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230. THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF EUROPE

I recently jumped on a FaceBook advertisement for the European Federalist Party...

How can I explain this hunger and thirst for such a thing to English speaking people who have no idea of what the European Union is about. They think it is a club, a kind of old boys get-together, to talk about budget and things.

How can I convey the urgency I am feeling about implementing a true Federation among the various States stuck loosely together in this Union since World War 2.

How can I describe this long life waiting for a definite step to unite countries like Germany and France, Poland, Italy, Sweden, Greece, Finland, Portugal, and all the others.

How should I write in a silly blog such geo-political expectancy coming from an ordinary grandmother doing her garden and baking cakes for her grandkids.

Don't know...

I'll start recapping on what I have already written on the subject.

In 2005 i.e. eight years ago, here's what I wrote on this blog but deleted since:


"On 6 June 1944 I was seventy three days old, two months and a bit.  I don’t remember anything about those days and yet, they pervade my whole life. 
The rural village in the middle of France where I came to life was under occupation.  Military occupation by Germany, a neighbour country.  Why?  Who knows.

What I know of it, is what I heard people say, what my parents and grand-parents mentioned in passing, and what I read, as if I hadn’t been there.  My own memory has not left anything printed for me to analyse later.  And yet, it feels as if I have a larger memory of it.  Probably what they call: collective memory, or, collective sub-conscience.


Three days after the landing of the Anglo-American armada in Normandy, German convoys were travelling in great numbers from the south of the country to the rescue of their troops in the north, using side roads to avoid bombings on the main highways.  Coming to the small provincial town near my native village, one group of German soldiers started behaving funny.  They stopped at the top of a street, entered each and every house and machine gunned everybody. 
As a school kid, every day,  I walked passed a monument with the names of those murdered on 9 June 1944.  The baker nearby was one eyed and was said to have survived the slaughter.  No one ever talked about it.  But it was a loud silence.
It took fifty or sixty years to come up in press.  The town apparently had been saved by the courage and sang-froid of a refugee from Alsace who being bilingual talked the Germans into an alternative action.



It took a whole year of fighting.  As a baby I didn’t know that.  Nowadays when I walk around the streets of Paris and other towns and cities, I find that year 1944 is mentioned on many walls in many streets on plaques like: “Here so-and-so aged twenty odd was killed fighting for the freedom of France”.  We all walk past them and pay no attention. 

After the long fighting the US army settled down in various places building complete towns.  That’s where I start to remember. 

When I was 10, the neighbours on one side and across the road from my place were American GI families.  I played with their kids of my own age talking ‘American’, and using their outlandish toys.  I recall one particular toy that I would have given my horse and my kingdom for.  It was a tricycle with 3 big wheels and a step between the back wheels for a ‘passenger’ to stand on.  And with this came a flat low trailer that you could hook on to carry pebbles and what not.  I never ceased to desire having such a toy.  So much so that many years later, let’s say twenty six, when I arrived as a post-graduate student in Michigan with my own youngster aged 3, the first thing I did was to get him one of those outlandish toy… You still can’t find them in France to-day and I am very worried about my grand-daughter not being able to play with one of those. 

The Chateauroux US air force base was the biggest in Europe, I’ve heard.  It gave us, the local natives, a sense of modernity as huge aeroplanes made a big bang over our houses and sometimes broke windows.  It was this new capacity of humans to travel faster than sound and it was happening here.

But even though we were allowed to ‘play with the Americans’, there was one thing my parents really frowned upon: their habit to ‘gaspiller’, waste, throw away anything all the time.  And the lack of discipline applied on their kids.  At first I was allowed to invite my little American friends from across the road.  They did all sorts of things we weren’t allowed like climb up the trees, throw arrows at tree trunks, use the garden tap to wet their faces or feet, walking bare foot, and more.  So as time went I was only allowed to go and play in their houses and I recall eating funny things and playing base ball with a funny big glove and a bat.  None of these experiences were ever mentioned back home at the dinner table.  We just had a good time and the American lady across the road was reported to be very nice.  Until one day when we fell all clothed in their rubber swimming pool and came back home soaked.  That was the end of my first hand experience with America.


