90 Years After Killing Itself, Europe at the Crossroads
The umpteenth EU summit is taking place in Brussels from tonight.
The issue at stake is far heavier than in past meetings of Heads of State and Government. With the expansion to include countries formerly behind the Iron Curtain, the EU has to find a way to work despite its components living in different histories.
Call it “Constitution”, call it “Treaty”, call it “Donald Duck” but a new set of rules is needed for a future of prospects rather than implosion.
As I wrote yesterday, the best way to keep one’s life truly alive is to deal with the diverse times that cohabit in one’s soul: just as well for the European Union. Its old, Western core is several decades in front of the new Eastern members in matters of handling national interest in a multi-state Union.
It is not that the Poles or the Czechs are slow-witted: it is that by wrapping their national evolutions in ice under the Soviet domination, it is all too natural to them for history-heavy questions such as strategic defence and World War II considerations to be on the table right now.
Unfortunately, those are exactly the questions that cannot interest their Western counterparts. Because to them, history is at best a nuisance.
Europe and European culture committed suicide around 1917 and perhaps didn’t stop stabbing itself for another 30 years. All the Empires that boldly entered World War I in 1914 were irreparably damaged by three years of war, and in all the participating countries only the most rabid types were not appalled by the pointless carnage.
To compound the situation, millions had joined the fight inspired by enthusiastic nationalism, almost invariably spiced up by religious references. Ominously, they had done it in Britain, in France, in Germany, in Russia, in Italy, everywhere following similar patterns.
They literally marched on to kill one another, seemingly unaware of their extraordinary similarities. And obviously in hindsight, their war could not end, as they were able to perfectly match and outwit one another.
That’s why it was a mass suicide, of bodies and of culture. The U.S. officially joined the war on April 2, 1917. Their mere presence was enough to finally put it to a stop. Old Europe heard its bell tolling.
Fast-forward to 1947. Hell-bent on destroying themselves, Europeans had managed to complete the Great War with the even bigger World War II. A great chunk of them were taken out of history by falling into the hands of that failed experiment called Soviet Communism.
Another large chunk, to the West, decided to forego history altogether, laying its soul finally to rest. No more violent nationalism, no desire to stomp on one another, no talk of reparation of this or that historical tort, and since they were at it, steam ahead with a Union of nation states, but down with religion and all mores of old (from “Father knows best” to “A woman’s place is in the kitchen“). Some call it “modernity“.
Sixty years later, the process is almost complete. There is no aspect of contemporary (Western) European life that has not been affected by modernity. The artistic renovation s of the 1920’s have fathered an incredible variety of movements. Religion is on the wane, especially organized religion, and it has become perfectly normal to practice homosexuality and to raise single-parent children, things considered quite deviant as recently as 30 years ago.
Frankly, it is more than absurd to imagine the great-grandchildren of those knowingly sent to die at the Somme or Caporetto, accept any Government initiative without much skepticism.
That’s not the experience elsewhere on the Continent and beyond. For example it is almost impossible to deny the impetus given to liberation of Western European women by the request to work during both wars in stead of their war front-bound men. That’s not exactly what has happened in Communist countries (where the desire to free men and women alike somehow became synonimous of morphing citizens into State servants).
And that’s not what has happened in the Middle East either. Who knows, without World War I there would still be little or no voting rights for female citizens of…liberal democracies! (The U.S.A., of course, is a whole different topic).
And so the new bunch of countries cannot simply join the European Union without a lot of kicking and screaming: Poland especially, a former Empire in itself from the Baltic to the Black Sea, then put together, dismembered and forcibly moved westward by its neighbours.
Will the Brussels meeting be any fruitful? Usually, if a summit like that fails, it is simply forgotten. But let’s hope it does succeed, so it will leave a mark in history.
Imagine if Germany could finally accept Poland’s requests, recognizing each other’s completely different historical paths, and convince it to actually become a leader in the Union: putting to rest at least 13 centuries of enmity.
If the EU will be able to rationally accommodate so many countries with such a variety of experience, cares and worries, then it will be ready to expand even further: Turkey, the Ukraine, Israel, Morocco, Tunisia…and why not?
As a sort of grass-root United Nations, the EU could then become the first gift to Humanity by a more peaceful, re-born Europe.