Commentary. How can we protest about Crimea with a straight face when we have recognized, one after another, the independence of all the nations of the Yugoslav federation, despite the post-war agreement not to touch the borders of any state without a negotiation between all parties?

In blaming Putin for the Ukraine crisis, Europe overlooks its responsibility

I hope I don’t have to clarify that I consider Putin’s rise to the top of Russia a disaster and, although it’s a different story, I would have some things to say about Xi Jinping too. But when they had their say on Ukraine, I thought: good thing they’re here.

Because the most unbearable thing that we are now silently suffering is the arrogance of our West in presenting itself as the optimal model of society, and for this reason the guarantor of democracy in the world, despite the disasters sown throughout the Middle East, in Afghanistan, but also in our parts, where inequality grows more and more every day.

One wonders at the supposed astonishment of those who are alarmed because Putin has deployed so many tanks at the Ukrainian border: what did they expect a man like him to do, who has thus been given the chance to gain popularity in his country – and to use it for the worst – given the ill-intentioned policy of the West towards Russia? After the fall of the Wall, we could have finally started an inclusive process, with the gradual accession of Eastern Europe and collaboration with Russia—only half European, it’s true, but hardly separable from our historical and cultural context. Instead, we have taken the opposite path, partly by annexing, partly by building a quarantine area to isolate Russia. What are we accusing it of? Of having amassed tanks on its borders with Ukraine, on Russian soil? But hasn’t the United States, on its own or with its allies, filled the world for decades with hundreds of military bases and started myriad wars, thousands of kilometers from its own borders?

I remember well how the policy of the European Union began, when the Wall started to topple—in those years, I was in Brussels, in the European Parliament. At long last, the head of the Soviet Union was a man like Gorbachev, who generously offered to withdraw his troops from the Warsaw Pact territories in the name of overcoming the Cold War, with the corresponding commitment for the West to do the same, not to extend the Atlantic Pact to the East. In support of such an option, there was a great pacifist movement, the only truly European movement that existed, fighting for “a Europe without missiles from the Atlantic to the Urals”; there were many left-wing social-democratic leaders of their respective parties who supported it (Foot, Palme, Kreiski, Papandreu; many of the SPD; in Italy, Berlinguer, but isolated in his own party). It would have been possible to attempt to build a new order that would have buried the Cold War.

But that opportunity itself was buried, and we are now facing a much worse risk. Because back then, there were the big atomic bombs to which only the presidents had the keys, while now nuclear power has become an everyday component of ammunition, within the reach of many, either madmen or humans who make mistakes. I remember back in 1993, when Europe, after it had already set fire to the Middle East alongside the Americans, officially changed from Community to the more demanding Union, and towards a Constitution with the infamous Treaty of Maastricht.

The flags had not yet been removed from the hall where the ceremony had taken place, when one of its most authoritative members, Germany, hastened to intervene—initially alone and later followed by the entire Union—in the Yugoslavian affairs, recognizing the independence of Croatia, which had proclaimed itself to be independent on the basis of ethnicity, in defiance of every international norm in force. It thus stoked the fire that was already burning, with a ridiculous reference to the common membership of the Catholic Austro-Hungarian Empire, a historical community which was contrasted with the Slavs and the Orthodox. All this was accompanied by a campaign of flattery to inflame the nationalist obsession and thus dismantle the nuisance that was the Republic of Yugoslavia, a major obstacle in the relationship between East and West. And so from the beginning, the “enlargement” commanded by Brussels became a recruitment of those who could present more similarities with the West, for better or for worse.

Officially, this far-sighted line was launched at a summit in Copenhagen, in 1999, with the new President of the EU Commission Romano Prodi, just back from his role as the Italian Prime Minister. An operation that was presented as charitable, and those who objected, like our left, were accused of not being generous and wanting to exclude the poor of the East from access to the beautiful cream-topped cake that the EU represented. It was a generosity which came with a toxic underbelly: long preliminary negotiations to force the candidates for entry to swallow everything that had been established without them in the previous forty years — “l’acquis communautaire” (“the acquired community law”) — in consonance with the rules of the free market: privatization of banks, public services, free competitiveness and free trade, and therefore exposure to free international competition, combined with the prohibition of state support to companies. More or less like in Africa.

The most deadly evil, however, was the one whose possible harmful consequences can be seen today: among the “acquis communautaire,” although never officially validated by a formal act, NATO had a de facto place: thus, the freedom to plant nuclear missiles anywhere within the borders of the Union. Right under the nose of Russia. How can we protest about Crimea with a straight face when we have recognized, one after another, the independence of all the nations of the Yugoslav federation, despite the post-war agreement not to touch the borders of any state without a negotiation between all parties? Why don’t we now recognize the same right to Russia, which has at least a few more good reasons to support the choice of the great majority of the inhabitants of Crimea, which has been Russian for centuries, and then, in a gesture whose future import no one could evaluate at the time, was given over to Ukraine (within the federal system at the time) by the Ukrainian Khrushchev, and which today, after a vote that showed 95% support, is back to being part of the country to which it belonged for centuries?

In 1947, Henry Wallace, cabinet member and former VP to President Roosevelt, said at a large grassroots rally in New York that nuclear secrets should be shared with the USSR and its borders should be guaranteed, somewhat like the Monroe Doctrine enjoyed by the United States: he was ousted from office within 12 hours. And 15 years later, in the name of that same doctrine, we risked global war because tiny Cuba, which was under real threat, as we know, was ridiculously accused of wanting to attack the American empire because of four missiles planted in its defense, a gamble for which it has been paying the very high price of sanctions for more than 60 years.

Unfortunately, united Europe itself didn’t come from the Ventotene Manifesto, but was born in Washington: the first vote in its favor didn’t come from a European Parliament, but from the American Congress, on March 10, 1947, at the suggestion of John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State and brother of Alan Dulles, the powerful head of the CIA. The Cold War had just begun and the West needed to guarantee itself a politically and militarily united force along the Iron Curtain. That imprint has always remained, and our fight is to recover the inspiration of the anti-fascist prisoners who, while the war was still raging, had designed an entirely different project.

Dear God, how hard it is to keep on being pro-European! We persist only because the idea of relying on one’s own nation state would be infinitely worse.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Your weekly briefing of progressive news.

You have Successfully Subscribed!