New Postscript to Free World by Timothy Garton Ash
Progress Report 1
It's a freezing winter's night in the capital of Ukraine. Standing between
the tents of the revolutionary encampment on Kiev's equivalent of Regent
Street is Svyatoslav Smolin, a tough-looking, pasty-faced man in a khaki
jacket, whose usual job is checking the radiation levels at Chernobyl.
He tells me that when, on Monday 22 November, he heard the news that the
opposition candidate had supposedly lost the presidential election, he
turned to his wife and said: "I just have to go." He came to
Kiev, joined the vast protesting crowds on Independence Square and, seeing
the tents going up, offered his services. Now he's in charge of the guards
in this well-organised section of the "tent city", which stretches
for perhaps half a mile down the broad city boulevard.
Warming himself by one of the braziers of burning timber is Vasil Khorkuda,
a stocky, clear-eyed countryman from a rural area near the Carpathian
mountains, where he runs a travel agency. He has never, he says, been
active in politics before. But that Monday he, too, decided he simply
must go to Kiev. He's been here ever since and he'll stay until "success",
which, he explains, means a president chosen in a free and fair election.
Further on, giggling by an all-orange synthetic Christmas tree, is Elena
Mayarchuk. Decoratively clad in fur and the obligatory orange scarf, she's
the owner of a beauty shop in a small town in central Ukraine. Again,
the same story: she heard the news of the stolen election. She knew she
had to come. She'll stay till the end. And then there's Vova, a worker
from an industrial city in the north-east, who, striking a heroic pose
with both black-gloved, ham-sized hands raised in V-for-victory signs,
declares: "The country called me!"
That was Kiev on the night of Tuesday 7 December 2004. Sometimes there
are heartwarming surprises in the struggle for the expansion of human
freedom. Despite all the poverty, corruption, violence and manipulation
of Ukrainian political life, here were so-called ordinary people doing
an extraordinary thing. Ukraine’s ‘orange revolution’
joined the growing list of Europe’s new-style, largely peaceful,
evolutionary revolutions, stretching back thirty years to the ‘revolution
of the carnations’ in Portugal in 1974. And the response, as I have
argued in this book, should be a strategic ‘yes’ from Brussels
to a democratic Ukraine eventually taking its proper place as a member
of the European Union.
A few weeks earlier, and half way across the world, I witnessed another
presidential election. Unlike the ballot-rigged Ukrainian fiasco, which
sparked the orange revolution, monitors from the Organisation for Security
and Cooperation in Europe found this one to be ‘mostly’ free
and fair. Yet the result was less encouraging. At 11.39 pm Washington
time on Tuesday 2 November, when ABC called Florida for George W Bush,
I felt in my bones that he had won. The gloom that settled on many Europeans
was as nothing compared with the despair of liberal Americans I encountered
over the next fortnight, travelling from Washington to other cities of
the so-called ‘blue’ (ie liberal) United States. They talked
of emigration to Canada or New Zealand. A somewhat overheated American
contributor to the FreeWorldWeb.net website, which grew out of this book
and has become a lively forum for debate, even called on Europeans to
invade the United States and save it from ‘Christian theocratic
It’s no use pretending that Bush’s re-election was good news
for the agenda proposed in the second part of this book. It wasn’t.
Whether on global warming, trade and aid for the world’s poor, or
the prospect of Europeans and Americans working together for the amelioration
of the near and far East, a President John F Kerry would have had a better
chance of making a new beginning. But we have to start from where we are.
True to type, Jacques Chirac and Tony Blair reacted in very different
ways to Bush’s re-election. Restating a classic Euro-Gaullist position,
Chirac said ‘It is clear that Europe, now more than ever, has the
need, the necessity, to strengthen its dynamism and unity when faced with
this great world power’. Fresh from a recent visit to Beijing, he
talked again about ‘multipolarity’. Meanwhile, Blair hurried
off to Washington, to be the first, ever-supportive ally to congratulate
and consult with President Bush. He also urged him to reengage, following
Yasser Arafat’s death, in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
But how much influence did Blair have, speaking for Britain alone?
Now more than ever we require the historic compromise that I advocate
in this book between the competing French and British poles of our divided
Europe. What we need is not the policies of the French president Chirac
or the British prime minister Blair, but the combined approach of a European
president Blairac. Blair is right about the futility of Europe trying
to constitute itself as a rival superpower, an alternative ‘pole’
to the United States; Chirac correctly concludes that only a stronger,
more united Europe, speaking with one voice, will have the weight to be
taken seriously in Washington. In politics as in business, you listen
to a partner because you want to but also because you have to.
There are signs that the Bush administration, at the beginning of its
second term, may be prepared to start treating the European Union as a
serious partner, rather than continuing its first-term ‘cherry-picking’
of individual European allies in a politics of ‘divide and rule’.
