chapter  6
26 Pages

The ‘carnival’ of Iraq as the meeting point for identity, memory and security politics of becoming European

The previous chapters show that the Baltic and Polish post-Cold War politics of becoming European has essentially been a struggle for recognition. Without Western recognition of their Europeanness, both in the civilizational sense of the term as well as in being granted acceptance to the institutions that have come to embody Europeanness in today’s world, their vulnerable geopolitical position is generally regarded as allowing only for very modest maneouvering space in which they may exercise their ‘personhood’ in international politics. In the plane of security politics in particular, Eastern European states’ politics of becoming European has also involved negotiating a relationship with the Euro-Atlantic security community simultaneously – their attempts to transform the meaning of it by injecting their own related understandings. After all, the extension of ‘Europe’ has historically been moving westwards, leading to the emergence of the USA as a serious competitor to Europe’s self-image and, indeed, the key bastion of ‘the West’ for, arguably, ‘everything that Europeans boast of and legitimize their power with’ has been present ‘in even greater doses’ on the other side of the Atlantic (Eriksen 1997: 115; Bielskis 2005: 172). The postSecond World War ‘Western history’ has also been increasingly driven by the US as the weightier partner in the transatlantic security community. Hence there has always been an essential Atlanticist dimension to East Europeans’ post-Cold War politics of becoming European. Moreover, as this chapter lays out, it is precisely in Atlanticism where different strands of the Polish and Baltic politics of becoming European meet. This chapter engages with the Polish and Baltic redefinition of their

role in Europe in the context of the war in Iraq, emphasizing the perceived extent of their experience as liminal Europeans: their new selfpresentation is no longer as novices, but in important ways as teachers of, or reminders to, the established members of the Euro-Atlantic

community of their special duty to the protection and promotion of freedom and democracy in Europe, and in the world more broadly (Gheciu 2005a: 250-51). The chapter conceives the transatlantic and intra-European rift over the justifiability of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 not as a crisis in the European strategic outlook, but as an expression of a deeper set of tensions in Western identity. Indeed, the Iraq crisis emerges as the particular that illuminates the universal in the plane of imagining security within the expanded Union of 27. The Iraq crisis is particularly suggestive as a case of ritual role reversal in the relations between the traditional Western European ‘core’ and the Eastern European ‘liminal actors’, as the conflict enabled the latter’s unprecedented empowerment over their troubled past. This came in handy in finding justifications for siding with the US in arguing for intervention against Iraq. Against this backdrop, this chapter returns to the recognition and

resistance problematique of Polish and Baltic post-Cold War politics of becoming European under the heading of Atlanticism. Their decision to side with the US in the Iraq invasion debate of 2002-03 is analyzed through the conceptual lens of Bakhtinian carnivalesque. The previous chapter suggested the ‘Bronze Soldier’ case as one instance of an encounter between a larger set of conflicting mnemonical narratives of the Second World War in Eastern Europe, as played out in a subnational plane in Estonia. It showed that the riots to which the monument’s relocation led could be conceptualized as a carnivalesque event that attempted to transgress and recode the alleged high/low relations across the social structure within Estonia. A carnivalesque episode of a similar kind in the international plane emerged in the context of transatlantic and intra-European debates over the invasion of Iraq in the winter and spring of 2003. At that point, the Eastern European states aligned with the US in its decision to invade Iraq without the full authorization of the United Nations Security Council, thus constituting something like a ritual role reversal in the traditional play of European security policymaking practice towards the so-called old Europeans. Nevertheless, an immediate caveat is required. The nature of the carnivalesque reversal of the previously existing discursive order in the course of the intra-European debates over Iraq differed greatly from a joyful kind of carnival, as laughter appears as an essential trope in the late medieval carnival on which Bakhtin builds his notion of carnivalesque (Bakhtin 1968). The crisis of Iraq was rather tragic in nature for Poland and the Baltic Three, forcing them to choose between competing loyalties and obligations and associated conceptions of justice, as well as propelling them into conflict

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with certain old Europeans who had made very different choices in that regard (cf. Lebow 2003: 138). This chapter turns to a closer analysis of how the Polish and Baltic

elites’ ‘regime of truth’ made possible their support for the invasion of Iraq while excluding other possible policies that were regarded as unintelligible, or unworkable, or improper. The issue of interest for the purposes of this chapter is therefore why and how certain opinions became authoritative. Of particular interest is how certain traditions, historical experiences, past cases, practices and ideologies provided support for specific ‘reasons for action’ that became dominant among the foreign and security policy-making elites in these countries caught up in the Iraq crisis (cf. Kratochwil 1989: 33). After all, Polish and Baltic support for the invasion of Iraq seems rather counterintuitive against the backdrop of their own history of being repeatedly invaded by large powers. Yet, instead of fiercely backing the stance of the inviolability of the sovereignty of Iraq, the invasion of Iraq was likened to ‘spreading freedom and democracy’ in their official discourses, as if the US-led intervention was somehow sanctified with the automatic badge of legitimation because of the intervener’s putative liberal-democratic nature. The argument of this chapter proceeds in three stages. The first part

pursues these questions by describing the mutually supporting frameworks of ‘lessons of history’ and the consequent carnivalization of memory upon which these new Europeans’ policies of support for the invasion of Iraq were constructed. The next section is devoted to discussion of the notions of moral debt, allied obligations and responsibility in the Baltic and Polish discourses pertaining to war in Iraq. Through an analysis of the interrelation of these scripts to the existentially tragic vision of security and politics that underpinned these new Europeans’ decision to support the US invasion, this section elaborates on the interpretive context in which it was regarded as simply inconceivable for the Baltic and Polish policy-makers to behave in any other way. Seeking to buttress their countries’ security and advance their international standing by supporting the US, the Polish and Baltic policy-making elites’ conduct in the ‘carnival’ of Iraq also reflected the desire of the traditional European underdogs to be ‘once in a millennium on the side of the stronger battalions’ (Stürmer 2004: 141). Against that backdrop, Polish and Baltic behaviour in the context of the Iraq crisis provides an interesting illustration to Richard Ned Lebow’s thesis of the significance of standing, honour and reputation as key goals in interstate relations in their own right, that could be, but do not necessarily have to be, related

