Fred Dallmayr, Co-Chairman, World Public Forum “Dialogue of Civilizations”
In this year, 2014, we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I, that ferocious war in which “Old Europe” - the Europe of the “Belle Epoque”, the Europe of traditional monarchies and dynasties - was destroyed. For the peoples of Europe it was an immense bloodletting, epitomized by trench warfare and the battle of Verdun. The war also laid the foundation for subsequent catastrophes. While dubbed “the war to end all wars”, the concluding treaties of Versailles and Trianon ushered in a “peace to end all peace.” The conditions imposed on the vanquished in these treaties were so harsh and ill-conceived that resentment was bound to flare up and, after barely two decades, erupted in an unprecedented paroxysm of mayhem and destruction on a global scale.
The commemoration of the great European war should not be the occasion for finger-pointing and posthumous recriminations - an exercise which, although dear to some historians, can only stir up nationalistic resentments. The much more fruitful and beneficial outcome of the commemoration is (or should be) the determination to keep Europe in the future free from warfare on its soil. This is the basic purpose of the European Union and the Council of Europe and of the whole process of European integration during the past half century. This means that Europe should be a zone of peace.
Unfortunately, there are developments which threaten to undermine the role of Europa as a peace zone. The greatest danger is that Europe might become the victim of "great power" rivalry. There are ominous danger signals in the present crisis in the Ukraine. Although the solution of the crisis is patently simple and obvious - the “federalization” of the country (which has repeatedly been proposed) - there are forces at work seemingly opposed to a peaceful solution and bent on pushing the country into civil war, and even into an all-out war between West and East. Given the latter horizon, the crisis takes on the character of another “proxy war” between big powers - similar to the proxy war which has raged in Syria, but now much closer to the European heartland. In some political circles, one already talks about a possible war between America and Russia, even though this may result in nuclear war (a possibility that is now openly accepted in the same quarters).
In this situation, one has to ask: who is going to be the most likely and most immediate victim? Given its location between America and Russia, Europe is bound to be the site of the most direct and immediate nuclear devastation. This means: it is time for Europe to wake up from its slumber and from its pliant submission to great power politics. As Juergen Habermas rightly pleaded some time ago: Europe has to develop its own foreign policy. The first step should be to bring pressure to bear on all sides to stop the proxy war in Ukraine. Europe should do everything possible to induce contestants in the Ukraine to assemble around a table and to negotiate fair terms of peace. This would be the proper European way to commemorate 1914.