The war in Ukraine, Europe confronted with its past

Once again, today we must sadly commemorate those who are sacrificing their lives for democracy.

When it comes to war, it is worth recalling this quote by Paul Valéry: "War is a massacre of people who don't know each other, for the profit of people who know each other but don't massacre each other".

European nations have a troubled history: after seven years of dictatorship by colonels, democracy returned to Greece in 1974; after 37 years of General Franco's dictatorship, democracy returned to Spain from 1975; after 41 years under the authoritarian Estado Novo regime, the Carnation Revolution marked the return of democracy to Portugal in 1974; after 45 years of totalitarian regime, the Eastern countries witnessed the return of their freedom after the fall of the Berlin wall on 9 November 1989; and the Yugoslav wars took place on the doorstep of the EU between 1991 and 2001. We cannot erase the vastness of this suffering from the memories of European citizens. Will Ukraine be the last burden we have to bear? Sooner or later, Ukraine will be a member of the EU, following historical patterns.

We would be well advised to give careful consideration to this quote by Edgar Morin: "One of the greatest lessons in my experience, is that barbarity can always return. No historical wins are irreversible".

Our western democracies are an unprecedented success; this success is the fruit of much suffering, work, effort, goodwill and, above all, many creative ideas in different areas. The result is that a larger number of people live better and longer lives, with more freedom, than ever before.

This is the path we have chosen since 1957; however, I want to stress that democracy is not the prerequisite for economic development, it is essential for the freedom of people. To ensure the free movement of goods, of capital, we need democracy; it must be applied to all areas of our lives.

Pericles, in Thucydides' text (around 460 B.C.) says "It is true that we are called a democracy, for the administration is in the hands of the many and not of the few”.

But beyond a certain, varying level, aggression, greed, egoism, conflicts, declining solidarity and oppression destroy the sense of "we" and togetherness, and trigger waves of resentment. The human species has known this for thousands of years.

Today, we know that giant techno-economic machines are colonising minds and political powers, and are imposing requirements on society that are never the subject of specific democratic debate. It seems that for some, this is the dream: a democracy without democrats.

Tribe, clan, nationality, race, sex, class are used to extremes and propelled by the certainty of being right, even though we are all capable of being wrong, both alone and as a group.

Every dictatorship sentences citizens, against their conscience and moral beliefs, to collaborating with evil, even if only through their silence. Depriving them of responsibility diminishes them. Some of them fight back, at the expense of their lives. Autocrats adapt: they use every censorship and intimidation technique to restrict freedom, first for individuals, then associations and civil society as a whole.

To escape centuries-long ideologies, the war of all against all, can we not try to shed light on the fact that a human being's biggest asset lies in social learning? We are born to learn, to develop connections.

As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said: "A democracy must be a fraternity; if not it is a sham".

The following quote by philosopher Abdennour Bidar can be used to conclude: "[...] Fraternity brings us back to the very essence of our humanity, namely the first proof of the fact that we are nothing without one another. Therefore, it is sacred, meaning it is indisputable and indispensable. Helping each other, the desire to build connection, to give support, to reduce differences, to give everyone a chance and to share the expertise of free and responsible social actors".

We cannot constantly live with negative emotions, distrust, humiliation, resentment, fear – manipulated over and over again by some – populists, nationalists, extremists on all sides!

In the EU's core area, the urgency for a new realistic and inspiring narrative appears to be of paramount importance; this is a necessity for 447 million EU inhabitants. Everything has been said about Europe's shortcomings, without really making an effort to methodically gather the opinions of those who, at some point, have contributed and continue to contribute to the European project.

All in all, is it that hard to give Europeans back the certainty that it is better to be in Europe than elsewhere in the world? If national interests continue to prevail systematically over collective ones, we will see large-scale disintegration, populism and nationalism. Have we forgotten the peace and prosperity since the 1950s, the welfare state in all EU countries, respect of human rights, pluralism embodied by democracy...?

Our psychological maturity is a key challenge for democracy. It is time to give the floor to those who wish to work together to provide a future for young people. We need more Europe! The tragedy in Ukraine will, I hope, be the driving force for raising awareness that our future is a shared one.

Alain Coheur, president of the INT section

Work organisation