I was fortunate enough to be in West Berlin on that momentous day in November 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down, attending one of those round tables of “young European leaders” that were quite popular at the time. Around two dozen ambitious, energetic and for the most part extremely romantic-minded intellectuals and politicians in their early thirties had come from all corners of the continent to try their hand at being the leaders of the European nations for a day or two.
Of course, we wouldn’t have been worth our salt as young leaders if we had ignored the monumental event that was suddenly unfolding before our very eyes, not far from the Kurfürstendamm, where we were staying at the time. So, on the evening of November 9, having put off the future of Europe for a later date, and somehow finding the necessary tools in our hands, our fine company walked cheerfully past the Berlin Zoological Garden through the Tiergarten towards Brandenburg Gate. There we were immediately blended into the motley crowd of people who had, on a whim, decided to tear the Wall down.
“A Celebration of Disobedience”
In fact, tearing down the symbol of a divided Europe proved much harder than anyone had anticipated. It turned out the East Germans had done a fine job when they built the Wall – the high-strength concrete generously packed with steel reinforcement was a tough match for the home tools with which we had all come out. All our hammers, crowbars and sledgehammers could do was chip miserably away at the powerful reinforced concrete structure. We worked in shifts, changing over every 15 or 20 minutes or so.
This feverish activity brought laughable results, not at all consonant with the magnitude of the event we were living through. It was as if the Wall was mocking the feeble attempts of the ants that had clung to it to inflict at least some visible damage. We could get enough shards for souvenirs, but we were not looking for souvenirs – we were making history! We toiled deep into the night until we finally managed to bore a small hole in the wall, at which point we were eagerly greeted by the folk who had been hacking away at the eastern side of the hated structure just as persistently as we had been at our side. Encouraged by this, we redoubled our efforts.
A latecomer to our attack on totalitarianism had brought a cassette player, and the heavy rhythms of Pink Floyd’s soundtrack, The Wall, boomed out in the direction of the majestic quadriga perched atop the Brandenburg Gate. The sounds flowed through the Wall, reflected off the powerful Doric gate columns, splashed onto the endless and poorly lit Unter den Linden and dissolved into the Berlin night air somewhere near the massive building of the Soviet embassy in East Germany. Pink Floyd unexpectedly turned into a kind of tuning fork for our actions that night, providing the rhythm for the blows of the countless hammers, crowbars and sledgehammers that were scatted over hundreds of metres of concrete wall.
If memory serves me correctly, the weather wasn’t exactly festive that November night. To be honest, it wasn’t much better during the day either: the gloomy Berlin autumn brought low morning clouds, and a sharp rain often accompanied the intense gusts of wind. But that night, as we moved into the main phase of dismantling the Wall, it became even colder and windier and altogether more unpleasant. But this didn’t detract anyone. On the contrary, there was a certain glint in everyone’s eyes, as if we had all knocked back a full glass of old brandy.
I will mention in passing that I don’t recall any groups of drunken East or West Berliners staggering around the city that night, or indeed the day after. It wasn’t until much later that the enthusiastic residents of the city really let loose. And nothing was spared, not even the famous quadriga that adorned the Brandenburg Gate; it took over a year to restore the long-suffering Victoria (nee Eirene, the Greek goddess of peace). It was such a historic moment that the people didn’t even need alcohol, as everyone was on such an emotional high, overcome with a feeling of heartfelt unity and mutual affection.
The fact that I still belonged to the “Soviet Empire” did not seem to bother anyone or even cause them any discomfort whatsoever. On the contrary, I felt like it was my birthday. After all, it was my country that had launched the process of European unification, and nine times out of ten, the magic word Gorbachev would elicit a wide and sincere smile on people’s faces.
It was high time for a celebration. Gone were the fears of the past, the mutual suspicions and grievances. And for us, already fully grown adults, the night of November 9–10 was just as magical as New Year’s or Christmas Eve is for little children, when all the bad can be put in the past and a new life, where everything is good and correct, can begin. A road to a new reality had opened up behind the ruins of the wall – a still unknown and mysterious yet immeasurably attractive united Europe – all to the sounds of Pink Floyd. Not just Europe, but the entire immense world that was shaking off the reinforced concrete fragments of a cursed past now belonged wholly and completely to us!
A Farewell to Illusions
In all honesty, we can’t say that the next 30 years were full only of disappointments and that the alluring picture of European unity turned out to be yet another mirage, a product of a fevered imagination. On general, Europe is more united and freer than it was three decades ago.
In 1989, people my age could not have dreamed that they would someday be able to fly to Paris or London just as easily as they could fly to Leningrad or Kazan. Crossing the border into Europe used to carry an air of mystic ritual, now it is an everyday occurrence. European newspapers such as The Times and Le Monde are no longer located in restricted access areas in public libraries and are freely available to read on the internet. My native city of Moscow has become more European than at any point in its history.
Meanwhile, Berlin has undergone a magical transformation into perhaps the most dynamic capital in Europe. It takes my breath away whenever I have the good fortune to visit the newly rebuilt Pariser Platz or pass through the renovated Brandenburg Gate. I can’t shake the feeling that I am on some massive movie set, so different is the city today from the gloomy reality of 1989. And, of course, the atmosphere around these famous gates today is more readily associated with the Beethoven’s immortal Symphony No. 9 than it is with the somewhat outdated psychedelic rock of Pink Floyd.
The many difficulties that have arisen in the course of the reunification of East and West Berlin have not been fully overcome in the three decades since the Wall came down. The process of integrating the “neue Bundesländer” of Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia has proved to be even more difficult and painful. There are still serious differences between the eastern and western parts of the country in terms of culture, way of life and political leanings – suffice it to mention the resounding victories of the right-wing populists from the Alternative for Germany in the east as evidence of the latter. But you have to hand it to the Germans, for today Germany is united not only on paper, but in practice too.
However, what about Europe?
