We Are Those That Wish the Old Situation to Continue.
People are fleeing—in hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands, risking their lives, across the Mediterranean, over the Balkan highlands, across mountains and valleys, pressing forward, further and further away from their old homes and lives, by train, random cars, sometimes even by express bus organised by transit countries, going from border to border in a borderless Europe (if only those backward Eastern European states did not exist!), anything that rolls and moves forward is used for transport, and long distances are, if necessary, covered on foot. Shoes wear thin and bodies tire by the thousands, yet the spirit stays fresh, even if food, drink and means of hygiene are (arrogantly) only offered occasionally. The aim is clear—Germany (“Germany, help us!”), Sweden (“Welcome, refugees!”) or some other rich European state, where people are literally prepared to go over fences and along pipes (“Thank you, Calais!”). This is unbridled desire, a craving for something they have been deprived of. And this is carried by enormous crowds, and no army can halt their movement or slow their progress.
“What we are seeing now is the result of hundreds of years of unequal development in the rich world, which has left a lot of the world behind. Those people who have been left behind want a better life, and that is putting enormous pressure on the boundaries between the poor world and the rich,” says Angus Deaton, winner of this year’s Nobel Prize in economics.
You do not need a Nobel Prize to understand that we are dealing with a revolutionary situation, something is about to crumble and the old European world order must step back to give way to the new one.
But look into the eyes of the refugees—you will see a burning desire for freedom. Put your hand on their chest—you will feel the beat of a heart anticipating a bright future, yearning for a new, better, safer life.
We have seen that look before, and felt that heartbeat. At breaking point, in the anticipation of something new, people’s eyes have shone and heart beaten excitedly in the same way. This is the desire and inner flame that the subjugated Eastern European nations carried while striving towards freedom, the same fire was in our eyes when we stood with Latvians and Lithuanians on the Baltic Way, this is how the hearts of many East Germans beat as the Berlin Wall fell. We saw before us a new future, freedom with all its benefits. We were willing to eat potato peel, as now people are willing to risk their lives crossing the sea in tiny boats in the name of freedom, often paying a steep price for it, without knowing if they will ever make it to their destination.1
If the change is massive enough—new records in the influx of immigrants recorded on state borders or on European beaches certainly point that way—it is almost a certainty that the previous world order will change. Just as Europe changed back then when the Iron Curtain and Cold War confrontation was resigned to history, it will change again now. Europe is reborn during those revolutionary times as something new and different. Exactly what it will become, we are unable to predict at the moment.2
Similarly, a hundred years ago, in the autumn of 1915, nobody could fathom what the result of a world war, caused by the assassination of crown prince Ferdinand, would be, and what destruction it would bring to the world order. The European heads of state of the time were of the opinion that an armed conflict was the best way to defend European values, as they were then perceived to be. They were convinced that if they fought well, it would be their ideals and truths that would survive and the world order would remain the same. None could foresee that the Great War would change Europe completely; that entire states would be wiped out, empires would crumble on both the winning and losing sides; that the old convictions, the “good old world” would all be gone; that empires would be reduced to ruins and completely new states would sprout in Central Europe; that high nobility would lose their positions and not many royal and imperial heads would remain. The roles changed and western civilization began to develop in a completely new manner. The Europe that awoke from the war was completely new and there was no going back.
Similarly, nobody in the second half of the 1980s could predict the results of Mikhail Gorbachev’s unprecedented political steps in the Soviet Union—then a great world power that had half of Europe dependant on its Communist ideology and its sphere of interest also extended to the third world, where it was competing with the West in winning over countries rich in natural resources. Gorbachev did not realise the extent of the change that his perestroika would bring about in the world and Europe. He could not foresee what the new policies would lead to, especially those that made information public (glasnost), which was completely incompatible with the structure of a totalitarian state. When censorship and communist ideological pressure began to give way, the entire socialist camp began to crumble. The world was once again thrust upon the path of change; the Cold War era Iron Curtain that people both in the east and west had grown accustomed to was resigned to history. The Warsaw Pact collapsed, national and socialist republics vanished, people were freed from this developed socialism; democracy reigned across Central and Eastern Europe. The fall of the Berlin Wall was of symbolic importance. The Soviet Union was divided into 15 separate states along the borders of the Union Republics. The destruction of the eastern block was complete, and now even NATO reaches into former Communist territories. The Baltics regained their lost independence, Balkan states became independent in time, and Europe had once again been completely transformed.
