THE BLOG

From the Fall of the Berlin Wall to Tahrir Square: The Case for Freedom, Democracy, and Peace

1.From Berlin to Berlin

NEVER AGAIN. These were the words used by Winston Churchill in the aftermath of the bloody, cruel and devastating Second World War.

No more inhumane treatment; no more concentration camps; no genocide and ethnic cleansing.
Mauthausen and Auschwitz as well as Kalavryta and Distomo in Greece are permanent, albeit tragic, reminders of barbaric behavior displayed by humans.

Toxic and nervous gas were used in Europe during the First World War and in the Nazi concentration camps during the Second.

Much before the Anfal genocidal campaign in Iraq directed mainly against the Kurds.

It is impossible to forget.

A very dark page; the darkest page of contemporary European history; written exclusively by European protagonists. History repeats itself.

The ''Day After'', we were united in saying ''NEVER AGAIN."

Europe was trying to recover. Yet, the path of and to reconciliation and peace proved to be difficult. The wound healing process was engaged. Lofty ideas and language.

Apparently, the reality was different.

Both sides of the victorious armies in the European war theater had second thoughts and agendas. The ''cold war'' had started even before Berlin's conquest and destruction. New institutions to preserve the ecumenical peace and security were shaped in San Francisco and established in New York. The Council of Europe was founded in Strasbourg to promote democracy and respect for the fundamental rights and freedoms.

The Berlin Wall, in political terms, existed even before its erection in 1961. In East Europe, those who during the war fought for their individual and national liberty were forced to live under totalitarian regimes.

Yes indeed, the Berlin Wall was for 28 years the strongest, most visited and visible symbol of the division of Europe in two blocks,t he democratic and the undemocratic. In 1988, I was posted in Vienna at the Conference on the Security and Cooperation in Europe (today's O.S.C.E.) On May 1, 1988, some of us, NATO and EU diplomats, while visiting West Berlin visited the Eastern part of the city, then-capital of the German Democratic Republic. We took the metro from the Friedrichstrasse station. A cup of coffee or beer at Alexanderplatz.

Then, the way back to West Berlin through Checkpoint Charlie. Just before the last May 1 traditional parade in East Berlin. Unique experience.

On Nov. 19, 1989, while serving at the United Nations in New York, I watched the fall, indeed the dismantlement of the Wall.

The consequences were much celebrated and welcome.

The fall of the Berlin Wall led to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the creation-secession of an important number of independent states, the former soviet republics, from Central Europe to Central Asia.

That was the end of bipolarity in Europe and globally. It was also the end of Germany's and Europe's division. The end of communism, at least in terms of its soviet orthodoxy.

Well, we thought that it was truly the END (Europe Not Divided) with capital letters. Soon, we found out that our expectations were not well-founded. They were not matched by the facts.
Democracy's and Peace's dividends were distributed only to some stakeholders. They were not distributed to every citizen.

2. From Never Again to Deja vu

A year later, on Nov. 21, 1990, the 34 Heads of State or Government of the (then) Conference on the Security and Cooperation on Europe (today's OSCE), frequently quoted as the Helsinki Process, signed in Paris a supposed to be historic document labelled as the Charter of Paris for a New Europe. I was the principal negotiator for Greece.

Modesty was not a flower growing in the fertile grounds of the speechwriters in Paris.
Presidents George H. Bush (41), Mikhail Gorbachev and Francois Mitterrand, Chancellor Helmut Kohl and the late Margaret Thatcher were there; gathered in the sumptuous Salle Kleber to declare ''the end of confrontation and division in Europe'','' that their relations will be based on respect and cooperation'' or that ''Europe is liberating itself from the past."

Furthermore, they declared that "the courage of men and women,the strength of the will of the peoples and the power of the ideas... have opened a new era of democracy,peace and unity in Europe''.

