New Postscript to Free World by Timothy Garton Ash

Progress Report 1

It's a freezing winter's night in the capital of Ukraine. Standing between the tents of the revolutionary encampment on Kiev's equivalent of Regent Street is Svyatoslav Smolin, a tough-looking, pasty-faced man in a khaki jacket, whose usual job is checking the radiation levels at Chernobyl. He tells me that when, on Monday 22 November, he heard the news that the opposition candidate had supposedly lost the presidential election, he turned to his wife and said: "I just have to go." He came to Kiev, joined the vast protesting crowds on Independence Square and, seeing the tents going up, offered his services. Now he's in charge of the guards in this well-organised section of the "tent city", which stretches for perhaps half a mile down the broad city boulevard.
Warming himself by one of the braziers of burning timber is Vasil Khorkuda, a stocky, clear-eyed countryman from a rural area near the Carpathian mountains, where he runs a travel agency. He has never, he says, been active in politics before. But that Monday he, too, decided he simply must go to Kiev. He's been here ever since and he'll stay until "success", which, he explains, means a president chosen in a free and fair election.
Further on, giggling by an all-orange synthetic Christmas tree, is Elena Mayarchuk. Decoratively clad in fur and the obligatory orange scarf, she's the owner of a beauty shop in a small town in central Ukraine. Again, the same story: she heard the news of the stolen election. She knew she had to come. She'll stay till the end. And then there's Vova, a worker from an industrial city in the north-east, who, striking a heroic pose with both black-gloved, ham-sized hands raised in V-for-victory signs, declares: "The country called me!"
That was Kiev on the night of Tuesday 7 December 2004. Sometimes there are heartwarming surprises in the struggle for the expansion of human freedom. Despite all the poverty, corruption, violence and manipulation of Ukrainian political life, here were so-called ordinary people doing an extraordinary thing. Ukraine’s ‘orange revolution’ joined the growing list of Europe’s new-style, largely peaceful, evolutionary revolutions, stretching back thirty years to the ‘revolution of the carnations’ in Portugal in 1974. And the response, as I have argued in this book, should be a strategic ‘yes’ from Brussels to a democratic Ukraine eventually taking its proper place as a member of the European Union.
A few weeks earlier, and half way across the world, I witnessed another presidential election. Unlike the ballot-rigged Ukrainian fiasco, which sparked the orange revolution, monitors from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe found this one to be ‘mostly’ free and fair. Yet the result was less encouraging. At 11.39 pm Washington time on Tuesday 2 November, when ABC called Florida for George W Bush, I felt in my bones that he had won. The gloom that settled on many Europeans was as nothing compared with the despair of liberal Americans I encountered over the next fortnight, travelling from Washington to other cities of the so-called ‘blue’ (ie liberal) United States. They talked of emigration to Canada or New Zealand. A somewhat overheated American contributor to the FreeWorldWeb.net website, which grew out of this book and has become a lively forum for debate, even called on Europeans to invade the United States and save it from ‘Christian theocratic fascism’.
It’s no use pretending that Bush’s re-election was good news for the agenda proposed in the second part of this book. It wasn’t. Whether on global warming, trade and aid for the world’s poor, or the prospect of Europeans and Americans working together for the amelioration of the near and far East, a President John F Kerry would have had a better chance of making a new beginning. But we have to start from where we are.
True to type, Jacques Chirac and Tony Blair reacted in very different ways to Bush’s re-election. Restating a classic Euro-Gaullist position, Chirac said ‘It is clear that Europe, now more than ever, has the need, the necessity, to strengthen its dynamism and unity when faced with this great world power’. Fresh from a recent visit to Beijing, he talked again about ‘multipolarity’. Meanwhile, Blair hurried off to Washington, to be the first, ever-supportive ally to congratulate and consult with President Bush. He also urged him to reengage, following Yasser Arafat’s death, in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. But how much influence did Blair have, speaking for Britain alone?
Now more than ever we require the historic compromise that I advocate in this book between the competing French and British poles of our divided Europe. What we need is not the policies of the French president Chirac or the British prime minister Blair, but the combined approach of a European president Blairac. Blair is right about the futility of Europe trying to constitute itself as a rival superpower, an alternative ‘pole’ to the United States; Chirac correctly concludes that only a stronger, more united Europe, speaking with one voice, will have the weight to be taken seriously in Washington. In politics as in business, you listen to a partner because you want to but also because you have to.
