As Europe remembers the shame of the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact of 1939 and the
Munich agreement of 1938, and as it prepares to
celebrate the fall of the Berlin
wall and the iron curtain in 1989, one question arises in our minds: Have we
learned the lessons of history? Put another way, are we able to avoid repeating
the mistakes that cast such a dark shadow over the 20th century?
To deplore or celebrate past events is a futile act if we remain blind to
their lessons. Only if these events teach us how to act differently – and more
wisely – do such commemorations have any value.
Looking at Europe today, it is abundantly
clear that history has not come to an end and that it remains tragic. Twenty
years after the emancipation of half of the continent, a new wall is being
built in Europe – this time across the sovereign territory of Georgia.
This presents a major challenge for the citizens, institutions and
governments of Europe. Are we willing to
accept that the borders of a small country can be unilaterally changed by
force? Are we willing to tolerate the de facto annexation of foreign
territories by a larger power?
In order for the forthcoming historic commemorations to be meaningful both
for Europe’s collective identity and for its future, we urge the EU’s 27
democratic leaders to define a proactive strategy to help Georgia
peacefully regain its territorial integrity and obtain the withdrawal of
Russian forces illegally stationed on Georgian soil.
Nobody wants a confrontation with Moscow
or a return to the hostile atmosphere of the cold war. But, equally, it is
essential that the EU and its member states send a clear and unequivocal
message to the current leadership in Russia.
As the commission set up by the European Union and headed by Heidi Tagliavini prepares to publish
its report on the causes of the Russian-Georgian war, we call on all Europeans
to remember the painful lessons of our recent past.
First, a big power will always find or engineer a pretext to invade a
neighbour whose independence it resents. We should remember that Hitler accused
the Poles of commencing hostilities in 1939, just as Stalin pinned the blame on
the Finns when he invaded their country in 1940. Similarly, in the case of Georgia and Russia, the critical question is to
determine which country invaded the other, rather than which soldier shot the
Second, the failure of western democracies to respond to the dismemberment
of a friendly nation, albeit a small one, can have very serious global
The European Union was built against the temptation of Munich and the iron curtain. It would be
utterly disastrous if we were to appear in any way to condone the kind of
practices that plunged our continent into war and division for most of the last
century. At stake is nothing less than the fate of the project to which we
continue to dedicate our lives: the peaceful and democratic reunification of
the European continent.
Vaclav Havel, Valdas Adamkus, Mart Laar, Vytautas Landsbergis, Otto de
Habsbourg, Daniel Cohn Bendit, Timothy Garton Ash, André Glucksmann, Mark Leonard, Bernard-Henri Lévy, Adam Michnik,
The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of its individual authors.