Europe Day and the myth of the wise nation

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Celebrating the day after the Victory over Nazi Germany on May 8, 1945, Europe Day symbolizes the peace and prosperity that the EU has secured for the peoples of Europe in the immediate aftermath of the deadliest and most destructive conflict in history. This year’s anniversary has strong symbolism. It coincides with the 75th anniversary of the founding treaty of the EEC but also with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. For us Greeks, it enters between the 200th anniversary of the National Uprising and precedes the centenary of the final burial of the Great Idea in 1922. The coincidence of these anniversaries invites us to delve into the plot of the national narrative with that of European unification.

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Common to all Europeans is what historian Timothy Snyder called the “myth of the wise nation.” According to him, nation states pre-existed the EU. Through the brutality of world wars they realized the value of peace. Putting aside the hatreds of the past, they created the EU. Thanks to the partial truth contained in this seductive myth, it is accepted without hesitation. But if we had learned the value of peace from the bloodshed of World War II, Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, with an estimated 20 million victims, should be the most peaceful nations. The post-war history of Western European states also dispels this myth as they too were embroiled in bloody colonial wars in Asia and Africa shortly after 1945. In fact, the myth of the wise nation allowed Europeans to forget so much about their defeats to the colonialists. wars as well as their victims. At the same time, he helped the collapsing European empires to find their new place in the international arena thanks to the economic and social miracle that took place in Europe after 1945.

The myth of the wise nation contains a second inaccuracy. The EU was not made up of nation states but of crumbling empires. At the time of their accession to the EU, most Western European countries had not existed as nation-states for centuries. They joined the EU as soon as they saw their shrinking territory in Europe. Nation states, however, existed in Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans. These states were possessions of the multinational empires that collapsed in 1918 and were subsequently subject to successive German and Soviet hegemony. The process of EU accession – the “return to Europe” according to Václav Havel – began the day after the collapse of existing socialism, with the result that these states also jumped almost instantly from empire to European integration. However, they immediately forgot the reasons that dictated their accession to the EU, even though the period 1918-1948 had demonstrated the failure of the nation-state as a model of government.

Greece: Oblivion or understanding of the past?

The Greek case is not significantly different. If we observe the history of Greece in the context of European history, we will find that the nation-state is rather a parenthesis. Greece emerged from the Ottoman Empire as a nation-state, envisioning a multinational empire, the “Greece of the Two Continents and the Five Seas”. The failure of the Great Idea, the population exchanges and the Holocaust made Greece a nation state against its will. Despite the national homogeneity it achieved, Greece failed in its basic mission, the security and prosperity of its people. In 1974, after external and civil strife, foreign occupation, coups, political instability, economic hardship and the invasion of Cyprus, it was an exhausted nation-state with weak democratic institutions, limited economic opportunities, and – most importantly – unable to offer its inhabitants his claims for a better life in the future.

The application to join the EEC is a recognition of this failure, while the gradual dismantling of the nation-state through the transfer of increasing powers to the EU after accession in 1981 is the most radical political decision since Independence. The presentation of the partial abolition and transformation of 1821 from 1981 as a footnote to the national narrative contributes to oblivion and not to an understanding of the past. The myth of the wise nation implies that if the EU were the choice of the nation-states, then the states that emerge from it will rediscover a glorious but imaginary past of national independence. Brexit and the 2015 referendum are manifestations of this slip.

Russian “innocence” and Ukraine

If we doubt what Greece would have been like if it had not joined the EU, let us look at the post-imperial nation-states that succeeded the Ottoman and Russian empires without seeking EU membership. They evolved into authoritarian political and economic oligarchies with expansionist tendencies. Their comparison with the prosperity of EU countries also explains their aggression. E.g. In 2013, Russia made every effort to prevent the EU-Ukraine connection. When he failed, he began the gradual dismemberment of Ukraine for fear of the questions that the Russians might face about improving the living standards of Ukrainians through their accession to the EU. The case of Russia shows that we must teach history, not national myths. Denying its guilty alliance with Nazi Germany between 1939 and 1941, Russia fabricates the national myth of Russian innocence during World War II and uses it to justify Ukraine’s alleged de-Naziization efforts.

The oblivion of the past that the myth of the wise nation implies may have been a necessary component of the EU in the first period after 1945. But in the long run it poses a threat to the EU’s resilience over time. It is time to realize that we need a common European history in education. National myths are mismatched pieces of puzzle that do not make up European history.

Paschalis Paschalidis

Paschalis Paschalidis is an Assistant Professor of European Law at the University of Lyon 3 “Jean Moulin” and Counsel specializing in international arbitration at the Luxembourg law firm Arendt & Medernach. He was a lecturer (référendaire) in the office of the First Attorney General at the Court of Justice of the European Union Melchior Wathelet from 2012 to 2018. He is a law graduate of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and holds a PhD in Law from the University of Oxford.

Source: Deutsche Welle

Source: Capital

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