The romantic dream of a united and indivisible Europe has remained just that, a dream. The yellow brick road did not lead to the Emerald City. The metaphysical wall dividing the continent into East and West has not disappeared, although the lines may have changed and acquired different forms. More accurately, the Wall has been replaced with a number of ramshackle fences, ill-kempt hedges and flimsy partitions, most of which can be easily crossed or even torn down completely should one so desire. The thing is, however, that nobody appears to have this desire. Or, at least, the needed commitment, stamina and vision. As the years turn into decades, the prospect of a Greater Europe moves deeper and deeper into an uncertain future, just like the horizon moves further into the distance with each step. And not only for those of us who live east of Poland and the Baltic states, but also for many lucky holders of a European passport.
Why is this the case? Is it indeed fair to say that “East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet”? I don’t think that appeals to Rudyard Kipling are appropriate here. Beautiful lines from poetry and nonsensical geopolitical mantras are of little use when it comes to real life. Incidentally, Kipling’s ballad was about Great Britain and India, not the east and west of Europe. I think the attempts to use “The Ballad of East and West” as a way to justify the failed attempts to unite Europe would have amused its author no end.
Going on my own personal experience of interacting with Europeans across the entire continent from Lisbon to Vladivostok, I would not say that there are fundamentally different or incompatible social structures, cultural archetypes or group identities in this space. And if any fundamental differences do happen to exist, then the boundaries of socio-cultural spaces now lie within individual countries rather than between them.
One way or another, we are all Europeans, and the last three decades have brought us even closer rather than dividing us in our economic, social and cultural relations. This is why the current schism in Europe, in my opinion, is not a historical inevitability, nor has it been caused by the workings of fate. Instead, it is the result of a number of specific subjective missteps, mistakes and omissions on the part of politicians in both the East and the West.
I do not want to get bogged down in detailed analysis of these mistakes and omissions. We are unlikely to get a definite and comprehensive answer to the million-dollar question of “who is to blame?” any time soon. And saying that “everyone is to blame” is just as good as saying no one is to blame. I will confine myself to a single and very general observation. In 1989, my generation was too quick to celebrate, or rather, victory came too easy for us 30 years ago. Victory literally fell into our hands, like a gift of fate or unexpected miracle. It was almost too good to be true.
This is probably why the celebrations that broke out at Brandenburg Gate that night had a distinctive air of the medieval European carnival, complete with masks and pranks, dancing and singing in the streets, a festival atmosphere of liberation, overindulgence and carelessness. Everyone assumed that the fall of the Berlin Wall would signify the end of the most difficult and painful phase of the struggle for a united Europe. And the most complicated, painstaking and, more importantly, technical tasks of building the pan-European house could be put off until later.
Especially because we already had a firm idea of what the plans for this house looked like.
There Ain’t no Such Thing as a Free Lunch
It turned out that the “celebration of disobedience” that took place on November 9, 1989, was not at all the end, but rather the beginning of the long and painful transformation of Europe. The main battles for Europe were still to come. As we all know, the Carnival is always followed by the Great Lent, which none of us in our state of elation wanted to see.
Perhaps the biggest mistake that my generation (those who were around 30 when the Wall came down and who are roughly 60 now) made was that we, that is, many of us, were rather irresponsibly counting on the imminent “end of European history,” the irresistible march of globalization and the impending triumph of European rationalism. The generation of people who were brought up on Friedrich Hegel, Auguste Comte and Karl Marx could not help but be social determinists. We all know that, according to Hegel, “the mole of history digs slowly, but digs well.” This mole undermined the archaic structure that artificially divided the great city and the great country. It was thus with this same sense of logical inevitability that history had to reunite European civilization, which had been similarly divided on artificial grounds.
My generation has been punished for its deterministic way of thinking and its arrogance. And not only in Russia, but also – to one degree or other, and in different ways – in Poland, Hungary, the United Kingdom and Greece, as well as in those very same eastern states that have long since become part of a reunified Germany and in other places across the continent. “Freedom and life are earned by those alone who conquer them each day anew,” Goethe put Hegel to shame once again.
And what we perceived as a detailed and precisely measured schematic drawing of European unification (reunification?) turned out to be nothing more than amateur sketches, pencil drawings that were several pages short of a complete project. Europe lacked the very same qualities that Germany had displayed during reunification: political will and determination; the ability to set clear goals and ensure that they are met in a timely fashion; and the foresight to make sure that plans do not exceed capabilities and check this on a regular basis. Artists and visionaries did not turn into designers and engineers, and their place in European construction was taken by entirely different people who pursued more mercantile and particularistic goals.
It is difficult for me to imagine what needs to happen in Europe to restore the atmosphere of those now very distant days of November 1989, and for the idea of European unity to once again acquire flesh and blood. A truly unique opportunity has been missed, unfortunately, forever. As the saying goes, “no man ever steps in the same river twice.” Our sketches and drafts from 30 years ago are unlikely to be of any use today, just like most of the projects and propositions suggested in the 1960s were untenable a quarter of a century later during perestroika.
Today, our children have to start their struggle against the new European walls in different and far more complicated circumstances than those that reigned 30 years ago. And not only because our wonderful slogans of the time have withered and faded, but also because in the three decades since the fall of the Berlin Wall our generation has accumulated a mountain of new problems that will be exceptionally difficult to tear down or overcome. And it has to be done in a world where Europe has long since ceased to be seen as a symbol of progress and a source of inspiration.
In any case, the new generation of Europeans will find things much harder than we did. It is entirely possible that the idea of “European reunification” will seem archaic in the emerging globalized world, and the leaders of the new generation will no longer be guided by geographical concepts, but rather by something completely different. Perhaps it is a good thing that our children are more sceptical and cynical and less trusting and romantic than their parents were back in 1989. However, if these “young leaders” turn out to be less ambitious than we were three decades ago, then it means we have done a poor job raising our children.
From our partner RIAC
De-evolution of Europe: The equation of Communism with Nazism
It was indeed cynical and out-of-touch for the EU (Parliament) to suddenly blame, after 80 years, the Soviet Union for triggering WWII. It is unwise (to say least) to resurrect the arguments surrounding the circumstances of the start of World War II. The historians have agreed, the history has been written and well documented, and is in our books already for many decades.
