I long hesitated on which city to choose and what to show: the burning pile of bodies of 1945 Dresden, the children walking in the streets of Berlin, the lone standing churches of Rotterdam, Cologne or Arras, the omnipresence of Death during the Siege of Lenigrad, the scale of destruction at Stanligrad but I decided to go for Poland for it had become, during the war, the pit of human-made horror.
This picture is why we built the European Union.
We built the European Union so we could create a place where countries were so dependent on us each that we would never be able to settle our differences by scores of death and destruction anymore.
We built the European Union on the bodies of 60 million people so that after millennia of fratricidal wars, we could finally accept that we were different yet the same. Before the EU, our autocratic regimes then nationalism and fascism had made us believe that our differences meant we would never get along and the only we had to find a solution a problem that seemed unsolvable was to take arms, mobilise men as young as 14 and throw them with ever-greater force on the top of each other for generals and leaders to see who had suffered the least damage and could therefore claim victory.
We built the European Union so we could, for the very first time in the history of humanity, find a truly civilised alternative to death as a referee to our differences of opinion, belief, ideology, form of political regime, culture, language and ruling dynasty. One will say that European countries are still using the old men-world methods outside. It’s true and I am the first one to be ashamed of it but it has also showed the world that it was possible to think and do differently and ever since it has been created, countries all over the world have decided to more or less give it a go from South American countries to the Far-East
We built European Union on the idea that by being together, we would always be stronger, individually and collectively, than by constantly trying to overcome our neighbour’s perceived power. Like a V-sign to the English-world’s 19th century conception of the laws of Nature, competition against the other powerful and destruction of the mild are not the only way forward anymore. Even in the midst of the worst economic crisis we have ever known, the European Union as an entity is still the richest, economically most powerful and geographically best-integrated and most tolerant place in the world. The erstwhile ridiculed idea of solidarity as a power has made its way for the great and the good.
Now, yes, it is not perfect. Yes, it is riddled witg forces trying to use and abuse it for their own purpose. Yes, it has to live with the cancer of racism, intolerance and accept in its very core forces that want, and maybe will, eventually destroy it but, in that aspect, it is no different than any other democracy. These forces were, are and will always be there whether we work as one or alone within our own little, supposedly opaque and foreign-proof borders. So we may as well work as one to resist them.
Yes, it’s difficult everyday but no one said it would be easy. At the end of this memorial day, let’s remember that the European Union has managed to rethink how we deal with each other: with diplomacy, negotiation and talking. It has brought 27 countries nursing hundreds of different languages, dialects, cultures and sensibilities together in a way that has never been done before and it is getting them to finally talk to solve problems. The European Union has forced countries to accept and promote differences, cultures and languages in and out of their borders. Before the EU, these countries and regions only saw one thing in each of its neighbour and dissidence: a threat. So every single one of them only saw one possibility when it came to dealing with it: wars and destruction. Wars to get what you thought was yours, wars to protect what you believed was yours.
Yes, talking and talking and talking takes more time than getting a gun out and killing the person you are arguing with in order to win the argument. Yes, talks and talks and talks are less flashy, exciting and newsworthy than a “good old bloody war” when it comes to printing newspapers that need to attract readers. Some good old scattered bodies, dead babies in the arms of crying, blood-covered mothers is so much fancier but that’s why we built the European Union, so would never have to deal with it anymore, on our land to begin with, and maybe eventually the world.
Yes, it seems to be getting nowhere in Ukraine but it does. Believe me, as an historian, it would have taken barely a month for the WWIII to happen if we had kept our old ways of dealing with things. With all the Western Europe and all its allies up in arms against Russia and all its allies, with countries in Eastern Europe bullied into taking side and turned into an Orwellian battlefield. All because a handful of Russian separatists were more comfortable with a docile, Russia-friendly Ukraine and believe life is only worth living under the umbrella of Moscow.
The European Union has allowed someone like me to have never seen Death reaping, to have never been forced to take a gun and kill a complete stranger because I was told to and in my mind, it was him or me. It has sheltered generations of people from the trauma of killing another human being, of having to hide from oblivion and see their entire life reduced to dust. It has taught us that fighting is not the solution as it does not solve problems in the long-term, rather creating resentment and the nationalistic dream of revenge. It has taught us that laying a punch will not make your opponent admit defeat forever, just long enough make you believe you won until he thinks he has become stronger enough to lay the punch back.
On this day, when we remember that more than 20 million people from the USSR have been slaughtered to free Europe, that more than 10 million German, French, Polish, Dutch, Belgian, Danish, Czech, Russian, Ukrainian, Italian, Greek Jews, Muslims, Christians, Socialists, Communists, gypsies, gays and lesbians, young and old, men and women, healthy and disabled people were imprisoned, enslaved, starved, tortured, used as lab rats and systematically killed because they supposedly were not fitting a race, an ideology, a vision of nationalism…On this day, we shall never forget that this is why we build the European Union. So it never happens again!
It is now your mission as well as mine to protect the EU, to believe in it, to remember its true purpose.
It is essential we resist the voices of the destructive forces I mentioned earlier. These forces democracy has to tolerate and live with, the ones that could destroy it from the inside. The ones telling you that Europe is the enemy truly working against you. They are the ones who want to make you believe that the scores are already settled. They are the ones who are calling the EU a dictatorship whilst conveniently forgetting to mention to the rest of the country when the next European elections are or encourage people to vote. They are the ones loving the “political stability” of China and whose constant scaremongering has told us that the uncertainty of elections is bad for the economy*. They are the ones who are trying to discourage you from voting by saying that it is irrelevant. They are doing this because they either have a lot to lose if you were to vote or their nostalgia of a glorious past is blinding them into the reality of the lives our ancestors actually lived and they think the EU is responsible for all modern evil.
The European Union was and is being built, expanded and kept up by democracies which have not created a continent-size dictatorship but put in a place a parliament where only politicians elected by their people are sitting. No one is where they are because they were chosen by an oligarchy.
We are not China where people do not have a say on the future of their country and therefore their own. If austerity happens in China, it will indeed by forced upon them by the system they have not chosen but if austerity is “forced on us” by Brussels, it is only because people vote massively for the right-wing, conservative People’s Party who has been championing all the austerity measures that are making our lives difficult and inequality worse all across the continent. You want things to change? You think they are betraying the true purpose of the EU? As I said, it’s a democracy: change happens if you vote for change.
I don’t agree with everything it does but I do believe in Europe because I will never forget why we have been building it, because I believe in democracy, because I believe in working together regardless of our differences, because I am ready to accept these differences, because I believe in its ability to be a force for good; for peace and forward thinking. And mostly because it has made me a first-class citizen by making me responsible for its future, as well as my future by giving me the right to vote after crashing to pieces the fascism it has given birth to almost a century ago.
* “According to the International Monetary Fund, which said uncertainty surrounding the election would undermine growth forecasts” – The Guardian: IMF forecast blows hole in George Osborne’s deficit reduction plan.