International Project of the Public Union “For Human Rights”

The Decline of Europe

PreviousNext The Decline of Europe — Background “On the Crisis of Liberal Values and Multiculturalism in Europe”

Background “On the Crisis of Liberal Values and Multiculturalism in Europe”

Main page Choice of Germany as the initial monitoring country Background “On the Crisis of Liberal Values and Multiculturalism in Europe” Objectives, character and methodology of monitoring Part I. Crisis of multiculturalism Part II. Corruption Part III. Violation of freedom of expression Part IV. Challenges in penitentiary, law enforcement and judicial systems of Germany, drawbacks in the legislative practice Part V. Unwarranted use of force when dispersing actions of protest Part VI. Observance of human rights in the system of education of Germany Conclusion The Public Union “For Human Rights”

 The development of socio-political and economic processes in Europe and the world as a whole is conducive to rapidly growing topicality of the issue of a crisis of liberal values in Europe. The crisis is especially apparent in light of democratic recession witnessed in recent years in newly formed states, particularly in the post-Soviet countries, former members of the socialist camp, now integrated into European political and socio-cultural area. The crisis of liberal values in the so-called States with democracy problems is attributable not only to intensifying authoritative political predilections of political elites of these States (though the role of political elites is decisive), but to some deeply-rooted reasons as well. Note that the crisis of value system in many countries of Eastern Europe, CIS, including Azerbaijan, is, to a considerable degree, conditioned by the current crisis of liberal values and the multiculturalism in Europe.

Over the past few years, especially after the new economic depression in some Western European States, there is a growing tendency toward the decline in democratic processes. The global economic crisis has revealed negative trends in political development of many European countries and increased the power of authoritarian regimes worldwide. In fact, the long-standing tendency toward democratization has practically stalled, and now there is the so-called “democratic recession” occurring practically everywhere. Prevalent in many regions of the world, including Europe, became the departure from already established historical progress in the field of democratization. We are witnessing the growth of protest movements all over the world, whereas social unrest and authoritarian tendencies may pose a real threat to liberal values even in European countries with a consolidated democracy.

Unprecedented growth of the movement for revolutionary changes in the Arab world in 2011 was marked by a new historical milestone titled “Arab spring”. Initially, it gave rise to expectations of a new wave of democratization; however, subsequent developments demonstrated that democratization both in the region of Middle East and worldwide remain to be extremely complex and obscure prospect. Faced with the threat of revolutionary challenges, scores of autocratic regimes have attempted to adapt themselves to the new situation, and, with that end in view, had recourse to combination of harsh repression and formal “cosmetic” changes. As a result, democratization processes in some countries, including the post-Soviet area, discontinued or turned back, giving way to a malformed phenomenon of imitative democratization. 

A tendency toward authoritarianism has further strengthened in the majority of the former Soviet Union countries, while the erosion of liberal values gradually embraced a number of EU countries, in Eastern, Central and Southern Europe in the first turn. Disillusionment with democratic processes and decreasing trust in political institutions in many regions of the world have cast doubts on prevailing in the early 1990s false perception of an absolute triumph of liberal-democratic values and  the dominant role of the Western liberalism that had defeated Empires of Evil and validated the theory of human rights supremacy.

Political problems of the States of Eastern and Central Europe generated numerous critical questions about democratic transformations in the region. Combination of double standards in foreign policy and growing pressure against civil freedoms have led to the West being accused of hypocrisy, especially in light of the crisis of democratic system in Hungary, formation of a corruption pyramid in Bulgaria, discriminatory policy of the Rumanian authorities, etc.

Even the most developed countries of the Western Europe have experienced an overall decline in the level of democracy caused, first of all, by the consequences of the debts crisis, economic uncertainty in the Eurozone, “bankruptcy” of many States abusing the concept of social welfare that has caused large-scale protest sentiments and as a result weakened political leadership. There are numerous deficiencies in the functioning of state institutions, security-related restrictions on civil freedoms, decline of population’s participation in the political life in some developed countries of the Western Europe (Germany, Great Britain, France, Belgium, Italy, and Spain).

A growing gap between the authorities and the society, lack of confidence in traditional political institutions and party system which has turned into a formal democratic superstructure is characteristic of majority of European States. Political cynicism, systemic corruption and mutual guarantee of political elites resulted in the fact that the crisis of liberal economy has gradually transformed into the crisis of liberal values and of the European democracy itself. A tendency towards sovereignization strengthened on the surge of growing crisis of the platform of Euro-centrism and the theory of multiculturalism, values of the “common European home” and “Europe without borders” came to be forgotten, attitude to migrants became tougher, policy of social integration weakened which, in turn, have led to the aggravation of crisis phenomena and inter-confessional and inter-ethnic tensions.

As for fundamentals of European identity, the multiculturalism as a concept of coexistence of differences seems to be ambiguous. The European Union is a community of States which is based on fundamental values such as democracy, tolerance, respect for human rights and freedoms, freedom of speech, etc. All these are  criteria of Europeanness as opposed by the multiculturalism: in the democratic countries of the European Union there are religious communities that do not recognize some human rights (for instance, women’s rights in the Moslem world), disapprove the freedom of speech, are critical about democracy and, most important, do not associate themselves with the country of residence, its culture, traditions, world outlook, mode of life, etc.

