We have referred to history several times in this column in the last few months to stress the undemocratic developments that we can expect to result out from the current dynamics. Progress is built upon the shoulders of our past. Peaceful conflict resolution is part of the past we should build upon, rather than throw away.
Ahead of the upcoming European elections we hear again the narrative of the European Union as a Peace project. The attempts to present this as the narrative of its past is gaining support. The EU still suffers from conflictual situations although it has an excellent high representative of foreign affairs, Federica Mogherini. At a time when the events and particularly the Russian blockade in Arsow Sea, whose geographical location we have superbly ignored until now, remind us of just how weak the balance of power can be and of the threat posed by Russia, it seems that sometimes our thought processes become blocked. Haste was never a good motive for political decisions. Nor was appeasement! During the Cold War and the confrontation of opposing systems, appeasement was not the answer, but the “Ostpolitik” of visionary and courageous politicians like Willy Brandt paved the way to peaceful conflict resolution.
The fall of the wall and of the communist regimes in central and Eastern Europe did not draw a line under history the way Fukushima did. When the confrontation ended it was misunderstood as a victory for capitalism. The currency alignment of the GDR Mark and the Deutsche Mark accelerated the building of financial empires (oligarchies) and gave financial and economic power to the few. With the arrival in power of the former secret service agent Putin the worst undemocratic traditions were used to intimidate opponents, be they journalists, politicians or overly powerful and opposing oligarchs.
The annexation of the Crimea was the first military act to change borders in Europe after the end of Second World War. The answer of Europe and the West in general was too weak, hoping that Putin would not go further. For him, with his belief in the demonstration of might and that compromise of any kind is a sign of weakness, Europe’s approach could be seen as an invitation to see how far he can go. In parallel, all action is strongly supported by the army of media trolls like Russia Today and others who sow doubt and confusion. The tip of the iceberg is the support for the international far right by any means.
At the time of the Cold War, the West demonstrated that there was an alternative through the Social Market Economy and welfare states, but since the crisis of 2008, its policy of austerity has damaged this historical acquis and makes our societies less attractive. The battle is no longer about the superiority of systems, it is about the superiority of democratic systems versus “illiberal democracies”. The wording in itself is a contradiction but has made its way into the public debate. If there is to be an ideological battle around the upcoming European elections it shall be around democratic values and social progress, not on investment in armaments. A strong common attitude by Europe would not be a sign of weakness and economic power still counts.
The Peace narrative is not a chapter in the book of history. It has driven the boldest visions of our most recent history. Visions that made the case for more people to live in decent conditions. It is today’s challenge for out continent too. Now might be the time to remember and appreciate the lessons of “Ostpolitik” and “Détente”.