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CAPITOL LETTERS (Ep. 11): Across (Twelve) Land(s) and (Three) Sea(s)

CAPITOL LETTERS (Ep. 11): Across (Twelve) Land(s) and (Three) Sea(s) 3SI. And a déjà-vu

Phobos, kerdos and doxa: fear, egotism and glory. These are the inner forces of human nature, according to Thucydides, the “grandfather” of political realism, if we are to concede paternity in modern times to H. Morgenthau. These forces animate (or do they animalize?) this world since the world began. Realists, as weighers and counters of power both between individuals and nations, look towards and “chart” this world through “balances of power”. They poke fun at idealists, who naively seek concord among men and states through institutionalized bargains and norms (pace Kant and W. Wilson), by claiming that institutions, otherwise upheld as triumphs of reason, are nothing more than secondary products of a primary balance of power. Physical nature is the stage for human nature’s growls and pantomimes: it does not determine, nor dictate, but amplifies or blots human impulses and inferences. Geographies may not hold complete explanations, but they do present complications, as Eastern Europe has learned to its sorrow.

In 2023, five years from its first stint as host, Bucharest will once again be the site of the Three Seas Initiative (3SI), an idealist project built on realist calculations. 3SI brings together twelve states – Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czechia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia – tied together by the their position between the Adriatic, Baltic and Black Seas, as well as their status as “recovering socialists” and new EU and NATO member states (minus Austria, of course, on all three counts). There is an obvious logic of balancing, with more or less camouflage: a Polish-Eastern-European intracontinental counterweight to the German-Brussels one, an American-European intercontinental counterweight to the Russian-Chinese one. There is a wish to promote the ongoing verticalization of European integration/convergence/cohesion on a long-neglected North-South axis in terms of energy, transport and digital, by comparison to the stale horizontal axis from East to West. However, by comparison to 2018, the region bears the scar of the pandemic and of war.

The attempt to articulate a regional continuum buttressed by these three seas is a replay of the interwar period but has geographic and geopolitical anchors further back in history. The modern 3SI still bears marks of these predecessors. If we set our spyglass to the meeting point between the 19th and 20th centuries and if we assumed that a “Euro-Atlantic” pedigree was no longer necessary or desirable and Ukraine (made a partner in 2022 in Riga) and Moldova could join, then the similarities become remarkable. We would be looking at an Austro-Hungary+ where, by abusing the analogy and keeping in mind its initiators, Warsaw would act as Vienna and Zagreb (or maybe Bucharest), would act as Budapest. The best match however, is the interwar “promethean” idea of the Intermarium.

Marshall Piłsudski, the leader of Poland in that age, proposed an axis of states which had been (re)born on ethnic lines from the ashes of the empires rendered extinct by the First World War. This axis stretched from Finland, through the Baltics, Belarus and Ukraine, continuing onto Hungary and Romania, but also incorporating the multinational states, Czechoslovakia, and the future Kingdom of Yugoslavia (until 1929, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes). The great European powers of the day did not support the initiative, except for France, nominally victorious but weakened by war and seeking to surround a revanchist Germany with her allies. Another idea the French supported was an alliance between central and South-Eastern European states, the Little Entente, which would bring together Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia. These are all diversely calibrated balancing acts.

All three of the states we mentioned had common designs against an eventual revisionist Hungary, while France sought to discourage German revisionism. The Intermarium and the Little Entente had two features in common, which make them similar to the 3SI: the first is a security orientation towards a post-czarist Russia, Sovietized propagating a new ideological and insidious type of imperialism of universal socialism, accepting no geographic and geocultural limitations; and the support of an external power, albeit France’s power was much more limited than US power is today. Knock on wood and hope that history has other aspirations than that of repeating itself all the time, but we see another similarity for these projects, an air of “si vis pacem, para bellum”. Maybe, in preparing for war, we will be content to stay at peace. 

(September 12, 2022 – Washington, D.C.) 

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CAPITOL LETTERS is a series of articles occasioned by the author’s presence in Washington, D.C. as Romanian Cultural Institute Fellow, studying industrial revolutions’ imprint on the cultural sector.
The opinions hereby expressed by the author remain his exclusive responsibility and do not engage, in any manner or measure, the organizations to which he is affiliated or with which he collaborates.




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