The French 60 year olds and over voted ‘yes’ to the recent referendum on the European constitution.  The question was: do you approve of the treaty establishing the EU constitution.  And the 60 year olds said ‘yes’.  The newer generations, especially the brand new generation, said ‘no’.  Mm!  Are the old hats more adventurous then???

I’m 61, I voted ‘yes’ and speaking for myself I’ll try to figure out why. 



At the age of 10, in 1954, I knew a lot about the first world war.  My grandpa had been reported killed in action at a famous battle in Verdun, buried by a bombing.  But his mates had dug him out and taken him to the wrong infirmary and hospital so that he did turn up alive at the village one day for a convalescing holiday.  Once a year in the big family house on the farm my grandpa reunited with his old fighting mates and their then Lieutenant, turned General Maurice Carpentier since.  They told long tales about surviving horrid situations on the battle field.  My grandma knew the stories by heart, so she used to escape to the kitchen and leave the men in the dining room with a good coffee and liqueur. 

Sometimes I’d sit there with the men, pretending to be the wallpaper.  I knew about certain times called truce when the French soldiers and the German ones used to come near one another and exchange cigarettes or chocolate or bread.  They also passed letters through ‘the line’… I remember that word: ‘the line’, meaning the day-to-day border between France and Germany shifting as they fought for it on a daily basis.  They passed letters of people writing to their relatives living on the other side of ‘the line’.  Sometimes ‘the line’ was in the middle of a village, so you had to take great risks to get a letter sent to the other side of the village.  I grew up with these stories.  And later at school I learnt that 2 millions French young men gave their lives during that war, 1.6 million dead and buried, and the rest maimed for life.  My grandpa was happy to have survived with a piece of shrapnel in his liver for which he used to take medicine regularly.  He never complained about anything though.



The second world war, the one I was born in, was hardly mentioned but was ever present in everyone’s mind.  Grown ups often talked about the ‘debacle’ and about refugees.  A number of refugees had been hiding in the village.  And many years later my grandpa told me about a cache of weapons that he had held in a barn.  He hadn’t told his own kids about it obviously because my aunt the other day was terribly surprised when I said, as she was mentioning the barn: ‘you mean the one grandpa hid the weapons?’.  She looked at me strangely and I had to explain. 



In 1957, I was 13 and had already some working knowledge of the German language.  My parents decided to take us, my brother and me, to visit the place where grandpa had fought the war.  We travelled east in the black citroen and made it further as far as Switzerland and the black forest in Germany.  I was the official interpreter… especially when we met a German grandma holidaying with her grand-daughters of about the same age as me.  I remember very badly wanting to make ‘truce’ with them, exchange chocolate, letters, whatever.  No more of this fighting between us, please.  It seems the German grandmother had the same craving, as it was soon established that 1) we would correspond regularly 2) we would visit each other and 2 girls, me and Christiana, would exchange visits on the next holidays.   And so we did.  And so I learnt German with renewed efforts at school until the next holiday when I travelled all by myself to a place near Frankfurt and spent over a month in a German family.  That went on for a number of years.  My teenage years in the summers of the 50s and early 60s, I spent in Germany.


To me the making of Europe as a one and undivided entity uniting France and Germany and other neighbouring nations was sheer survival.  An English lady settled in France asked me recently, as she had seen on TV the French and German heads of state embracing fondly: ‘why is that France and Germany are such good friends?’… I heard myself reply: ‘Because if we aren’t best friends, we are best enemies’.


I’m finishing reading a book written by Jeremy Rifkin, called « The European Dream », published last year in America.  The three main sections are: New Lessons from the Old World, The Making of the Modern Age, and The Coming Global Era.  It is very informative about the American ways, mentality and politics.  It gave me an insight on how the USA view Europe… and this new creature called the European Union (EU). 

But it feels very remote from my feelings about it.

Sure, I voted ‘yes’ to the referendum asking us, the French, to ratify the so-called EU constitution, but my heart wasn’t in it.  So, for my own sake, I’d like to try and figure out what this European dream is for me.  My thoughts may or may not be ‘representative’, I don’t know.

