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  • Documents on Democracy


On September 2, in Oslo, Norway, Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves delivered an eloquent address analyzing the crisis in Europe. We provide some excerpts below, but the full speech is well worth reading:

We in our part of the world celebrate the 25th anniversary of our own annus mirabilis, 1989, the year when the Berlin Wall came down, and the then Communist world had its first almost democratic elections in Poland. … That was when we dared to dream of a “Europe whole and free,” a reunited and democratic Europe.

But when we look around in Europe today, we see that not only is Europe not whole and free, we see the ghosts from the painful 20th century returning to our midst. Ghosts that we thought we’d never see again, that we had buried deep in history’s trashbin.

Today, when we look around us, we see it all again. The annexation of territory, the violation of borders, religious conservativism pairing with political authoritarianism and imperialist bravado. 80% of Russians support annexation through military agression in Crimea, where the Anschluss—and I use that term most seriously here—of territory was justified by the presence of co-ethnics. Moreover, there is widespread support for an anti-liberal attack against decadent Western “permissiveness,” be it in freedom of speech or choice of life-partners. Indeed, we see that liberal democracy has not only failed to win the battle of ideas against authoritarianism, it has failed even to prevent the resurrection of that once vanquished demon, fascism. …

Sadly, these illiberal moods are resurgent not only in Russia, where a generation has grown up since the end of communist rule, but even in what we thought of as bastions of liberal democracy, in Western Europe, which should know all too well the demons of fascism and the ideologies of hatred. Not in Ukraine, where the two neo-fascist candidates in the elections of 25 May received about 1 percent each, as opposed to [End Page 180] Western Europe, where we saw how countries voted in the European parliamentary elections—a number of neo-fascist, right-wing nationalist, often racist parties not only overcame the threshold for getting into the European Parliament but did rather well, and were even among the most popular parties.

It is the likes of the French National Front, the British National Party, the Freedom Party in the Netherlands, the Golden Dawn in Greece or Jobbik in Hungary who currently support the actions of the Kremlin. They were the ones who went to observe the so-called referendum in Crimea, and they are the ones who currently arrange “international conferences” with Kremlin ideologists to share their imperialist and racist geopolitical fantasies. …

We are living now, in Europe, in a Hobbesian state of nature, in which, whether the bullets are flying or not, agreements don’t count and life is a war of all against all. And on top of that we are also abandoning the prospect of economic progress and enrichment, which has also been one of the strengths of liberal democracies—that you can make more money in liberal democracies (unless you get paid by Gazprom). In this radically new situation, the liberal democratic West is still confused about what to do. …

It is now in Ukraine that Europe’s meaning and identity is fought over. If some part of Europe is not free, no part of Europe is actually secure. Will Europe and the world understand this time around that Eastern Europe is Europe too—that Europe extends beyond the borders of the so-called old members of the European Union—those that were members before 2004? Will they recognize that Ukraine and each European country is entitled to respect for their sovereignty and for their territorial integrity, granted to them by international law that has been signed on to also by countries that are currently engaged in aggression, and by agreements that we have all signed?

I speak of these conundra because the liberal order is being challenged by authoritarian, illiberal, yet often successful market economies in ways we did not foresee when the Berlin Wall was torn down and history was supposed...