Declining Western Europe should follow Visegrad countries example – exclusive interview with Belgian historian David Engels
In an exclusive interview with V4NA David Engels, a renowned Belgian historian and university professor, has mentioned the four Visegrad countries as a positive example, in contrast with the declining Western Europe and the disintegrating European Union. Mr Engels believes the European civilisation can only be saved through cooperation.
Professor David Engels, a Belgian historian, was born on 27 August, 1979, in Verviers, Belgium. He majored in history, philosophy and economics at the Rhine-Westphalia Technical University of Aachen between 1997 and 2002. He graduated in 2005 and worked as an assistant to the head of the Department of Ancient History at the University of Aachen. In 2008, he was appointed head of the Department of Roman History at the Free University of Brussels (ULB). From 2009, he also worked as an editor at the Latomus Publishing Company, where he later served as editor-in-chief and then as CEO, between 2012 and 2017. Having been involved in numerous research projects, Mr Engels began publishing in 2007 focusing on correlations and similarities between the EU and the Late Roman Republic. As an expert in the development of Western European societies, he has firsthand experience of the direct consequences the ideology of multiculturalism, globalism and universality have had on his homeland. In 2018, he moved from Brussels to the Polish city of Poznan with his family to work as a research fellow at Instytut Zachodni, a public research institute. Mr Engels has many published works and his most famous book – Auf dem Weg ins Imperium (Towards an Empire), written in 2013 – has set new sales records in both France and Germany. In September 2014, it became the best book of the month through a vote by the German press.
As a historian, you describe Western Europe as a region in decline. What do you mean exactly?
It is often very difficult to define the term “decline” because it s automatically associated with a secondary meaning which is not always objective. Nonetheless, comparative history allows us, in a fairly impartial way, to identify the final stage of the development of each major civilization, typically characterised by factors such as falling birth rates, the impoverishment of the population, the decline of traditional religions and values, mass immigration, political radicalisation, loss of identity, the rise of the economy over politics, the increase in crime or the over-exploitation of natural resources. This phase in human history has generally marked the beginning of bloody conflicts between citizens and the inception of tyranny, which has always been viewed as part of a period of “decline”. Rome in the 1st century BC is a good example (as I expanded on this topic in my book entitled “Towards an Empire”), or the 9th century Muslim world. Denying the existence of this phenomenon – by asserting that everything is alright and praising the seemingly infinite progress in the firm belief that the West is an exception to the rule that all great civilizations are bound to fall one day – is nothing more than naivety and irrational thinking that are, in short, the symptoms of decline.
How would you define Western Europe? What kind of new (mental, administrative, political) borders have been created in Europe?
Firstly, the term “western” does not necessarily refer to a geographical location. Instead, it is a symbol of belonging to a cultural identity which, of course, has its roots in Europe but also applies to America, Australia, and even Russia. So how can this identity be defined? Well, on the one hand, we have a complex, triple historical heritage: the Greek-Roman heritage, the Jewish-Christian influence and the traditions of the Celtic, Germanic and Slavic peoples. All of this has blended together in the so-called “Christian world” that emerged in the 10th century and still represents the true cultural basis of our identity. On the other hand, there is a certain psychological attitude that Western people always want to be faster, taller and stronger than others; it s a mentality that essentially sets us apart from other great civilizations. What we commonly describe as the “European value system” is a number of (highly problematic) rationalistic additions with a very short history to a much more complex and rich cultural reality. To me, in a stricter sense, Western Europe is clearly comprised of the countries west of the old Iron Curtain, those that are the hardest hit by today s civilisational crisis. On the other hand, the countries of central, eastern and south-eastern Europe continue to distance themselves – at least for the time being, as we see in the case of the Visegrad countries.
What do you think of the Visegrad countries?
I find it quite intriguing how the Visegrad countries are trying to establish a sort of alternative European Union that isn t simply based on the economic and administrative considerations that have characterised the states of the European Community, but also on a sense of identity that the European institutions have always tried to avoid. Hopefully this group, threatened by an increasingly oppressive European Union, as well as its neighbouring countries that protect the spirit of “political correctness” and pursue aggressive policies, will be able to resist the pressure by reinforcing their cooperation through the establishment of strong institutions, and convince their citizens of the urgency of the situation. Despite what most western media outlets would like their target audience to believe, the V4 countries are less authoritarian at many levels than the Western European states, where all three power branches – the executive, the judicial and the legislative branch, as well as the media – are dominated by the so-called “united thinking”. While a change in the radical and permanent political direction of the West is unlikely because of the current elite s oppressive power, eastern states are characterised by freedom of expression and democratic politics.
Isn t it paradoxical that the conservative alternative in Europe is being offered by those countries that have been under Soviet influence for up to half a century, while the countries that have profited from the idea of American liberalism are inundated by decadence and immigration? What is the explanation for these two phenomena?
