1918-2018: A Manifesto
It was supposed to be the war to end all wars. When almost a hundred years ago on November 11th, 1918 the First World War ended on the Western front a new era seemed to dawn – an era marked by peace, democracy and human rights, a time of national self-determination and international understanding. Women´s suffrage began its triumphal march. The League of Nations was meant to enforce international law. And for many people outside of Europe the promise of self-determination created hopes that colonialism would meet its end. Alas, all parties, the victors and the defeated, new and old national states threw away this chance for a lasting framework of peace – in Europe and in the world. Two decades later the German invasion in Poland triggered the next great conflict leading to even worse devastation, an even higher death toll and unimaginable crime.
After WW II the transatlantic alliance helped Western Europe to gain time for a stable and peaceful development; European integration served as a project of peace and wealth thus drawing conclusions from the horrors of the most recent past. But today almost 30 years after the collapse of the communist dictatorships and the unification of the continent democracy European integration and peace itself are threatened again. Many of the present tensions and wars are reminiscent of those conflicts which were supposed to be resolved by the peace agreements signed after 1918. Whatever remained unresolved then has become shockingly topical today. Was Paul Widmer the Swiss historian and diplomat right after all when he stated in 1993: While Europe had coped with the consequences of WW II reasonably well it was still laboring over those of WW I.
Putin´s Russia is struggling to accept the independence of the Ukraine – first declared in 1917 –, even more so to accept ist moving towards the West. This holds similarly true for Georgia and the Baltic states who also became independent for the first time after WW I. The international system established after 1918 in the Near and Middle East has not proven to be durable. More than ever before Turkey is suffering phantom pain from its loss of significance with the end of the Ottoman Empire. Once again mankind is living in a multipolar, instable, and critical world – similar to 1918.
All these issues will gain additional topicality in 2018. Many European countries will celebrate the centennial of the independence and their victory. Others will rather remember defeats and their consequences. Populist movements which are sceptical vis-à-vis representative democracy and European integration have gathered support. A new wave of nationalism is on the horizon. Will we succeed in giving the commemoration of the end of WW I a fresh European perspective?
There is more at stake than just rembering the vicvtims of a horrific war and its consequences. What is needed is to acknowledge the importance of peace for Europe and the world as well as the importance of universal international law and constitutional democracy. The first attempt after 1918 to give shape and form to these values in the world failed. A second attempt was initiated after 1945 with the establishment of the United Nations and the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In Europe initially only the Western half benefitted from this. After the end of the Cold War these fundamental values seemed to prevail. Today, however, they are evidently under pressure almost everywhere. The centennial of the end of WW I and of the efforts to establish a framework of peace after 1918 is the appropriate time to set an unmistakable example for human rights and freedom of speech as well as for rule of law and respect for International Law.
This is what we would like to appeal to do!