April 16, 2014
As I am writing this I am listening to the speeches in the EP plenary in Strasbourg, on the WW I and lessons of the past as we look to the future. I’ve been pondering on writing on this subject for the past few months, as the subject is so vast and incredibly complex, that taking a stand on it is primarily a very subjective thing. WW I, the “war to end all wars” failed this prophecy. It was not a war to end all wars, but the first burst of a new European reality. It changed the political reality of the continent forever, and it sparked a century of conflict, whether armed and full frontal or treacherous and hidden. I would love it if future generations would restrict themselves from calling it “the Great War” as there is nothing great about war, any war.
The words of Erich Maria Remarque in his book “Nothing new on the Western Front” are a grim reminder, echoing through the ages, of what this war was. On the eastern front, the question of “what’s the point of it all?” led to the Russian Revolution and the rise of a criminal empire unmatched in modern history. Only 20 years after the Treaty of Versailles Europe was once again under the specter of War.
After the carnages of the Hundred Days Offensive, The Spring Offensive, Somme and Verdun the world has never been the same. And it must not be forgot that it was the end of Empires and the rise of Nation States on the European continent. A lot of ink has been spilled questioning the reasons and motives that lead to war, but it must not be ignored that it was the internal unrest of a European hegemonic empire that provided the spark. Pax Britannica and the rise of the German Reich provided overbearing context, as well as the turmoils that affected the Ottoman Empire and the Russian Empire. Rotting from within the continent was.
The world was changing. And it was changing fast. The Revolutions of the Primavera dei Popoli where the first mark of problems arising. After the American and French Revolutions and the pride and unity Victoria’s rule brought to the English, Johann Gottfried Herder‘s arguments for the “nation” and “nationality” found perfect breeding ground within the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Russian expansionism did nothing but exacerbate that. The Balkans, packed tightly between empires and newly independent states, was the perfect place to bring forth the end of the status qvo.
It is notable however that in 1906, an ethnic Romanian Austro-Hungarian lawyer and politican, Aurel Popovici came up with a plan to federalize Austria-Hungary, as a means to resolving the ethnic troubles that plagued the empire – Vereinigte Staaten von Groß-Österreich [The United States of Greater Austria]. It’s an important step in the history of European Federalism, and more than just a footnote of history as many condone it today, since the proposed federative states mentioned in that plan saw light in the division of the empire past WW I.
Many conflicts of ethnic nature that exist today in the Eastern part of Europe stem from WW I and WW II. Conflicts that are alive and conflicts that are dormant, we should not be afraid to look at them, as they as they have always been a shortcoming of enduring peace on this continent. What happens today in the Ukraine is also a part of that. Russian expansionism mimics the rise of the Russian Empire under the tzars. Eastern Europe, Central Europe and South Central Europe have always been a complicated place as opposed to Western Europe. And over the years a million ways have been tried to pacify this regions. Empires, Nations States, Autonomous Regions – everything was battle-tested, both philosophically and literary. National ambitions, Empire thought of mind, themes of “ethnical superiority” all have plagued this part of Europe. Over the years alliances were raised and forgotten, territories have shifted hands back and forth, people saw hope and despair. The end of the XXth century saw the culmination of these tensions and struggles in the fall of the last “empire” plaguing the liberty of the continent.
While this was alive one way or another in this part of Europe, the Western part saw the birth of a the European Union. The first sustained effort to create something without the use of force, without imposing the will of one state on the others. It stemmed out of vision and a will to prevent war on this continent forever. It was built on negotiation and diplomacy. Never in the history of this continent, or the world for that matter, had such a project existed. It is a testament to the memory of all those who died fighting for this or that flag, most often than not, not really understanding why they are sacrificing their lives. The many white funerary monuments lining green pastures on the fields of Europe are a marker that cannot be forgot.
This project grew and within 62 years it reached the point where we find ourselves today. 100 years since the WW I. The 38 years that mark the space between the two in Western Europe and the 75/76 years that mark the distance from WW I to the fall of the Iron Curtain for Eastern Europe are a grim reminder of what happens when we forget that at the end of the day we are all just humans, striving for a better tomorrow, a better tomorrow that can only exist for all of us, and never just for some of us. They are the mark of forsaking the principles of democracy and liberty, they are the abandonment of reason and dialogue and the rise of the age of death. It’s hard for most of us to encompass into something remotely understandable the number of deaths that this years have brought, through wars and repression.
What Konrad Adenauer could not foresee at the time he made this statement was the relevance the European project will encompass 50 years on, and thus what we called “the countries of western Europe” should read “the countries of Europe”. Other than that, the vision is correct. We need to move out of nation state logic and towards our common identity – that of citizens of the European Union. We have behind us the sacrifices in blood to glue us together, the history and the civilization that unite us, as much as we are different. We are. We speak in 24 languages. We think in 28 different ways on some matter, but more importantly than that we are learning to speak with one voice. And it is not easy. Nor is it painless.
We have the same values. Although at times this might not seem so straightforward at the end of the day we all want the same thing – freedom and a better tomorrow. And we can’t have that unless we work together. What WW I and WW II should teach us is that war amongst us does not lead to a better life. And while war in the classical term between countries of Union is virtually impossible today, we seem to have found new ways to wage “war” on each other. We have reinvented nationalism and coated it with euro skepticism and you would expect to see this coming to life primarily in this turmoiled East and Central Europe. But it less poignant here, with some exceptions. For us, former subjects under and Iron Curtain, a Union we have joined freely and by our own devices is something much dearer than any other idea. Because we have done it by means of Freedom, and we were long deprived of it.
But now we have to stay united. As I am writing this piece news feeds on my other monitor tell me that separatists in Eastern Ukraine have captured APC’s and a tank from Ukrainian forces, that a civil war is underway, that Transnistria has asked to become part of the Russian Federation. Putin’s name is over present. The this or that action of this new-age tzar interpreted in a million ways. And the lack of unity of the EU MSs.
Different realities colliding – on the one side we have a construct enabled by international law, negotiation and free will, over a long period of time, and on the other side an empire building authoritarian bully. And we find that we are not united and not as strong as we expected to be. We find that there are still those of us that favor smaller interest instead of the larger interest. I can bet that most EU citizens have a very straight forward choice of sides when it comes to this conflict. And I’m also willing to bet that the there is a larger side against the bully. But what we face here is not a choice by the people but by those in positions of power within MSs. And that is a whole different choice that I have made abundantly clear in my past posts.
A Federal EU, built on democratic grounds, on righteous values upheld by the people of Europe would in turn consist a more credible defender of international law and order. Our Union’s first and foremost enemy is not exterior (although one is rising fast to fill that position) but internal – national administrations are the most ardent defender of not stepping forward. It is national political interests that devalue EUrope and not the other way around. And the Union itself needs to grow stronger, more democratic, and more keen on electing fairly it’s leaders. Because a collection of fleeting MS leaders is not and will never be the voice of the people. And let us remember that our history on this continent was always plagued by national administrations pushing people to war, and not the other way around – for economic reasons, for political reasons, for religion or under the caprices of this or that leader. And this has to stop.
This quote from a letter written by a private on the Western Front in WW I is the essence of everything that we as a strong Union must not allow to happen ever again. And it starts within us and at our borders.Horatiu Ferchiu