Joint Responsibility of all Europeans for Stability and Security on the Continent

A Speech by Walter Schwimmer delivered at the “Current Issues of Peace and Stability in Eurasia. 70 Years after the End of WWII” International Conference in St. Petersburg on October 16, 2015

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

First of all, let me thank the organizers for having invited me and giving me the opportunity to address this interesting and timely conference which allows learning from the past and looking to the future.
We had in 2014 and 2015 two very important commemorative years. Last year was the year of anniversaries: 100 years had passed since the outbreak of World War I, 75 years since the outbreak of the World War II, 25 years since the fall of the monumental as well mental symbols of the Cold War, the notorious Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain. This year 70 years have passed since the ending of World War II. United Nations Organization was created after the end of the war with the very noble objective of a future without fear of war. So many lessons from history could be learnt, so many hopes were linked in particular with the end of World War II and the termination of the 40 years Cold War. There are two other anniversaries to be commemorated in 2015, 70 years of the Yalta Meeting and 25 years of the Malta Meeting, the first one of the leaders of the powers liberating Europe from the horror of the Nazi-barbarism and the second of the leaders of the 2 super powers USA and the Soviet Union.

But neither the promises of democracy for the liberated Central and Eastern European countries in Yalta nor the promises in Malta of respecting the legitimate security interests of the Soviet Union after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact were fulfilled.

However, hopes for a united, free Europe and for establishing a joint “House of Europe” proved - not only - in light of the recent events to be illusory. The Ukraine crisis was certainly not the root cause. Was it a trigger for the outbreak of a subcutaneously always existing mutual hostility and the logical consequence of misguided values and interests’ politics since the fall of the Iron Curtain? A compatriot of mine, the female Austrian writer Ingeborg Bachmann once pointed it that history is teaching all the time – but it does not find pupils, nobody listens to its lessons.

So we see new demarcation lines are drawn in Europe, at this stage only in the minds. We seem to be sleepwalkers just like our ancestors 100 years ago moving forward to an abyss leading to a new era of alienation and confrontation in Europe. Not only the specter of war is haunting Europe. It is the “chameleon of war” itself, which is about to return triumphantly to Europe.

Europe today lacks of vision. After the 2nd World War there was the vision of a united Europe, not only institutionally united, but united by shared values and the dream of lasting peace on the continent. Along old dividing lines there were special dreams of getting rid of centuries old hostilities such as the French and the Germans, Austrians and Italians, Germans and Poles, and Germans and Russians too.  And there was the vision of the common home of Europe. In 1964, 25 years before Gorbatchev an Austrian Federal Chancellor warned the Council of Europe “not to forget the Eastern wing of the common house of Europe”.

Today Europe is at security policy crossroads. The old idea of the West Atlantic Community loses its importance in the view of an increasingly recognizable US withdrawal from the crisis regions in the European periphery. A consequence of that is a certain loss of political and above all strategic orientation on our side of the Atlantic. We need new visions and new concepts of security. The new vision cannot be barbed wire fences against war refugees or bureaucratic and deterrent visa regimes.

It is our responsibility not to allow new demarcation lines in Europe, neither at the Schengen borders nor in our minds. Let us get up before we become sleepwalkers just like our ancestors 100 years ago moving forward to an abyss leading to a new era of alienation and confrontation in Europe.

I see the warnings on the wall but as a former Secretary General of the Council of Europe I am still cautiously optimistic. I remind that the history of Europe is on the one hand a history of great cultural and technological achievements, on the other hand it is a history of cruel and long wars, some of them are even called Hundred-Years’-War or the Thirty-Years-War, some reached nearly every corner of Europe from the Iberian Peninsula to Moscow like the Napoleonic wars. This bloody history culminated in the two World Wars, with around 100 million deaths, including the genocide on the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire and the Holocaust of the European Jews by the Nazis. The peoples of the former Soviet Union had the highest death rate and the most numerous sacrifices for the liberation of Europe from the Nazi barbarism. The city where we are meeting, St. Petersburg, is a symbol for these sacrifices. It seems that this time the lessons of history can be learned and were already partially learned. Despite the ideological rift through Europe during the Cold War armed conflicts in general were avoided with a few sad exceptions like in the former Yugoslavia, the Caucasus and now in Eastern Ukraine could be. Leaders were cautious and responsible enough to refrain from the Armageddon, the nuclear confrontation.

