Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,
It has been twenty-five years since the extraordinary night of November 9, 1989, when the Wall of Berlin fell. We all remember the images of the youngsters that removed the ruins of the barrier that for decades had been the symbol of the division of Germany, of Europe, of the world.
It was a night of great hope and emotion. Dictatorships that had crushed a large part of Europe started to crumble. The balance of terror that had ruled the world for almost fifty years came suddenly to an end, calling a halt to the threat of the nuclear arsenals that had potentially the force to destroy our planet not just once, but several times.
At the time, we looked at the future with confidence. We believed that a new era of peace, democracy, freedom, prosperity and shared well-being was beginning. We cannot but pay tribute to Mr Gorbachev, who is certainly the most extraordinary protagonist of that amazing political turn.
Several years ago, I had the opportunity, on the occasion of a dinner with him, his wife, Raissa, and mine, to discuss his experience and his choices. Choices that we all now know changed history. He was extremely worried and very critical of the situation of his country and I provocatively asked him whether, considering the outcome his decisions and actions had, he did not regret them and the decisive contribution he had given to the fall of communist dictatorships.
He answered me very seriously: “That world had to be torn down. It was doing great harm first of all to those of us who believed in the values of the Left, because it made these values overlapping with the reality of dictatorship, with its bureaucratic folly, and with the economic stagnation. First and foremost for us and for our values, that night was a moment of liberation. It was a new beginning”.
This is still true today. And the deep concerns for today crises and conflicts can on no account lead us to indulge in nostalgia for a world that no longer exists. Yet, it is difficult to deny that the international scenario has developed very differently from what we imagined and hoped for.
Democracy has certainly enlarged its frontiers. First of all in Europe, where the end of the Cold War has allowed the reunification not only of Germany, but also of a large part of our continent within the borders of the European Union and on the basis of those values of freedom and democracy on which our Union is grounded. But also in other parts of the world there have been positive developments: let’s think of Latin America, where the era of dictatorship came fortunately to a positive conclusion. Indeed, those same dictatorships that had been given support to their fight against communism by the United States.
Even if among many difficulties and contradictions, Asia has become as well a powerful actor of this new world and has also been for a long time the most extraordinary engine of economic growth.
Last but not least, the Arab awakening, in spite of its differing and tragic outcomes, appears to a certain extent as a distant echo of 1989 and of the hope the events of that year aroused.
Still, notwithstanding these progresses, nobody today could affirm without hesitation that that promise of peace and prosperity has been kept.
The world has been hit by an extremely serious economic crisis, from which the western countries and Europe in particular are still struggling to recover. A globalization dominated by finance, and basically unhampered by rules, has certainly increased the number of players and opportunities, but it has also produced growing unbalances, instabilities and inequalities, insomuch that it risks tearing apart the social fabric even of the most economically advanced and wealthiest countries.
But above all, the post 1989 developments have been marked by bloody conflicts. A long and terrible civil war took place precisely in the heart of Europe, in the former Yugoslavia, shattering the country and leaving on the ground several thousands of casualties.
On its eastern border, the European Union has not been able to find a solution to the crucial question of its relations with Russia. Indeed, Moscow tends to perceive the EU’s and NATO’s enlargement towards its borders as a growing threat; while the West fears the resurgence of Russian nationalism, which appears to be permeated by imperial ambitions and dreams of revenge. Against this backdrop, the Ukrainian crisis testifies to the risk of a new fracture within Europe, even of a new cold war.
The return of nationalisms and of a climate of tension characterizes the Asian continent as well. I am thinking, for instance, of the disputes between China and Japan, or of the dangers in the Korean peninsula.
But it is mainly in the arch of countries stretching from Central Asia to North Africa that the rising of Islamic fundamentalism and the strengthening of its most violent, extremist and terrorist components represent the most serious threat. A threat that after 9/11 has become global.
One is tempted to indulge in the idea that the division of the world in two blocs and the military balance between the Soviet one and NATO, in spite of their terrible risks, represented somehow a form of world order. With the end of that order, we have witnessed a chaotic growth of conflicts and menaces. Menaces that are defined as asymmetric because they are much less predictable than in the past and that, for this reason, are more difficult to prevent. Not surprisingly, in this atmosphere, the consequence is the spreading and fuelling of fears.
Actually, I believe that what we have observed in this quarter of a century is the end of a great illusion. The idea that the collapse of communism and the victory of the United States and the West should pave the way to the gradual homogenisation of every corner of the world with the western and US model, understood not only as the triumph of democracy, but also of the market economy, which would mean the increasing marginalization of the role of the state and of the institutions, and the diffusion of an individualistic conception of life and well-being.
It has been said then that this was the end of history and that human civilization had achieved its climax in the western capitalistic order. It was assumed that everybody would eventually conform to this order, and that conflict and the thrust for change would magically come to an end.
Things did not turn out that way. Quite the opposite, the fear of being homogenised has aroused reactions and has opened new fault lines. No longer ideological ones, as occurred in the last century; but nationalistic, ethnic and religious ones.
