A Citizens’ Europe Cannot Be Constructed Without the East
Jun 1, 1990, Verdeuil, 1 June 1990Since well before the unexpected and enthusiastic opening of the walls and barbed wire fences, which divided Europe and made it unrecognisable, the European Community exercised a strong fascination over the peoples of central and eastern Europe.
It was not so much the Community which actually existed, that of twelve (or six, or nine, or ten... which gradually appeared), and even less the Europe of the common market or the Brussels Eurocracy that attracted affection and hopes. It was rather the idea in itself of a political union which would finally overcome the narrow confines of purely national solidarity and cohesion, and was ready to open the jealously guarded safe called “sovereignty” in favour of supra-national regulations and solidarity. Even the process experienced up to now - however limited and partial - of “unity in diversity” and democratic participation, which the European Community has made possible, is undoubtedly the most advanced process of integration in history. At the same time, it is the most respectful towards the different partners.
However, the demand for Europe, a veritable need for Europe, appears to be more felt in the ex-communist countries than among the citizens of the European Community itself. The long exclusion of countries such as Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary from the European circuit, the fears of their peoples of being forgotten and almost eliminated from the family of European peoples, and the strong desire to find new points of reference, once they had rejected their role as Moscow satellites (without wanting to become satellites of the USA), have encouraged many hopes, and also illusions, about Europe. And if many western Europeans were able to wipe cities such as Prague, Bucharest or Danzig, and the Slav languages en bloc from their historical memory, or their sense of belonging and European integrity, the reverse did not happen. The common cultural and historical heritage was as alive amongst the people of central and eastern Europe as it was neglected by their official ideologies.
Now, the citizens of the whole of Europe suddenly find themselves in a similar situation to that of the East and West Germans. Once the wall had fallen, the people in the east ran to embrace their brothers in the west, about whom they had long been only able to dream - only to find them often very selfish and unscrupulous. And many people in the west who for years on official occasions spouted big words about liberty and democracy, are now worried about how much the re-stitching together of the continent, and the treatment of the deep wound which has damaged it, will cost. They even hurry to appropriate all the possible treasures of the east, including land, houses, books, pictures, businesses and laboratories - for as long as the economic disparity allows them to do so at a low price.
This is not to mention the real danger that the general adoption of the current standards of consumption and the existing economic order across the whole of Europe may cause additional and irreparable environmental damage. And this across a continent which would find it difficult to support a level of car ownership, urbanisation, or water and energy consumption such as has been reached among the so-called more developed countries.
It will not be so easy to implement a common democratic choice in Europe to limit one’s environmental impact and contain one’s own expansionist and exploitive impulses regarding the rest of the world (above all regarding the southern hemisphere). But it will be essential, if, after the era of the east and west blocs, we are not to run immediately into a head on and even stronger confrontation between north and south, between the well-fed and the starving, between those who can permit themselves the luxury of democracy, because they succeed in offloading the costs of their own choices on to others, and those who see in democracy only the usual deception of the poor, who although they are the majority, never win.
There is a risk that in the process of European unification, although from a different standpoint, matters will really develop as they have done between the two Germanys; that the protagonists of the popular and non-violent revolutions will no longer count for anything, even a short time after the triumph of their initiatives, because institutions, professional politicians, the military and diplomats will again have the decisive say.
The push coming from the citizens of Europe has been very clear: the same human and civil rights accessible to all, the same possibility of self-determination of one’s own destiny, the same need for peace, the same concern for safeguarding nature, the same desire for justice and social solidarity. It cannot now be left just to political institutions or the common market to provide answers and decide what and how much is to be provided.
Today there is a great need, and an unexpected opportunity, to use the democratic spaces to the full to construct from the bottom up a common European fabric, even in areas where institutions still cannot, or will not, reach. The time has come to create pan-European structures for cooperation, not only among the twelve Community members, and to develop a practice of common European membership.
From 19 to 21 October, in Prague, numerous associations and groups from ecological, pacifist and human rights spheres will attempt this, in the first “assembly of citizens of the signatory states of the Helsinki Accords” under the auspices of President-Citizen Vaclav Havel. They will work out their own initiatives directed at the “Helsinki II Conference” on security and cooperation in Europe, which opens in Paris a month later. But the expectations of the east are enormous and point in many directions - at the environmentalists, the trade union movements, the associations of writers and artists, the diverse world of the alternative economy... If the numerous distinct and experienced groups and structures of civil society which exist in western Europe do not understand how to respond to the demand for interaction and cooperation, coming from the people of the east (starved of democracy and of spaces not usurped by the state) they will lose an historic, and perhaps unrepeatable, opportunity and leave a bitter taste in many mouths.
Those who implement a civilised European dimension in their own undertakings, no longer have the right to exclude ex-Communist Europe from their horizons. Were they to perpetuate the old frontiers between the blocs in their planning, they would end up having a totally distorted view of Europe.
Verdeuil, 1 June 1990