World leaders will gather in Paris on Sunday to mark the 100th anniversary of 11 November Armistice that ended World War One.
We are possibly still experiencing the aftershocks of World War One. The war started when Austro-Hungary declared war to the Kingdom of Serbia on 28 July 1914. The Balkans have been called the powder keg of Europe. And they still are.
But looking more closely, the Balkans were only a playing ground of the big powers.
When Russia defeated Turkey in the 1877-78 war, the resulting Treaty of San Stefano was seen in Austria as much too favourable for Russia and its Orthodox Slavic goals.
The Congress of Berlin in 1878 allowed Austria to occupy the province of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a predominantly Slavic area. In 1914, Slavic militants in Bosnia rejected Austria’s plan to fully absorb the area; they assassinated the Austrian heir and precipitated World War I.
Has anything changed? Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, NATO has possibly gone too far, at least from the Russian perspective, which is why the Kremlin is trying to reassert its authority over Montenegro, Macedonia, Serbia, Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina and possibly in Bulgaria. In other words, the Balkans.
Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker has warned that if the EU collapses, there will be war in the Balkans.
And the UN of today looks almost as weak as the League of Nations, founded in 1920, which utterly failed in the 1930s in its primary purpose: to avoid another world war.
Emmanuel Macron, who will host world leaders, recently warned of a return to the 1930s. This historic period which saw the birth of Nazism and fascism, and also Stalinism, was a direct consequence of the Versailles Treaty, signed in 1919.
The disappearance of Austria-Hungary (simultaneous, but under a different treaty) and the de facto withdrawal of Bolshevik Russia from Europe, programmed Germany (which wasn’t occupied, unlike after World War Two) to seek a return match.
But this time, as Macron said, the whole of Europe risks losing its sovereignty if it is “pushed around by foreign powers.”
Indeed, this time the prize is not the triumph over another nation; it’s about the survival of Europe as a global player. The EU has so many enemies, also among its allies, to name only the US, Turkey and Israel. And its internal enemies are not only political movements, but full-fledged governments. To single out Hungary would be enough.
The Paris gathering will be a photo opportunity and possibly an occasion to ponder of the historic learnings. But the EU needs to be reinvented.
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by Alexandra Brzozowski
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Look out for…
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Views are the author’s