To transform unevenness into a moral concept deserving defense and preservation, compelling arguments are imperative. The core of unevenness lies in the assertion that the components of underdevelopment hold greater value than the state of progress.[1]

For this shift to occur, the state of progress must be perceived as a precursor to decline and deterioration. Furthermore, even if downfall does not occur, one should not doubt the forecast of future downfall. Since every advanced culture faces a crisis at some point, who can question that the present one will also face trouble in the future? Moreover, it is possible that its current state is indeed the beginning of its crisis.

However, what unevenness lacks is the way it can advance to the forefront of development. Critiques directed at more advanced cultures are not accompanied by real alternative development strategies. Instead, they attempt to mobilize through prophetic visions, without producing well-defined, achievable, and quantifiable programs.

The ideological defense of underdevelopment is intricately linked to the defense of those responsible for it. If they are not the cause of underdevelopment but, instead, obstruct others from venturing down the path of decline, then their actions may be attributed as morally commendable. Consequently, they uphold a moral prerogative to either retain or regain power. A visionary perspective and fervent political identity are crucial for upholding the unverifiability of this assertion, alongside fervent emotional attachments taking precedence over reason, and tightly controlled vested interests.[2]

Emotions primarily revolve around national sentiments. They are nurtured through the continuous reinforcement of the feelings associated with a wounded national identity. The objective is not to alleviate the feeling of being offended but to amplify the suffering and fortify the perception of injured pride.

Nonetheless, the core of Central European unevenness encompasses not only a relative disconnect from the more developed Western regions but also a distancing from the even less developed East. Unlike the Eastern empires, they perceive themselves as Western and, consequently, as more advanced. Despite the presence of numerous cultural attributes, including elements of their political culture influenced by the East, they have never regarded themselves as belonging to the Eastern sphere because with that, they should have acknowledged the naturalness and legitimacy of their recurrent subjugation to Eastern powers. While some of their leaders may have promoted this ideology, they were aware that their society had no desire to become either Turkish or Russian, nor did it seek to assimilate into these empires. Apart from a few, they themselves were not fully inclined towards this outcome, even though they lent their support to the dominion of these empires and propagated various facets of their culture through the authority received from their conquering rulers.

Nonetheless, the architects of this uneven separation face yet another challenge: they must also distinguish their societies from each other. When dealing with Eastern conquerors, they position themselves as more Eastern, embracing a more communist, pro-Russian stance. If the conquering power hails from the West, such as National Socialist Germany, they endeavor to present themselves as more pro-German than their neighbors. During their alignments with the democratic West, they make a conscious effort to appear more Western, which often results in pushing back against their neighboring nations.[3] Furthermore, when they simultaneously gravitate toward both the East and the West, they employ distinct arguments and approaches for each. It can even be a multipronged strategy, as some Central European countries may seek alignment with more than two powers.

In such a situation, the objective is not to mitigate the unevenness but to perpetuate it as a political and cultural goal. Otherwise, one would need to reckon with the power-related, economic, and cultural implications of this dual nature. This pertains to how the foremost outcome of this power play is not regional autonomy, but rather the region’s subjugation under the guise of national conflicts. They disassemble the formerly unified economic landscape and establish functional units that rely on the currently dominant power. This occurred in the 20th century, an era when even nations once considered powerful discovered that their markets had diminished in size.

In an era of market expansion through colonization, breaking down the previously large market into smaller units means strengthening the dependence of the smaller ones. This, however, must be substantiated.

Furthermore, from a cultural standpoint, those who were previously closely interconnected must also be set apart from one another. The cornerstone of this division is linguistic. They aim to accomplish this by establishing linguistic dominance. As a result, schools predominantly mandate that minorities learn the language of the majority, rather than vice versa, even in regions where they coexist. The other language becomes a tool of oppression, as the two languages are not considered equal. In our case, with the end of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, it was not linguistic parity that followed the dominant Hungarian; instead, it was the ascendancy of the dominant Slovak (along with Czech).

