Today Germany is marking a double anniversary, the fall of the Berlin Wall and Kristallnacht.
Twenty years ago, on 9 November 1989, the fall of the Berlin Wall was achieved when the Berliners themselves literally started to pull it down. That night symbolized a turning point in Europe, revealing the irreversible character of the democratic revolution in Eastern Europe and the end of the division of the continent. This was a happy event, whose joy I shared at a distance (I was 14 then), and from which I learned that peaceful change is possible, and that that what, at one moment is taken for granted may always be changed, because the future is not written in advance.
On the same date, 51 years earlier, Kristallnacht, the night of the broken glasses, represented the beginning of a new phase in the nazi persecution of the Jews, from systematic discrimination to physical damage, which would achieve its climax in the ‘Final Solution’, the physical extermination of the Jews on the territories under German control. This date reveals how important it is to look at the Holocaust, and indeed at all genocides, as a process, and to learn how to recognize its earlier signs in order to pre-empt its culmination in mass murder. I believe that understanding the Holocaust is key to understanding genocide in general, because one of the great lessons of the Holocaust was that it taught subsequent genociders that the unthinkable is possible.
Both events are now part of the German historical legacy, but also part of our wider European legacy.
The end of the bipolar division of Europe provided an unprecedented opportunity to accelerate and deepen the process of European integration, which had its roots on the need to overcome the historical tensions between nations in the aftermath of the Second World War. Through the European Union and NATO, Europe embarked on a dynamism of integration through the still ongoing parallel processes of enlargement and deepening.
But this date also marks the anniversary of the destruction, sixteen years ago, of Mostar’s Old Bridge. Despite the momentum created by the democratic revolution of 1989, European leaders lacked the boldness that was required to stand up to the challenges that the new times were presenting them, proving thus that the lessons of the broken glasses were yet to be fully learned. Faced with the dissolution of Yugoslavia and with war and genocide, the best Europe had to offer was so-called peace plans consecrating territorial division along ethnic lines, precisely the opposite of what was being sought by the process of European Integration.
Sixteen years later, the bridge has been built again, using, as much as possible, the same old stones that, for centuries, brought together both sides of the Neretva river. However, Mostar is still a divided city, and Bosnia-Hercegovina a divided country, and the recent failure of the EU-led Butmir initiative for Bosnia highlights the lack of credibility of the EU when it comes to playing a major role in international politics.
Together, the three events reveal much of our common European legacy, but, more than that, they should inspire us to find a better way ahead, one in which European political decision makers, but also us citizens, would abandon the mentality of a small-town grocer, and assume with boldness our place in the world and our responsibilities towards the values of freedom and development that stand on the base of the European Integration project.
(Note: Usually I only publish here my own photos, but since I haven’t yet been to Mostar, I had to ‘pick’ one somewhere in the internet.)