There is no point in contemporary politicians of eastern flank of the EU (with a striking but complicit silence from the central Europe) pushing up the facts regarding who was to blame. There are neither mandated, nor qualified or even expected to do so.
Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, Mussolini ‘s Italy and its satellites (helped by the ring of Useful Idiots, then called Quislings) were the culprits and that is universally accepted with no exception. It is now all in the past. Let us leave it there and not in the 21st century which has severe multiplying challenges, especially for the EU, that are still waiting to be tackled.
Enveloped in its own myopia of economic egoism and überfremdung phobia, Europeans are in fact digging and perpetuating defensive self-isolation. While falling short to constructively engage its neighborhood (but not conveniently protected by oceans for it like some other emigrant-receiving countries), Europeans constantly attract unskilled migrants from that way destabilized near abroad. The US, GCC, Far East, Australia, Singapore, lately even Brazil, India, or Angola – all have enormously profited from the skilled newcomers. Europe is unable to recognize, preserve, protect and promote its skilled migrants.
Simply, European history of tolerance of otherness is far too short for it, while the legacies of residual fears are deep, lasting and wide. Destructive efforts towards neighbors and accelatered hatreds for at home are perpetually reinforcing themselves. That turns Europe into a cluster of sharply polarized and fragmented societies, seemingly over history and identity, but essentially over the generational and technological gap, vision and forward esteem.
One of the latest episodes comes from a recent political,and highly ahistorical,initiative to make an equation of communism with Nazism. Driven by the obsessive Russophobe notion, this myopic short-term calculusmay bring disastrous long-term consequences – first and most of all for the Slavic Eastern/southeastern Europe, as well as to the absent-minded Scandinavian Europe, or cynically silent Central Europe.
Needleless to say, consensus that today’s Europe firmly rests upon is built on antifascism. This legacy brought about prosperity and tranquility to Europe unprecedented all throughout its history. Sudden equation of communism with Nazism is the best and fastest way to destroy very fundaments of Europe once for good.
One is certain, the EU-led Europe is in a serious moral and political crisis of rapid de-evolution. Let’s have a closer look.
Una hysteria importante
History of Europe is the story of small hysteric/xenophobic nations, traditionally sensitive to the issue of ethnic, linguistic, religious, and behavioristic otherness. If this statement holds the truth, then we refer to events before and after the Thirty Years’ War in general and to the post-Napoleonic Europe in particular. Political landscape of today’s Europe had been actually conceived in the late 14th century, gradually evolving to its present shape.
At first, the unquestioned and unchallenged pre-Westphalian order of Catholicism enabled the consolidation and standardization of the feudal socio-economic and politico-military system all over the Europe. However at its matured stage, such a universalistic world of Holy Roman Empire and Papacy (Caesaropapism) is steadily contested by the explicitly confrontational or implicitly dismissive political entities, be it ideologically (the Thirty Years’ War culminating with the Peace of Westphalia) or geopolitically (Grand Discoveries and the shift of the gravity center westwards). The early round of colonizers, the two Iberian empires of Spain and Portugal, are the first entities that emerged, followed by France, Holland, England and Denmark. (Belgium too, although it appeared as a buffer zone at first – being a strategic depth, a continental prolongation of England for containment of Central Europeans, of Dutch and Scandinavians from the open sea, while later on also becoming a strategic depth of France for balancing Britain and containment of Denmark and Prussia.)
Engulfed with the quest of the brewing French revolution for the creation of a nation state, these colonizers, all of them situated on the Atlantic flank of Europe, have successfully adjusted to the nation-state concept. Importantly, the very process of creation/formation of the nation-state has been conducted primarily on linguistic grounds since religious grounds were historically defeated once and for all by the Westphalia. All peoples talking the Portugophone dialects in one state, all Hispanophone dialects in another state, all Francophone dialects in the third state, etc. This was an easy cut for peripheral Europe, the so-called old colonizers on the Atlantic flank of Europe, notably for Portugal, Spain, France, England, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Sweden.
Although geopolitically defeated at home, in France, and ideologically contained by the Vienna Congress and its instrument – the Holy Alliance of Eastern Conservative Courts, the very idea of a nation-state remained appealing. Both of that-time federations of theocracies (the non-territorial principle-based Habsburg and the Ottoman empires) were inevitably corroding by two ‘chemical’ precursors: secularism (enlightenment) and territoriality. Once the revolutionary 1848 ousted the principal guardian of feudalism and Rimo-Christian orthodoxy in Europe, Metternich, the suppressed concept got further impetus. And, the revolutionary romance went on…
Interestingly, the very creation of Central Europe’s nation-states was actually enhanced by Napoleon III. The unification of Italophones was his, nearly obsessive, intentional deed (as he grew up in Nice with Italian Carbonari revolutionaries who were fighting papal and Habsburg’s control over the northern portions of today’s Italy). Conversely, the very unification of Germanophones under the Greater Prussia was his non-intentional mis-chief, with the two subsequently emerging ‘by-products’; modern Austria (German-speaking core assembled on the ruins of mighty multinational and multi-lingual empire) and modern Turkey (Turkophone core on the ruins of mighty multiracial and multi-linguistic empire).
Despite being geographically in the heart of Europe, Switzerland remained a remarkably stable buffer zone: Highly militarized but defensive and obsessively neutral, economically omnipresent yet financially secretive, it represents one confederated state of two confronting versions of western Christianity, of three ethnicities and of four languages. Absent from most of the modern European politico-military events – Switzerland, in short – is terra incognita.
Historically speaking, the process of Christianization of Europe that was used as the justification tool to (either intimidate or corrupt, so to say to) pacify the invading tribes, which demolished the Roman Empire and brought to an end the Antique age, was running parallel on two tracks. The Roman Curia/Vatican conducted one of them by its hammer: the Holy Roman Empire. The second was run by the cluster of Rusophone Slavic Kaganates, who receiving (the orthodox or true/authentic, so-called Eastern version of) Christianity from Byzantium, and past its collapse, have taken over a mission of Christianization, while forming its first state of Kiev Russia (and thereafter, its first historic empire). Thus, to the eastern edge of Europe, Russophones have lived in an intact, nearly a hermetic world of universalism for centuries: one empire, one Tsar, one religion and one language.