First, I wouldn’t call it a ‘dream’, but a ‘vision’.  It is more visionary than wishing.  It isn’t childlike images about the future, but deadly serious reckoning. 

It started from a wild and loud cry of ‘no’ to any more wars between the German states and its neighbours.  I have heard other people of my generation say the same thing.  Last September I actually visited Robert Schuman’s house, now turned into a museum, near Metz in the east of France.  It was very clear that straight at the end of the war this was the very reason for all of his political decisions.  This guy was totally bilingual French and German.   His vision was for a Union of the European nations so that a future war between them would become obsolete.

As a teenager in the early 1960s, what then did I expect and long for?  …integration, yes, volunteer integration of the youths of those 4 or 6 nations called to pool their resources.  I expected physical mixing up of German, Italian and French kids, in all sorts of activities, going to school together, learning one another’s tongues, and sharing boyfriends.  I wanted to go to a ‘European’ school as a boarder in Luxembourg where subject matters were taught one day in French, and another day in German.  I expected to meet German and Italian kids in my school.  I hoped films on television would be sometimes in German, sometimes in Italian.  As I grew up and experienced life in Germany, I even expected goods from various European nations to appear en masse in the shops.  One article I really appreciated was the goose duvet covers that you couldn’t find in France…  In short I really and badly expected a quick and vast integration.



Nothing of the like happened.  Continental Europe remained locked tight, each nation within its own borders with its old habits.  Funny really.  And then I left.  When I was 19, after I had passed my matric exams, I took my (German) rucksack and embarked on a long trip.  My plan was to travel the world and then come back to go to university, one day perhaps.  I ended up living a very placid married life in the federal capital of Australia, with very remote connections indeed to the rest of the world.  As time went, and as I got older, I started getting fidgety thinking ‘they’ were building Europe out there without me.  I bucked and eventually came back to Europe, France, when I was 30 in 1974.  To my surprise ‘they’ hadn’t built Europe much at all.  People still said ‘abroad’ when they went to Italy or Belgium.  There was even less integration in schools or universities, and near to no mixed couples at all.  Instead there was a very numerous population of immigrants from other continents, and they were integrating.  

Eventually I returned to the other side of the world.  My vision of Europe hadn’t made any impact at all, I must have been too different.  I made a point to vote ‘yes’ to the treaty of Maastricht, thinking that was coming closer by a notch to my own vision of a united Europe with one single currency, but people in the streets still go abroad to Belgium and the weather forecast stops at the Rhine river.  Sure, there are a few other European articles to buy in the shops but nationals across borders do not intermarry. 

Getting old, I lose the impetus and I’m tired to feel so terrible ‘different’ with my funny ideas of an integrated western European union.  And then what?  Before I realised what was going on, I heard ‘we’ were 25… and a middle eastern country was coming in.  What’s this?  Who did that?  What?  When?  How?  The sense of having been flowed, badly had, overcame me. 

And then the cheek to ask if it was all right to ratify the constitution! 

I voted ‘yes’ on a rationale, out of faithfulness to my old ideas.  But, quite frankly, I am glad the majority of French voters said ‘no’.  I really don’t think there’s a point in putting this referendum to the French again in the hope that they might change their minds.  One thing, I will vote ‘no’ the second time around, for certain.

Something else.  During the campaign for the referendum I heard in total amazement that the authorities (say the political class and the media) were ‘surprised’ at the fact that copies of the so-called constitution got sold out in bookshops… They were ‘surprised’ that people at large took an interest in what they were going to vote for.  ‘Surprised’ that people wanted to know what sort of laws they were going to be ruled by.



For one, people didn’t turn up to vote in great numbers at previous EU elections because the gap is too big between the technocrats and grass roots.  Not because they don’t care.  I didn’t go and vote to elect my Member of European Parliament (MEP) last time around.  It would have been ludicrous.  Ridiculous.  I don’t know them, do they know me?

Two, when it comes to such a decision as a vote for a new constitution, who wants to sign a blank cheque?   People do care.

Three, if I get it right, the referendum was not asking the population if yes OR no, it was o.k. to ratify, but asking to say yes to big brother.  Just for show.  I’m only realising this last bit now since absolutely nothing has been prepared in case of a ‘no’.  Amazing.

