Integration key to overcoming challenges facing Europe, Plevneliev tells Gdansk conference on lessons of World War 2
Bulgarian President Rossen Plevneliev, joining other leaders at a high-level conference in the Polish city of Gdansk marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War 2, has called for closer integration of the European Union in the fields of foreign policy, energy, defence and finance.
The May 7 conference, held on the eve of Victory in Europe Day, was attended by the heads of state of Croatia, the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Ukraine, European Council President Donald Tusk, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and senior representatives of the governments and parliaments of several European countries.
The theme of the conference was, “European integration as a lesson learned after the Second World War. What does this mean today?”.
Plevneliev said that in order to overcome the challenges facing Europe today, European leaders must continue to uphold the values and principles on which the EU is built.
“Like the times 70 years ago, we face a choice. Either we act boldly and will continue to write the history of a united Europe, or stick closely to short-sighted narrow national interests that will surely generate instability,” Plevneliev said.
Today, the EU is the most successful political and economic union of states in history, he said. The EU remains the “engine” of democracy that guarantees peace in Europe and neighbouring regions, Plevneliev said.
He said that Europe does not want and should not be returned to the era in which the “Great Powers” allocate their spheres of influence.
The Balkan region had been the victim of such a policy. Torn by rivalries and conflicts for centuries, the Balkans were considered the “powder keg” of the continent.
“It is European integration and democratic civil societies that lead our region to the historic change to our common European future, to build bridges of trust and co-operation,” he said.
The policy of peripherals and spheres of influence leads to the creation of numerous frozen conflicts today and Eastern Ukraine is threatened by such a process.
“Is this what we offer the people of this region? Will they live better in the area of frozen conflicts, managed by illegitimate armed groups? Who will invest in such an area? If you really think about people’s right to live in peace and prosperity, we must oppose the wrong and dangerous strategy of regions, states and nations being kept dependent and fragile,” he said.
Plevneliev told the conference that today the democratic community is united in its verdict on the crimes of the Nazi regime and fascism, and should not accept that the struggle for respect for human rights and defending democracy is over.
He said that it should not be forgotten that a few days after the liberation from Hitler, a large part of Europe was conquered by Stalin.
“When Bulgarian soldiers who fought for the freedom of Europe at the end of World War 2, came home, they discovered that the Bulgarian communists already had established a totalitarian regime. Goebbels was destroyed, but there remained censorship, violence against freedom of speech had become routine and the so-called ‘People’s Court’ created by communists, destroyed tens of thousands of people and the Bulgarian intellectual elite,” Plevneliev said.
Plevneliev underlined that Nazism and Communism are “two sides of the same coin” of totalitarian regimes.
Threats that were faced by European nations in the 20th century were still relevant today and past mistakes should not be repeated.
Increasingly, he said, policymakers in Europe had resorted to populism and nationalism and exploited these people’s fears of growing immigration, lack of economic prospects and high unemployment.
“Nationalists again raise their voice and aggression. Modern patriotism, not nationalism, this is what we need today,” Plevneliev said. “Achieving peace is not just the cessation of hostilities, and above all respect for human rights and adherence to the rule of law. Peace is integration and co-operation,” he said.
Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, addressing the conference, called Ukraine “the new forefront of Europe”, and urged the heads of state not to go to Moscow to “the parade of cynicism” on May 9 and proposed the consideration a new European Responsibility Charter.
“I am very honoured to be here with you today and to speak on behalf of the people of Ukraine – a heroic nation that shares a glory in the great victory of humanity against Nazism,” Poroshenko said.
Poroshenko said that the EU had risen from the wreckage of World War 2.
“But the European integration is not yet completed. Before the EU’s Eastern borders coincide with the frontiers of European values, the struggle will go on,” he said.
He highlighted the necessity of understanding that such a tragedy could happen again.
“Again we see an attempt to appease the aggressor,” Poroshenko said. “Now, while Ukraine fully abides by the letter and the spirit accorded in Minsk, the aggressor mounts its military strength in Donbas, planning the parade in two days, which is completely against all the principles of the Minsk agreements and which will involve Russian state-of-the-art weaponry and heavy artillery in a few hundred metres from the touchline,” he said.
Poroshenko noted that on May 8, for the first time the people of Ukraine would join the European tradition to commemorate the World War 2 victims. “While, the very next day in Moscow, under the pretext of the Great Victory, the aggressor’s army will rattle its lethal might in front of the world,” he said.
He expressed thanks on behalf of the people of Ukraine to the world leaders for declining participation in this “parade of cynicism”.
Poroshenko said that today, the European Union faces the most difficult challenge in its history – a real test to its unity, solidarity and fundamental principles.
“At this challenging time for all of us, it is crucial to keep our unity and commitment, just like 70 years ago.
“Today Ukraine is the new forefront of Europe. The post-war lesson of European integration will continue until Ukraine is integrated into the European family,” Poroshenko said.
He said that Europe’s future is challenged in Ukraine, where people fight to the death because they deeply believe in what Europe stands for: justice, solidarity, freedom and unity.
“Giving up on Ukraine would mean giving up on them; and giving up on the memory of those who fought the past wars for the freedoms we enjoy today,” he said.
On the eve of the Eastern Partnership Summit, he called on Europe “to respond to the Ukrainian people, who are still fighting against many evils, which have been left from the most tragic decades of the past”.
“And as our fight for European values goes on, my nation has already deserved to share and to explore the common European freedoms: the freedom of movement and the freedom of choice – the European choice,” Poroshenko said.
UN Secretary General Ban recalled the “tremendous” shared sacrifice and the huge price of victory over fascism, paid by the millions of lost lives.
“The terrible long years of World War 2 were a time of unspeakable atrocities, of lost faith and lost humanity,” Ban said, as quoted by the UN News Centre.
“The war took a heavy toll on many countries, including all those represented here, and particularly on their youth,” Ban added, commending the “collective effort” and bravery that led to victory over evil and the “ultimate triumph” of ideas over tyranny.
In 1945, the United Nations was founded “on the ashes of this calamitous war.” Out of the war emerged a common resolve by the international community to come together and create an organization to foster international peace and security.
“The war shaped our mission and its lessons guide our work,” Ban said, adding that the key principles of the UN Charter and all modern principles of international law were formulated as direct responses to the war. This includes principles of non-aggression, the peaceful settlement of disputes and respect for human rights.
Today’s commemoration comes at an especially crucial time for Europe as the continent faces a number of challenges that require co-operation, including in dealing with the tragic and destructive conflict in Ukraine and a number of protracted conflicts plaguing the region, Ban said.
In that regard, he welcomed the initiative of European Union to further strengthen dialogue and co-operation, including on sustainable development, climate change, human rights and conflict.
“We owe this to the generations lost in this and numerous other wars; we above all owe it to our children and future generations,” Ban said.
(Main photo: president.bg)