Everything in between Central Europe and Russia is Eastern Europe, rather a historic novelty on the political map of Europe. Very formation of the Atlantic Europe’s present shape dates back to 14th–15th century, of Central Europe to the mid-late 19th century, while a contemporary Eastern Europe only started emerging between the end of WWI and the collapse of the Soviet Union – meaning, less than 100 years at best, slightly over two decades in the most cases. No wonder that the dominant political culture of the Eastern Europeans resonates residual fears and reflects deeply insecure small nations. Captive and restive, they are short in territorial depth, in demographic projection, in natural resources and in a direct access to open (warm) seas. After all, these are short in historio-cultural verticals, and in the bigger picture-driven long-term policies. Eastern Europeans are exercising the nationhood and sovereignty from quite a recently, thus, too often uncertain over the side and page of history. Therefore, they are often dismissive, hectic and suspectful, nearly neuralgic and xenophobic, with frequent overtones.
The creation of a nation-state (on linguistic grounds) in the peripheral, Atlantic and Scandinavian, as well as Central Europe was relatively a success-story. However, in Eastern Europe it repeatedly suffered setbacks, culminating in the Balkans, Caucasus and the Middle East. The same calamity also remained in the central or Baltic part of Eastern Europe.
Keeping the center soft
Ever since Westphalia, Europe maintained the inner balance of powers by keeping its core section soft. Peripheral powers like England, France, Denmark, (early Sweden and Poland to be later replaced by) Prussia and Habsburgs, and finally the Ottomans and Russia have pressed on and preserved the center of continental Europe as their own playground. At the same time, they kept extending their possessions overseas or, like Russia and the Ottomans, over the land corridors deeper into Asian and MENA proper. Once Royal Italy and Imperial Germany had appeared, the geographic core ‘hardened’ and for the first time started to politico-militarily press onto peripheries. This new geopolitical reality caused a big security dilemma. That dilemma lasted from the 1814 Vienna congress up to Potsdam conference of 1945, being re-actualized again with the Berlin Wall destruction: How many Germanies and Italies should Europe have to preserve its inner balance and peace?As the latecomers, the Central Europeans have faced the overseas world out of their reach, as clearly divided into spheres of influence solely among the Atlantic Europeans (and Russians).
In rather simplified terms, one can say that from the perspective of European belligerent parties, both world wars were fought between the forces of status quo and the challengers to this status quo. The final epilogue in both wars was that Atlantic Europe has managed to divert the attention of Central Europeans from itself and its vast overseas possessions onto Eastern Europe, and finally towards Russia.
Just to give the most illustrative of many examples; the Imperial post-Bismarck Germany has carefully planned and ambitiously grouped its troops on the border with France. After the assassination of the Austrian Archduke in Sarajevo (28 June 1914), Europe was technically having a casus belli – as the subsequent mutually declared war between all parties quickly followed this assassination episode and the immediate Austrian ultimatum to Serbia. However, the first armed engagement was not taking place on the southeastern front, as expected – between the Eastern belligerent parties such as Austria, Serbia, Russia, the Ottomans, Greece, Bulgaria, etc. The first military operations of WWI were actually taking place in the opposite, northwest corner of Europe – something that came only two months past the Austrian ultimatum to Serbia. It was German penetration of Belgian Ardennes.
Still, the very epilogue of la Grande Guerra was such that a single significant territorial gain of Germany was achieved only in Eastern Europe. Despite a colossal 4-years long military effort, the German western border remained nearly unchanged.
The end of WWI did not bring much of a difference. The accords de paix – Versailles treaty was an Anglo-French triumph. These principal Treaty powers, meaning: Atlantic Europe, invited Germany to finally join the League of Nations in 1926, based on the 1925 Treaty of Locarno. By the letter of this treaty, Germany obliged itself to fully respect its frontiers with Belgium and France (plus demilitarized zone along Rhine) with the unspecified promise to arbitrate before pursuing any change of its borders with Czechoslovakia and Poland. The same modus operandi applied to the Austrian borders with Italy, Yugoslavia, Hungary and Czechoslovakia. The Locarno accord actually instrumentalized two sorts of boundaries around Central Europe (Germany–Austria): strict, inviolable ones towards Atlantic Europe; but semipermeable and soft towards Eastern Europe.
That is how the predominant player from Central Europe, Germany, was accepted to the League, a collective system which the Soviet Russia (meaning: Rusophone Europe) was admitted to only a decade later (1934).
Soon after, this double standard
sealed-off a faith of many in Europe and beyond.
To be more accurate: Westphalia went beyond pure truce, peace and reconciliation. It re-confirmed existence of western Christianity’s Ummah. Simply, it only outlawed meddling into the intra-western religious affairs by restricting that-time absolute Papal (interpretative) powers. From that point of view, Westphalia was not the first international instrument on religious freedoms, but a triumph of western evangelic unity. This very unity later led to the strengthening of western Christianity and its supremacy intercontinentally.
 All modern European languages that are taught in schools today, were once upon a time, actually a political and geographic compromise of the leading linguists, who – through adopted conventions – created a standard language by compiling different dialects, spoken on the territory of particular emerging nation-state.
