|Series Title||European Voice|
|Series Details||13/06/96, Volume 2, Number 24|
DURING World War Two they found the body of an airman who had bailed out of a plane. His parachute had not opened. One side of his body from the shoulder downwards was covered in blood, as was one of his hands. As he fell, he had tried more and more frantically to reach the rip-cord to release his parachute. He had torn through all his clothes but had not succeeded. There was no reason why he should. The rip-cord was on the other side of his body. In desperation, he had gashed his chest to the bone.
In one of the momentous periods of history, we in Europe are heading for disaster. Now in free fall, we seem to have forgotten the lessons of history or remembered the wrong ones.
In just over half a century, the West paid the equivalent of 8,000 billion ecu - comparable with each citizen of North America and the European Union, man, woman and child, paying out about 13,000 ecu - on the defence of civilisation against Communism. It succeeded.
With the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, hopes burned bright for a brand new peace. In the five years since, Russia has changed from super-power to super-pauper. Now its psychological trauma, instability, rising nationalism and global criminals are beginning to cast a disquieting shadow over Europe - as did the moribund Weimar Germany of the 1920s or the forgotten, inflation-ridden Yugoslavia of the 1980s.
Will our epitaph be the same? 'Too little vision, too little action, too late.'
After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the voluntary withdrawal of Russian troops, the Central and Eastern European countries of our 2,000-year-old European civilisation are able to join a free association of nations.
They are choosing to join the EU. With their distrust of post-Soviet Russia, most are asking for membership of NATO too.
Today, it is hard to find anyone in Russia who is in favour of NATO expansion. It is like waving a red rag at an angry bear. It fosters a new kind of Russian nationalism and Communism. Russian politics are now predominantly anti-western.
Why? Mainly because of shattered dreams of a better world. Russians have a feeling we are turning our back. We are again entering into a vicious circle of distrust.
A first NATO enlargement will increase resentment and make further expansion improbable. A new NATO division of Europe will leave a grey area ripe for dispute.
An unstable situation exists in Russia and it may be beyond the powers of a sick President Yeltsin and feeble international institutions to control it.
At a seminar organised by the Philip Morris Institute in Brussels recently, a Russian academician chillingly wondered aloud whether, if he could come again, he would be able to speak as freely. A Russian general considered Kaliningrad as a flashpoint for war, irony indeed for the city in which Kant wrote his essay on perpetual peace.
Russia's industrial-military economy has been devastated. Half its gross domestic product has crumbled away. Hyperinflation has debased the value of the rouble and is now destroying Russia's greatest asset, it social solidarity that survived Czarist and Soviet regimes alike.
Unemployment is estimated officially at 15&percent;. Unofficially, it could be much higher and it is rising. So are the number of the pauperised masses, the mafia, 'robber-capitalists' and the death rate. The average male child may not live long enough to draw his pension.
In the coming year, the economists say, Russia may begin to experience growth. We should pause before we rejoice. In the 1950s, Germany rose from the ruins to become a healthy, model democracy and a great European power. That development should not be taken as inevitable. It is rather the exception.
In the 1920s, Germany suffered the trauma of 'defeat by betrayal', the effects of hyperinflation, high unemployment and social upheaval exacerbated by a sudden loss of half its GDP. The man who brought order, jobs, national pride and expansion also brought western civilisation to the brink of collapse. The example of Hitler and Weimar Germany should remind us that economic growth will also reinforce the dominant trends in society.
For Russia today, that also means the increasing globalisation of the thousands of Russian mafia organisations, anti-western nationalism searching for a new Russian sphere of influence and neo-Communism bent on paralysing reform.
Russia has shrunk to the borders that it occupied in 1653. Millions of Russians, however, now live outside them.
Can trouble be averted? What changed in post-war Europe? In the late 1940s, German nationalism was also rising, especially among the youth. Germans wanted to regain control of their industrial production, the return of the Saar and reunification with the eastern zone.
The strengthening rod for German democracy was the creation of the European Community. Germany profited from the common discipline of Community goals that all member states forged together. Coming just five years after the most horrific war, its cleansing essence transcended both hate and economic calculation. Without the reconciliation of the generation that fought the war, this world-changing achievement would not have been possible.
Russia needs a new deal from us with such real reconciling potency. Five years of opportunity have passed. If Russia is lost to democracy, we will again be spending astronomical sums.
The key is not really financial, such as the 8.2-billion-ecu loan from the IMF. Because they are one-sided and impose conditions, loans also create a psychological loss of prestige.
Openness and understanding with the West is what many Russians feel they are losing, not only because of NATO expansion but also due to a lack of common objectives after three-quarters of a century of Communist isolation.
We western Europeans must break out of our mental strait-jacket and create a new framework for Russia and neighbouring states. It needs to marry in with an expanded Union.
We are highly dependent on Russian energy exports. Half of the EU's imported gas comes from Russia. Our own vital long-term interests should help us replace fear with increasing trust.
As Robert Schuman, the political architect of the EU, put it: we need to seek “not only treaties but a living community from which neither we nor our neighbours can arbitrarily withdraw”. That is the best way to foster security, democracy and fulfil the potential of all partners.
Unfortunately, it is exactly what we are shying away from. The window of opportunity to do something that would organically reinforce peaceful growth is rapidly closing.
Firstly, the EU should turn one problem - the disillusionment of its long-waiting candidate countries - into an asset. The greatest contribution to Russia that we in the EU can make is to create in Central and Eastern Europe a framework of stability which is non-threatening and beneficial to all parties.
Thus the enlargement of the Union needs to be accomplished much more urgently and hence differently.
There are other ways of enlarging without waiting for every last one of the 40,000 pages of Community legislation to be passed by the candidate countries. Some could strengthen Europe and boost employment.
An enlargement of the EU designed to help Russia would be welcomed by the Russians. It could mobilise East European expertise to help Russia, morally, democratically and economically.
Forty years ago Schuman said he was also building Europe to welcome in the countries of the East. “It is our duty to be ready,” he said. Will the next generation forgive us if, instead of securing peace on our continent, we miss our rendezvous?
David J Heilbron Price is a writer and journalist who has researched and written about Schuman's life and political theories. His recently published book, “Russia and the Danger for the European Union” proposes a new security and enlargement strategy for Europe.
|Subject Categories||Politics and International Relations, Security and Defence|
|Countries / Regions||Russia|