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EDP MEPs tell us why they chose to fight for Europe

"Languages, cultures, regional differences and local initiatives must be cherished because they are Europe’s strongest asset."

"The war in Ukraine concerns all those who believe in the European project".

Frederic Petit Ukraine
Frédéric Petit

Back from Ukraine, Frédéric Petit, Deputy Secretary General of the European Democratic Party, stresses that the Ukrainian resistance is not only based on the love of the nation but also "around democratic institutions". Opinion piece by Frédéric Petit published in the French newspaper La Croix.

Let's stop looking the other way, stop beating about the bush. We know what disaster this attitude has led to. Because this age-old question of nationalities and cultural differences still haunts Europe, we must now look at the Russian aggression in Ukraine for what it really is.

Not the war of one man, Vladimir Putin, however determined and cynical he may be, but the long-standing and tenacious confrontation between two models of society: on the one hand, the one ('united in diversity') conceived by the founding fathers of Europe and patiently implemented since then by the Member States of the European Union; on the other hand, the totalitarian model of the empire that Vladimir Putin's Russia has probably not given up.

Russian imperialism

Yes, there is imperialism in the Russian adventure in Ukraine with its "big brother" rhetoric and its corollary, that of the "great winner". There is even a third Rome, it seems.

Yes, this imperialism is totalitarian because all areas of life serve the fight that is waged and then control: culture, language, religion, economy...

Invited to the celebrations of the anniversary of independence on 24 August, I have just spent a week in Ukraine, in particular in Chernihiv, a city in the north which was besieged in March 2022. The reconstruction needs are enormous and vital, and what I saw there reinforces my view that this war directly concerns all those who believe in the European project.

Everything opposes the two models of society, both in their essence and in their existence. Here are four concrete examples.

Russification

In the Russian model, language is a pretext, sometimes manipulated, to legitimise power; in the other, the European model, not only does the same language not force the same citizenship, but the diversity of languages is considered a common wealth. In the preparation of its aggression, the Kremlin used the expressions "Russian minorities outside the Russian Federation", thus justifying their "protection" by Moscow.

The question of the 'Russification' of peoples has been a constant since the beginning: from the development of Slavonic in the 15th century and the banning of schools in Polish in the 19th century to the revival of Russified school curricula today in Kherson (the new history textbooks, The Donbass, Heart of Russia, have just arrived), via the tensions between Russian, Georgian, Armenian and other Caucasian languages in the 20th century's USSR. This first example is far from anecdotal.

Resistance

In the Russian model, the soldier is only a cost, a tool of imperialism; we do not need his understanding of the stakes, nor even his adhesion to the objectives; he is there in an individual itinerary, often financially interested, and difficult to control. In the European model, the soldier, whether conscript or professional, remains a citizen.

The developments of the war in Ukraine have suddenly shed light on this difference in a very direct and concrete way for those who follow the developments on a daily basis. Whatever the difficulties of analysis, it seems that the resistance of the Ukrainian army is based on citizens mobilised for an ideal that seems common to them and superior to their personal interest. The resistance of Kharkiv, a Russian-speaking city, is symbolic in this respect.

Democratic revival

It also seems to me that the Ukrainian reaction that surprised Europe and the whole world was not only based on the idea of "nation", but also on the democratic institutions, which are still fragile in this country: the presidency, parliament, local executives and representatives, civil society organisations, all these institutions are at work and are even working better than before. For those who remember, such citizen initiatives, albeit very embryonic, accompanied the Maidan events in 2014.

Another example. In the Russian model, the movement of people is always subject to the interests of the state, often carried out under duress, even violence. In the European model, freedom of movement is the guarantee of the dynamism of the whole. Today, thousands of children are deported to Russia and adopted by Russian families; this is one of the characteristics of genocide. In addition, three and a half million Ukrainians who have arrived in Russia since the beginning of the war will be taken care of by the Federal Agency for Ethnic Affairs (sic) in "adaptation camps", while Russians are sent to settle in the occupied territories.

An enduring peace

In the Russian imperialist model, finally, the economy is above all a weapon of war; in the EU, it has been and remains a means of building lasting peace. For the past twenty years, the Russian state has taken over and controlled all wealth creation, especially hydrocarbon rents (the number of SMEs has fallen significantly). This has nothing to do with the pooling of coal and steel, which were sensitive national economic issues in the still conflictive post-war context (the Saarland was French).

Standing up for Ukraine today and tomorrow, despite its fragilities, its difficulties, and even despite its flaws and dark sides, is not a moral or blind or even emotional choice between "good guys" and "bad guys". It is simply a matter of survival.

For the centralised, totalitarian Moscow model clearly threatens ours, the one shared by hundreds of millions of Europeans and to which our Ukrainian neighbours and so many other peoples on the Old Continent and elsewhere aspire.