Early Russian state has ever since expanded north/northeast and eastward, reaching the physical limits of its outreach by crossing the Bering straits (and the sale of Russian Alaska to the USA in 1867). By the late 17th and early 18th century, Russia had begun to draw systematically into European politico-military theatre. (…) In the meantime, Europe’s universalistic empire dissolved. It was contested by the challengers (like the Richelieu’s France and others–geopolitical, or the Lutheran/Protestant – ideological challengers), and fragmented into the cluster of confronted monarchies, desperately trying to achieve an equilibrium through dynamic balancing. Similar political process will affect Russian universal empire only by late 20th century, following the Soviet dissolution. (…) Not fully accepted into the European collective system before the Metternich’s Holy Alliance, even had its access into the post-Versailles system denied, Russia was still not ignored like other peripheral European power. The Ottomans, conversely, were negated from all of the security systems until the very creation of the NATO (Republic of Turkey). Through the pre-emptive partition of Poland in the eve of WWII, and successful campaigns elsewhere in Eastern Europe, Bolshevik Russia expanded both its territory and its influence westwards. (…) An early Soviet period of Russia was characterized by isolated bilateral security arrangements, e.g. with Germans, Fins, Japanese, etc. The post WWII days have brought the regional collective system of Warsaw Pact into existence, as to maintain the communist gains in Europe and to effectively oppose geopolitically and ideologically the similar, earlier formed, US-led block. Besides Nixon’s rapprochement towards China, the collapse of the Soviet Union was the final stage in the progressive fragmentation of the vast Sino-Soviet Communist block (that dominated the Eurasian land mass with its massive size and centrality), letting Russia emerge as the successor. The sudden ideological and territorial Soviet break-up, however, was followed by the cultural shock and civil disorder, painful economic and demographic crisis and rapidly widening disparities. All this coupled with the humiliating wars in Caucasus and elsewhere, since the centripetal and centrifugal forces of integration or fragmentations came into the oscillatory play. Between 1989 and 1991, communist rule ended in country after country and the Warsaw Pact officially dissolved. Subsequently, the Gorbachev-Jeltsin Russia experienced the greatest geopolitical contraction of any major power in the modern era and one of the fastest ever in history. Still, Gorbachev-Jeltsin tandem managed to (re-)brand themselves domestically and internationally – each got its own label of vodka.
 Many would say that, past the peak Ottoman times, the aggressive intrusion of Atlantic Europe with its nation-state concept, coupled with Central Europe’s obsessive control and lebensraumquest, has turned lands of a mild and tolerant people, these pivotal intellectual exchange-corridors of southeastern Europe and the Near East into a modern day Balkan powder keg. Miroslav Krleza famously remarked: “It was us humans who transformed our good swine to a filthy pig.”
 At the time of Vienna Congress, there were nearly a dozen of Italophone states and over three dozens of Germanophone entities – 34 western German states + 4 free cities (Kleinstaaterei), Austria and Prussia. Potsdam conference concludes with only three Germanophone (+ Lichtenstein + Switzerland) and two Italophone states (+ Vatican).
 Why did the US join up Atlantic Europe against Central Europe in both WWs? Simply, siding up with Central Europe would have meant politico-military elimination of Atlantic Europe once and for all. In such an event, the US would have faced a single European, confrontation-potent, block of a formidable strategic-depth to engage with sooner or later. Eventually, Americans would have lost an interfering possibility of remaining the perfect balancer. The very same balancer role, the US inherited from the declining Britain.
 Farce or not, history of 1914 nearly repeated itself to its last detail in early 1990s. And, it was not for the first time. 25 and again 75 years after 1914 – meaning that 1939. was nearly copied by the events of 9/11 in 1989. Hence, November 1989 was the third time that the western frontiers of Central Europe remained intact, while the dramatic change took place to its East. Besides Anschluss of Eastern Germany by the Western one, borders there in 1990s nominally remained the same, but many former neighbors to Central Europe have one by one disappeared for good from the political map of Eastern Europe.
Do Albanians like Fascism? An Iconographical Investigation on Social Media Material
Far right groups with fascist-like ideologies and aesthetics are not rare in the Balkans. I am not referring to parties with nationalist and/or irredentist programs, which are quite standard in the Balkan political scene, but rather to movements that specifically identify with or make use of fascist and national-socialist symbols. Golden Dawn (Chrisi Avgi) in Greece is probably the most notable example of a Balkan far right organization that has openly made use of Nazi symbols and gestures. Other less successful political entities such as Serbian Action (Srbska Akcija), the Bulgarian National Union (Bālgarski Nacionalen Sājuz), the Croatian Party of Rights (Hrvatska Stranka Prava) and the New Right (Noua Dreaptā) in Romania have endorsed elements of fascist and national-socialist ideology. In the Albanian political scene, which is fragmented between Albania, Kosovo and Northern Macedonia, there are no organizations with fascist or Nazi heritage. However, the general rise of the far right that characterises the European continent could also concern Albania.
The Political Scene
I decided to focus on the question of whether Albanians liked Fascism when I came across the short documentary “How Mussolini Built the Albanian Road System” which was broadcasted by the local ABC News in 2019. In December 2019 the documentary was made available on YouTube. The film starts by showing images from an Italian propagandistic documentary of the 1930s which uses a triumphalist tone to depict the Italian contribution to the infrastructural development of Tirana. The voice over states that by highlighting the progress that fascist Italy had brought to Tirana, the Italian documentary was not lying. After a short review of the Italian investments in Albania during the interwar period (which started in 1925 with the foundation of the Society for Albanian Development [SVEA]), documentary comes to the conclusion that Albanians should be grateful to Italians because they built roads and buildings that Albanians enjoyed for several decades after the war.
In order to have a glimpse of the way in which Albanians perceive fascism it is interesting to look through YouTube users’ commentaries to the documentary “How Mussolini Built the Albanian Road System”. Several users claimed that Italy dedicated resources to the Albanian infrastructure for her sole interests and that she intended to colonize and assimilate Albanians. However, there are many comments that clearly support Italy’s presence in Albania. One commentator stated that if Italy had kept Albania for the fifty years of communist rule the country would have been much more developed. Another user states that Albanians were still using the infrastructure built by fascist Italy. Some comments praise Italy because her and Germany’s plan was to create ethnic Albania. Other users show support not simply to the benefits that fascism brought to Albania but rather to its ideology. A comment states that “(…) Mussolini was a great person”. Another writes “long live Mussolini and Hitler!!! Death to the communists and their allies that fought against Fascism!!!”. A user named “SS Skanderbeg” – the infamous SS division that Germans instituted in Kosovo in 1944 – shows his allegiance to the Albanian collaborationist regime by entering the flags of Italy, Albania and Germany conjoint to each other by the symbol “+”.