In many parts of the world forms of integralism, that we believed to have been buried in past centuries, woke up, and new forms and manifestations of religious fanaticism now prevail within Islamic movements, making us forget that Islam, historically, was characterised by tolerance and pacific cohabitation.
The Western countries have understandably felt the burden of these new disquieting and unpredictable threats and have often reacted withdrawing into themselves and fostering populist and xenophobic feelings.
What we have witnessed in the last twenty-five years is a process of deterioration of international relations. In the beginning there prevailed the illusion, particularly among US neocon, that it was possible to shift from a bipolar order to a unipolar order, under the undisputed supremacy of the United States.
I think that this illusion culminated in the 2003 Iraq war and with the theory according to which it was possible to export democracy by the use of force. This stage ended in a huge failure.
Indeed, it led to growing mistrust and hate towards the West, particularly in that part of the world (such as the Arab countries) that feels largely marginalized by the economic globalization and has less enjoyed the advantages and the results that this process has produced.
The arrival of President Obama represented, in my opinion, the acknowledgment that a deep change was necessary. Nevertheless, what we have realized in these last few years is to what extent it is difficult to create the conditions for an effective multilateralism.
The inadequacy of the old institutions, structures and hierarchies has been clearly exposed. The G8, on the one side, and the Security Council of the United Nations, on the other, represent a balance of power that no longer exists and, as a consequence, they lack legitimization and forcefulness. They are not able to contain the dangerous trend towards a chaotic, ungovernable and confrontational multipolarism.
In an interesting essay entitled “The Unraveling. How to Respond to a Disordered World”, published on the last issue of Foreign Affairs, Richard N. Haass tackles the question of the re-launch on new grounds of the US leadership.
Of course, this would imply, on the one hand, the correction of the mistakes that have weakened the prestige and credibility of the United States and, on the other hand, the need to formulate an inclusive policy capable of involving traditional allies and new partners.
From this point of view I perceive the burden of Europe’s fragility, which has been a thorn in President Obama’s side. Richard Haass observers how, I quote, “Europe’s parochialism and military weakness may make the region a poor partner for the United States in global affairs”. This is a strict judgement, but it is not groundless if we consider last few years Europe’s withdrawal into itself and its incapability to deploy effectively and unanimously its potentials as global player.
I believe that a new world order cannot disregard the primacy of the United States: the indispensable nation, as Madeleine Albright defined her country. Yet, this is no longer enough. Indeed, this is a very expensive and risky condition for the United States and, to a certain extent, it arouses in American society growing opposition against the undertaking of new international responsibilities and even the temptation to return to isolationism, which has always been a propensity of US politics.
A new international order, therefore, needs the multilateral commitment of a multiplicity of states and institutions. It cannot exclude the re-launch of the United Nations through courageous reforms aimed at strengthening its legitimacy and capabilities. It cannot exclude a system of widely accepted rules and principles, without the intolerable double standards that cause only resentment and delegitimation.
It is contradictory, for example, to consider the Ukrainians who defend the integrity of their country – and receive support to their fight – as patriots, and regard instead the Palestinians, who oppose the illegal annexation of Jerusalem and the occupation of the West Bank, as terrorists.
In other words, rules shall apply to everybody and cannot be considered as an option for the friends of the West and an obligation to be imposed by means of coercion and sanctions on those we do not like. Or else, let’s not be surprised if the world will continue to be chaotic and if our consensus and credibility will keep declining.
The short twentieth century suffered terribly under the excessive burden of politics and ideologies and because of the “hypertrophy” of the States. The last fifteen years, by contrast, have been characterized by a disquieting and damaging eclipse of politics and of its capability to rule economy and international relations.
This is our challenge. On what grounds shall we give back to politics its capacity to lead the processes and rule them on the basis of law? Law does not exclude the use of force, in extreme situations. But force shall be at the service of international law and of the political solutions of conflicts, it cannot replace them, otherwise the risk we run is to harbour again dangerous illusions, whose damaging effects we have already witnessed in the last decades.
This idea of international relations ruled by political institutions and by the respect of shared principles and values, such as the protection of human rights, might seem utopian. Allow me to name two great German philosophers: we should go from Carl Schmitt back to Immanuel Kant, and this, in spite of chronology, would be a step towards the future rather than the opposite.
On what conditions can we move in this direction, even considering that it will be a long and gradual process? I would like to suggest two. The first one is a comprehensive reform aimed at revitalizing the international institutions and their decision-making capability. This counts for the economic and financial organizations, in which, however, we can already observe a positive development, that is, the growing assumption of responsibility by the emerging economies. But it counts above all for the UN system, and in particular for the Security Council, which represents a world that no longer exists and is too often paralyzed by mutual vetoes, making the main global organization powerless and therefore reducing its credibility.
We already know that the debate about the UN reform has been going on for ages and that the number of proposals is huge. But I really think that reform should be today a priority for those who reject the mere idea of power politics and for those who understand that it is necessary to contain the growing world disorder.
