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I know that this question might get closed, but I will try it, nevertheless. The reason why I am so interested in broad comparisons of historical situations with current ones, is because I believe that this is the single largest contribution the field of history can have to society.

My very broad question goes like this. What historical situation is comparable to what Europe is currently facing? By the current situation, I am particularly interested in the following qualities:

  • Relatively large cultural differences between regions
  • Mature and stable societies, that have not faced a crisis for a significant period of time (half a century in the current case)
  • Being a significant power, but falling behind in the power-race
  • Unsustainable in the long-term (aging societies), unless of course action is taken

If you believe that the question should get closed, please try to think of how I can ask a question to gain knowledge to better understand how Europe got into the current situation, and how it is likely to come out of it.

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you might also make note of the fact that organized crime here is flourishing across borders. guardian.co.uk/world/2007/oct/09/italy.nuclearpower –  magnetar Dec 14 '11 at 18:53
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1 Answer

up vote 6 down vote accepted

I'm going to do a total long shot here, and provide a comparison that seems to fit all 4 points. However, as a larger picture, it's not necessarily a very good parallel since very little practical advice can be gleaned from it as far as what needs to be done.

USSR in the late 1980s till 1991 fits:

  • Decentralization forces driven by existence of historically-European-oriented Baltic republics, Caucasus republics, and Islamic Central Asian ones (Turcic and not). They were all very culturally different from each other AND from Russia proper.

  • Arguably, didn't face a major crisis since 1945.

  • A significant power (duh) - as evidence, it was basically the only power opposing USA world dominance during Cold War.

  • Unsustainable in the long-term economically, which is what drove Gorbachyov's reforms.

One more parallel that may be controversial is that the underlying cause of the crisis (sovereign debt crisis to be precise, driven by unsustainable social spending) is the same - redistributionist social welfare spending coupled with centralized economic planning (It's not surprising that the countries most on the brink of collapse are those closest to Socialism - Greece and Spain). To quote PM Thatcher, "sooner or later you run out of Other People's Money".

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The EU is not "the only power opposing USA world dominance". Russia and China are much more actively anti-USA than the EU. Most of the EU countries follow USA's lead on global scene most of the time (the Iraq war being a major exception, but even then a lot of European countries did participate, openly or behind the scenes). The comparison of the USSR's economy to the current EU is just plain ridiculous. Evne the argument that the most socialist countries in the EU fared the worst doesn't hold water --the first countries to suffer were the UK and Ireland, paragons of neoliberalism in the EU. –  quant_dev Nov 21 '11 at 18:54
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@quant_dev - I wasn't clear enough. I wasn't saying EU is opposing USA's world dominance - I was using the fact that USSR was opposing world dominance to prove that it was a significant power. That wasn't meant as a EU parallel. –  DVK Nov 21 '11 at 19:57
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Spain had a property bubble as well. –  quant_dev Nov 22 '11 at 11:00
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The countries closest to socialism in the EU (France, Germany, Sweden, Netherlands), are the ones bailing out the more economically right wing countries (Ireland, Spain, Italy, Greece). Just look employment law & social liberalism in all those countries. It's a common meme in right wing US politics that socialism in EU caused the problems. –  Rory Nov 22 '11 at 11:20
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@Rory - "Germany is closer to socialism than a right wing country like Greece"? Care to give your exact definition of so-called "socialism" where that's true? BTW, my views of Germany and Greece are from when I lived in USSR, so your strawman argumens about "right wing US politics" are way off base. BTW, what does social liberalism have to do with socialism? USSR had much worse anti-gay laws than the most conservative of US states, no matter what Marxist wings of gay origanizations want people to believe. –  DVK Nov 22 '11 at 12:01
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