Indeed, this may seem to be a paradox at first, but there are some convincing historical facts that may help explain this phenomenon. First of all, these countries were deprived of their political independence until 1989 and they had to protect their cultural identity, since this was their only tool against the excessive German, Russian or Muslim influence, as Poland s or Hungary s example shows. However, the presence of patriotism, cultural pride and faith does not automatically lead to imperialism, colonisation and genocide experienced on a daily basis in the western media and Western European schools. Instead, it guarantees freedom, peace and self-reliance. Central Europe or – to quote the words of Kundera: the “stolen West” – has lived in artificial stagnation in some sort of time bubble for half a century, away from a series of negative developments like mass immigration, hedonism, the loss of identity or the failure of representative democracy that have had an impact on the Western world. Last but not least, let s not forget the fact that as Central Europe has just been released from an oppressive era dominated by bureaucracy, centralism, economic socialism, philosophical materialism and moralising rhetorics, it is particularly sensitive about this issue as opposed to Western European states that have never faced this type of threat.
Your favourite topic, decline, returns in many of your works. Isn t it an exaggeration to use it in connection with Western Europe?
I wish you were right, as no one would be happier than me if I was wrong, but I m afraid that the complete opposite is true. For a long time, I lived in a small Belgian town where the centre has become Islamized: its infrastructure has literally collapsed and the unemployment rate has reached such heights only experienced in Greece or Spain. The remaining Belgian citizens have fled to the neighbouring villages while the town s (socialist) leadership is doing everything it can for “coexistence” and – to quote the mayor s own words – “for avoiding civil war”. All this has reinforced my belief that the phenomenon does exist. During my travels across Europe, I ve discovered that the example of this small Belgian town isn t at all unique. Whether it s Paris, Brussels, the outskirts of London, Amsterdam, Berlin or most medium-sized Western European cities, we see the same thing: poverty, crime, mass immigration, Islamization and the loss of political control. Unfortunately, it looks like our civilization is to undergo a radical change in the near future and it fills my heart with fear.
You re a Belgian citizen, but you left your country and moved to Poland? What was your motivation?
I had a number of motivations. On the one hand, I was offered an attractive professional opportunity at Instytut Zachodni, a state-run research facility in Poznan. This allowed me to focus on researching and analysing the identity crisis that we are experiencing in Europe, all in an environment that is much more suited to my personal attitude than a Western European setting. On the other hand, as I mentioned in my book Que Faire (What to do), I am one of those intellectuals who is analysing the present, but still lives as if nothing has happened, and I want to draw concrete conclusions about my own life. So, when I realised that coexistence is becoming increasingly difficult in Western Europe, where turmoils and riots have become more frequent, my primary task was to protect my family from this process. At the same time, however, I did not want to give up the opportunity to continue my active campaign through my writings, lectures and courses. Poland has turned out to be an ideal location in every respect, as it is a country with a prosperous economy, strong cultural roots and one of the lowest crime rates in Europe. It s characterised by conservative politics, yet it is open to the idea of European unification (despite its sharp criticism of the current direction the European Union has taken).
In your book “Renovatio Europae”, you ve made reference to common guidelines to prevent the decline of Europe. What can these guidelines be?
Readers may have already guessed that the European ideal I want to protect is not the European Union and its incorporeal, universal world view, but a new political concept that I call “hesperialism”. This approach is based on our love for our cultural identity rooted in the millennial past and on our intention to protect our true and common European interests, such as the defence of our external borders and cooperation in combatting crime, the joint scientific projects and the development of key infrastructure on the continent, access to strategic resources and the coordination of our foreign policy. The European Union, in fact, is doing exactly the opposite: it is decomposing our common cultural identity, while betraying the true interests that the peoples of Europe share. I know that the implementation of such a reform plan is far from straightforward in the current situation, but Europe s political and social stability can be easily jeopardised if we fail to act. That s why it s important to create the conditions for putting such reform plans into practice.
You are defending the idea of Europe, while people often criticise Europe today. Take, for instance, Brexit, the motions of no-confidence or the rise of nationalist parties. How can you make people fall in love with Europe?
First of all, we need to draw a distinction between Europe and the European Union. More and more people are criticising the current orientation of the European project, which is heading towards centralism, multiculturalism and social exploitation. However, we must be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater and return to the anachronistic idealisation of nation states, which is solely based on their success in the 19th century, when Europe s colonial, military and technological supremacy created conditions that were completely different from the conditions we currently have. Today, Europe needs to master a minimal force of cohesion to confront China and the threat of Islamism and to curb the wave of migration from Africa. Moreover, without minimal internal consultation and cooperation, most European states can soon become the puppets of China, Russia, or the United States, and can easily find themselves in a battlefield where the conflicting interests of the world s great powers predominate. Obviously, such a cohesion can only be effective if it s based on solidarity that draws on Europe as our common homeland. This includes our common cultural identity as we have been shaped and moulded by the same historic layers that have gradually built up our collective cultural soul both in the good, and in the bad sense. These include the heritage of Antiquity, Christianity, the spirit of the Middle Ages, the momentum of the Renaissance, the humanism of the Enlightenment, the scientific achievements of the 19th century and the horrors of the 20th century – these are all values that make us fundamentally different from the mindset of Chinese, Indian or Muslim people. For us, there is only one way to avoid finding ourselves within a few decades in a Europe whose population believes in Allah and lives in Central African-type poverty, and where things are dictated by Chinese companies and the stateless, globalist elite, and that s unification. We must unite to regain our pride and make our common civilisation great again.