Miklos Erhardt

Questions about globalisation, the meaning of borders, the definitions of 'Europe,' are very complex - they are not only political, but strongly existential. So I would prefer to limit myself to making only a few disordered observations, from the point of view of a gap, resulting from 40 years of 'difference', that now seems to be closing. In the post-communist period, eastern european countries have made many attempts at constructing new national identities, which in the end have only further confused our national/political landscape. Embarking on a serious process of self-definition at the same time as embracing a greater European identity gives rise to many problems and contradictions. If we assume our task to be how to create a common Europe without its previous identities, not having any identity from the outset would seem to be an ideal position. But being without a consistent identity creates the need for so much soul searching that we don't seem to have any energy left to participate in, and to add anything to, the anti-corporate, anti-capitalist, anti-fascist, pro-globalisation movement (since this movement is not against globalization, but calling for another form of globalization).

As far as I can see, the new right wing in Europe draws its appeal by focusing on a European rather than a national identity, a European identity threatened on one side by the US controlled wave of economical and cultural globalisation, and on the other by large scale immigration from the Third World. From our point of view in the other europe, the situation is a lot simpler: we perceive a bipolar world order, split into the First and the Third World. And despite all of our 'particularity' and our 'expertise' of not having an identity, we have to decide whether we want to join the abusive or the abused part of the world, and therefore to know clearly from which direction we can expect sympathy, from which one we have to expect animosity, because we are confused about the fragmented animosity and the fragmented sympathy thrown towards us from various directions now, and we are disappointed about the fact that neither the sympathy nor the animosity is strong enough to make us feel that we are 'somebody'.

In reality, on the level of everyday life, Hungary's situation is apparently not that desperate. We have our passports, we don't need visas to enter EU countries, we don't produce emigrants and don't attract immigrants, we are free to choose between our sufficiently awful political parties, we must have enough money to pay for the highest telephone rates in all of Europe while on the other hand cigarettes and food are still relatively cheap, we have magical, ever changing dates of when we will finally be allowed to enter the EU, and can boast having dozens of TV programs publicising 'European' life-styles. So, what am I talking about?

Today, it seems Third World countries are only referred to as 'developing' in patronising statements made by the global powers. The notion of development is also irrelevant when it comes to the First World: since its greatest concern today is maintaining its wealth, not any new plan for development or progress. The only part of the world where 'development' has a positive meaning seems to be our other (eastern) europe, although this development doesn't aspire towards any new, never before experienced reality either. Our target is already well defined, we are aware of the routes leading there, and of the objectives we want to reach. Our target is to enter the Europe.

Now nothing is more humiliating than being 'developing', as this positions you in the middle of the street, it deprives you of every code, it makes you young in the sense of not being fully mature, it implies the terror of learning, of having tasks, new homework to do every day. Until now, for example, we have supposedly been learning what a representative democracy means. It took more than ten years to learn it. It took more than ten years to transform our traditional separations within society into separations between left and right wing parties. And people enjoy this novelty very much: during the last elections, Hungarians were on the verge of killing each other in their political fervour - hundreds of thousands gathered in the streets to express their will in a country where an average demonstration used to attract 30 - 40 people.

Being young also makes you the target of the most offensive manipulation - the manipulation that creates consumers. As things stand, the basic functions of the market economy, like planning, production, and consumption are increasingly being divided between different parts of the world. The First World plans, manages businesses, and earns money. The Third World is responsible for production (even though to fulfill their duty, a part of the workers have to move into the houses of the global powers). And our other europe consumes.

Hungarians and other east european nations are spending much more money in proportion to their GDP than all their Western counterparts. Beyond this fact, which is not insignificant, consumption is the most appropriate metaphor for our attitude towards everything - we consume in the unquestioning manner that makes children the best consumers. We have sold all our local industries just so the joy of consuming their products isn't spoilt, we are consuming fast food, fruit yogurts, behavioral, political and cultural patterns, even fears and frustrations that previously we didn't have any reason to experience. To be sure, even radical militancy will be glamourous as soon as it becomes another part of the range of Western goods thrown in the consumption addicted east european market.

Since conclusions only come at the end of a process of development, and as children we are still somewhere in between, there are no conclusions to be drawn. Instead, and without being nostalgic about any part of my past, I'd like to say how much I miss those times when I could be more philosophical and maybe more virtual, in a very natural way, in contrast to how political I have to become today, when even the smallest decision - say between fruit yogurts or plain - is a serious political choice.

Budapest, Hungary, May, 2002

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