Europe is witnessing, stunned and full of pain, something that it thought had been definitively overcome after the wars that followed the decomposition of Yugoslavia. A decided invasion, furthermore, for reasons that Europeans failed to understand decades ago, such as the establishment of zones of influence or the safeguarding of national identities that are highly legendary.
The feeling of indignation towards the decision maker and his closest circle (Vladimir Putin) is as deep as the solidarity with the Ukrainian people is being great.
The European Union (EU) did not seem in a position to provide decisive help at this critical hour in its history. It did not have the necessary skills in matters of defense and foreign policy. The ones it had, as a general rule, required to be adopted unanimously. And the divisions in relation to the policy towards Russia, either for historical reasons, or for economic and commercial interests, anticipated insufficient and late measures that would prevent the EU from rising to the occasion.
We know what the ultimate objective that sustains the European project is. No more stumbling over the stone that has caused so many wars and violence in Europe. We have come a long way together since the end of World War II and the fall of the Berlin Wall, because we have achieved that, within the EU, the differences are resolved through a constant process of negotiation.
The success in banishing intra-European wars has allowed us to focus the European project on the person and their inalienable fundamental rights. The action of public authorities is only legitimate to the extent that it guarantees and promotes its enjoyment within the EU, but also in the rest of the world. Because, by founding this project, we Europeans have wanted, improving ourselves, improving the world.
“In the Ukrainian drama, the rest of us Europeans have seen ourselves invaded, bombed, outraged”
We equip ourselves with a flag, an anthem and a day of Europe. Every five years, citizens elect their representatives in the European Parliament. But, nevertheless, we were not able to get excited all together as we get excited about the symbols and events of the national history that is closest to us, and from which many generations that have preceded us have imbibed in schools, books and battlefields.
But something has changed in the last few days. An electric current has traveled the continent from Lisbon to Tallinn, from Dublin to Bucharest, passing through Malta and Cyprus. In the Ukrainian drama, the rest of us Europeans have seen ourselves invaded, bombed, outraged. We have witnessed how what we took for granted (our freedom, respect for life, respect for international law) could collapse in the blink of an eye.
European citizens took to the streets of our cities last weekend in solidarity with the Ukrainian people. The most emblematic monuments of Europe were dyed blue and yellow. The Colosseum, the Eiffel Tower, the Cinquantenaire Arch or the Cibeles fountain are some of them. The blue and yellow flag has flown on thousands of buildings across Europe. Beyond Europe, the world has dressed in those same colors in countless buildings or emblematic places, such as Niagara Falls.
When European foreign ministers met on Sunday to agree on a new sanctions package that went beyond what anyone could have imagined three days ago, they were aware that European public opinion had expressed itself unequivocally. Whatever it takes to stop the atrocity, including letting go of Russia as long as her president doesn’t back down.
That is why, when on Sunday night the President of the Commission and the High Representative appeared before the media to announce what had been agreed, many Europeans were in tears, as it seemed that it would never happen with an exhibition in a language that She is not the mother of either of them.
“One person has symbolized the determination of the Ukrainian people to continue living in freedom, being willing to pay with his life: Volodymyr Zelenski”
Behind this emotion were the images of Polish volunteers distributing teddy bears to boys and girls who arrived hand in hand with their mothers, innocent lives that will never understand what their parents, or their grandparents, or their neighbors did, so that someone a thousand kilometers away decided that his country was going to be punished for wanting to be Ukrainian.
There were also the images of thousands of blood donors for those wounded in the war that had just been unleashed. More poignant still were the stories told by hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians to their colleagues, neighbors and relatives in the various European countries where they reside.
And of course there were the images and stories that came from inside Ukraine through the media and social media. Shattered lives, endless queues of people fleeing war, and the decision to defend the country no matter what and whatever the cost.
One person has symbolized like nobody else the determination of the Ukrainian people to continue living in freedom, being willing to pay with his life for this effort: Volodymyr Zelensky, President of Ukraine. With each one of his speeches and his interventions, his personal and moral stature is enlarged, and in him we see a heroic reference made from past times. He challenges us in the depths of our being and we understand that he not only represents his people, but, like the blue and yellow flag, he represents all of us.
Ukraine has given birth to European patriotism, sober, without daydreams, without rousing harangues, without the need to forge alliances with religion so that love for the country sinks deep.
In his speech last Tuesday before the European Parliament, the High Representative (Joseph Borrell) referred to the forces of evil against which one must beware. But, immediately afterwards, he clarified what he meant. To those who seek to resolve differences through violence.
There is nothing sacred about European patriotism, but rather a profoundly civic and democratic character. The MEPs responded to his speech with heartfelt applause, because these days we have our hearts in our hands and in our eyes.
“With his decision, Putin has lost Ukraine forever, if what he wanted was to subjugate it by force and prevent the free choice of its future”
In the virtual appearance that President Zelensky later made before the European Parliament, he spoke to us through our representatives with the solemnity of his simplicity. He told us that Ukraine has earned, with its suffering and its determination to be, the right to be part of the European family that is the EU.
In these days of European patriotic emotion, it will be difficult for those who intend to give a bureaucratic response, since nothing prevents the three institutions from granting the candidate status as soon as possible, knowing that the accession process will be long and complicated. For a start, Ukraine must regain its full sovereignty.
But, in these days of suffering, hope is the best weapon we can offer the Ukrainians in their fight, which is ours. Because, with his decision, Putin has lost Ukraine forever, if what he wanted was to subjugate it by force and prevent the free choice of its future.
Instead, once the Russian people experience the radical transformation that has taken place in the rest of the continent in recent decades, they will understand that the best way to win Ukraine is with cooperation and good neighborliness.
Exactly as we have won and saved the rest of the Europeans from each other. Welcome to European patriotism, in the conviction that, one day, also the Russian people will know its benefits through a close relationship between Russia and the EUas our shared history and culture demand.
*** Juan González-Barba is a former Secretary of State for the EU and has been ambassador to Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Sudan, South Sudan and Eritrea.