Time is ripe for diplomacy – By Mitro Repo, MEP

This year it has been a hundred years since the First World War. In its very last plenary session of this parliamentary term, the European Parliament discussed centenary lessons learned and the future of Europe in the context of today´s events in Ukraine. The remembrance soon let to a debate on Ukraine. Years 1914 and 2014 resemble each other awfully much.
The President of the Parliament, Martin Schulz said it aptly: the first civil war of Europe. The First was followed by the Second, and peace has resumed 69 years. I wanted to say “already”, but it is safest to say “only”. Less than a lifetime.
A hundred years ago millions of men were sacrificed for few meters of trenches. Marks left from the unprecedented bombardments are still being cleaned up in Central Europe. The hundred years ago fallen soldiers are still being found.
Only in the Fort of Loncin in East-Belgium 500 men are buried – they were never even tried to be excavated from the tons of cement on top. The cemented walls collapsed on them on the Dormition (Falling Asleep) of the Theotokos in August 1914.
Let us repeat some of the key past events in Ukraine. European Union Member States´ foreign ministers mediated. President Yanukovych gave in for early elections, most likely after having understood that Russia will not support violent suppression of the demonstrations. Yanukovych´s frailty only excited the opposition. And when he decided to leave Kiev his police and his government came down like a house of cards.
For a while one was worried that Yanukovych could succeed in gathering up troops loyal to him in Eastern and Southern parts of Ukraine. Yet, his credibility was diminished once his lavish lifestyle was revealed. Now the palace – and its ostrich farm – of the former president is a Sunday walk destination to ordinary Ukrainians.
Everyone has been baffled by the speed of the collapse. A massive bankruptcy estate has fallen on the shoulders of the EU. Russia has taken an eye on the Russian speaking population in Crimea and those living in Ukraine´s Eastern front. Most baffled are the Ukrainians themselves. What next?
The European Parliament has aptly debated about the Ukrainian turmoil. Genuine worry and wariness is voiced by many parliamentarians. Others are full of triumph – as if “the West” had once again beaten “the East” in a game of chess.
This is not what the situation is all about. Ukraine is, in the words of the French Le Monde, a country which is understood neither by the West nor Russia. The spontaneous revolution came about peacefully by singing hymns, carrying icons and supported by three competing Orthodox Churches. Sacredness and evilness was present on the streets at the same time.
Even though the Ukrainian youth were standing and falling in the name of the EU flag, we know very little what the flag really symbolized to them. Hopefully all the good things Europe has to offer: the rule of law, legality, common rules and fight against corruption.
Hopefully it did not symbolize unrealistic expectations about fast-track EU membership – in such a case they will be disappointed. The EU cannot be entered in a whim. There would still need to be a revolution in legislation, governance and the justice system. Ukrainians must do it themselves while Europe can help and offer technical assistance from the side.
It has become apparent that Russia seeks for a new role.
Crimea soon became the second point of turmoil. Part of the Russian speaking population turned to Russia asking for help and protection while others, namely the Crimean Tatars are terrified.
What is needed is diplomacy. Sochi Olympic Games was a means to showing the entire world that Russia is an ordinary country not to be afraid of. The excessive PR-profits from the Olympic Games are now lost.
The start of the revolution during the Olympic Games is seen in Russia as a spoilsport if not an outright provocation. Russia should not be humiliated or forced to severe nationalistic reactions. That mess we would be cleaning up for decades.
We, the European Union, are a party, not an independent mediator. The time is now ripe to resort to cooperation with other international actors, namely the UN and OSCE – sooner rather than later. I want to emphasize that I regard NATO as a tool not suited for dealing with the Ukrainian crisis. We, Europeans, should be able to communicate and engage directly with our neighbour, Russia. We should not need NATO as our megaphone. I believe NATO to be an outdated tool for taking care of European issues.
The catastrophe that tore apart Europe a hundred years ago still baffles us today. One cannot understand the thinking of France or Germany – not least when it comes to EU policy-making – without knowing the trauma caused by their historical setting.
The first war let to another war, which fortunately let to a Great European Peace Project, the European Union. Even if the EU Member States avariciously hold to their perceived self-interests, the EU is essentially not about money but about something much more important.
Yet, is it truly so that the significance of European integration process decreases the more wars, violence and its victims have become but a pastime amusement for today´s young generation? The wars undergone and suffered vanish slowly from our collective memory when we can no longer witness with our own eyes what our grandfathers have shared with us.
Those prone to nationalistic flexing of muscles either in Europe or elsewhere should remember what brought us here and what price has been paid for all what we now have.
I regret that all too often we, the politicians, lack the skill and will to understand each other’s spiritual landscape and the reasons and feelings behind it. We tend to speak not to, but past each other. As we lack sufficient self-awareness, we also lack the courage to overcome our fear of each other. It is not too late! I say: time is ripe for diplomacy.

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