The authors of the documentary did not intend to praise Mussolini as much as they wanted to criticize the Albanian government. In the last four years the Socialist Party-led governments have undertaken a radical restyling of the centre of Tirana and some buildings that were built with Italian money and expertise have been demolished or are scheduled to be so. On June 2016, the “Qemal Stafa” stadium which was projected by Italian architect Gherardo Bosio in the late 1930s, was demolished and a new stadium was built on the same site. In the beginning of 2018, the government declared that the building that hosted the National Theatre which was projected by Giulio Berté, was going to be demolished in order to make space for a new theatre designed by Danish architect BjarkeIngels.
The discussion between supporters and detractors of the government has been characterised by populist speeches that have made constant reference to the alleged “fascist” heritage of the Tirana centre. On August 31, 2014 Gazeta Dita praised the effort of the government that was working to give back the (currently named) “Nënë Tereza” square its original identity, as it was conceived by “fascist” architect Gherardo Bosio. This article shows that until August 2014, the alleged “fascist” character of some buildings was not considered in negative terms. The attitude of the government toward the heritage of the interwar period changed in the later period. In the beginning of 2018, the Mayor of Tirana ErjonVeliaj claimed in the TV show “Opinion” that the building of the National Theatre was part of the fascist heritage and for this reason as well as for its structural fragility it deserved to be demolished. Veliaj was contradicted by the other guests of the show, including the host Blendi Fevziu who claimed that if it were not for fascist Italy there would have been no Tirana at all. The presenter intended to say that it is necessary to distinguish between the consequences of fascist occupation of Albania and the contribution that fascist Italy’s architects have brought to Tirana. The news about the possible demolition of the building generated apprehension among Italian journalists. Exit.al (February 19, 2018) affirmed that the Albanian government was targeting these monuments in order to delete the tracks of the Italian past of the country. An article on ilfattoquotidiano.it (July 15, 2018) commented the events by citing Indro Montanelli’s controversial work Albania una e mille in which the author states that Tirana is a city without a past. To some Italians the presence of “fascist” buildings generates a sentiment of national grandeur that serves to instil a sense of self-confidence vis-à-vis Albanians and Albania. The National Theatre affair is currently in a stalemate and its future is unknown.
The majority of Albanians who live in Tirana do not question the kind of “heritage” that the city buildings represent. In 1991 the mob brought down the statue of former dictator Enver Hoxha and threw stones to public buildings. However, such acts were determined by peoples’ dissent against the symbols of a political system that was still in charge and that they perceived as the direct cause of their political and economic problems. More recently, Albanians have only questioned the heritage of the urban environment when they were pushed to do so by political parties. In 2010 the Democratic Party-led government projected to demolish the pyramid-shaped building at the centre of Tirana. In that occasion the decision to bring down the edifice was based on the fact that it was built to honour the dictator Enver Hoxha. The Socialist Party – which was at the opposition – organized public protests and the demolition was not carried through. The story is now repeating itself but with inverted roles. The debate concerning the demolition of the National Theatre building shows that the actual government led by the Socialist Party has elaborated the discourse of the “fascist” heritage of such building to increase popular support. The same process might have triggered the opinions that characterised the majority of comments written below the documentary “How Mussolini Built the Albanian Road System”. Several users probably praised the works of fascist Italy in Albania because they were influenced by the documentary’s anti-government nuances. However, few comments seem to have been written by persons that sympathise with national-socialist and fascist ideologies. It is not possible to certify the authenticity of the affirmations made on YouTube, but the strong anti-communist sentiment that pervades the opinions of many persons, the spread of subcultures, and the myth of the Great Albania (which however enjoys very limited popularity in Albania), might push the followers of the local rightwing to identify with the political heritage of the continental far right.
The Ultras Scene
In the last two decades, the ultras subculture is becoming particularly popular in Albania and in the other Balkan countries where Albanians live. The iconographical investigation of some Facebook content shows that at least a part of the ultras makes conscious use of fascist and national-socialist symbols. KF Tirana or “Tirona” (as it is pronounced in the local dialect) has one of the most active fan community in the Albanian-speaking Balkans. The major Tironatifo groups are the “Tirona Fanatics” which was established in 2006 and the “Capital Crew” which was more recently created. All Tirona ultras groups are fierce anti-communists. In analogy to other far right organizations in Europe, Tirona ultras propagate revisionist history by denying that the Albanian capital was freed by the communists on November 17, 1944. Instead they claim that the true occupation started on that date. The anti-communist attitude is presented as an original character of any Tirona fan since Selman Stermasi, who was one of the leading figures of the club during the interwar period, resigned in 1946 after that the communist regime changed the name of the club from SK Tirana to “17 Nëntori”. The Tirona ultras’ aversion to communism emerges especially when their team plays against Partizani. FK Partizani was founded in 1946 and was originally the sporting club of the Albanian army. Tirona ultras have exposed banners with drawings of partisans being executed. In 2014 current vice prime minister ErjonBraçe claimed that Tirona fans were fascists because they used anti-communist slogans and exposed a banner addressed to Partizani fans in which it was written “for you we open Auschwitz again.” While many Albanians condemned the attitude of the Tirona supporters, on the comments sections of the Albanian online newspapers, some readers affirmed that Germans have always been allies of Albania and that the abovementioned SS Division Skanderbeg fought for ethnic Albania. Erjon Braçe continues to expose Tirona fans for their alleged fascism and has consequently become one of their major subjects of mockery.
