May 05, 2017

The Necessary Empire

Elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany this year have brought much drama to the old Carolingian core, where Charlemagne founded his empire in the ninth century. This has always been the richest and most strongly institutionalized part of Europe. But should the European Union continue to weaken, the most profound repercussions will be felt farther east and south.

There, along the fault line of the Austrian Hapsburg and Ottoman Turkish empires, former Communist countries lack the sturdy middle-class base of core Europe, and in many cases are still distracted by ethnic and territorial disputes 25 years after the siege of Sarajevo. They depend on pro-European Union governments as never before.

Here in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, a country squeezed between Central Europe and the Balkans, officials and experts talk about a so-called phantom frontier that still exercises people’s imagination. This is the “Antemurale Christianitatis,” the “Bulwark of Christianity,” proclaimed in 1519 by Pope Leo X, in a reference to the Roman Catholic Slavs considered the front line against the Ottoman Empire. Croatia was the first line of defense against the Muslim Sultanate, and Slovenia the second. “When Yugoslavia collapsed, it was assumed that none of this earlier history was important,” one official said to me recently. “But a quarter-century after the disintegration of Tito’s Yugoslavia, we find that we are back to late-medieval and early-modern history.”

Read the full article in The New York Times.

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