Building a new Europe ” “overcoming 20th century ghosts

Commemorations marking 100 years since WWI

Sarajevo, Strasbourg, Kiev. The heavy burden of the conflicts that disrupted Europe and the rest of the world in the first half of 20th century symbolically encompasses these three cities, where it is evoked, one hundred years later, to reflect on that cumbersome legacy and the lessons to learn. On April 16 the European Parliament commemorated the First World War – sparked off by the murder of archduke Franz Ferdinand of Hapsburg by a Slav nationalist, in Sarajevo, on June 28 1914 – in its seat in Strasbourg during the last plenary meeting before being dissolved prior to May’s election. Of course, history does not repeat itself, although it’s not buried forever. Thus Sarajevo is the reminder of a land, Bosnia-Herzegovina, that is far being pacified after the ethnic war of the 1990s. Strasbourg epitomizes the memory of the first and the second world wars, and in the second half of the past century it became the symbol of French-German peace, which is why it hosts the seat of the European Parliament today. With equal relevance, commemorative speeches referred to the ongoing situation in Ukraine, Kiev, and in Crimea, Donetsk: where arms have been taken up to solve disputes between two neighbouring countries. War-and-peace recurs in the thoughts of Europeans upon the commemoration of 17 million deaths in 1914/18, and 60 million in 1939/45. But unfortunately, it preserves a topical bearing in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, the Mediterranean and in other world countries, where the spectre of oppression and war continues dividing humanity, causing death, destruction and misery. Peace should never be taken for granted. The message that is brought down to us from the Dead Marshes and the Trenches of the Somme, from the battlefields of Marne, Verdun or Caporetto, the gas warfare in Ypres, is that the spectres of the past could return in disguise, with the watchwords of renewed nationalisms, territorial egoisms, economic protectionism, revanchism, or – more deceitfully – with the violation of individual and social rights, with creeping or manifested xenophobia. Moreover, the same Europe that sparked off world conflicts, Nazism, and Communism, the Shoah and the gas chambers, is the same Europe that sixty years ago, guided by enlightened politicians, undertook the road of a durable peace, economic cooperation for development and growth, political integration. It’s the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Europe, providing arduous (sometimes late or incomprehensible) common answers to the crises of the past years, marked by the sharing of values and of a social model taken as an example by other continents. During the commemorations in Strasbourg the President of the EU Commission José Manuel Barroso underlined three lessons of the world conflicts that have special topical relevance. First of all, “the need to defend peace” which is paramount and “non-negotiable”, challenged by ultra-nationalism and populism that have drawn their strength from the economic crisis and its heavy social repercussions. Second, “the respect of international law and the rule of the law”, since armed conflicts “are the defeat of political, diplomatic action and rules” that shape coexistence. Third: “responsibility” and “solidarity”, aimed at uniting the interests of nations, for a common home geared at higher and shared wellbeing, that is precisely the purpose of the European Union. History thus is laden with lessons to draw for the present times. It set the cornerstone and the ensuing progress of Community Europe. But history is not enough. In the 21st century, in a complex and globalized epoch, Europe needs an overarching vision. It requires a renewed project capable of meeting contemporary challenges, shared by EU governments and citizens alike. Only in this way will History’s lesson, representing the foundation of united Europe, open up to the rest of the world, thereby generating a “new History”.

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