The Facebook pages of the Tirona ultras have never made any written reference to fascism. However, in analogy to other European ultras groups, they have adopted symbols and attitudes that recall the fascist and national-socialist ideology. Well-known slogans in use by continental far right groups such as “better dead than red” and “good night left side” often appear in the stadiums and on the Facebook accounts. The “Capital Crew” has recently posted an artistic image of two persons tattooed with swastika and Celtic cross who beat another person who has a hammer and sickle tattoo. Pictures of Celtic crosses and of persons holding flags with this symbol have been posted on Facebook pages of Albanian and Kosovar ultras. Some groups of the Tirona ultras regularlytake pictures while making the roman salute. They have also used the eagle symbol of the Third Reich to make a banner that was printed on t-shirts. The iconographic analysis indicates that ultras might be consciously exploiting the symbols the national-socialist heritage of Albanian-speaking regions. The ultras of “Tirona Fanatics”, Skopje “Shvercerat” and Prishtina “Plisat” have adopted a flag that portrays a white double-headed eagle on a black background. Although the eagle is stylized in several different forms, the flag is highly reminiscent of the one that was used as the banner of the SS Division Skanderbeg in 1944.
Being ultras means – to a certain extent – being rebels and sympathizing with the anti-democratic far right can be considered a form of rebellion. However, sympathizing with the far right in the Balkans does not necessarily mean to act as a far right sympathizer would in Western Europe.Unlike many Western European homologues, Albanian ultras have advertised the consumption of weed which, like beer, underscores the pursue of fun and liberation. The Tirona Fanatics subgroup “Danoçat” have exposed a sarcastic banner baring the word “Brrakistan” and a marijuana leaf. The members of FC Shkupi “Shvercerat” often show a banner saying “Republic of Çair” with a mariujana leaf. Both Brrak and Çair are neighbourhoods respectively in Tirana and Skopje. Differently from Western European football ultras and in analogy to Balkan ultras, some Albanian hardcore football fans use their religion to remark their sense of belonging. During the match KF Laçi- KF Tirana in May 2019, a group of Tirona Fanatics chanted “Allahu Ekbar”. The media and several Tirona supporters criticized the act which was considered a provocation since Laç is populated by a catholic majority. The Tirona Fanatics made an official statement claiming that the chant was spontaneous and was meant to salute Muslim supporters for the Ramadan festivity. The event was however unusual and led the Albanian antiterrorism forces to make an investigation. It can be speculated that there is a historical connection between Tirona Fanatics and militant Islamism since the term “fanatic” evokes the revolt that characterised central Albania between 1914 and 1915 and which was later called by historians the “rebellion of the fanatics”. The leaders of the revolt wanted Albania to be ruled by a Muslim prince and forced the designated Christian prince Wilhelm zu Wied to leave the country. However, any reference that the Tirana ultras could have made to this event is in my opinion sardonic or unintentional. The administrators of the Facebook page have shown a fair attitude toward all major religions that are practiced in Albania. In June 2016, when the war in Syria was mounting, a group of Tirona Fanatics posted a picture in which they were wearing a t-shirt that said “Fuck ISIS”. Earlier, the Facebook page Albanian Ultras expressed sorrow for the Dinamo Zagreb fan Tomislav Salopek who was killed by ISIS in 2015. However, it is still difficult to understand why football supporters bring up a potentially divisive topic for Albanians such as religion.
In the interwar period the Tirana governments relied on Italy’s assets to develop infrastructure and in the 1930s the country was highly exposed to Italian culture. During World War II the country was ruled by fascist Italy from 1939 to 1943 and then by Nazi Germany until 1944. The Nazi-Fascist regimes annexed territories of present day Kosovo, Montenegro and Macedonia to their puppet state in order to obtain the support of the Albanian nationalists. Albanian official historiography has always condemned the collaborationist regimes and has seldom given recognition to Italy – let alone Mussolini – for the infrastructural works that were accomplished in Albania. The documentary “How Mussolini Built the Albanian Road System” shows that some journalists and academics have started to think differently. The instrumental use that governments make of the interwar infrastructural heritage that was built with the support of the Italians, will encourage the development of diametrical views. This short enquiry has shown that in Albania there are no organizations with far right ideologies and programs but there are individuals that sympathize with fascist ideologies and there are subcultures that endorse at least part of such ideologies. If Albania and the Balkans continue to be isolated by the rest of the continent, it is likely that more people in the region will be attracted by the dark charms of the far right.
Neighbours in Europe
Thirty years ago, on 18 December 1989, Brussels hosted the signing of the Agreement on Trade and Commercial and Economic Cooperation between the USSR and the European communities. This date became the point of departure for official relations between Russia as the successor state of the USSR and the European Union.
Symbolically, the Agreement was signed slightly over a month after the fall of the Berlin Wall, an event that came down in history as a landmark signifying the end of the Cold War, a period, when the continent was divided into two opposing ideological blocs. The founders of the Russia – EU partnership knew that it would be impossible to erase the centuries-old divides on the continent unless a broad framework for cooperation was created in Europe. Both sides intended to make it mutually beneficial, long-term, and resistant to economic and political fluctuations.
The subsequent years were marked by painstaking efforts to create a multi-level architecture of collaboration between Russia and the EU. A solid legal infrastructure evolved based to this day on the 1994 Russia – EU Partnership and Cooperation Agreement. In May 2003, during the Russia – EU summit in St. Petersburg, yet another step forward was taken in overcoming the division of Europe, with the parties reaching an agreement on establishing a strategic partnership based on four common spaces – economic; external security; freedom, security and justice; science and education, including cultural aspects. We worked together on long-term projects, which, had they been brought to a logical end, would have yielded tangible dividends to all those who live on our shared continent and substantially enhanced the level of their security, prosperity and comfort. Among other things, the case in point was easing the terms – up to a visa-free regime – of reciprocal travel of Russian and EU citizens, establishing close cooperation between the law enforcement agencies in fighting the terrorist and organised crime threats, coordinating efforts to settle regional crises and conflicts, and forming an energy union. But the sides failed to ensure stability of the declared partnership between Russia and the EU.
Regrettably, many people in the West looked at the prospects of a common European future exclusively from the viewpoint of “winners” in the Cold War. The principles of equal cooperation have given way to the illusion that Euro-Atlantic security can only be based on NATO, and that Europe can only be associated with the European Union, with everything else as nothing more than the concentric circles around these “centres of legitimacy.”
