Recently the media were reporting about Poland, where a rightist government which happens to have a majority seems to be busy twisting all democratic institutions in order to establish full control of public opinion making and the essential institutions of government and jurisdiction. And similar things we have seen already earlier in Hungary. And Timo Soini, minister of foreign affairs, objects to ongoing attempts to interfere with the development in Poland. Why?
What I “smell” in this (most unpleasantly) are two cultural factors, of which the first one is Catholicism. Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Salazar were all the products of Catholic societies, and also all those South and Central American dictators of the recent past were (aside of also being very much helped by the CIA). And in Hungary the Catholics are still in some majority (in addition to which there may be traditions from the Austro-Hungarian, essentially Catholic, past), while in Poland the Catholic majority is simply huge. And what about this? Are Catholics then bad people? No, not really, but there is the fact that Catholicism is preaching methods of education which result in a general belief in authority, especially in the authority of “the one man with the direct contact to the higher powers” (forcing people to choose between the pope or the “Führer of the nation” – HItler was claimed to have that direct connection to the “Vorsehung” = destiny). And anyway authority is quite generally proclaimed to be “good”, while people who deviate from the teachings of the authority are very easily black-painted without inhibition. All of which may easily have also political consequences. And yes, Timo Soini is Catholic.
The second cultural factor which comes to my mind is the distance from the sea: Traditionally, on a ship (especially a wooden one) certainly the captain was the most important person, but second in importance was already the ship’s carpenter (who kept the thing in repair, i.e. floating and manoeuvrable), and after him very soon the sail maker. And if these specialists were not treated well they could very easily leave the ship in the next harbour and look for hire on another ship. Thus, on the sea the traditions included a certain respect for employees. And in Northern Germany not only the carpenters from just Hamburg were highly appreciated, but after World War I it was Hamburg which was considered the “Socialist Capital” of Germany, and still nowadays people along the coast tend to vote Social Democrat. In addition to this, there was in Western Europe (especially in Germany?) the tradition of the traveling craftsmen, i.e. of craftsmen who had completed their basic training and now were moving from place to place, taking up short-time employment in ever new places and learning new skills while doing so – and also here there was the aspect that one could easily lose a good worker by treating him badly. In contrast to this, the further east in Europe one goes, the stronger the old traditions of feudalism and bondage may have survived: the position in society based on landownership and birth, the work force kept in bondage, specialists are few and hired in from outside, little hinders from using the whip on oxen, horses and bondsmen alike. Comparing these different traditional trends, it is very much the question what political ideas and habits might grow in different regions of Europe and how far it makes sense of speaking of common European values. Some might even say that Europe has expanded too fast to the East, incorporating too many countries with less-than-enlightened traditions (and now being in trouble because of it). But once we have now the EU it might still be best to try and keep it together (certainly better than war). But this job will also take quite a lot of thinking, discussing and convincing, plus structures which bring these efforts to the attention of people (instead of just trying to make profit from selling cheap excitement/entertainment …).