Saturday

6th Mar 2021

Opinion

On Armistice Day, EU is still best gift we can give our children

  • A field of poppies. 'While young people fought each other in 1918, young people in 2018 travel to study together under the Erasmus programme' (Photo: Mohammad Hamidi)

Who would dispute that memory and commemoration are not part of the journey towards crafting stronger national identities?

No historian, no anthropologist, no ethnographer would argue against that.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

However, as we prepare to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War on Armistice Day (Sunday, 11 November), there is a risk of limiting our commemoration to representing the past through lengthy speeches, exhibits in historical museums, and brief visits to historic sites.

No civilisation can survive and take a bold view of its own future if it lacks a sense of memory.

Yet young generations lose sight of the true meaning of memory, perhaps because they perceive commemoration in a different way to their parents, who experience commemoration through the perspective and stories of family personal histories.

Today, young people are more likely to learn from history books, which makes it even more remote. So how to make it more personal?

The First World War shattered the established order in Europe and offered an unprecedented challenge to the legitimacy of the nation-state.

Started as small war in Balkans

Military theorists and political leaders at the time expected the war in 1914 to be a limited and decisive conflict, aimed at restoring equilibrium in the Balkans.

Instead, this conflict turned into a long and protracted first intercontinental war, involving America, Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

The conflict required the total mobilisation of the entire societies of over 30 belligerent nations. Modern technology heightened the alienation and dehumanisation of soldiers who served in the trenches.

It was a war that exposed the European ruling classes' inability to reconcile national aspirations and interests in a peaceful and collaborative manner; they instead surrendered to the flattery of aggressive nationalists and their expansionist rhetoric.

Nobody could have imagined that the war would be so terrible, especially for the troops at the front.

Nobody could have imagined that it would cause the sacrifice of more than 10 million soldiers, and an unspecified, very high number of civilian casualties.

Moreover, the war did not give Europe the new order based on peace, concord and freedom that many had sincerely desired.

The war did not resolve old controversies among states, but created new and even more serious ones, plunging ancient and civilised European nations into the barbarity of totalitarianism and laying the foundations for another, even more destructive, inhuman global conflict.

The war did not produce wealth and wellbeing, not even for the winners, but rather pain, misery and suffering, while the primacy of Europe in the world vanished in the bloodshed.

Those who reduce the conflict to the simplistic fact that one country won the war and another lost it are mistaken.

We need to reflect on this fundamental aspect as we witness new forms of nationalism creeping in, which we see thriving on grievance, division and dissatisfaction with the political status quo.

Because this is a threat to many of today's societies, but especially for Europe, which, in the aftermath of the Second World War, had the courage to unite and set aside futile pride and past divisions.

That is how we can make it personal for the millions of young Europeans.

1918 vs 2018

While young people fought each other in 1918, young people in 2018 travel to study together under the Erasmus programme.

Reconciliation and peace are the greatest achievements of the European Union. By interlinking our economies and interests, by perfecting the art of compromise, we have created the most reliable system for long-term peace in the world.

But let us not forget that something inconceivable like war is not impossible. The threat of global conflicts is flaring up in the light of recent shifts in geopolitics.

For the very first time since its creation, the EU is challenged by a divorce (Brexit) and by growing tensions in its neighbourhood – the Balkans, the southern Mediterranean and its eastern borders.

At home, some fail to uphold fundamental rights, and the values of freedom, solidarity, democracy and the rule of law. We are aghast at rising antisemitism, racism, terrorism and protectionism.

Worryingly, the world and Europe are not prepared.

Let me be clear: without peace, there can be no growth, no decent jobs and no cohesion.

Without peace, there is no sustainable Europe. So, as we commemorate those who died in the senseless slaughter of the First World War, we should take action to build a European identity to defeat those who claim that going back to national models will save the day. It will not.

Clearly, we have often made mistakes in thinking about how certain results were achieved because we have taken certain conditions for granted. Rather, it must be made clear, including to the younger generations, that these conditions are never permanently acquired or overcome.

The only certainty is that, despite its limitations, the European Union is still the best gift we can give to our children and our children's children. That is how we can make the commemoration personal.

Luca Jahier is president of the European Economic and Social Committee

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

EU budget must not fortify Europe at expense of peace

Given the European Commission new budget's heavy focus on migration, border management and security, many are asking whether the proposal will fortify Europe at the expense of its peace commitments.

Russian activist warns on 'fake news' as EU backs action

In 2015, internet activist Lyudmila Savchuk went under cover to expose a troll factory in St Petersburg. As the EU summit endorses anti-disinformation action, she told EUobserver the Russian government is bankrolling many more.

Fear of nationalist surge marks European memorials

French and German leaders denounced nationalism at WWI memorials attended by the nationalist heads of Russia, Turkey, and the US. Similar divisions were also on display in Poland.

Orbán leaves EPP group - the beginning of a long endgame

Aside from the EPP, Hungary was also protected - at a member states' level - by key bilateral partners; and not only illiberal countries like Poland, Bulgaria or recently Slovenia - but most importantly also by Germany.

The EU's perverse agenda in Bosnia

In its quest for a quick deliverable in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the European Union is trying to broker a deal that risks entrenching the power of Croat nationalists who are resisting moves to make the country more functional.

Belarusian spring: finding hope in dark times

These are dark times in Belarus, with the government tightening the screws like never before. They are preparing for spring just as much as the opponents of the regime are.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  3. CESIKlaus Heeger and Romain Wolff re-elected Secretary General and President of independent trade unions in Europe (CESI)
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersReport: The prevalence of men who use internet forums characterised by misogyny
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic climate debate on 17 November!

Latest News

  1. China and Russia abusing corona for geopolitics, Lithuania says
  2. Worries on Europe's infection surge, after six-week drop
  3. EU wants large firms to report on gender pay-gap or face fines
  4. EU Commission cannot hold Frontex to account
  5. Orbán leaves EPP group - the beginning of a long endgame
  6. 'Corporate due diligence'? - a reality check before EP votes
  7. Austrian ex-minister joins list of EU's pro-Kremlin lobbyists
  8. Internal Frontex probe to deliver final report this week

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us