Saturday, September 19, 2009

Groupism in practice

I must apologize in advance for being again narrow-minded and concentrating on issues seemingly of secondary importance, only very superficially connected to the crisis. But the abandonment of the US missile shield project in ECE caused some reactions that are great illustrations of a concept introduced into the nationalism studies recently and not the least can shed light to the thinking of ECE elites or at least a part of them.
The issue is quite simple, the Obama administration announced the abandonment of the plan of a missile shield with a radar station in the Czech Republic and ten missiles in Poland with the aim to intercept IBMs launched from Iran. The plan caused much tension between Russia and the US (and its allies in ECE) because it was perceived as aimed against Russia and - ironically - while the Bush administration never forgot to stress that it is not capable to counterbalance a strategic strike force as large as the Russians have, the Polish and Czech politicians saw in the realization of the project not only a chance to raise their importance in the US system of alliances, but an effective way to deter Russia from aggressive steps against these countries. Not that it would have been really popular, at least in the Czech Republic the plan was widely unpopular.
Anyway, the announcement caused uproar, at least among the elite. Some weeks ago a group of experts, diplomats and politicians, describing themselves as "atlantists" (i.e. personalities with a deep attachment to the idea of a firm alliance between their countries and the US) published a letter supposedly addressed to the Obama administration and warning the consequences of such a possibility, the perceived spread of a feeling among the population that the US surrenders the region to Russia.
Up to this point it is a pretty simple story, one would be justified to ask: what the whole series of events has to do with such unheard concepts as "groupism"? I will spare my readers (however few they are) from a detailed discussion of this concept, invented by Rogers Brubaker. The core of this idea is an observation and critical remark: many categories employed and applied by social scientists implies the very existence of the subjects of their analysis instead of asking for this fact. Social scientists tend to take the existence of such entities as nations, states, societies - all of them as entities acting their uniformly and unanimously on their own behalf - analysing such phenomenons as nations as if they could act as single actors, as their respective elites claim or describe. The idea was a productive one fro the social sciences, but as the reaction to the event mentioned above shows it is far from being universally accepted or applied.
The largest and supposedly best quality newspaper in Hungary (Népszabadság) published a small collection of different articles in order to place the decision of the Obama administration in a broader context. It published an interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski, a small report on a survey carried out by the German Marshall Foundation (Transatlantic Trends 2009) and some auxiliary information on the reactions in Poland and in the Czech Republic.
The whole story is covered as if such entity as Poland, Hungary or any country in ECe would exist and act as a single person. The results of the Transatlantic Trend survey are reported as a sign that contrary to the Western part of the continent Obama's accession to the presidency would have caused disappointment and disillusionment. The paper cites someone responsible for the research stating that the new administration is less popular because of its less confrontational approach to Russia. Surprisingly the survey results show that the Bush administration was less popular even in Poland where anti-Russian sentiment is really a mobilization force. And the other results signal not less, but more enthusiasm towards Obama, although not as strong as in Western Europe.
But this is not groupism, this is simple professional incapacity. Groupism as a basic concept of those whose thoughts are conveyed by the articles is revealed by such phrases like Poland or the Czech Republic is disappointed because of the abandonment of the plan, Eastern and Western Europe is worried by the dependence from Russian natural gas and oil etc. Even though these issues are usually confined to a very narrow group of the respective societies and the missile shield was - especially in the Czech republic - an unpopular issue, only supported by the elites, as long as those elites express their views as if they would represent the public opinion it is accepted s such. And the disappointment of some people in the elite is interpreted as widespread disappointment, sometimes contradicting the evidence. But as long as elites are seen as identical to their respective societies, groupism will prevail. And we will hear that Romania, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia etc. did something or felt somehow, however crazy such an assumption is.

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