Transcript: Ezra Klein interviews Ivan Krastev


The first thing we don’t see is that all these crises have come back. If you look at what’s happening economically, we’re talking about inflation. We’re probably going to talk about the drop in GDP, that is, compared to what happened in 2008, 2009. If you see the refugee crisis, basically you’re going to see more refugees coming out of the Russian-Ukrainian war than the war in the Middle East. And by the way, it will be the largest movement of people in Europe since World War II. And then basically if you’re going to talk about the first Russian-Ukrainian war, when it started, now we’re going to see a totally different scale. So all of a sudden these three came back, but they came in a very different way. They came in such a different way that we didn’t see that it was the same crisis that was coming back. And for me, that’s one of the things.

Second, I was surprised at how quickly some things we took for granted were totally wiped out. For example, just a year ago Europeans were convinced that a major war was not possible in Europe. If you basically go with Tony Judt’s famous history of Europe after 1945 called “Post-war”, post-war was the very definition of what Europe was. Europe was a project — the European Union born out of the Second World War — but also a project based on the idea that a major war is no longer possible.

And now that has completely changed. Even before the Russian invasion, the European Council on Foreign Relations made studies in several EU member states, and the majority of people say that there will be a war until the end of the year. Or the very story of neutrality – there were talks and talks and talks. And then, for more than two months now, it has been expected that Sweden and Finland, two countries for which neutrality was their identity, will probably change it. Or Germany, a country that didn’t have a single drone yet – they think that’s unethical. They never bought a drone. And now that same country is talking about investing a hundred billion euros in rearmament. It’s such a big shift, but because it’s all happening so fast, we don’t understand how dramatic it all is. And we just take what’s coming next.

EZRA KLEIN: Let me take these three crises from the beginning and, practically, the first and the second, the economic crisis and the refugee crisis, because I thought a bit along the same lines, especially around refugees. And one thing that’s striking is how differently people react to stress when there’s a story behind it. So a financial crisis caused by the bankers or, for some in Europe, caused by the Greeks, it’s one thing, whether you’re angry with your leaders, you’re angry with your fellow EU members. But this causes a lot of internal discohesion.

Refugees coming from Syria, which is a place that many Europeans feel very little connection with, is another kind of crisis – an invasion, right? This becomes a huge political problem. But the stories we hear about how Ukrainian refugees are welcomed are very different. The way people, I guess, understand some of the economic turmoil right now is different. How much does it matter that there is a unifying external enemy in the person of Vladimir Putin, compared to when these crises felt, for many people, more like the fruits of poor liberal governance?

IVAN KRASTEV: Absolutely. Narrative is critically important because when people fail to see who is responsible for what is happening, conspiracy theories arise. And the story was, of course, that there was a major war in Syria. But people can’t identify because they don’t understand it. There was all this kind of pretty nasty talk about how economic migrants — are they refugees?

And now you see a war that you understand, especially countries like Poland, which now hosts three million people. This is the paradox. During the first refugee crisis, Poland was one of the countries that completely closed itself to refugees. And suddenly you see this same Poland — three million people who volunteer, individuals who volunteer to go to the borders, driving their cars. Why? Because they understand this war. They can identify it. And I also believe that the pandemic has a role to play in that. Before, Europeans in particular felt protected against any major catastrophe. We complained. Of course, we were unhappy with this and that. But you had the feeling of living in a world where nothing drastic could happen to you. And then came the pandemic. And then came this war, and you identify with these people.

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