From 10 cents to 1 Euro
By Weneta Dischlieva, Michael Braunschweig and Lucia Admiraal
20 years ago the division of Europe by the Iron Curtain came to an end. Since then the political landscape of Europe has changed profoundly. Eastern European societies freed themselves from the rigid strucutres of socialist societies and tried to transform their economies into market economies of Western standards. Integration in the EU was an important step in the process of growing together and becoming one. The freedom the young democracies gained came together with the questions of national identity and their historical roots. The historical experiences of different ethnical groups are still a matter of conflict in many of the multiethnical societies of Eastern Europe.
Annemieke Hendriks, a dutch journalist and book-writer, in her new book („Unheile Heimat“) set out for traces: She lived several weeks with Russian-Latvians, the big minority of Latvia that suffered severe injustice after the end of the Soviet Union, or a German – Polish gay couple. In an interesting discussion she told us about remaining problems in European societies. And I think we all agreed with her aim of focussing more on the new center of Europe (i.e. Central Europe), the deep transofrmation its societies keep on going since the last 20 years and their (and our) undone homeworks.
Minister Timmermans pointed out that the big problems we are facing now (slowing of economic growth, problematic tendencies of distribution of goods in societies) in a globally interlinked world can only be solved on a European level of cooperation. Therefore he appealed to us to take responsibility for „Our Europe“, he encouraged not to be afraid – for looking back over the last 50 years the great changes that have shaped Europe should not discourage us from facing the challenges.
Last Wednesday Timmermans and Iveta Radicova, the first female presidential candidate from Slovakia, discussed the past and the future of Europe. In the Roten Rathaus they spoke of their visions on the European Union and the division between East and Western Europe. Radicova stressed on the challenges the east has to face. She explained the enormous transition the east went through after 1989: “We went from 10 cents to 1 Euro”. Slovakia has, twenty years after the fall of the Berlin wall, definitely changed, mostly due to civic potential, said Radicova. Slovakia has known many types of government, fascism and communism. Therefore it now has to deal with an unstable democracy.
Timmermans pointed out that the West after 1989 always felt that Eastern Europe would have to change and that the end of the division of Europe wouldn’t affect the West. He wants Western Europe to reconnect with their past, to realise again that we can face new challenges. “We must keep asking ourselves: In what kind of society do we want to live?” Finally, he pointed out the importance of acting on European scale. According to Timmermans, those who reject European cooperation just express uncertainty.
After the discussion between Mr Timmermanns and Mrs Radicova it was the turn of the young European’s voice…It was up to us to ask questions to the two politicians. Young Europe – that was us three: Michael Braunschweig form Switzerland, Lucia Admiraal from the Netherlands and Weneta Dischlieva from Germany.
We talked about eurosceptiscm and radical parties that dominated the elections to the European Parliament last June. And we tried to find out where the reasons for their success was…Mrs Radicova made clear that in times of crisis, as we are hit by the economic crisis at the moment, more radical parties make it into Parliament. According to her they promise things to the electorate which may not be realistic but reaches the population’s wishes and reflects their dissapointment in already established political parties that did not prevent them from the crisis…
We also spoke about values. Timmermans had said in his speech that we needed basic values like democracy and liberty in order for Europe to grow togehter. Nevertheless, we wondered how democracy in the west was understood in comparison to the Eastern part of Europe. We asekd the two guests if the fact that the term “democracy” in Eastern Europe might be linked to economical instabilty and dysfunctioning systems after 1989 could make it difficult to make these values common values?
According to Timmermans many countries in eastern Europe have already developed in the right direction so that democracy is on its way… After all also Western Europe struggles with its democracies…He called himself an optimist, however, and pleaded for an European dream…Yes, we can as well?!
Mrs Radicova explained that Human Rights were the values that unify East and West. Demoracy was just a tool to implement these…
Last but not least the question arised if – after all – we as Western Europeans, could learn something from the East and if our “moral superiority” could be understood and seen as arrogant on the side of the Eastern partners…The question was not really answered and it will probably stay unanswered. We all know that Communism did not work; it was doomed to fail. Nevertheless, the question has been arising these last months in how far capitalism functions or has rather failed. We have not found the ideal system yet – and maybe it simply does not exist. As long as this is the case, we should keep asking. And we are more than thankful that we had this possibilty.
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