In this context, the capacity of individuals within the emerging national majority to independently develop their understanding of the neighboring culture, public life, and the perspectives of their politicians diminishes rapidly. In essence, their own national dominance serves to isolate them from the others.

Another critical element, or rather argument, of cultural separation is the creation of an enemy. The past of the other side is portrayed in such a way that fellow nationals perceive the path of the national struggle as the sole viable option. Achieving this would be challenging without linguistic separation. If a significant part of the majority understood the language of the minority, they could acquaint themselves with shared histori cal events that served the interest of all. However, the injustices and inhuman actions committed by their own side could not be concealed or misinterpreted. They could directly, without any domestic interpretation and misrepresentation, get to know the present views, positions, suggestions, and initiatives of the nationals on the other side.

Their public opinions would overlap, forming a shared public opinion to some extent.[4] Thus, the possibilities for stirring up nationalistic emotions and manipulation would be constrained, and as a result, the ruling elite would find it much more challenging to militarize their own national public opinion.

Moreover, the convergence of public opinions would have another significant consequence. The network of direct connections between members of different nations could become much denser than in the case of cultural separation based on creating an enemy. This would not only involve interest-based economic relations but also the entire spectrum of the human connections.

This sets an example not of regional multiculturalism but rather of separation from those declared as national enemies. (Someone, who publicly identifies as Slovak but speaks Hungarian and is knowledgeable about Hungarian culture becomes nationally suspicious and thus less valuable.) In the value system of the national struggle, anyone who loves, or even just could love, the enemy ranks lower on the hierarchy of values in the fight, as they become suspicious. A person loyal to their nation does not speak the other’s language even if they could, but instead compels the other to use the dominant language. They do not emphasize the values of the other culture but rather highlight how much more valuable their own is.

The expectation of mutual assistance arises primarily when it aligns with their own interests.[5] They do not perceive themselves as accountable for the well-being of the other party unless it involves a conflict. Alliances are established based on shared interests and within the confines of these interests.[6] However, relationships founded on publicly declared responsibility for the other party do not develop, even though their decisions clearly exert a significant, sometimes decisive, impact on the present and future of neighboring nations.

Turning the shifting of responsibility into a societal value has become the primary reason for the lack of solidarity within the European Union. The country’s political leadership and a substantial portion of the population primarily regard EU accession as a means to advance their interests. Many struggle to envision this issue in any other way, while others are interested in ensuring that they do not embrace a different perspective.

Prioritizing the assertion of national interests as the supreme value, however, undermines and raises doubts about universal values (Kant 1995: 85).

Central Europe

The theorists promoting unity among the small Central European nations have recognized the valuable qualities these nations share, particularly those they have borrowed from one another. This highlights the potential benefits of discontinuing hostilities and rekindling cooperation.

Nevertheless, the thesis that, after 1989, the experience of communism and the region’s Nazi and Soviet occupations would awaken the democracies of the Central European small nations to cease their previous national struggles and, by establishing national peace in their states, provide full national freedom and equality for their minorities,[7] did not prove to be true.

Instead, it became clear that many former supporters and adherents of the old dictatorship attempted to utilize the tools of national conflict. While not entirely surprising, this outcome was inconsistent with the assumption of the thesis that those seeking to replace the communist dictatorship with constitutional democracy would also aim to redefine those concepts of nation and state that had long subjugated the entire region. However, this redefinition only occurred to a limited extent.

In each nation, there were individuals who aspired to such change, and some of them even assumed prominent roles in the regional revolutions.[8] Nevertheless, among the opponents of communism, there were many who continued to view the region in the same old way, adjusting only to adapt to the new international order.[9] Essentially, they had no inclination to modify their views, and it is doubtful they were even capable of doing so. Furthermore, in the relationship between Hungarians and Slovaks, the legacies of national aggressiveness, which were present not only before but also during the communist era, persisted after 1989. For the Slovaks, this involved elements of Husák’s nation-building and their sociological implications.

