The thousands gathering at Europe’s borders, and the thousands who have already crossed, are widely but wrongly supposed to be refugees of an uprising that failed: the Arab spring. In reality, they embody a distinctly 21st-century revolution that is yet to come, notes Ivan Krastev, chairman of the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia and permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna.
The migrants’ revolution has the capacity to inspire a counter-revolution and remake our democracies. Historically, democracy was the way Europe integrated outsiders and opened to the world; it can just as easily be an instrument for exclusion and closure, he writes for The Financial Times:
The myriad acts of solidarity towards refugees fleeing war and persecution seen last year in western Europe are today overshadowed by their inverse: a spreading fear that such foreigners will compromise the welfare model and traditions; that they will destroy liberal societies by threatening women’s rights….
The situation is radically changing European politics and the world view of many on the continent. If, yesterday, they bet their security on the prospect that Europe would be surrounded by liberal democracies ambitious to become members of the union, today they hope it can be surrounded by friendly regimes, liberal or not, willing and able to turn the human tide. The soft power so attractive to outsiders is now seen by member states as a source of vulnerability. Wednesday’s Dutch referendum on the EU’s association agreement with Ukraine exemplifies this mood. The No voters want to send the message that Europe is unwelcoming not only to refugees but also to societies that dream of one day joining it.
This change of hearts and minds can be seen in relations with Turkey, argues Krastev, a council member of the National Endowment for Democracy’s International Forum:
To secure the country’s support for relieving the pressure from refugees, European governments are silent on Ankara’s growing authoritarianism. They want to signal that Europe is not such a nice place as foreigners believe it is.
In short, EU leaders are trapped between the rhetoric of democratic revolution as an answer to the problems of an interdependent world and the messy reality of migration as revolution.