Sunday

15th Sep 2019

Interview

'The EU is like Star Wars' Old Republic'

  • The EU does not yet have its Darth Vader, but political scientist Csaba Toth says the EU does resemble the Old Republic, which suffered a power grab by Vader's master Palpatine (Photo: W_Minshull)

Not many people would associate the Hollywood blockbuster, Star Wars, with the Nazis’ rise to power, or describe the evil Sith lord, Palpatine's ascent to become emperor of the Star Wars universe in “Weimarian” terms.

But that’s exactly what Csaba Toth, a liberal Hungarian political scientist is doing in a series of lectures in Budapest, which he is also turning into a book, to be published in Hungary in spring.

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  • Yoda (left) and Juncker (Photo: Jonathan Powell and ec.europa.eu)

Toth relates politics to science fiction films and literature in the hope that, via analogies to pop culture, which is free of political prejudice, students become better equipped to decode undemocratic tendencies, expose populism and stand up for democracy.

"The rules of politics are universal. It revolves around power and essentially means a struggle of interests," Toth told EUobserver in an interview.

Old Republic under threat

While Toth does not normally focus on the EU, he expanded his method to Europe in the hope of inspiring debate.

Star Wars provides quite a few lessons for the bloc, mostly on how not to do politics.

Toth says the EU resembles the Old Republic, portrayed in Star Wars' prequel trilogy.

The Old Republic was first upset by separatist movements, then fell under the control of the evil Palpatine chancellor, who, citing external threats, skilfully centralised power, dismantling democratic institutions, while the Jedi Council, tasked with protecting the Republic, was kept in the dark.

Of course, “there are no Palpatines in the EU, and the populists want to dismantle the bloc, rather than turn it into a galactic dictatorship,” Toth noted. But separatism could spell trouble: In the galaxy far, far away it eventually led to the dismantling of the Old Republic; in the EU today, it could lead to the UK breaking away.

“If the separatist domino starts to fall, it could lead to unforeseen consequences, no matter what the original intention of the separatists, or the UK, were,” Toth said.

He said the European Commission often behaves like the Jedi Council, which has big ideas about itself, but does poorly in convincing others - in the EU’s case, the member states.

They are also alike in the sense that they prefer making deals behind closed doors.

“[Jedi chief] Yoda never lays out his arguments openly against Palpatine, nor does [EU Commission head] Juncker against, say, Poland, although public political pressure works better than back-door bickering,” Toth said.

‘Better than history’

The self-confessed sci-fi “geek” tells his students how a perceived outside threat can be used as a populist tool to concentrate power.

"In Star Wars it means rebellious galaxies; in our world it [the perceived threat] could mean immigrants, Muslims, or in Hungary, the Roma minority," Toth said.

Toth calls Palpatine's rise to power in the Star Wars saga a "classical Hitler-style road from democracy to dictatorship".

"Like in the weak German Weimar Republic in the 1930s" Toth says, "the democratic institutions are maintained symbolically for a while in Star Wars too."

He thinks that basic political concepts, like ideology and democracy, are easier to explain through examples from popular culture.

"Students know these stories better than history," he told EUobserver.

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