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The Prison of Nations

31 October 2011

2:19 PM

31 October 2011

2:19 PM

By the standards of what was to come in Europe, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was not so
bad – it was not a police state with concentration camps like the 20th century fascist and communist regimes. But in the 19th century its subject Italians, Serbs, Czechs and Slovaks could not
see the future and insisted that they were living in the "Prison of Nations".  The empire offered no real autonomy to its subject peoples. They could not set their own budgets, enjoy
popular sovereignty or levy their own taxes. When it collapsed after World War I, Austro-Hungary seemed as irrelevant as any form of human organisation can be. In the novels and journalism of
Stefan Zweig, Robert Musil and Karl Kraus it is a frivolous and doomed empire which everyone knows cannot last. Nothing could be further from our times.

But take a look now at the Eurozone. It isn’t a police state or anything like one, but the democratic rights of its peoples are vanishing. Rather than allowing Greece to default and go, German
officials are ordering it to submit to an austerity that will only push it further into recession, debt – and I don’t think I am being fanciful here – social revolt.

Meanwhile in Italy Ambrose Evans-Pritchard of the Telegraph reports that the
EU has presented an ultimatum…

"giving the country barely 48 hours to commit to very specific and radical reforms. It is in effect taking sides in an intensely polarized debate within Italy. It is intruding in the
most sensitive matters of how society organizes itself, in effect demanding ideological changes – in this case in favour of employers, and against unions – as a condition for further
action to shore up Italy’s bond markets.

"We have three deaths in front of us: democracy, politics, and the Left," said Fausto Bertinotti, the elder statesman of Rifondazione Communista and one of Italy’s great post-war
figures. "We are living in a neo-Bonapartist financial system. Not a single decision has been taken by the Italian parliament since the end of August except those imposed by the foreign
power that now us under administration.""

Evans-Pritchard adds that whether or not you agree with Italy’s lavish protection for workers is beside the point. (I suspect that the Telegraph does not.) What matters is…

"Are such changes to be decided by Italy’s elected parliament by proper process, or be pushed through by foreign dictate when the country is on its knees? "Political ownership"
is of critical importance. The EU is crossing lines everywhere, forgetting that it remains no more than a treaty organization of sovereign states. Democratic accountability is breaking down.

This is dangerous. It is only a question of time before the EU itself becomes the target of terrorist attacks in a string of countries, and then what? Will the Project start to demand
coercive powers? Will it acquire them?"

Who would have thought that imperial Vienna’s "prison of nations" that was smashed open in 1918 would be rebuilt again by Brussels? And who can doubt that it will crash faster
than any of the other empires Europe has endured?

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