It is important to emphasize that the above point concerns not all migrants. Still, it is Moslems whose numbers have grown considerablyin Europe that give ground for debates over the collapse of the policy of multiculturalism. As viewed by some European politicians, it is migrants’ (especially Moslems’) inability to become a part of the Western community that leads to the rebirth of racial and national prejudices, growth of extremist sentiments, social alienation and enmity. The above-mentioned factors result in groundless accusations concerning negative perception of the Western European social culture by adepts of radical Islam, emergence of a stereotype associating representatives of the Islamic culture with potential champions of the ideology of international terrorism and a prejudice that this stratum a priori is not ready to be integrated into the social environment they live in. Using these stereotypes imposed on the Western public opinion, certain groups of European leaders are seeking to justify discriminatory measures against migrants and validate the necessity of transition from multiculturalism to assimilation.

If we turn to historical experience of such countries as France, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Greece, and analyze their place and role in the European politics, then, based on research works of European analytical institutions (particularly, the influential Economic Intelligence Unit - in our study we relied, in the first turn, on the results obtained by this research group) which establish indices of democracy, political and civil freedoms, as well as rating categories of countries with complete democracy, we can notice that these countries have moved to the category of countries with “insufficient democracy” in the last “Index of Democracy” due to the growing anti-liberal tendencies of the recent years. Outsider in the category of countries with full democracy, Spain has come closer to the countries with “insufficient democracy”, according to its rapidly descending rating. It should be noted that France, Italy, Spain (together with Germany and Great Britain) as leading cohort have traditionally formed a part of the so-called elite of European countries with huge potential of political and economic influence and consolidated democracy. It is astonishing that their democracy index ratings are presently downgraded and they may be defined as insufficiently democratic countries.

Of particular interest is the case of France, a recognized historical stronghold of liberal values and champion of “European political fashion.” forgiven the country’s potential of political influence, spiritual authority, geopolitical weight and the role in global processes, it is obvious that the lowering the liberal ante in the legislative, executive spheres and in socij-political life of France has the most negative impact both on the image of this State and the democratic climate worldwide and in the common European home, and on the practice of the development of individual European countries. The gradual departure of France, as well as Great Britain and Germany, from the previous course toward multiculturalism (as is seen from statements made by President Sarcozy,  Prime Minister Cameron, and Chancellor Merkel regarding the collapse of the policy of multiculturalism), an excessive emphasis on the factor of national identity, toughening of immigration policy, double ethno-confessional standards in public life, adoption of some discriminatory laws restricting fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens (for example, criminalization of Armenian genocide, bans on prayers, hijabs in public places; circumcision in some lands of Germany, etc.) – all these have led to the aggravation of social collisions and contributed to considerable devaluation of a democratic image of these countries.

As for the rest of Europe, we are witnessing all-round and large-scale turn from multiculturalism to  assimilation. Although the word “assimilation” is not used in Europe, the term “integration” is nevertheless widely circulated which, in the opinion of leading European sociologists, in particular, British scholar Sigmund Bauman, is a politically correct substitution for the term “assimilation”.

The turn to assimilation, which took place in early 2000s, was conditioned by the change of public sentiments. It was the crisis of “a welfare state”, on the one hand, and acts of terror of September 11, on the other hand, that sharply changed political climate within the society. Not without assistance of mass media, far-right political forces have intensified their activities to present the migration as a new threat to self-sustainability and identity of European peoples to “the Welfare State”, security, social solidarity, and so forth. An ideological effect came as a result of intensive political propaganda backed by the governments of leading European countries - structural marginalization of migrants came to be perceived as a moral-psychological issue, as a manifestation of migrants’ unwillingness to get integrated into the new community.

Given that political circles in the Western Europe, specifically, in Germany and France, set an example of disregard for fundamental principles of political liberalism and standards of democracy, the scale of violation of democratic standards and human rights in new democracies must be striking. What could be expected of ruling elites in authoritarian, semi-democratic countries, including the post-Soviet area countries?  

Over a few past decades characterized by post-restructuring period of adaptation of many countries to the European social, political and economic formations, identical systemic (demonstrative) infringements of standards of democracy and international law occurred in the new democracies, which became apparent in traditional falsification of voting process and outcome of elections, in suppressing dissidence, freedom of expression, in widespread corruption, etc. Nevertheless, nearly all the actors of the democratic West actively collaborate with the said authoritarian regimes (which are perpetually criticized by influential international organizations). It is largely the double political line of the official West (public criticism and behind-the-scenes support), as well as the crisis of liberal values worldwide that contributed to the formation of a syndrome of confidence among authoritarian regimes in their “peculiarity” and steadfastness.

Beyond any doubts, Europe has accumulated a great experience and resources potential for mitigating economic and social consequences of the crisis. Will it be possible to equally mitigate political and ideological consequences of the crisis of traditional European values, avoid the collapse of multiculturalism ideas, solve aggravated problems without prejudice to the democracy - that’s the question disturbing the public consciousness not only in the countries of the West facing the crisis of values but also the public opinion of newly-formed countries, which understands clearly that the very development and the destiny of the democratic process in Europe will predetermine the world’s further development.

As a whole, the problems in the functioning of democracy and the policy of multiculturalism in some developed countries cause alarm regarding the nearest political prospects of Europe and threaten the very existence of the “common European home.” Furthermore, the current systemic crisis of European values is a deterrent to choosing the path of European democratic development by hesitating countries (among them there are not only countries of the Eurasian political area but also countries of the Asia-Pacific Region which achieved great results in building a State Ruled by Law). Also, this crisis strengthens authoritarian regimes’ potential to resist to changes, and lessens opportunities to promote democracy worldwide.

This project aims to carry on a complex monitoring of the phenomena of the systemic crisis of European values, first of all, values of liberal democracy and multiculturalism, in some European countries. When selecting countries to be monitored, the research team proceeded from mass media content analysis over the past few years and relied on “Global Democracy Index-2011” of the authoritative research company “The Economist Intelligence Unit” and regular reports of leading, influential international organizations.

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