I am a pro-EU, pro-liberal and pro-democrat.  My European Dream is so far removed from what is going on in the political spheres at the moment that I might just as well send a letter to Santa for next Christmas.

The whole show reminds me of a scene in “Mulan”, my favourite Walt Disney cartoon: the scene when a handsome general comes and sits under a nicely decorated field tent, explains his strategy with majesty pushing toy soldiers on a cardboard war theatre, and then is off on his white stallion with gusto… while outside the tent a mob of would-be soldiers carry on like idiots.  The gap is very wide between these two entities, the technocrat and grass roots.  We know the end of the story in the cartoon.  We don’t know with the EU…

STILL IN 2005  i.e. 8 YEARS AGO:

The British Prime Minister is now President of the EU for the next 6 months, i.e. until Christmas or so.  I was planning to send a letter to Santa about my wishes for the European Union, but then perhaps I’d better ask the British Prime Minister directly… Yes, please, Mr President of the EU, rid us of these ‘absurd regulations’, and please do not forget your promise for a ‘comprehensive impact assessment on business’ throughout EU nations, and please make it public, and also make sure the technocrats in Brussels become less interfering.

Below I quote an article published in the Guardian last May.



From Patrick Wintour, chief political Guardian correspondent, Friday May 27, 2005:

Quote: "Key British industries are in danger of being suffocated by "absurd regulations", many of them stemming from the European Union, the prime minister said yesterday.
In an unusually robust speech attacking the compensation culture, Mr Blair said regulation was undermining public sector initiative and loading massive unnecessary expenditure on the state.
His views annoyed trade union lawyers, who claimed he was attacking a myth. They said his stance was contradictory since it came from a government that was itself introducing a corporate manslaughter bill.
Mr Blair's speech in London will excite interest as a possible indicator of how he may react when the French deliver their expected rejection of the European treaty on Sunday. His remarks suggest he will be willing to tell Europe that it urgently needs to reform, and be less interfering, to win back public support.
He said: "About 50% of regulations with a significant impact on business now emanate from the EU and it often seems to want to regulate too heavily without sufficient cause.
"Europe has done itself more damage through what is perceived as unnecessary interference than all the pamphlets by Eurosceptics could ever do."
He promised that when Britain assumed the presidency of the EU in the second half of the year, he would push for a "comprehensive impact assessment" for all new EU legislation. He would also propose further simplifications of EU regulations.
Discussing the wider compensation culture in Britain he said: "We are in danger of having a wholly disproprortionate attitude to the risks we should expect to run as a normal part of life. It results in a plethora of rules, guidelines, responses to scandals of one nature or another that ends up having wholly perverse consequences."
He warned that unless something was done, Britain was in grave danger of blowing its chance as world leaders in biotechnology. Mr Blair was refering to GM foods, stem cell research and cloning.
Trade union lawyers Morrish and Co said the compensation culture was a myth.
"Fewer than one in four victims of workplace accidents make a claim for their injuries, and statistics from the last three years clearly show a downward trend." End of quote,
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005


AND IN 2009 I WROTE THIS:

In the long and painstaking making of the European Union for the last 60 years, we have now come to a dangerous point of no return. Either we go ahead and forward with it or we capsize and sink. That's how I feel. Being a passionate supporter of a federal European Union I started to worry seriously when I read the news recently.

From the EuObserver on line, I quote Elitsa Vucheva's article:

"Only a week ahead of a G20 summit in London where Europeans and Americans are to seek a common approach to exit the global financial crisis, Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, whose country currently chairs the EU presidency, has described US economic recovery plans as a 'road to hell.' "

" 'We need to read the history books and the lessons of history and the biggest success of the [EU] is the refusal to go this way,' he added."

The Czech Prime Minister was talking to the MEPs (Member of European Parliament) gathered for a plenary session in Strasbourg last Wednesday, 25 March. It created a great stir. But... the Czech Prime Minister is Czech! He knows what he's talking about. Have we such a short memory? Have these offended MEPs never heard of the Czech uprisings?... uprisings in the plural, one against the Nazis in 1945 and one against the Soviets in 1968.

