Following the Steps of History
01 August 2002

Today people criticize or, at best, take for granted the existence of the European Union. It has somehow slipped out of our memory that it was an unprecedented, phenomenal event when, so soon after World War II, enemies became friends.

For many nations in Eastern and Central Europe joining the EU is seen as the cure for their wounds. But before this can happen there are many issues to consider and criteria to meet. One essential element is good relations with neighbouring countries and between the different ethnic communities inside their own borders. This brings the issue down to a personal level - if we don't work it out as individuals, who will?

I have recently seen this process at first hand. On a visit to the Baltic States - Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia - which will soon join the EU, I witnessed work in progress on integration between people and countries. Later that month, I was lucky to see an existing example of this integration in France, Germany and Luxembourg, where people remember history but live in the present (see Healing history).

Some Europeans are afraid that if Eastern and Central European countries join the EU, their young people will flood into Western Europe, leaving their motherlands behind. From what I heard from those I met in the Baltic States, this is unlikely. Patriotism is really strong among the youth. Those who wanted to emigrate have already done so without waiting for an EU passport.

For me as a Russian, it was a moving experience to visit the Baltic countries, which used to be under the Soviet regime. What struck me was that, in spite of the stereotypes, it is not primarily language that divides Russian-Latvians and Latvian-Latvians. History, culture, national pride and attitudes still create tensions. The experience of post-war Europe offers hope that these communities will reconcile in their hearts as well as in their new European policies.
Anastasia Stepanova

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