I am writing this Brussels’s Diary entry on Europe Day, the 5th of May. To be more precise, on the first of the European Days. There are two such days in May. 5 May is a day of celebration for the Council of Europe, which was established on this day in 1949. 9 May is Europe Day and is celebrated by the entire European Union. Exactly seventy years ago, Robert Schuman, Foreign Minister of France, made his Declaration marking the starting point of a process that later led to the establishment of the EU.
Certainly, 9 May is not only Europe Day but also Victory Day. In Europe, this day is celebrated a day earlier just because the surrender of Germany took effect on 8 May according to Central European time and on 9 May according to Moscow time. No political subtexts here. However, there are political overtones in that Schuman presented his Declaration on 9 May. This is not a coincidence. Victory over nationalist Germany and the establishment of a united Europe are two sides of the same coin.
Historians know that the defeat of Germany in World War I set the stage for World War II. In 1914, the Germans were the aggressors and they were defeated, they were brought to their knees, their economy was ruined. This made them a humiliated, bitter nation. Hitler fanned the flames of bitterness and organised a nationalistic fire across the continent that millions paid for with their lives. Once again, Germany was devastated. By now, it was clear that if the country were to be pushed into isolation again, a new war would not be far away, which Europe would not survive.
France – only five years after the war! – took a paradoxical approach: instead of finishing off the defeated according to the right of the winner, it made the proposition to join forces. In the beginning, the idea was to team up in the most important economic sector at that time – the production of coal and steel. It would be naïve to think that Nazism was dead by 1950. Nazi sentiments were alive. Many Germans hated the French and the French hated the Germans, which is no wonder after such a war and victims. However, Robert Schuman understood that there would be no peace in Europe until aggressive nationalism has died out. What was needed was for European nations to live and work together, trade on a common market, and stand for common, European values. Back then, Schuman said that we “end this endless confrontation of nationalities and nationalism”.
Isn’t this what our grandfathers and great-grandfathers fought and died for? For peace, clear of all hatred on the basis of nationality. For the dream of ‘The Internationale’, the union of all nations. Nazism is a completely opposing idea to this noble dream. True, this dream has not been fully realised so far anywhere – not in the Soviet Union and not in the European Union. Still, today, we are closer to it coming true than 75 years ago. The recurrence of nationalism happens, and people in Estonia know it to be true not only by hearsay; however, it seems impossible for another Kristallnacht and concentration camps to happen.
Schuman certainly knew what he was doing, as Europe Day and Victory Day are about the same thing – one celebration swiftly grows into the next. Those who fought in World War II achieved military victory over nationalism; peaceful victory belongs to those who built and are building peace without borders and hatred.
Happy holiday, dear friends! Be well. We will meet in a week.