A reminder of 'recent' History:

Here I quote the wikipedia article on the Prague uprising in 1945:

"The Prague uprising (Czech: Pražské povstání) was an attempt by the Czech resistance to liberate the city of Prague from German occupation during World War II. Events began on May 5, 1945, in the last moments of the war in Europe. The uprising went on until May 8, 1945, ending in a ceasefire the day before the arrival of the Soviet Red Army and one day after the Victory in Europe Day."

"By the morning of May 6 (1945), over a thousand barricades were erected. Czech resistance troops had managed to seize half of the city before the Germans reacted in force. German garrisons throughout Prague were surrounded."

"With news that Americans were already in Pilsen, hopes were initially high about their tanks reaching Prague soon. But the insurgents were not aware of the demarcation line agreement between the Americans and the Soviets some 70 km west of Prague. The Czech radio appeals to the United States Army remained unanswered. Insurgents also did not know where the Red Army might be at the time and the German military pressure was increasing."

"On May 8 (1945), faced with no arriving allied help and the imminent destruction of the city, the insurgents were forced to negotiate, and accepted the German terms presented by General Rudolf Toussaint, the German Military Governor. It called for the immediate capitulation and unhindered passage of German forces, including civilians, through Prague. In return, Prague would not be destroyed. Although the compromise seemed to give the Germans most of what they wanted, the Czechs were confident that Germans would not have enough time to benefit from it."

"On May 9, 1945, the Soviet Red Army arrived in Prague. U.S. Army units had been closer to Prague than Soviets, and their reconnaissance units were already present in Prague suburbs when the uprising begun. However, the Americans did not help the Czech insurgents. Instead they overlooked the uprising, and all carnage that followed."

"American General George S. Patton was wanted and expected in Prague by everybody but the communists, yet he was not allowed to move, even when his reconnaissance units were reported a mere 20 km south of Prague."

... now we know why the Czech Prime Minister said that "The American president is not a messiah" to the MEPs in Strasbourg!

Twenty three years later, i.e. one generation later, the same again but this time against another totalitarian regime. Here I quote an article written in April last year by Jan Puhl in the Spiegel online:

"Alexander Dubcek was the hero of the so-called “Prague Spring,” the 1968 uprising crushed by the Soviets almost exactly four decades ago. Dubcek was a reformer who wanted to give communism a “human face” -- and he became a Czechoslovak icon as well as the hope of reformers in other socialist and communist countries. But Czechoslovakia’s experiment became its tragedy on the night of August 21, 1968, when the armies of fellow Warsaw Pact countries invaded. Students in Prague graffitied on a building wall, “Lenin, wake up, they’ve gone mad.” Images of desperate people standing up defenseless against the tanks drew worldwide attention and widespread sympathy for the rebellion of little Czechoslovakia against the huge Soviet Union."

And click here to see some photos of the 1968 Czech uprising. The Spiegel article goes on saying:  "And it was then, in the summer of 1968, 12 years after the Hungarian Revolution and seven years after a wall first divided Germany in two, that a powerful illusion died out -- the illusion that the communist system could gradually develop into a new kind of liberal democracy." (...)

"After the Prague Spring was crushed, Czechoslovakia fell silent. “The mental and moral devastation through the ‘normalization process’ was the worst, even worse than the invasion itself,” says Vojtech Mencl, charged with analyzing events between 1967 and 1970 by the new post-1989 democratic government. “Moral cowardice became a prerequisite for private life, politics was seen as dirty and dangerous.”
The result, he says, was that things stayed mostly calm in Prague, unlike in Budapest or Warsaw, all the way until November 1989. Czechoslovakia’s “Velvet Revolution” didn’t start until after the Berlin Wall was already open." (...)

"Czechs and Slovaks, in short, were tired of experiments. They wanted the freedom -- and especially the prosperity -- of the West as fast as possible. It was liberals like Václav Klaus, current president of the Czech Republic, who led the country in a new direction. Klaus didn’t believe in a moderate “third way,” in a synthesis of communism and capitalism as Dubcek had envisioned. “All third ways lead to the third world,” Klaus once said."

LET'S LISTEN TO THE CZECHS...  They come from afar. They know what they're talking about.
   
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