A new identity did emerge, but it existed only in certain aspects. Only few elements existed of this complex identity that could have supplanted the deeply entrenched national sentiments arising from inter-group conflicts. However, these aspects remain underrecognized by the various national public opinions. One of the more well-known aspects is the concept of shared interests.[10]

However, the absence of a new, comprehensive Central European, including a shared Slovak-Hungarian identity, allows the dominance of the previous national hostilities-based self-perception to persist. Something new is needed for the new identity.

Mere modifications to some of the old elements will not suffice.

Critique of the old is necessary, of course,[11] but stable and enduring common interests are also required. The recognition of shared interests is gradually growing, as evidenced by the creation of the Visegrád Group and the continuous reinforcement of their cooperation. Nevertheless, this partnership does not encompass the full range of shared values. While the parties collaborate in several vital areas, there is still a lack of profound understanding and mutual appreciation among them.

When it comes to criticism of the past,[12] these nations often avoid discussing the national injustices they themselves have caused or merely touch upon them, reluctant to draw conclusions that might challenge their core value systems.

One glaringly tacit example is the public silence of two countries that are perhaps closest to each other in their interests, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, on the expulsion of Czechs from the Slovak state that was formed before World War II. If the injustice of this were to become a significant topic in public discourse, it would inevitably raise questions about how to evaluate the expulsion of Germans and Hungarians. This is why they, and the Czechs too, choose to remain silent about it, likely because the expulsion of around three million Germans from the Czech Republic involves far bigger numbers.

Such behavior makes a person of good judgment distrust the other party. Their interests are momentary. They can be factored in, but expecting more is foolish and even naive.

However, if the cultural value system remains largely unchanged, the behavior of these countries will also follow suit. As long as the prevailing values of national relativism persist, their cooperation will remain contingent on serving their immediate interests. While interest-driven cooperation seems sufficient in the current context, it would likely prove insufficient in a crisis demanding substantial risk and sacrifice, or when substantial conflicts arise. The parties involved are aware of this, and in addition to the areas of cooperation, they continue to build or maintain various forms of great power support that can be deployed against their neighboring nations when the need arises.[13] In other words, there is no genuine shared destiny. The European Union refrains from substantial intervention in the Hungarian– Slovak relationship. It lacks the necessary norms and legal framework for such involvement, and it has no intention of pursuing such an avenue. Any such attempt could disrupt the current tacit agreement among the parties where they tolerate each other’s national injustices, following the French model, for example.[14] Thus, an involvement would jeopardize the status quo, and with it, the present-day European Union.

Due to this, the European Union emphasizes its respect for the national identities of its member states. In practice, this translates to non-interference. The EU and its constituent member states have not created any shared system of norms that would affect the core national identity. Clearly, they have no plans to do so. However, everything can be preserved that has accumulated, during the past and present struggles, in the identity of each country’s citizens and nations. This situation, however, does not constitute true national harmony.

The foundation of reconciliation is the desire for peace on the part of the parties involved. This also implies that they must willingly abandon the arsenal of warfare. As a first step, they must scrutinize all the views and actions aimed at defeating and destroying the other party, sometimes even seeking national and, in extreme cases, physical annihilation, both in the past and present. These views must be criticized because aggressive ideologies have driven the formulation of these views, motivated by national conflicts rather than the pursuit of truth. Their primary objective is national mobilization, not the critical presentation of reality.[15] Their measure of success is national victory over the other party, not a benchmark of human progress, universal human freedom and rights, or even universal national freedom.[16] Instead, the yardstick is the advancement of their own nation over the other (Kant 1995: 85).

