In Pursuit of the West
There is a ceaseless notion going on about the rearwardness of Eastern European states and their inability to build lastingness. Ideas uninterruptedly flow about a retrograde existence that keeps the East away from competing with the West; that the hiatus seems to enlarge day after day. Alignment with the West is one of the biggest endeavours of the East. Many efforts are put into an attempt of modernization which gives the impression of being beyond comprehension and realization. Arraying in the same clothes as the big brother looks to have become a mantra of the East, with an ubiquitous hope of a finest hour that will come when differences will no longer exist. Odd enough, the East sets its hopes in an ideal it has never managed to obtain for centuries, but which is now seen as an end goal.
The idea of ‘Eastern Europe’ is nothing new around the (Eastern) block, although many ascribe the backwardness to the Communist regimes that have kept societies away from reaching their potential. Yet this had less to do with actual geography than with mentality. Its fountainhead in economical thought can be traced back to Marxism or to Sombart’s idea of ‘centre and periphery’, while some might even argue it has to do with the Age of Enlightenment. Coming out of the Medieval black ages, Enlightenment has radiated freedom of thought and ideas over Europe, culminating with an epoch of nation-states formation, during the 19th century, facilitated by economic and industrial revolutions, mass education and the diffusion of knowledge. Economics have constituted a playing field, with Britain and France exerting their dominance over the rest of the world. But what is ‘dominance’ unless there are others to be dominated? The idea of the ‘East’ might just have sprung in unison with the evolution of the West, as an antithesis to prove the superiority of the latter. The West needed a measurement scale. How else could it have proved its masterfulness if there was no meek establishment to make it look like the behemoth? An underdog was needed and its institution was created: the East.
From then on it became obvious that the West could use its dominant position to exert power over the East and ripe leviathanic advantages in whatever concerned bilateral relationships. For three hundred centuries if not even more, the East had the same unaccomplished desire of aligning with the West. Only how achievable was and is this dream considering that the East might have been intentionally designed as the Western’s antipode? Might it not have been meant, about some hundreds of years ago, that the ‘West’ was designed to signify one certain standard, and the ‘East’ some other type of standard? If so, then the East is nothing else than a mere benchmark to indicate how developed the West is. Hence the fact that the East and the West do not only stand for geographical delimitations, but they are also a metaphor used to express a condition (of progress). Adding to this was Werner Sombart’s ‘centre/periphery’ dichotomy, according to which there is a transfer of knowledge and technology from the West towards the East: once it reaches a new phase of development, the West lets go of obsolete technologies and antiquated ideas, which the East steps in to take over. At the same time, in the West, such demoded stuff is replaced with new, stat of the art engineering. This type of relationship only intensifies the gap between the two.
If the East is intended as a reverse of the West, then it will never be able to become (as) the West. It will only continue to exist as the East, with its goods and bads. And once it manages to make some advancements, the West will have arguably already done its own ones, keeping the void alive. The discussions can continue and so can the pursuit of the West. However, though, there won’t be a finish line…