Before the formation of the European Union, a strong nationalism took reign in many European nations and there were many pretexts for war during the early 20th century. Ethnicity was the most often cited excuse for these political war games; Italians were prejudiced against the French, the French were prejudiced against the Germans, the British and Germans were prejudiced against each other and so on.
During these times where a sentiment of strong nationalism prevailed, dictators often took control in order to limit democracy and the freedom of the movement of people. In Italy, Mussolini took power and ruled with an iron fist, as did in Stalin in Russia and Hitler in Germany. World Wars impoverished nations, launched mass genocide and people lived in continual fear.
Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Benito Mussolini took power in the early 20th century history of Europe and used "ethnicity" as a means to rage war and begin an era of totalitarianism. Stalin killed an estimated 25+ million of his own people in gulags. Hitler forced people into medical treatment they didn't want and doctors and scientists engaged in unethical medical, scientific and biological experiments with human subjects which led to the Geneva Convention of 1949.
The European Union was founded on a principle, of common values, of a respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights. “In varietate concordia”, its motto means “united in diversity” and it became the overarching philosophy of a sometimes, imperfect union between many different nations.
In history, political organisations have used “ethnicity” in order to rage wars, but the truth is that people have more in common than language and cultural traditions. This is still true today, if we consider the animosities that exist between China and Taiwan, between Korea and Japan, between Pakistan and India, between Russia and the Ukraine, between Israel and Palestine. In fact, those neighbouring nations with whom we have the most in common often bear the brunt of the greatest conflict.
At the inception of the Treaty of Rome in 1957 which eventually transformed into the EU in 1992, something extraordinary happened, open borders in the Eurozone. Open borders allowed people to move freely between each nation, to discover what they have in common with their neighbours, and it became common for people to speak many different languages and an interchange of cuisine, philosophies, languages, textiles, and trade. No longer were the political bonds of “ethnicity” used as a power grabbing tool in order to launch unnecessary conflict. For the majority of us who have never witnessed any of the World Wars, it is strange to think now that Europe had ever been involved in such violent conflicts because there exists a relative peace and camaraderie between many different European nations.
The dreilandereck is the three-nation border between Germany, France and Switzerland. People are able to enjoy dining in Germany, walk across to France and enjoy some wine and then move into Switzerland to meet with friends in an open border situation that would have been unheard of during the World Wars in which territories were highly policed and violent conflicts were common. Photo by www.visitvillach.at
The recent migrant situation on the Belarus-Poland border reminds us of the necessity of the European Union in that, without European solidarity, these ethnic border clashes will continue in Europe, using migrants as pawns by certain political groups in order push their nationalistic objectives. Photo by Leonid Scheglov/Reuters.
The EU is not a perfect entity, rather it is a progressive work in progress. One in which it has to overcome its own bureaucracy, economic and political issues. The 2008-2009 global recession was its first test in testing the viability of the solidarity of the now 27 member EU nations. Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Cyprus, in order to avoid default received financial assistance from the IMF, but the eurozone crisis put pressure on Europe’s banking system, leading to the collapse of insolvent banks in several nations.
Brexit was the EU’s next test, fuelling a Eurosceptic sentiment that consequently rose in many nations questioning the policymaking of the EU, in addition to political parties that demanded a stop to open borders and a resurgence of nationalism began to take stage again.
Throughout these modern tribulations, we have become familiar with the leadership of Angela Merkel, who recently stepped down as the Chancellor of Germany after 16 years in office. We have seen her quiet calm in the face of crisis, and her no-nonsense way of dealing with economic catastrophe (“Your funds are safe, we will ensure they will be protected.”) in cyberwarfare (“We live in a time of hacking, it’s a fact of life, and we must get used to it.”) in immigration (“Every person who comes is a human being and has the right to be treated as such.”) in human rights (“When it comes to human dignity, we cannot make any compromises.”)
As the de facto leader of the European Union, the union was held together under her guidance, her vision and her leadership and now as she steps down, she gives us a dire warning: “Democracy is under attack.”
“Democracy is under attack.” -former German Chancellor Angela Merkel
Recently, the Summit for Democracy was hosted by the United States with some 100+ countries in virtual attendance adhering to the commitment it has made to democracy. Although it has been criticised by some organisations as being an empty show of words, we must remember that it is often during times of emergency and panic when democracy easily falters and degrades. According to the Freedom House press: “The coronavirus outbreak presents a range of new challenges to democracy and human rights. Repressive regimes have responded to the pandemic in ways that serve their political interests, often at the expense of public health and basic freedoms. Even open societies face pressure to accept restrictions that many outlive the crisis and have a lasting effect on liberty.”
Americans protest against medical tyranny. Photo by Jason Janik/ AP.
Hence, in this new era of the coronavirus, when civil and political rights are at an all time low, we must consider the new obstacles to democracy such as vaccine mandates and discrimination against unvaccinated people. Medical tyranny may be good for business, but during WWII, Nazi Germany taught us how easily Democratic Germany spiraled into a totalitarian state. The Nazis had mobilised the professions of medicine and psychology in order to use their population as guinea pigs for medical research, stressing the importance of “public health” and for all citizens to make sacrifices for the greater good, which only ended up in the debasement of democracy and human rights.
Global leaders around the world face a colossal challenge in their leadership in how they will respond to human rights moving forward as we live in the era of COVID.