This moral standard is at odds with universal human values at every turn. The recurring and often glaring contradictions need to be resolved. Therefore, answers must be provided for the acts committed in the name of the nation, such as the killing and deportation of the national enemy, as well as the deprivation of their freedom and fundamental rights. It is also necessary to explain why the same national rights are revoked from those labeled as national enemies, rights for which the predecessors of the present majority fought and which they now consider to be the most just and glorious phase of their national history.[17] Furthermore, it is essential to justify the contempt and disdain directed toward those they perceive as their national enemies.

The solution is relativization, a concept well-known in the history of ideas.[18] It involves challenging the universality of universal human values and demonstrating that their significance is context-dependent and situational. This suggests that their value and validity are relative.[19] However, the examination of the national freedom of individual citizens does not end there; it extends to various aspects of the fundamental human rights upon which the state is built. Moreover, it significantly curtails the natio nal freedom of those who are part of the national majority.

The national freedom of the majority seems to be assured. Their language holds the status of an official language, their traditions prevail, their culture dominates, and their influence is pervasive throughout the state. They even symbolically manifest this dominance, with state symbols reflecting their own image. However, if they decide to employ these elements to hinder the parallel national aspirations of their fellow citizens belonging to different nationalities, they must distort each abovementioned tool.

The argument used to relativize national freedom and oppress minorities significantly contributes to the confusion of the value systems of various political ideologies.

The left is also compelled to engage in the relative interpretation of human rights.[20] In countries undergoing transformation, the desire to suppress other nations involves va rious elements that shape the new left within this context. It encompasses the Jacobin tradition of unification, presupposing the subordination of all to a single political code based on the general will, a thesis reminiscent of Rousseau. The author later adds the ritual reverence of common traditions to this code.[21] It can be concluded that the Jacobin tradition appears in a post-Leninist form in former communist countries.

The ultimate law is therefore the law of war. However, to accomplish this, the past must be viewed in a similar manner. One possible way to evaluate it is by categorizing history into positive and negative periods based on the growth or decline of national power.[22] In this framework, a period of a nation’s history is considered positive when it involves an increase in population, territorial expansion, or international influence, while the opposite is seen as negative. This evaluation remains unaffected even if the nation achieved its goals during a positive period by aligning with regressive forces, and even if they subjugated other nationalities during their expansion, either in their own territories or through alliances with those building their states by oppressing their national minorities.[23] This evaluation does not consider the quest for dominance over others. It measures national greatness solely by the extent of power, not the fate of the subjugated or their relationship to social progress. This has always been the case. The conquest of others rarely triggers a social debate leading to a significant portion of the political community questioning the moral basis of its own achieved national greatness, or the rightness of subjugating others (Habermas 2005).

In such cases, national and democratic principles almost entirely diverge from each other, with the one labeled as “national” becoming the ultimate moral yardstick (Kant 1995). The essence of the Central European dilemma lies precisely in this contradiction. This contradiction has several consequences, which not only contribute to its perpetuation but further strengthen it.

The first consequence in our list is of a political-sociological nature. Maintaining and utilizing this contradiction has placed in positions of power individuals who have a vested interest in its preservation. For example, those who themselves benefited from confiscated assets cannot be expected to wish to clarify the post-World War II expulsions. Similarly, criticism of fascist or communist pasts is not expected from those who owe their careers to these regimes. Furthermore, this extends to a part of the most cri tical and intellectual segments of society, as ideologies are also necessary to restrict the national freedom of others.


The underdevelopment behind the advanced West has, anyway, turned the countries of the region into a kind of transitional space. Underdevelopment and the back-and-forth between the East and West are also self-justifying. They create the morality of unevenness, and this morality naturally takes root in politics. Its essence lies in the fact that political unevenness, behavior that is neither truly Eastern nor truly Western, is not a flaw but a virtue. Therefore, elements of the political system that differ from those of Western democracies are useful and necessary. They protect against Eastern despotism and Western decadence. Neither the one nor the other poses a mortal danger to the existence of these small nations. (Either way, they must continue their constant struggle for survival.)

