Thank you to the organizers of the “Visions of the European Union’s Future” conference for inviting me. And thank you to Finance Minister Romanowski, for your interesting speech. You hardly ever hear the words “Christian heritage” from a German politician. We are grateful to you for reminding us of what is at the core of European values.
I’m the publisher and editor-in-chief of the Berlin-based weekly newspaper, Junge Freiheit (“Young Freedom”). With a circulation of 30,000 copies, we are the second-largest national weekly newspaper in Germany, and the largest conservative newspaper in the country.
I have to admit, this is my first stay in Warsaw. It is painfully clear to me that Germans know far too little about Poland, and Central Eastern Europe in general. Our attention is focused too strongly on the West. There is too little knowledge or awareness of the identity, the perspectives, and the interests of the Eastern and Central European states.
I was born in Ingolstadt, a mid-sized town in Bavaria, in 1967, the son of a career soldier and military historian. I grew up in southwest Germany. My family was very conscious of, and saddened by, Germany’s East-West conflict during the Cold War, and when the Berlin Wall fell in November 1989, it was the happiest moment in my life. Not only were members of my family separated by the wall; the whole nation was divided; and in a sense the whole of Europe.
To this day, we are very grateful to the courageous Poles who, supported by Pope John Paul II, led the Solidarnosc movement against communist suppression. We are grateful, also, to the Hungarians who cut down the border fence in 1989, and to the Baltic states who never stopped believing in freedom.
Unfortunately, this year has revived some historical demons. A new East-West conflict has arisen with Russia’s attack on Ukraine. It is very rare that tears come to my eyes, especially for political reasons; but it happened on the 24th of February. The morning after the attack I got up early. I discovered on Twitter a short video from Riga, Latvia, showing a protest in front of the Russian embassy. Hundreds of people were singing the Ukrainian national anthem. I cried my eyes out.
Why was this? In Germany, we rarely allow ourselves to be moved by patriotic emotions. Now I was watching fearless Baltic patriots standing up for a neighbouring nation against a brazenly aggressive act of Russian imperialism. It was also touching because I knew that singing was at the core of Latvian identity and an instrument of resistance against the Soviet occupiers. The image was simply overwhelming.
At the same time, I was crying out of anger. I felt ashamed, deeply disappointed by the weakness and cowardice of my own nation. Unfortunately, the Germans have become incapable of clearly formulating our national interests: a problem peculiar to our country. We have even lost the willingness to defend ourselves. We no longer secure our own borders—we are too refined for that. We leave it to others, such as Poland and Hungary, and then lecture them when they do it. We have made ourselves comfortable on the sidelines of world politics. We have sought to overcome and dissolve our own nation state, and indeed the nation itself, into Europe–or, more precisely, the European Union.
I would strongly advise you not to follow our example. On the contrary, European nations should not give up their statehood under any circumstances. They should continue to define and defend their national interests while trying to find common ground within the framework of a European Union reduced in terms of its jurisdiction: a European Union which is not a bureaucratic and patronising monster; not a power centre from which the Brussels elite lecture other nations, especially Eastern nations, on how to abolish themselves and their identities; but a platform for co-operation and mutual understanding.
Let me conclude with this. I am convinced that Eastern and Central Europe has an important role to play in Europe. You did not get rid of Moscow’s oppression and central command in order to submit to a new foreign rule, this time from Brussels.