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What Holds Europe Together?

Krzysztof Michalski


It is Necessary to Believe in Europe

Ján Ćarnogurský

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1The Europe Paper on the spiritual and cultural dimension of Europe correctly grasps the essential features of the phenomenon of Europe. Perhaps because it is a starting point for discussion, not its conclusion, it attempts to be neutral and restrained in its evaluation of individual aspects. When commenting on the report, it may be difficult to change the features of Europe it mentions, but the emphasis may be changed.

2A change of emphasis enables us to mention the historic success of Europe, which brought it to the head of the other continents still at the beginning of their history. The source of European dynamism was internal tension, which continued throughout history, but changed its form. There was the tension between the Roman Empire and the barbarians, later between the Imperial power and the Church, then between the Catholic Church and Protestantism and, finally, between democracy and the totalitarian regimes. Further internal tensions in Europe could be named. They all produced the dynamism, which moved Europe forward.

3The message of these chapters of European history teaches us that we should not fear internal tension in our continent, since we are probably permanently condemned to it. We do not have to fear it, because it can become a source of progress by creating space for free decisions. Internal tension also enables more rapid progress because it enables mutual destruction. The dividing line between more rapid progress and mutual destruction demarcates the ability to respect our opponent—not to attempt to destroy him, but to engage him in a chivalrous struggle. It should at least be chivalrous from our side, even if the opponent refuses to struggle in a chivalrous manner.

4The challenge of an enlarged European Union lies in the fact that it joins into one unit, societies with different structures of internal relations. With some simplification, it is possible to say that in the west of our continent history formed societies that place greater emphasis on individualism, but that in the east greater emphasis is placed on collectivism. This difference will create obstacles to the acceptance of the decisions of the European Union. However, a source of optimism is that European nations or societies can agree with one another more easily than they could agree with non-European societies.

5The family has an exceptional place in the structure of European societies, and within it the woman has a special position. The only thing that can be criticized in the report is that it is not concerned with the position of the family and women in European societies. The importance of the family in the societies of other continents can successfully compete with the importance of the family in Europe, but the exceptional character of the European family lies precisely in the position of the woman in the family. The woman holds the family together in Europe. Children first experience and learn tenderness from their mothers. Only later do they learn to struggle alongside their fathers. Therefore, the family, and within it the woman, towards whom love and respect are felt and faithfulness is observed, is at least an ideal in European societies. The family helped European societies to overcome conflicts and develop culture. The family provided the initial protection for its members, and they absorbed the foundations of culture into the family.

6At the opposite pole from family love, European societies are accompanied by the attempts of some ideologies to appropriate reason. Most recently, communism claimed that it is the only scientifically organized society. It collapsed like a house of cards before the eyes of the present generations. Especially the societies of the post-communist countries remain skeptical about social conceptions, which ridicule their opponents and claim that they are the final draught of truth. This skepticism is contagious, and prophets have already appeared in the new member countries comparing the rules of the European Union to the rules of the former Eastern Block.

7The openness of Europe must also be expressed in the method of refuting these false prophets. If the construction of Europe could rely only on rationality expressed in written directives and unwritten political correctness, it would follow the fate of the rational systems, which have, up to the present, always rebelled against their limits. The heritage of the struggle against communism does not contain only skepticism towards totalitarian systems of thought, but also the experience of ordinary human solidarity. It posits the untenability of life as a lie. It contains the liberating force of the free word. It contains the growth of the strength of civil society over the strength of the totalitarian bureaucratic apparatus. The nations of the former Eastern Block bring all this to the treasury of the European Union.

8A transcendental whiff blows on the European Union, when it considers the present and future position of religion. Europe without Christianity would not be Europe, and there would be no discussion of its spiritual and cultural dimensions. The report is right to mention the tragic experiences connected with the involvement of the Church and religion in various European conflicts. However, it is impossible to forget the importance of religious motivation in the organization of apparently hopeless resistances to injustice, dictatorship and war, or in ordinary, practical human solidarity. Religion provides the final support, especially in periods of crisis. Europe cannot abandon this heritage. The lessons of communism tell us that no public power succeeds in forcing religion into a position not acceptable to it during the given historical period. Perhaps it is pointless here to attempt a close definition of the position of religion and the Church in society. Let us leave that to religion, the Church and society. The report states that economy cannot provide society with a feeling of unity and solidarity. Religion can. A mention of God in the European Constitution would be a step towards changing the Union from a pragmatic organization to a community of destiny.

9The European Union extends from the Atlantic to the slopes of the Carpathians, but Romano Prodi’s commission speaks of the dimensions of Europe. Let us not forget, then, that Europe reaches as far as another mountain range: the Urals. Whether the European Union will extend further to the east in the near future, or will repair its relations with Bielorus, Ukraine and Russia with other treaties is now of secondary concern. The mission and ambition of the European Union must be the unification of the whole of our continent, if not institutionally, then at least via a coordination of policy. The Union’s key partner in the east is Russia, so permanent dialogue with Russia should be virtually an article of the future European Constitution.

10Dialogue with Russia should not be merely economic policy dialogue. Russian culture is part of the highest European culture, and European culture sets the standard for Russia. Russia defended Europe against two conquerors, Napoleon and Hitler, and let us not forget that it did so at immense human sacrifice. Russia very often perceives the West as a threat. It is a historic challenge to the European Union to change this Russian perception of the West. At present, Russia sees the approach of NATO bases to its territory as a threat from the West. The European Union should not support the building of NATO bases further east.

11Here we are already dealing with the foreign and security policy of the European Union. However loftily we speak about spiritual and cultural values, the fact remains that Europe also built its position in the world thanks to its military power. It cannot do without military power in the future. The world does not respect the weak, who cannot defend themselves. Weapons of mass destruction have changed the nature of military power and Europe is more vulnerable than any other continent. Nevertheless, Europe cannot give up the military defense of its interests. Whether we place the vulnerability of Europe first, or its spiritual and cultural values, the end result is that Europe should not threaten anyone; it cannot apply its interests in an aggressive way. However, there should be no doubt that Europe can defend its interests against aggressors—if necessary, also militarily, even at the price of loss of life. Europeans should be educated to this fact. Slovaks, Germans, Spanish, Swedes and others should be educated to defend Europe, even at the other side of the continent.

12During the fall of communism in Central Europe, mass demonstrations of people chanted “Back to Europe!” The Iron Curtain had divided Europe for 40 years, but it could not destroy the European consciousness of its prisoners. Today we are in Europe. Our European consciousness as free citizens will be different from that of the communist period, but it will not be less.

13The Russian poet Tutchev wrote, in a well-known verse, that Russia cannot be grasped by reason, it is necessary to believe in Russia. His verse modified to apply to Europe, which includes Russia, would read: “Europe cannot be grasped by reason, but it is also necessary to believe in it.”


Ján Ćarnogurský is lawyer living in Bratislava. A former dissident during the communist regime of CSSR, he became Deputy Prime Minister of Chechoslovakia immediately following the regime change; Prime Minister of the Federal Slovak Republic between 1991–92; 1998–2002 Slovak Minister of Justice. Founding member of KDH, the conservative Christian-Democratic Movement.

© Central European University Press, 2005

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