Europe became a peace project because the central lesson was “never again”. It was the British WWII Prime Minister Winston Churchill who suggested in the middle of the war which his compatriots were suffering from to create after the war a Council of Europe of all states including the then enemies. When it was founded in 1949 Europe unfortunately was already divided, so it took 40 years to realize the peace project. Russia joined the Council of Europe in 1996 and I am proud that I was actively engaged in the admission as Russia is an indispensable part of Europe, for its large cultural contributions to Europe – the beautiful city of St. Petersburg with its cultural treasures is again a symbol for this - for its merits in the defeat of Nazi barbarism, for its joint responsibility to security and stability of the continent, together with all the other European nations and of course together with the European Union. I remain cautiously optimistic despite the current tensions.

We Europeans have still much more what unites us than what could divide us; we have in particular a common history and should be ready to learn its lessons. Unfortunately neither the European Union nor Russia had during the last 25 years a vision of their future relations. But it is not too late. My optimism is fed by the Minsk declaration of the presidents of France, Russia and Ukraine and the Chancellor of Germany of February 12 this year:

“Leaders remain committed to the joint vision of an economic and humanitarian space from the Atlantic to the Pacific”. To get ready for this vision Russia and the European Union must enter into a constructive dialogue about a kind of road map, a road map towards security and stability and I emphasize in particular responsibility on our continent.

This road map should first define what must be discussed and solved bilaterally between the European Union and Russia. In a multi-polar world and with a view to emerging economies on other continents EU, Russia and the other European nations have a lot of common interests. Taking into account that China as well as India has already about 50% more inhabitants then EU, Russia and the rest of European countries together cooperation is in the common interest. That applies also to security questions. The whole of Europe is threatened by barbarian terrorism. Currently hundreds of thousands war refugees, from Afghanistan, from Iraq and Syria are floating to Europe. To fight terrorism, to stop the wave of war refugees we have to go together to the root causes. One who sows violence can only harvest more violence. So we have to stop killing and destruction. Let us jointly call upon all parties concerned to declare immediately the ceasefire between the Syrian government and non-fundamentalist opposition groups to put an end to killing and destruction and sit then together to find the political solution.

Secondly the road map of European Union and Russia should be based on their responsibility as good neighbors to Ukraine. It should describe what must be solved through a dialogue within Ukraine and what the Union and Russia should do to support this dialogue. Both sides have influence on the parties of the Ukrainian crisis and they have to use this influence for the full implementation of the Minsk agreement and the dialogue beyond. When the current crisis will hopefully be solved both, EU and Russia, should help to recover Ukraine economically and to restore good economic relations with both sides.

Thirdly, last but not least, the road map should say what has to be discussed and solved between the two neighbors Russia and Ukraine. As this conflict seems to be an obstacle for sanction-free relations between the EU and Russia it must be a mutual interest that Russia and Ukraine agree on all open questions.

Above all there must be the Pan-European commitment; conflicts cannot anymore be solved by arms. I am convinced that among people of good will there is a common sense of a joint responsibility of the Greater Europe for security and sustainable peace on the continent and this applies in particular to the European Union and the Russian Federation. When European interests are at stake, as this is the case for example in Ukraine, but also in the European proximity, as in Syria wherefrom hundreds of thousands, if not millions, are on their way to Europe, fleeing from the war, there must be an independent European policy, based on “practical relations with Russia – not dictated by the USA”, to quote the president of the European Commission just 8 days ago. The 47 member countries Council of Europe can serve as the joint political platform, the OSCE, “born” out of the Cold War, could play a role in overcoming what is sometimes called a “cold peace”, sometime a Cold War II. Germany will take the chairmanship of OSCE next year, followed by Austria in 2017.  I suggest to the two countries to prepare for a reform of OSCE, adapting the organization to new challenges.

I regret that against all promises after the end of the Cold War neither the European Union nor the Russian side developed any vision of their future relations. The so-called “strategic partnership” between the European Union and Russia remained so far an empty word. But neither the end of the Cold War was nor the current stalemate in EU-Russia relations is the end of European history.  However as I said before, I see some light at the end of the tunnel. In the Minsk declaration of February 12 2015 the participating leaders, Hollande, Merkel, Poroshenko and Putin committed themselves to the common vision of a joint humanitarian and economic space from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from Vladivostok to Lisbon.

No more war on our continent is what history tells us; this is the legacy of 60 million people killed in the Second World War.