developing green production technologies and accepting asylum-seekers from war-torn countries are just two examples of areas where the region denies the positive role it could and should play in the world.

The reluctance to accept responsibility for the world became clear to me as I was speaking to an activist involved in fair trade promotion in Eastern Europe. The activist was speaking about Eastern Europeans’ attitude to global trade, another core issue for global justice, another area where the global North, having benefited from centuries of unequal commercial relationships with the rest of the world, should act more justly. The activist said: “Central and Eastern Europe is not used to think of itself as belonging to ‘the developed part of the world’. Being closed countries for so long (during the Communist period) has also contributed to the limited awareness of problems faced by the global South. So it is important to raise awareness that our region does now belong among the rich and ought to take responsibility for other regions of the world.”

Whether we are from Eastern Europe or just care for the region, I think it might be our role to see this group of countries in a different light. To leave aside the eternal victimization and point out some of its responsibilities towards the rest of the world. This might play a role not only in creating a more just world, but also in strengthening Eastern Europe itself.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: