The War and the Resurrection of Europe

The war in Ukraine has been going on for over a year now, with many dead and much suffering. There is also the danger that the war will spill over into the world in unforeseeable dimensions. Looking at this tragedy, a feeling of powerlessness can be overwhelming. Today we want to discuss the situation with Gerald Häfner once more. In particular, we want to look at the role of Europe and examine whether perspectives can be opened up. The interview was conducted by Louis Defèche.

We do not see the light at the end of the tunnel. Did we think about things incorrectly? Should we change something in our thinking about the situation?

Gerald Häfner: We urgently need a light at the end of the tunnel! At the moment, we in Europe are as if in a trance. We have fallen back into this archaic logic of war. This applies to the terrible war in Ukraine, where fighting is going on every day and countless innocent people are dying. But it also applies to the public debate, which is becoming increasingly bellicose, to people’s thinking and feelings. We have fallen into a trajectory that seems to be heading towards only one logic: victory on the battlefield. This is terrible – it is in a way the end of European pacifist thinking, indeed the end of European ideals. There are currently many activities aimed at prolonging the war, but no serious activities in Europe to finally bring an end to the bloodshed.

Can you explain that?

I’m afraid so. Things are complex, however. There is never just one truth, just one explanation. Linear cause-and-effect thinking, as most of our fellow human beings love it, is insufficient in the social and political spheres. You have to think in different layers. That’s hard. If you only talk about one, it provokes the accusation that you don’t see the others. Most of the time you don’t even get beyond that because firm positions immediately form. Unfortunately, when we speak, it does not allow us to say everything at the same time. And often, as here, there is not enough time and space. So I can only touch on a few things, knowing that this is not complete.

A first layer: the direct responsibility for this war lies with Russia and its leadership. Putin could and must end this war at any time. Ukraine is no longer a Soviet republic. It is a free country. To think that it is still possible to change borders in Europe today by force of arms is outrageous and unacceptable. That time is over. Tanks are not an argument. Attacking an independent country, bombing a pan-Russian empire into existence with military might: this must be opposed with all our strength.

For most people that is enough. For them it is clear: Putin must move, we don’t have to. We bear no responsibility, we are blameless. But if we look more deeply, we see that Ukraine, Europe, the West, and the USA are by no means innocent in this terrible development. They broke promises and helped to corner Russia. We watched as the Russian minorities in eastern Ukraine were denied the statute of autonomy, the use of their own language, and their own elections. This contributed to the escalation.

Gerald Häfner

It is difficult for me to say this. But after the Russian invasion, there were already initial talks between the Russian and Ukrainian sides on the 28th of February, then on the 3rd, 7th, and 10th of March. Talks were held about a ceasefire and possible conditions for lasting peace. These valuable talks then came to an abrupt end in mid-April, as deplored by the then Israeli prime minister, Naftali Bennett, among others. On the Western side, the strategy of not ending the war too soon was suddenly advocated. First, Russia, this rival great power, must be allowed to wear itself out and ‹bleed out› in this war. This would also improve the starting conditions for the major geostrategic confrontation with China.

And it must also be said that not only Russia is bleeding to death but of course Ukraine as well. I have to think of the battles of the First World War, where the soldiers simply had no choice. They just had to keep fighting because somewhere it was decided that it had to go on.

Yes, of course, both sides are bleeding terribly. More than 100,000 have already died on each side. This continues every day. And Ukraine, the victim in this war of aggression, continues to be destroyed. Are we therefore doing everything for immediate peace? No. Servicemen and women who believe it is all about their country must realise: in reality, other strategic goals also play a role. And Europe? Sends weapons and otherwise disappears. It does not have the courage to speak out radically for the people threatened with death, for peace and for a solution. Europe is not acting as a free, independent, mediating element in this polarised situation. Europe makes it easy for itself, sees everything only through one lens and fails as a mediator.

How could a process be restarted, what could be the agenda of negotiations today?

Diplomacy is only possible through consideration, mediation, connection. But at present, a terrible logic has taken hold. Not only here, but in many fields. An exclusionary logic: one or zero, black or white, right or wrong, East or West. On a large scale, Ukraine became the pawn in a mighty confrontation: do we pull it into the Western camp or the Eastern camp? This somewhat overshadows the second, even more complex level. For Ukraine, which, I would like to emphasise, is a separate, independent state and should not become a Russian or NATO outpost, is, like the whole of Europe, diverse and overlapping. For example, more than eight million Russians live in Ukraine. Particularly in the east. In the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, the Russian population is – according to the Ukrainian census – clearly in the majority. This also applies to Crimea, which was Russian territory until 1954, before Khrushchev gave it to Ukraine. A disturbing image: can a head of state and party ‹give away› such a huge area, with all its plants, animals and people, unquestioned?

Dorothea Templeton, ‹Noli me Tangere›, 2016, Mixed technique on canvas, 60 × 80 cm

These areas are being fought over today. But would a victory – no matter which side – actually solve the problem? No! Neither a Russian nor a Ukrainian victory could pacify the dispute that has been smouldering for years. A considerable part of the population would always remain defeated and dissatisfied. The question: ‹Do these territories belong to this or that state?› does not solve the tensions. Incidentally, it is not weapons that can decide this question, but international law and, above all, the people concerned themselves – in peaceful, well-prepared, internationally guaranteed democratic decisions. This is already the first part of a proposal for a solution.

The second would have to go even deeper: an appropriate, permanently sustainable solution cannot be found at all at the level at which it is being sought today. Such a decision must therefore not only be about the question of whether the centre of power will be in Moscow or Kyiv in the future.

Rather, the areas mentioned need space to develop as independent areas according to their own characteristics. Ukraine did not sufficiently grant them these spaces, which fueled discontent and rejection. Expecting them from Russia would be naïve. Rather, we are faced with the central question that goes beyond the regions mentioned: can we grant autonomy and self-determination as well as diverse and different forms of belonging and cooperation? This could mean that legally and politically you belong to one state system, but intellectually and culturally you are connected to another, while economically you cooperate with completely different areas and spaces. Who says that it all has to be uniform and that where the borders of a country end, the borders of language, culture, economy must also end? That’s just old thinking! New thoughts are needed to shape the future so that we do not always fall into the centuries-old traps. In Europe, we must become capable of removing borders, making them permeable, not redrawing borders. Not through conquest, but through free treaty-making. Such sensible, viable and long-term peace-building proposals must be brought into these negotiations. So, for example: a treaty on long-term autonomy for the affected areas, with a perspective for differentiated cooperation and lasting peace. It frightens me that we remain so far below our intellectual and political capacities in what is currently being written and discussed in public.

Isn’t that connected with the idea of the nation? The idea of the nation, which is still very influential everywhere, promotes this unity, these fixed borders and allegiances. Isn’t the ‹nation› exactly what should be overcome?

This is the catastrophe of Europe, that it, characterised by diversity and transitions, has fallen so strongly into this national thinking. I do not see the nation-state as the final goal of history but as a transitional stage towards the self-determination of people in the political sphere. It obscures the view of what we have in common, what unites us, and what it would be our task today to shape across borders. Let’s just think back a good 100 years, how people killed other people who had grown up alongside their own national border, winegrowers and farmers like them. Because one was German and the other French, they were enemies and had to die. Absurd! Unfortunately, we have never sufficiently drawn the consequences from this primal catastrophe of Europe in the First World War. Time and again, Europe had the chance to develop a new, real order of peace after the Thirty Years’ War, the Napoleonic wars, the First and Second World Wars. But we always slipped back a bit in the process. Our last and greatest chance came in 1989, when the Wall and barbed wire, the terrible division of Europe, could be overcome – not by the military or wars as in the past, but by a peaceful revolution. Mikhail Gorbachev, the party leader of the CPSU, the initiator of glasnost and perestroika, was the hero of this peaceful retreat. He stretched out his hand far towards the West and said: Let us build the ‹Common House of Europe›. Not against, but with each other. For a moment, history held its breath. What would have been made possible if we, too, had overcome our old way of thinking? If we had overcome rigid thinking in terms of unitary states in favour of regionalisation, differentiation, and cooperation across state and bloc borders?

Dorothea Templeton, ‹Begleitet›, 2011, Mixed technique on canvas, 60 × 80 cm

Some started to build this common house. Can we overcome the blocks? Create a corridor of peace through the middle of Europe? Protect security in Europe together? Develop new forms of cooperation? There were far-reaching arms control treaties, the NATO-Russia Founding Act, the Partnership for Peace, the Helsinki process, the OSCE. All this has been rolled back, step by step, over the last two decades. Instead, there was an attempt to propagate this demarcating, hostile thinking trapped in polarities again. In 2008, after the admission of 14 new countries, the USA also wanted to bring Ukraine into NATO. At that point, Germany and France still vetoed it. There were also high-ranking politicians in the USA who declared that this would be a big mistake and would definitively destroy the fragile peace order in Europe. Russia must feel as threatened by this in the way the USA did by the nuclear missiles in Cuba. Let’s remember: World War III almost broke out then! That was similar playing with fire. Thus, after a brief political spring, we find ourselves again in the icy winter of confrontation between the blocs. Europe, especially Central Europe, has slept through its enormous historical opportunity for lasting peace, freedom, and cooperation.

Where could a change take place to reverse this trend?

A rather exciting process is taking place in the European Union right now: the ‹Conference on the Future of Europe›. This goes back to an initiative of mine in earlier years. ‹Europe – Not Without the Citizens!› and ‹Democratic Europe Now› were the names of our campaign for a European Convention with the participation of the citizens. In the meantime, the Parliament has also spoken out in favour of the convention. Everything went as we suggested, but, unfortunately it was non-binding. The Conference on the Future of Europe involves citizens on a random basis. Interesting ideas do come from them. But the Council, the body of heads of state and government, is currently blocking anything that could amount to substantial change. Above all, it is blocking our idea of a real convention, even though that was the recommendation of the Future Conference. A convention to discuss on a binding basis: What kind of Europe do we want? How should it be structured? What should be regulated in Europe, and what should be regulated in the states, the regions, the individual areas, and municipalities? Europe needs to rethink itself. But the heads of state and government are preventing it.

How can you get out of this impasse? Parliament does indeed have little power.

That is true, but it is changing over time. In the 1970s, the European Parliament was a purely as-if institution. But it has been fighting for the expansion of its democratic rights ever since. Today, it is a co-legislator – on an equal footing with the Council and the Commission. Although the European Parliament can pass laws, they only come into being if the Council and the Commission also agree. Therefore the European Parliament can decide a lot. But for laws that would substantially change something, the Council vetoes them. So everything remains the same. We need a kind of European citizens’ movement. Europe must be reshaped from the bottom up, by the citizens. We can no longer leave it to governments alone.

Dorothea Templeton, ‹Lazarus›, 2012, Mixed technique on canvas, 100 × 120 cm

With regard to my proposal to overcome the strict nation-state principle, here’s perhaps an image: Let’s take the Waldorf schools. They exist in almost all European countries. But education policy today is a matter for the nation-states or, in some federations, for the constituent states. Thus schools in each country have to meet different requirements. These diminish the freedom of schools and often dilute their approach. Could we not say: there are a number of transnational school systems in Europe. These will ensure a high level of quality in self-governance. As a citizen, I am free to decide which of these types of schools I want to send my child to. The quality and education of Waldorf schools would then not be guaranteed by any state (which cannot do this anyway) but by the European Waldorf Schools. If I choose Waldorf, I get the best possible implementation of this education. It would also require, for example, Waldorf graduation qualifications that are recognised throughout Europe, derived entirely from education and not from the bureaucratic thinking of state officials. If you think about it further, you can think of Europe as an interpenetrating and overlapping network of freely definable affiliations, shaped by organs of self-governance of the various social sectors. The law then sets the necessary framework for this. In this way, the possibility grows for us to take initiative out of our innermost conviction and to work together fruitfully in freedom for the benefit of all.

It is therefore an emancipation of cultural life. Economic life is also often thought of in a national framework. This leads to competition and conflicts within Europe.

Yes. What I have now said about the sphere of culture can apply in the same way to the sphere of the economy. The economy needs cooperation across national borders regardless. But here, too, we are reversing meaningful developments and are massively re-nationalising and politicising the economy. The current sanctions policy contributes to this. For example, it has forced countless companies to lay off their staff in Russia and shut down their factories there. A gigantic punishment of people and destruction of value! The economy should be less subject to political power. Its goal is to work for each other for mutual benefit. We might think of Europe as a network of associative economic entities where companies work together with other companies and no longer see their cooperation as competition but as cooperation. There are great approaches here, but they are still at odds with current legal, national, and political logics. If we change that, a better Europe can emerge.

You have now outlined it for culture and the economy: What could it look like in the field of politics?

The body politic would have to concentrate on the field of the law and politics itself. It should no longer pursue national economic policy or try to influence art, culture, science or the media with political guidelines. Instead, it should create the legal framework in which people can freely engage in culture and business in a binding and socially responsible manner. At the same time, the power structures that still determine politics today must be overcome. The monarch used to be sovereign. Today, each individual person is sovereign. Institutions are becoming service providers for citizens – and the latter are increasingly shaping their lives and thus also helping to shape the legal system in which they live. This requires new forms of democracy in which citizens feel that they are the actual lawmakers, no longer subjects under the will of a ruler.

Dorothea Templeton, ‹Karfreitag›, 2008, Mixed technique on canvas, 100 × 120 cm

When you think along these lines, you realise that there is also fear, that is, a lack of trust in people.

Yes, fear is the worst enemy of any development, of any positive change in any case. Fear of the future is great, disastrously so especially among young people. There are hardly any positive images of the future today, such as we have tried to develop in this conversation. Where positive images of the future are no longer alive, people become fearful. And when people are fearful, the politics of fear celebrates easy victories. That is what we are experiencing at the moment. One fear replaces another. Take the pandemic. That was two years of pure fear. Fear was generated, permanently, even justifying massive encroachments on fundamental rights. No sooner was the pandemic over than the war came. And with it new fears. Citizens should jettison their fears and not be intimidated so easily, but say: we understand the fears of our fellow human beings and will deal with them appropriately, considerately, and confidently. We want to balance protection from infection with living in a meaningful way, strengthening the immune system and being mindful of each other. We need a lot of information, conversation, and self-efficacy for this, not a state that goes to ‹war› against a virus.

If citizens become capable of jettisoning their fears, the state loses an important instrument of power. This also applies to all the other forces that base their power on our fear. The less fearful we become, the more we experience self-efficacy and practise self-formation, the less power is able to achieve dumbing down and oppression. It then becomes increasingly powerless. We therefore need encouragement above all.

Can we now return to the Ukrainian situation with this European perspective? How should it have happened? Could we rewrite history?

When the Wall came down, the Iron Curtain was cut, there was this great hope of a common, free, and peaceful Europe. But then the old logic prevailed over the new again. We abandoned Gorbachev terribly in Russia. We gave him no help in his desperate attempt to transform a run-down, corrupt, and totalitarian state into a modern, free, and prosperous polity. He was left to starve and thus also exposed to the accusation that he was a loser who had gambled away the legacy of the Soviet Union and had given away all greatness and power without receiving anything in return. This callousness, this ingratitude, was most recently witnessed at Gorbachev’s funeral, when no notable western or central European government representative thought it necessary to pay their last respects to him. There is no statesman to whom we owe so much in the past decades as Gorbachev. But he was not granted this gratitude.

Economically floored, left alone by Europe and the West, increasingly encircled by the eastward expansion of NATO, threatened by the many manoeuvres coming ever closer to the Russian border, the pain of the lost Soviet empire was numbed in Russia by nationalist and militarist big power thinking. The reference to historical developments does not take anything away from the Russian leadership’s responsibility. It would be even less correct to deny the right of the states of Central and Eastern Europe to free themselves from the chains of the former Soviet empire and to determine their own future path. Even now, it is not up to Russia to determine which path Moldova, Belarus, or Ukraine take. They must do that themselves. But there are certain steps of which we had to be aware that they would lead to a terrible confrontation if they were taken without negotiations with, and without sufficient security guarantees for the other side – similar to the stationing of Russian missiles in Cuba, which the USA also did not accept and which also led us to the brink of war at that time. Likewise here, too, there should have been understanding and talks should have taken place much earlier and guarantees should have been offered. And as far as Donetsk and Luhansk are concerned, all efforts should have been made to make autonomy, self-determination, and free elections possible. This was even stated in the Minsk Agreement of 2015, but it was never implemented. We were a signatory power. We should have organised talks and advocated for people to decide for themselves how they want to live and what rules they want to follow. When you talk, maybe in the end it’s not one hundred percent one side or one hundred percent the other that wins, but rather something in between or beyond. For Crimea, too, there were and still are sensible proposals – for example, to pave a way, while preserving its affiliation to Ukraine under international law, that would allow for an independent, differentiated development and at the end, let’s say after five years of free debate under a UN mandate, a referendum on its own future status that would be recognised under international law and monitored by the United Nations and the community of states.

Perhaps this would have to be offered as a possible negotiation: to organise elections in such a way that they are internationally recognised and the real will of the citizens concerned can be expressed.

This will would be the decisive thing for me. And it should also be the decisive factor in the end. That would then also be truly European – in the spirit of European values – listening to all sides like in self-governance. Let’s remember South Tyrol. It was annexed by Italy after the end of the First World War in disregard of the right to self-determination, which was much postulated at the time. Thus a predominantly German-speaking population (62 percent) lives under the sovereignty of Italy. As long as their self-determination, culture, and language were suppressed, there was also an endless struggle there with attacks on railway lines, power lines, etc. But since the ‹ending of the South Tyrol question› through a reformed autonomy statute in 1992 and corresponding constitutional amendments in 2001, according to which the region enjoys comprehensive rights of self-determination, the violence is over. Instead of fighting and hatred, a path of freedom, understanding, and democracy was found that is appropriate and viable for the people of this embattled region. In Europe, we will have to break away from the idea that a country is also culturally a uniform unit. There are people everywhere who suffer from not being able to live their own culture adequately. We cannot resolve this through wars but only through peaceful talks and finding appropriate solutions. Such a peaceful solution would be a European cultural act. It could also be a model for many conflicts in this world.

In the end, the question is: what conception of peace do we have? Peace does not mean fighting until one side is exhausted and can no longer continue. A better way would be peace at an earlier stage and in a different way, through meaningful talks and negotiations. That is what I want to stand up for.

Translation Christian von Arnim

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Letzte Kommentare