The European Union has been on its knees for half a decade now, reeling from low or negative economic growth rates and obscenely high levels of unemployment. The result has been the partial fracturing of Europe into states, mainly in the north, that have weathered the crisis, and states, mainly in the south, that in some cases have seen catastrophe close to the statistical levels of the Great Depression. In the southeast, Greece has been the hardest hit country, and Bulgaria is periodically on the brink of political chaos. These divisions, in turn, mirror those of former geographically based empires: Carolingian, Prussian, Habsburg, Byzantine and Ottoman.
Nationalism, often in the form of far-right anti-immigrant parties, has also seen a resurgence -- a troubling indication of demons from the past that Europe's elites thought they had vanquished in the course of the Cold War and especially in the years following the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Obviously, this development is in large measure due to the economic crisis. But there is much more to it than that, and it has to do with human psychology. Norman Manea, the exiled Romanian writer and Bard College professor, writes about how, "The modern world faces its solitude and its responsibilities without the artifice of a protective dependency or a fictive utopian coherence," so that, as he intimates, all sorts of exclusivist, tribal-like mentalities survive into the 21st century, allowing people to find meaning within some type of protective solidarity group. We tend to associate this with blood-based or religious rebellions in places such as the Middle East or Africa, but an economically downtrodden Europe is not immune from this lugubrious development.
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