The second condition concerns us even more, because it involves the role of Europe and the EU capacity to become a real political player, able to merge in a single shared vision and in a common action the different position of the European states, including the bigger and more influential member states.
Since the beginning of the global economic crisis, Europe has increasingly and anxiously focused on the economic and financial questions, while nationalistic and populist feelings are spreading across the continent. It is time to shake off such negative attitude. It is time to re-build our self-confidence and put our trust in Europe’s capability to play effectively its global role.
This of course implies dialogue and cooperation with the other international players, mainly with the United States, as well as Europe’s potential as leader of the political processes in its own neighbourhood. Let’s think, for example, of the complex relationship with Russia. I have a liking neither for the authoritarian trends of President Putin’s Russia nor for its aggressive nationalism and imperial nostalgia of Moscow’s foreign policy.
I endorse the defense of Ukrainian integrity and understand the reasons that have led the EU to impose economic sanctions against Russia. However, we shall also wonder whether we have done our utmost to prevent in Russia the growth of anti-western feelings and the fears that feeds President Putin’s current approach.
Russia has perceived in these last few years a general attitude aimed at marginalizing it when important decisions were at stake, humiliating its role as great power. Furthermore, Russia has perceived the EU’s and NATO’s enlargement almost up to its own borders as a threat aiming at its progressive isolation.
Don’t we have a responsibility about this? I do not refer exclusively to the question of the anti-missile shield, which the US eventually set aside. I am talking of the poor working of the NATO-Russia Council and, more in general, of the instruments of the so-called Partnership for Peace. I am talking of the hasty decision to dismiss Russian proposal for a new European security conference.
Now we are dealing with the Ukrainian crisis. But it is exactly when the confrontation is harsher that we shall leave open the possibility for a diplomatic and political solution. We must have the nerve not to encourage Ukrainian nationalism and the anti-Russian feelings that fuel it. A political and diplomatic solution means, in my opinion, to guarantee the rights of the large Russian minority that lives in Ukraine, while acknowledging that it is not reasonable to think that Ukraine might one day become a member of NATO or of the EU. Rather it must remain open to simultaneous collaboration with the West and the East.
The second major challenge that Europe is to face – probably the most demanding one – concerns events in the Mediterranean and in the Arab and Islamic world.
We have all welcomed with enthusiasm the Arab Spring, even if we deluded ourselves when we expected that western-type democracy could be established so easily in that part of the world, assuming that the demonstrators we saw in Tahrir Square represented the whole Egyptian people and its deepest political leanings.
We have supported a tumultuous process of change and, indeed, of genuine destabilization, without having the faintest idea of how to contribute to the construction of a new stability.
Eventually we appeared both uncertain and inconsistent. We have greeted first the free elections in Egypt and, after just a few months, the military coup and the ban on the very political party that had won those elections.
We have shown a poor understanding of the complexity of the events that were taking place in the Arab worlds and a dangerous lack of strategic vision.
We should never forget that the democratic systems we live in – which indeed are far from being free from intolerance and populist trends – are the outcome of long historical processes and cultural developments, and these can hardly be replaced by the roughness of military interventions or by the apparent seduction of the western model.
Today, the priority is to restrain fanaticism, in particular the one that shifts towards the most violent forms and towards terrorism. The achievement of peaceful cohabitation and of religious tolerance is by itself a hard task. Yet, it is the indispensable precondition for the establishment of democracy. But, if the opponent is the Islamic State’s or al Qaeda’s fanaticism, what we need is to open a frank dialogue with all the other components of the Arab and Islamic world, in order to isolate and defy this new alarming barbarianism.
For how long did the Western world neglect Kurdish people’s human and civil rights? Today, Kurds are confronting with courage the brutal advance of the new caliphate.
I do not have a special liking for the Iranian regime. Nevertheless I cannot imagine stability in the region – I am thinking of Afghanistan and Iraq – without the achievement of an agreement on the nuclear question with Teheran, which should put an end to that country’s international isolation.
And, as for the oldest conflict in the area, if we want to prevent this new religious fundamentalism to take root among Palestinians, in more extremist and dangerous forms than already done, it is necessary to act decisively to sustain the moderate leadership and to pave the way to the creation of a Palestinian state. To this aim, the international community must exert stronger pressures to overcome the closure and obstinacy of the present Israeli leadership.
I could go on and on with other examples. But I think that it is by now clear that what we really need is a courageous and consistent political action, devoid of prejudices and double standards, able to make Europe a key player in the stabilization process of this crucial region, so important both for our economy and our security.
Let me now get back to those promises of peace and prosperity that the fall of the Berlin Wall had offered, nurturing our hope for a better era not only in the heart of Europe, but also for the whole humankind.
This hope did not come true, as we ingenuously believed twenty-five years ago. But goals such as peace, cohabitation, prosperity, full respect of people’s rights are fundamental and can be reached only through a renewed political commitment.
After all, the very fall of the Berlin Wall was possible because of the courage and intelligence of politics. The engine of history is not fuelled by ideological illusions but by the willingness of men and women.