Europe Moves East

PARIS – Madrid and Warsaw recently looked very similar: both were the sites of massive demonstrations. But the crowds gathered at Europe’s western and eastern extremities had very different agendas in mind.

In Spain, citizens were united by economic and social despair. They took to the streets to express their rejection of a European Union-imposed austerity policy that they believe is leading them into an abyss. They want jobs and the dignity and salaries that go with them. The indignation of some had a clear anti-capitalist and anti-globalization tone.

In the Polish capital, Catholic and conservative parties, together with the “Solidarity” Trade Union, inspired by a reactionary Christian radio network, “Radio Maria,” gathered for political and cultural, rather than economic, reasons. In the name of the defense of media freedom, they were denouncing a government that they found too “centrist” and insufficiently “Polish.”

Ten years ago, then-US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld famously distinguished between “Old” and “New” Europe on the basis of their attitudes toward the United States and the war in Iraq. New Europe (at least its governments), understanding the need to exercise power, was from Mars, whereas Old Europe (with the main exception of Great Britain), having decayed into a culture of weakness, was from Venus.