Similarly, nobody can say with certainty what the outcome will be of the unrest in the Middle East that began with the ‘oh-so-victorious’ US campaign against Iraq in 2003. When George W. Bush presented an ultimatum to Iraq and attacked under the pretext of searching for weapons of mass destruction, neither he nor the powers that formed the coalition with him knew what was to come. There was nothing in the air for the following decade or so about further military operations, nor of the Arab Spring that wiped out a stagnated power in many states on the southern shore of the Mediterranean and eventually also destabilised Syria. The spring did not really develop into a summer—except perhaps in Tunis; in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood that had come to power through democratic elections was soon overturned in a coup, hundreds of its leaders were executed and so on; in Libya, the prohibition on flights, which received military support from Western states, removed Muammar Gaddafi from the playing field, plunged the geographically large state into chaos and opened a gate to Europe on the northern coast of Africa. A similar window to Europe formed in Syria through its borders both to the Mediterranean Sea and Turkey. These are like inviting open doors to Europe, which are actively being used. The problem, which is more and more widely acknowledged, is that everyone coming through right now are in misery—be it due to war, disease or some other reason—and they now see an opportunity to improve their lives. If there are already hundreds of thousands, soon even millions of these refugees, it will change the world. Europe is once again standing on the brink of change. The gates of the future are open, hundreds of thousands of hearts sense it; millions of eyes can see it. So be a man, and step through the gates.
The previous examples can be contested and one might claim that, during World War I, there were people who foresaw the final result, yearned for it and worked to achieve it. With some reservations and from a certain time onwards, these people can be identified as the leaders of the world revolution on the one hand, and, for example, nationalists according to whose principles new states were founded, on the other.
It can also be claimed that the final result of perestroika was nothing more than a shrewd plan by Ronald Reagan’s administration to exhaust the Soviet Union—that is, Reagan could foresee the collapse of the eastern bloc, as did our freedom fighters, alongside who, we too, finally began to believe in our eventual victory.
Can we also claim in the case of the third example, the on-going refugee crisis, that, once again, one side foresees and knows the final outcome? If so, then who? The caliphs, their disciples and followers?
Let us pay attention to the fact that for the first time we are, as it were, on the other side of the front line—this is the first time that we are not the ones with a twinkle in our eye and the desire to change the world, no—this time we are on the opposing side of history, the ones that wish the old situation to continue, the good old Europe to survive, western values, including human rights, belief in the superiority of democracy, and not to change, etc.
I stop in Berlin with my final example—an emperor and a general secretary could not preserve their eternal Europe, should a chancellor succeed?
Resume. As nobody could fathom a hundred years ago what the result of the world war would be, or foresee the result of Gorbachev’s perestroika a quarter of a century ago, so we too, cannot foresee the consequences of the war and crisis, started by the US with a campaign against Iraq, for us in Europe.
1 We can leave aside the difference that seems to be important at first glance—back then, as during the Estonian War of Independence, the first priority was the liberation of the territory, and personal progress came second, and now it is quite the opposite—, since practice has demonstrated that it is not so important.
2 What exactly will change can only be speculated at the moment, be it the population of the countries or their regime, or the former social relations, religious and moral principles, or the West’s ideological core principles—democracy, human rights and civil liberties—obtaining new content.
This article was published in ICDS Diplomaatia magazine.