This mindset also shapes the particular role of nationalism in our region (Szűcs 1974: 31). Here, national identity must justify not only its well-known functions further west but also the unevenness of the state and society. Moreover, since national identity is the dominant identity of our time, it plays an irreplaceable role in this endeavor.

National identity must become the supreme value in such a way that it can also justify backwardness. Therefore, elevating the national identity above universal human values should not only happen because of the struggle against others. Otherwise, the level of freedom and equality and the development of society would be the primary values. It needs to be justified why it is necessary to restrict the national freedom of the country’s citizens of other ethnicities, why it is good for the state to hinder their national equality, and why it is important and right for the majority’s culture to be dominant, while the culture of others is subordinate. The ideology of centralized power for national reasons can be built on this justification. Of course, the ideology must be based on a national sense of danger. The central importance of the national peril simultaneously defines the scope of those conceptions of nationality that are suitable for strengthening this passion.[24]

Taking into account the processes of globalization and the EU’s loss of space, the morality of national unevenness can also spread among the nations of Western Europe if they attempt to justify their own gradual decline.

Critical aspects

The ideology of nationalism cannot be independent of the value system of the Enlightenment because it is also a product of that era. It involves a complex identity that, in many ways, resembles the dominance of earlier prevailing self-perception, namely religious identity.[25] The Enlightenment is, to a significant extent, the ideology of the continent’s renewal precisely due to its critique of the political role of the church and many tenets of religion. The Thirty Years’ War showed that religious identity is not only incapable of preventing major social catastrophes but also serves as the ideological basis for one of the most devastating wars.[26]

One of the most crucial questions of our time is whether European intellectualism will be capable of finding a solution to the problem posed by the aggressive elements of nationalism that underlay the two world conflagrations of the 20th century. The success or failure of the experiment is a fundamental problem not only for the world, but for the Europe that created the idea of nationalism. It is precisely through these two wars that the states of our continent are losing their former dominant position in the world and are becoming secondary, and sometimes even tertiary, actors (CoudenhoveKalergi 1988: 9–12). Without pointing out the flaws of the prevailing ideology in these wars, we should articulate their essence, and then, arising from criticism, outline the foundations of an ideology that, even if covertly, continues to shape the 20th century (Skalnik Leff 2016: 318).

In the European Union, throughout its history, a tacit set of rules have established the boundaries for critically evaluating previous crisis periods. According to this, the ideologies of fascism and communism must be universally criticized, but it is politically inappropriate to address the current aggressive nationalism of member states. As per these rules, anyone who criticizes aggressive nationalism against minorities in another member state and advocates for the resolution of the situation, the granting of rights, and the redress of grievances of the affected, typically their own minorities, is consi dered a nationalist and, therefore, suspicious. The primary weakness of this system of rules does not lie in the incorrect stance because one could expose the wrongness of a stance in a public debate. Instead, it lies in silence, in the elevation of silence as a moral value. Through silence, public debate becomes precisely incorrect.

Moreover, silence, as history has repeatedly shown, does not silence the supporters of national aggression. They continue to voice and act upon their views. Silence, however, silences their critics and those affected, those who suffer the consequences of aggression. This is how the obligation of silence makes them suspicious, and it can be claimed that they, through their outspokenness, endanger European peace and balance, as opposed to those who disregard their rights.

It can be implied that they may ultimately be seeking to disrupt their countries because they are unwilling to remain silent during an era that either promises prosperity or is marked by challenges. Consequently, one should approach their critical statements and national demands with great caution and avoid putting excessive pressure on their countries’ leaders. The primary objective is to maintain a delicate balance rather than address the core issue,[27] which involves changing the value system based on the majority’s exclusivity, fostering unity and diversity among citizens, and, of course, guaranteeing the national freedom and equality of the affected minorities.

Without political debates about the current aggressive nationalisms, those views and prejudices on which individual national aggressions rely do not change. Without change, they continue to exist and resurface in every critical situation.[28]


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