Ode to the Road Part 6 – A season of unity

A season of unity


For everything, turn, turn, turn,

there is a season, turn turn turn…

A time of borders, a time of unity…


Ok, the Byrds did adapt the book of Ecclesiastes much more poetically in their hit song, but it is true that there is a season for different things, and it is so hard to resist a version of the familiar stanza when it captures an incredible shift happening right under our noses so well.

Europe in the first half of the twentieth century was all about war and dividing strong, homogenous nations-a time for borders. Winners of wars gain territories, but losers got chopped up. Hungary, for example, long part of the central European superpower the Austro-Hungarian Empire is cruelly divided up by the treaty of Trianon in 1920, losing two thirds of its territories to surrounding countries and the two thirds of its people that were sentenced to live as minority in foreign cultures. Germany is split into two after the Second World War, as is Europe in general by the iron curtain. Travel generally requires costly and time consuming visa applications to each travel destination, changing money at very bad official exchange rates, learning languages.

At the height of economic nationalism in 1950s, the tide has turned, as they have a habit of doing at their heights. Liberal Europe has made a courageous U-turn and it was decided that it was time to make divisions disappear-the time of unity has arrived. The seeds of the European Union were sown in 1956, when Benelux countries first started to trade in coal and steel freely, risking a lot of angst creating new winners and losers would cause, but hoping in overall, long term improvement. The lowering of barriers to trade, people and ideas have only gathered pace since, involving more countries (width) and more activities (depth), and now this process is running at a pace never before seen in human history.

In 1982 the German entrant called Nicole sings a song at Eurovision song contest called “Ein bißchen Frieden” ( “A little peace”). The song struck me even as a child as an apology and an attempt at reconciliation from Germany, still the bad boy of Europe, and the fact that it actually won the popular vote of the other 17 countries, one that was widely accepted. By the time another German band the Scorpions whistled “Wind of change” in 1990, the Iron curtain was no more, Germany was unified again, and the EU, already including the whole west side of Europe began to expand eastward. Germany singing a different tune (figuratively as well as literally) set the tone, and the end results are stunning. Consider:

The openness of the west has made Iron curtain dictators’ positions untenable. Residents of the Hungarian rump state, who until 1990 couldn’t even set foot in neighbouring countries like Austria in private arrangement, now don’t even need a passport to travel to all countries of EU. No longer forced to learn the impractical and disliked Russian language, the young generation of Hungarians speak fluent English and move about almost everywhere in Europe with ease.

The Hungarian diaspora cut off from the mother country are to be offered dual citizenship (keeping their current one, as well as getting Hungarian citizenship, and with that, an entry to EU), undoing the cruel annexation treaty of Trianon to a degree.

Yours truly, who couldn’t even return to his homeland (now in Serbia) because of a conviction for escaping from serving the army in 1990 and the mindless war it was embroiled in soon afterwards, received an amnesty in 2002, needs no visa since 2003 to travel there, and soon won’t even need a passport to enter the country (only an EU ID).

Residents of Serbia couldn’t even set foot in EU until December 2009 because of sanctions, but 6 months later there is barely a barrier in movement of residents…the pace of change from almost complete prohibition to almost complete freedom of movement is unbelievable.

Creating the European project is not without dangers and there are those that are vary of concentration of power in Bruxelles, of autonomies given up, etc. They are right to be very vigilant for any erosion of rights (especially when a crisis hits), but we all need to make a distinction: liberating effects like allowing people, goods and ideas to move are fundamentally different to taking away power from the more local governments and centrally prescribing behaviour. Only if the distinction is made can we fight for the former, and against the latter, otherwise we’re just wasting energy. For if we get that distinction right, I’ll be all for what the well known, beautiful and subversive pop-song below was talking about.

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

(John Lennon 1940-1980)

Looking at it in 2010, the political sentiment looks unremarkable, indeed it could become the anthem to the EU. It is remarkable then to think what shift in paradigm has occurred but originally the song was sang before its time and this timing issue has contributed to the death of its creator, I’m sure.

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