The European ignorance and misunderstanding increases with eastern longitude of a land. Ukraine and Russia are even further east – writes prof. Žiga TURK
.The fall of Berlin Wall in November 1989 symbolizes not only the collapse of socialism across Eastern and Central Europe but also the victory of the West in the Cold War and a defeat of Russian imperialism. Russia has been pushed out of the territories Stalin annexed, occupied, or subdued after the Second World War – a war which Stalin started together with Hitler to recuperate the loses that Soviet Union suffered after it pulled out of the First World War. The invasion of Ukraine fits the same historical pattern.
The war in Ukraine looks like a fight between an autocracy and democracies but it is not an ideological war. Primarily it is an attempt of Russia to revise the outcomes of the Cold War and re-establish an empire. Some of the words of Putin’s speech in the wake of the war are almost verbatim repetitions of the ideas of Alexandr Dugin of some 25 years ago. In Foundation of Geopolitics he writes: “Ukraine as a state has no geopolitical meaning. It has neither a particular cultural message of universal significance, nor geographical uniqueness, nor ethnic exclusivity.” He goes on: “The continued existence of unitary Ukraine is unacceptable. This territory should be divided into several zones corresponding to the gamut of geopolitical and ethnocultural realities.”
If Putin cannot have Ukraine as a whole, he will try to keep its Eastern part. He must be stopped.
What future for Europe
.There are two narratives on the future of Europe. One is that Europe is a project with the goal of creating an ever-closer union. The other is Europe “whole, free, and at peace with itself”. The first one is enshrined in the treaties, the second one was coined by the George W. Bush. They are not incompatible priorities are different.
More than once I took part in the deliberations about the Future of Europe. Always the discussions were about the deepening of Europe, of making the union “ever closer” by transferring more competencies from the nation states to Brussels. What 2/24 is reminding us that not just the depth (in the field of security) is the problem, but also the breadth. European Union is not whole geographically. Only in the west and center, European Union is “free and at peace with itself”. “Make directives, not war”, has been the slogan. France and Germany do not require a buffer zone in demilitarized Rhineland or neutral Benelux. In the east and in the Balkans is not whole. Accession of Balkan countries is slow though membership of that area in the EU and Schengen would render many of the problems irrelevant.
But the bigger problem is the eastern neighborhood and Russia. It has not been receiving appropriate attention in the West – as has been the case throughout history. The defense of Europe from Asian powers – Russia and Turkey – was left to the stretch of countries between the Baltic and Adriatic seas, with the Western powers hardly helping at all. As if it was not their problem. As it has turned out during the 20t Century it very much is. 2/24 is a reminder of that.
The same ignorance is reflected in the words we are still sometimes hearing from the western capitals: that the last big enlargement was a mistake; that in spite of being members for almost two decades, the Central and Eastern European member states are referred to as “new member states” – a term that was never used for Austria or Finland. To make thrifty citizens of some of the old members tolerate that their tax euros are spent in the east, some enlightening, pedagogical lessons are expected, such as teaching the Easterners liberal democracy. The split between the Western members of the Union and the Eastern one plays into the hands of Russian imperial thinkers like Dugin. His vision of Great Russia is only viable if Europe is split into its Atlantic and Central part. This must be prevented! To be free, Europe must be whole.
Is Russia European?
.The European ignorance and misunderstanding increases with eastern longitude of a land. Ukraine and Russia are even further east. Neither the carrots that were going towards Russia after 1989, nor the sticks after 2008 and 2014 were particularly ambitious. We are now paying the price.
The long-lasting historic question about Russia is weather it is a European or an Asian power. Readers of Dostoyevsky and listeners of Tchaikovsky would undoubtedly place in Europe. Observers of the crimes of Ivan the Terrible, Stalin or Putin, the value that they put on human lives and suffering, not so much.
Regardless of how the Russians see themselves, Russia geographically is in Europe and has been a factor in European architecture at least since Napoleon. Main square in my hometown Ljubljana is called “Congress Square” to commemorate the congress of the Holly Alliance superpowers – Russian Czar included – to maintain peace in Europe after Napoleonic wars. The Holly Alliance was the last time Europe maintained peace within itself referring to its common religious foundation. It was the last time Christianity was strong enough to balance the nationalisms.
The values behind today’s peace and collaboration are nothing transcendent. It is a very much profane trade and the slightly more abstract human rights, liberal democracy, and rule of law. In the 1990s and early 2000s there was a window of opportunity to integrate Russia in those values and in Europe. It was made part of G7, it was sitting with NATO summits, it was vital part of European space programe. Optimists hoped it could perhaps have a similar status in Europe like another former superpower – the UK. Except that many people in Europe do not believe Russia is European and that Russia does not feel it is a former superpower.
The window of this opportunity is now gone for a long time. Even if peace is achieved, nobody will be able to pretend 2/24 did not happen. The west has just received a booster dose of political realism. The history is not over. Old historic fault lines are still there. The geopolitical tensions are just like they were hundreds of years ago. Who you are, Russian, Ukrainian, Pole, Slovene, German, French … matters. Soft power of the EU is not enough.
Booster shot of realism
.We have learned that gender neutral toilets, plastic straws, and microagressions are pet problems, problems that societies of abundance have the luxury to invent. Hopefully everyone in Europe and in the US are now learning that real problems are not Warsaw and Budapest or Brussels and Davos; that the problem are not conferences or tweets. One wishes Putin would only be tweeting about Ukraine. The problem is imperialism, the problem are bombs. Reality is back. And the reality is ugly.
But also beautiful. There are tyrants and would-be emperors and there are fighters for freedom. As the great American president Ronald Reagan said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected …”. In the end freedom will win and confirm the victory of 1989. Let us hope that they, the we, all Europeans together, with some American help, win in Ukraine and that a larger battle will not be necessary.
.Europe can only be free, if it is whole and together, and can only be at peace with itself if it is free.