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to security considerations (Lebow 2006b: 435; cf. Zaborowski and Longhurst 2003: 1013). Iraq was not constructed as a military threat for Poland and the Baltic Three, but as a political one (Zaborowski 2004b). The ‘special relationship’ with the US (or in Poland’s case arguably even a ‘strategic partnership’) was thus generally depicted by the respective foreign policy-making elites as an opportunity to improve significantly Poland and the Baltics’ rating in Europe (Rotfeld 2005). Against the backdrop of strong identification with the US-promoted ideals in foreign policy, the Iraq invasion along with the broader US ‘war on terror’ also enabled the Polish and Baltic foreign policy-making elites to further bolster their relationship with their declared key ally. The Iraq crisis exposed the tensions between Polish and Baltic visions

of security and the standard EU ‘human security’ approach. The penultimate section of this chapter examines these different conceptualizations of security as they unfolded during the build-up and outbreak of the Iraq crisis. By analyzing the Polish and Baltic security discourses and their attempts to recast the notion in the debates over the invasion of Iraq, this chapter will look into whether or not their security-speak might point to a rupture in the ‘European security discourse’. The concluding segment reviews the central contentions of the chapter, considering the odds of continuity and change in conceptualizing security in the post-Iraq European discursive arena. The analysis ultimately suggests that the case of Iraq points to the

return of some ‘hidden transcripts’ of security to the public security discourses of Poland and the Baltic Three. According to Scott’s distinction, hidden transcripts paralleling the public transcripts of dominant discourse in a collectivity constitute the staple form of a critique of power by subordinate groups that cannot be openly avowed in the presence of their dominants (Scott 1990: xii). Hidden transcripts of power relations are in fact a subtle way of resisting the domination – short of actual rebellion, true, but nevertheless a venue for venting ‘unspoken riposte, stifled anger, and bitten tongues’ over the subordinates’ common experience of being dominated (Scott 1990: 120). These ‘weapons of the weak’ could become critical in the construction of a resistance culture that might eventually catalyze broader, more openly oppositional movements of liberation (Scott 1990: 14; 1985; Paolini 1999: 71). Throughout the NATO and EU enlargement processes (or the liminal

phase proper in the Polish and Baltic process of becoming European), we could comprehend Poland and the Baltics’ responses to the attempts at post-Cold War Western ‘security socialization’ and efforts to broaden their traditional understanding of security as a curious combination of

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public and hidden transcripts that were utilized in front of European/ transatlantic and home audiences, respectively. Iraq represented the eruption of security transcripts that had largely been forced offstage over the previous decade. The dominant public transcript of security in Poland and the Baltic states throughout the 1990s, as presented to the West, had to embrace an affirmation of the broad understanding of security, with a shift away from a military-centric and territorial defence-based security thinking, concealing traditional security concerns towards Russia, and thus imbuing unanimity with a more ‘postmodernist’ conceptualization of security of the Western European states. The more disguised security transcripts of the time, revealing tensions

between the apparently integrated postmodernist security thinking and a largely traditional and modernist domestic conceptualization of security, were generally on display in the social sites into which the control and surveillance of the West was least able to reach (e.g. domestic media). The formal inclusion of Poland and the Baltic Three in institutionalized Europe witnessed the outbreak into the public sphere of some of their security transcripts that had previously been relegated to the form of public hibernation during the dual enlargement processes of NATO and the EU. The most conspicuous of those – as Chapter 4 also demonstrates – is the outright rejection of the Western euphemization of Russian foreign and security political outlook in the official foreign policymaking elites’ discourses that had to be meekly accepted during the liminal enlargement phase proper. The Iraq controversy therefore emerges not merely as a symptomatic

rupture of the European discursive scene, but as a climax of Polish and Baltic security transcripts’ ‘liberation’ from the restraints set on them during the dual enlargement process. What we see from the debates around the invasion of Iraq onwards is their occasionally excessive public display of a traditionally Manichean, threat-centric understanding of security. This had been quietly swept under the carpet by their foreign and security policy-making officials for the sake of EU and NATO accession under the terms imposed on the European ‘subordinates’ by the European ‘powerful’. Iraq marks the onset of fluidity and crisis in European strategic debates, as previously persuasive discourses no longer persuaded all participants of the enlarged European polity, and previously prevalent sentiments no longer prevailed unchallenged either. As Bruce Lincoln suggests, at such junctures ‘competing groups continue to deploy strategic discourses and may also make use of coercive force as they struggle, not just to seize or retain power, but to reshape the borders and hierarchic order of society itself’ (Lincoln 1989: 174). It is

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against this backdrop that the chapter conceives Polish and Baltic involvement in the crisis of Iraq as a carnivalesque form of resistance to the ‘authoritative’ European security discourse. After all, as we learned from Bakhtin’s treatise of Rabelais’s prose before, the notion of the carnivalesque encapsulates the ritual location of uninhibited speech, a free zone where undominated discourse could prevail (cf. Scott 1990: 175).