We shall see how long this lasts. It also seems that the Wilsonian element
in President Bush’s thinking about how to win the ‘war on
terror’ has grown stronger. In his Washington press conference with
Tony Blair, he talked repeatedly of democracy as the key to transforming
the wider Middle East. ‘The reason why I’m so strong on democracy,’
he said, ‘is…democracies don’t go to war with each other’.
And again: ‘I’ve got great faith in democracies to promote
peace.’ Had the American president suddenly become a disciple of
the Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant? Certainly, Bush was here
articulating a classic neo-Kantian position. Yet Kant is considered by
the American neo-conservative Robert Kagan to be the patron saint of a
distinctively European way of thinking about international affairs.
Europeans could and did react to this apparent conversion in several different
ways: ridicule, incredulity, or cautious, sceptical engagement. Such an
engagement has two premisses: 1. this is the only American president we’ve
got for the next four years; 2. the modernisation, liberalisation and
eventual democratisation of the wider Middle East is an even more vital
interest for us in Europe than it is for the United States. If we can
not help our neighbours, especially our younger Arab neighbours, to find
more hope in their own countries, they will come to us in such overwhelming
numbers, and with such an explosive cocktail of economic hopes and cultural
resentments, that the consequences will tear our own societies apart.
After the Madrid bombing, done by disaffected Moroccan immigrants, we
have now seen the murder in Amsterdam of the Dutch filmmaker Theo van
Gogh. The Netherlands, one of the most tolerant, liberal countries in
Europe, has been dragged into a downward spiral of revenge attacks between
muslim extremists on the one hand and Christian or secularist extremists
on the other. Is this the face of Europe’s future?
In our own interest, we should take up the Wilsonian part of Washington’s
new agenda but respond to it in our own way. ‘Yes,’ we should
say, ‘we share the same goal, but we disagree about some of the
means you have chosen to pursue it’ – above all, the invasion
of Iraq. ‘Here,’ we should continue, ‘is what we in
the European Union can do to help our neighbours move gradually in the
right direction’. And what we can do in countries so close to us
is as important as anything the United States can do from far away. In
fact, the EU’s bold, high-risk decision to open negotiations with
Turkey for membership of the European Union is a much larger contribution
to ‘winning the war on terror’ (to express it in Bushspeak)
than the American-led occupation of Iraq.
Iraq is currently a bloody playground for existing groups of Islamist
terrorists, and probably a breeding ground for new ones. The EU offer
to Turkey, by contrast, sends a clear signal that Europe is not an exclusive
‘Christian club’, that the West is engaged in no new ‘crusade’
(as Osama bin Laden has alleged it is), and that a largely Islamic society
can be reconciled with the rules and customs of modern liberal democracy.
For these are the membership requirements of the EU. Moreover, the offer
is made to a Turkish government headed by a devout muslim, Recip Tayyip
Erdogan, who just a few years ago was jailed for publicly reciting a poem
containing these memorable lines: ‘The mosques are our barracks/
the domes our helmets/ the minarets our bayonets/ and the faithful are
our warriors’. Now he’s doing everything in his power to meet
what Turks call ‘European standards’. Even if Turkey will
not have such a direct demonstration effect on its Arab and Persian neighbours
in the Middle East as is sometimes claimed, the broader message of openness
to the Islamic world is worth ten divisions of the US marines.
‘Pessimism of the intellect’ is still very much in order.
Faced with another terrorist attack, or a rogue state threatening to aquire
weapons of mass destruction, a second Bush administration could revert
to the unilateralist, bellicist and nationalist responses of its first
term. The European Union may become bogged down in introverted debates
about ratifying its constitution. History is full of surprises and no-one
is more surprised by them than historians. By the time you read this,
you will know more.
Yet we must not lose sight of the larger picture. Presidents, prime ministers
and chancellors come and go: the great challenges identified in this book
endure. How we address them over the next twenty years will determine
whether our children live in more free and civilised societies - or increasingly
fractured, intolerant ones. And that depends, to a significant degree,
on us, the citizens.
Think again of Ukraine. Ukraine in the autumn of 2004 was a poor, deeply
divided society, with a massively corrupt state controlled by a gangsterish
regime. It had only been an independent country for thirteen years; many
of its Russian-speaking citizens were still not sure it was a proper country
at all. It had a weak civil society and almost no tradition of peaceful
civic activism. Yet the Vasils and Svyastoslavs, the Elenas and Vovas,
came to Kiev and camped out night after night, in temperatures as low
as 10 degrees, to make a velvet revolution.
If they could take their fate into their own hands, so can we. We don’t
need to go and camp out in the rain on Regent Street - or the Champs Elysées,
las Ramblas, Nowy Swiat, the Kurfürstendamm. We just need to raise
our voices through all the formal and informal channels available in a
functioning democracy. I repeat: It’s up to us.
TGA, Oxford, 4 January 2005