The practical aspects of our relations with Brussels included instances of increasing priority given to the EU’s supranational norms and attempts to apply them retroactively to all other countries. We were urged to accept off-the-shelf decisions made in the EU, which ruled out any discussion or respect for Russia’s interests. In other words, we were invited to join the mainstream and follow the lead, as well as to accept the interpretation of “common values,” many of which contradict the traditions of the European civilisation based on Christianity.
Our Brussels partners preferred to keep silent about the fact that their concept of four common spaces was based on the understanding that any attempts to force our neighbours to choose between Russia and the EU would be dangerous and counterproductive. Well before 2014, an alarming sign in the Russia-EU relations was the launch of the Eastern Partnership initiative, which was aimed, as it turned out later, at creating a distance between Russia and its closest neighbours connected by centuries-old ties. We are still feeling the negative impact of this egocentric policy.
In short, the EU was not prepared to have equal relations with Russia. In the Brussels vocabulary, Europe equalled the European Union, as if there is only one “real” Europe (the EU member states), and all the other countries must work hard to earn the “high title” of Europeans. They are creating artificial dividing line on the continent and distorting both geography and history. A glaring example of that is the numerous EU resolutions that equate the Nazis who sought to exterminate European nations with the Soviet soldiers who saved these nations from annihilation.
It is a deeply flawed approach, which is not benefitting the European integration project and contradicts its initial unification and peace-building spirit. Russia has always been and will remain an integral part of Europe geographically, historically and culturally. We have a unique identity of which we are proud, but we are part of the European civilisational space. Over a period of many centuries, Russia contributed to the expansion of that space all the way to the Pacific coast. The development of our identity was influenced by advanced European ideas. Likewise, modern European culture would have been different without the process of mutual enrichment with Russia.
Despite our differences, Russia and the EU are important trade and economic partners, as well as neighbours who can share their common responsibility for peace, prosperity and security in this part of Eurasia. By the way, if it were not for the EU’s biased position in the context of Ukrainian developments, Russia-EU trade would have reached $500 billion, becoming a global factor comparable to the EU’s trade with the United States or China.
There is increasing evidence of our EU partners’ realisation that the current situation is abnormal. Russia’s relations with the majority of EU states are being revitalised. We have made the first contacts with the new EU leadership, which assumed office in early December.
The new institutional cycle in the EU history offers an opportunity to relaunch relations with Russia. At the very least, we can ponder what we mean to each other in this rapidly changing world. We hope that the EU decision-makers will opt for strategic thinking and will act in the spirit of the great European politicians, such as Charles de Gaulle and Helmut Kohl, who thought in terms of a common European home. The artificial restrictions imposed on trade to suit someone’s geopolitical interests will not settle the existing problems but will only create more obstacles and will weaken Europe’s economic positions. There is no doubt that European cultures and economies can only protect their identities and competitive ability from the onslaught of globalisation by combining the relative competitive advantages of all countries and integration associations in the common Eurasian space.
Russia – EU relations are not developing in a vacuum. A multipolar world has become a reality. New centres of financial, economic, technological and military power have emerged in the Asia Pacific Region. We are taking this crucial factor into consideration during the process of shaping our foreign policy. The new realities not only entail additional trans-border challenges but also open opportunities for getting resources for our own development where previously we did not even look. In any case, combining efforts enhances our capabilities. Amid the persisting international turbulence, it is important to ensure the rule of international law. No attempts should be made to replace it with the “rules-based order” that the West has invented to promote its interests. It is only then that we will be able to assure the effectiveness of multilateral efforts.
We see the European Union as one of the centres of the multipolar world. We intend to promote relations with the EU in keeping with President Vladimir Putin’s concept of Greater Eurasian Partnership from the Atlantic to the Pacific involving the states of the Eurasian Economic Union, the SCO, ASEAN, and all other countries on the continent. EU – EAEU cooperation can become the economic basis for EU members joining this Partnership. Aligning the potentials of the two major regional markets and harmonising their trade and investment regimes will strengthen the positions of all those involved in global trade. Importantly, this will also help in the future to avoid likely situations, where our “common neighbours” will again be artificially faced with a primitive choice and have to decide whether they are with the EU or Russia.
I would like to repeat once again that the principles of partnership were set out in our common documents, including the roadmap for the Common Space of External Security adopted at the Russia – EU summit held in Moscow on May 10, 2005. It says that “the EU and Russia recognise that processes of regional cooperation and integration, in which they participate and which are based on the sovereign decisions of States, play an important role in strengthening security and stability.” The sides agreed to actively promote these processes “in a mutually beneficial manner, through close result-oriented EU-Russia collaboration and dialogue, thereby contributing effectively to creating a greater Europe without dividing lines and based on common values.”
That says it all. It would be better still if these fine words were translated into actions.
A European security system can only be effective if it is collective. Twenty years ago, on November 19, 1999, the Charter for European Security was adopted at the OSCE summit in Istanbul. The Platform for Cooperative Security, which stipulates cooperation not only between countries but also between all organisations in the Euro-Atlantic region, was appended to the charter at the EU’s initiative. We supported that initiative. Regrettably though, Brussels, which is the venue of not only EU bodies but also the NATO headquarters, later lost interest in the idea. The Western countries that attended the OSCE Ministerial Council meeting in Bratislava on December 5−6, 2019 blocked the Russian move to reaffirm the above initiative, which stipulates an equal common European dialogue involving the EU, the CIS, NATO and the CSTO. Does this mean that the EU and NATO were confident of their domination when they advanced that idea 20 years ago, but now fear competition from the organisations that are taking shape in the CIS and hence avoid a direct and equal dialogue with them?
We urge the EU to take guidance from the fundamental principles sealed in the documents on Russia – EU relations, rather than from a recent construct about “forced coexistence.” We are facing common threats and challenges, namely, terrorism, drug trafficking, organised crime, illegal migration, etc. Restricted cooperation and continued confrontation with Russia are unlikely to improve the EU’s position in the world.
We are open to mutually beneficial, equal and pragmatic cooperation with the EU that will be in harmony with the interests of our allies and all the other Eurasian partners. Only in this way can we create a viable model of lasting relations that will meet the interests and aspirations of all nations on the Eurasian continent.
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