UK & World

It is time to face a new reality: is Europe ready for it?


72 years ago, on April 18, 1951, France, West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg signed Schumann Declaration which marked the beginning of the European Coal and Steel Community, which later evolved into the European Union as we know it. After World War II, rather than continue to be divided by political differences and opinions, leaders made the visionary decision to unite.

Five years later, in November 1956, when Soviet tanks entered Budapest, the director of the Hungarian news agency sent a message to the whole world: “We will die for Hungary and Europe.” I wonder how Hungary evolved from such sentiments to Orbán’s current policies.

In 2013, citizens across Ukraine took to the streets after the government decided not to sign the Association Agreement with the European Union. Millions of voices have spoken to make it clear that they are in control of their own destiny. Since that time, Ukraine was the only country that, shedding the blood of its best people, proved its worthiness to join the EU.

At first glance, these events may seem unrelated. Yet they share a common desire for a society based on freedom, unencumbered by conflicts over resources, power, and influence, and instead focused on collective growth and the improvement of individual lives. Because one drop in the ocean may not change anything, but oceans and seas are made of such drops.

Reality has changed

After World War II, Europe faced countless obstacles that could perpetuate disorder. However, leaders accepted the new reality and were forced to forge a way forward. One of the unifying features among them was a commitment to freedom, as emphasized in the Schumann Declaration: “…Europe remains open to all European countries that have freedom of choice.”

Buried under tons of bureaucratic rules and standards, it’s easy to lose sight of a key requirement for EU membership – freedom of choice. Ukraine has Georgia and Moldova also have them. The paths may differ from those of other European countries, but we all faced the brutality of war because we dared to stand up for our freedom of choice.

Since February 24, 2022, the largest war since the Second World War and a real genocide continues in the center of Europe with hundreds of thousands killed, wounded, raped, deported and tortured. And yet this may not be enough to obtain concrete guarantees of Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic perspective.

There may not be a better context or chance for the West to accept Ukraine into the EU and NATO. Russia will not suddenly disappear from the world map. Nor will they wake up one day and say that they are withdrawing all their forces from Ukraine and are ready to surrender. Therefore, Europe must come to terms with the fact that it is no longer normal, and the sooner it adopts the new rules of the game, the better.

Ukraine accepted these rules and the new reality. It happened in the early morning of February 24, 2022. This could be understood by the millions of people who protested around the world and in occupied cities. the dedication of teachers who taught at gas stations and supermarkets, wherever they could get access to the Internet and electricity during the winter. You can see it by the tenacity of your Ukrainian colleague, who joined the call shortly after the missile attack, because this is no reason to stop working. This determination is demonstrated by businesses both large and small, who continue to operate, donate and volunteer, because “if not us, who?” And this is clearly shown by the men and women who exchanged everyday life for military camouflage, knowing that the defense of the country depends on them.

We know what we are fighting for. This is not membership in the EU and NATO, this is the right to exist and the freedom to choose how to live. The world was amazed by the heroism and resistance of the Ukrainians, and many words were said about it in the world. At the same time, in the first days of the invasion, millions of Ukrainians prepared “Bandera smoothies”, aka “Molotov cocktails”, ready to meet the tanks and fight the invaders. No one even thought how funny it could look – to fight a tank with an incendiary mixture. The only idea we had was to protect what was ours. Protect our freedom. Protect our country.

This may seem strange in the 21st century, when the world is moving towards globalization and trying to erase all borders to fight for the territory you live on. Well, that’s what happens when your neighbor is an imperialist who wants to see you either conquered or dead. Globalization was once seen as the key to conflict prevention, but the downside of this optimistic and tolerant approach is that it leaves man vulnerable to imperialism, nuclear blackmail, and invasions of sovereign states.

Psychologists believe that trust, predictability and respect for each other’s boundaries are the keys to long-lasting and mutually beneficial relationships. Therefore, it is very important that states are pragmatic and do business with countries they can rely on, and not deceive us. Unfortunately, we had to learn this lesson the hard way.

European leaders of the past accepted the new reality and united for steel and coal, it is long past time for today’s leaders to do the same and unite for freedom and democracy.

Democracy is not a unicorn

Democracy is not a unicorn, it does not appear out of nowhere; he requires effort and can’t stand bullies. Likewise, Europe is not all about the rules of the shape and form of vegetables or the debate about clean energy, while Europe’s largest country is recognized as the most mined area in the world. There just isn’t enough wood for the trees.

The world is entering a phase of conflict and war, and when states like Russia see that the West is afraid of a possible escalation, they see it as weakness. Democracy is about persistence, the courage to stand up to bullies and protect your own borders, even if it means fighting to the death. It may be easier for someone to argue whether Ukraine meets all European standards and values ​​from a flashy office in Brussels, but today the Bachmouth trenches hold more European values ​​than any office ever has.

Ukraine is not fighting to enter the EU, it is fighting for its country and the values ​​we all share. If we are left alone on the battlefield, we will continue to fight, no matter how hard it is. To be honest, we have some experience. But only by coming together can we become agents of change in this troubled world, not mere pawns.

And we have all the necessary elements to achieve this goal. EU member states have a wealth of experience in building democratic institutions, and countries such as Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia can undoubtedly benefit from their experience and knowledge to implement this in their own countries. At the same time, Ukraine has the strongest army, which is the only army in Europe that has real combat experience. For those in Kharkiv or Odessa, hearing Brussels bureaucrats lay out the long list of requirements and endless paperwork required to join the EU or NATO might seem not only laughable, but surreal. There is no other country in the world that contributes more to the safety and security of the continent than Ukraine.

Is Europe ready to accept the new reality?

Oleksiy Honcharenko is a People’s Deputy of Ukraine from Odesa

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