There are signs that the Bush administration, at the beginning of its second term, may be prepared to start treating the European Union as a serious partner, rather than continuing its first-term ‘cherry-picking’ of individual European allies in a politics of ‘divide and rule’. We shall see how long this lasts. It also seems that the Wilsonian element in President Bush’s thinking about how to win the ‘war on terror’ has grown stronger. In his Washington press conference with Tony Blair, he talked repeatedly of democracy as the key to transforming the wider Middle East. ‘The reason why I’m so strong on democracy,’ he said, ‘is…democracies don’t go to war with each other’. And again: ‘I’ve got great faith in democracies to promote peace.’ Had the American president suddenly become a disciple of the Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant? Certainly, Bush was here articulating a classic neo-Kantian position. Yet Kant is considered by the American neo-conservative Robert Kagan to be the patron saint of a distinctively European way of thinking about international affairs.
Europeans could and did react to this apparent conversion in several different ways: ridicule, incredulity, or cautious, sceptical engagement. Such an engagement has two premisses: 1. this is the only American president we’ve got for the next four years; 2. the modernisation, liberalisation and eventual democratisation of the wider Middle East is an even more vital interest for us in Europe than it is for the United States. If we can not help our neighbours, especially our younger Arab neighbours, to find more hope in their own countries, they will come to us in such overwhelming numbers, and with such an explosive cocktail of economic hopes and cultural resentments, that the consequences will tear our own societies apart. After the Madrid bombing, done by disaffected Moroccan immigrants, we have now seen the murder in Amsterdam of the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh. The Netherlands, one of the most tolerant, liberal countries in Europe, has been dragged into a downward spiral of revenge attacks between muslim extremists on the one hand and Christian or secularist extremists on the other. Is this the face of Europe’s future?
In our own interest, we should take up the Wilsonian part of Washington’s new agenda but respond to it in our own way. ‘Yes,’ we should say, ‘we share the same goal, but we disagree about some of the means you have chosen to pursue it’ – above all, the invasion of Iraq. ‘Here,’ we should continue, ‘is what we in the European Union can do to help our neighbours move gradually in the right direction’. And what we can do in countries so close to us is as important as anything the United States can do from far away. In fact, the EU’s bold, high-risk decision to open negotiations with Turkey for membership of the European Union is a much larger contribution to ‘winning the war on terror’ (to express it in Bushspeak) than the American-led occupation of Iraq.
Iraq is currently a bloody playground for existing groups of Islamist terrorists, and probably a breeding ground for new ones. The EU offer to Turkey, by contrast, sends a clear signal that Europe is not an exclusive ‘Christian club’, that the West is engaged in no new ‘crusade’ (as Osama bin Laden has alleged it is), and that a largely Islamic society can be reconciled with the rules and customs of modern liberal democracy. For these are the membership requirements of the EU. Moreover, the offer is made to a Turkish government headed by a devout muslim, Recip Tayyip Erdogan, who just a few years ago was jailed for publicly reciting a poem containing these memorable lines: ‘The mosques are our barracks/ the domes our helmets/ the minarets our bayonets/ and the faithful are our warriors’. Now he’s doing everything in his power to meet what Turks call ‘European standards’. Even if Turkey will not have such a direct demonstration effect on its Arab and Persian neighbours in the Middle East as is sometimes claimed, the broader message of openness to the Islamic world is worth ten divisions of the US marines.
‘Pessimism of the intellect’ is still very much in order. Faced with another terrorist attack, or a rogue state threatening to aquire weapons of mass destruction, a second Bush administration could revert to the unilateralist, bellicist and nationalist responses of its first term. The European Union may become bogged down in introverted debates about ratifying its constitution. History is full of surprises and no-one is more surprised by them than historians. By the time you read this, you will know more.
Yet we must not lose sight of the larger picture. Presidents, prime ministers and chancellors come and go: the great challenges identified in this book endure. How we address them over the next twenty years will determine whether our children live in more free and civilised societies - or increasingly fractured, intolerant ones. And that depends, to a significant degree, on us, the citizens.
Think again of Ukraine. Ukraine in the autumn of 2004 was a poor, deeply divided society, with a massively corrupt state controlled by a gangsterish regime. It had only been an independent country for thirteen years; many of its Russian-speaking citizens were still not sure it was a proper country at all. It had a weak civil society and almost no tradition of peaceful civic activism. Yet the Vasils and Svyastoslavs, the Elenas and Vovas, came to Kiev and camped out night after night, in temperatures as low as 10 degrees, to make a velvet revolution.
If they could take their fate into their own hands, so can we. We don’t need to go and camp out in the rain on Regent Street - or the Champs Elysées, las Ramblas, Nowy Swiat, the Kurfürstendamm. We just need to raise our voices through all the formal and informal channels available in a functioning democracy. I repeat: It’s up to us.

TGA, Oxford, 4 January 2005

 

 

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