In fact the ''NEVER AGAIN'' aphorism was once more very present in the speeches and in the minds during the Paris Summit Meeting.Euphoria,lofty language and wonderful ideas. A lot of optimism.

Never in Europe's history, so much optimism expressed by so many true leaders was so soon proved to be founded on so many illusions.

Jim Hogland, present in Paris, in his editorial, posted on Nov. 29, with The Washington Post and the International Herald Tribune commented that ''... the breaking up of the Soviet empire... and the re-emergence of fragile nation-states with complex ethnic balances in Central Europe,pose the same problems for the continent that confronted the Congress of Vienna and the Versailles Conference after clear military victories by the dominant powers at those two meetings... In fact the ambitions of the Paris Summit Meeting involved nothing less than breaking the chain of wars, revolutions and repressions that have exploded from Europe's cultural and political diversity with regularity."

The much respected journalist saw it right. Ignorance, lack of foresight and understanding, lack of intelligence, political realism or simply political cynicism?

In 2013, 23 years later, I still have not the right answer. Probably all together, mixed with an uneven posology. Few months after the signing of the Paris Charter, the DEJA VU in Europe re-emerged sidelining the NEVER AGAIN declaration.

Close to Greece's borders, in fact a one-hour drive from our northern border, we lived almost 20 years of military aggression, religious and ethnic conflicts, killing of civilians, ethnic cleansing, mass graves, burning of houses, of villages, and the destruction of cities. On ethnic/religious grounds.

We saw again in the " free and democratic Europe " the skeletal bodies, the concentration camps, rapes of bodies and conscience.

Dictators acting as self- styled leaders and leaders acting as dictators.

Millions of refugees and displaced persons. Serb snipers shooting against innocent civilians in the historic city of Sarajevo. Destruction of religious sites and historic monuments.

Sarajevo, Zupa, Zenitsa, Mostar, Vukovar, Malisevo, Ratcak, Dubrovnik. Do not forget Srebrenica, a stigma in modern European history.

The disintegration of former Yugoslavia gave birth or rebirth, depending on their individual case, to seven new states based mostly but not entirely on the concept of state-nation.

There is a proliferation of new states almost everywhere. I argue that the shaping or the reshaping of the political map is not over yet. The Russian invasion in Georgia on August 2008, is the most recent link in the chain.

Yet, there are not many, indeed there are very few if they exist, who are nostalgic of the past;who see better conditions for life in the status quo ante situation, under the totalitarian/authoritarian regimes.

3. Our Europe

In the Balkans the wound healing process is now engaged; but it is not over. Yesterday's enemies are joining forces to shape their reconciliation process. Learning to live in peace is a difficult exercise.

Notwithstanding the existing lack of symmetry and profound differences between the North and the South, the European Union's membership process provides, since the Thessaloniki 2003 Summit Meeting, for an alternate route to follow. Open to all those who want to meet the standards and the criteria; who respect the rules of the game.

Yet, there are leaderships who still act and behave in an anachronistic manner.

Nevertheless they are the exception. This European membership process is the sticking ''glue'', the strongest soft power incentive for democratization, reforms and solution of open issues and conflicts involving the candidates.

This is genuinely missing in the MENA (Μiddle East North Africa.)

To my regret and disillusion, Europe, as was the case in the '90s, is also now divided. There are conflicting interests between the EU states. Their stance throughout the ongoing turmoil in the Arab world is an indicator of absence of real leadership.

It is a serious blow for my generation who had a vision for Europe much different compared to our today's capabilities, capacities and public perception -- within the European borders as well as beyond them.

The fundamental values generating a genuine enthusiasm for the European Union integration process has been overshadowed and sidelined by the need to preserve the euro's value.

Human dignity is not any more at the center of polities and policies. Frankly speaking, what is the meaning and the value of ''ΠΟΛΙΤΙΚΗ'' ( politics) if not to preserve and protect the human dignity ?

Furthermore, the present political, economic and social crisis in Europe, or if my European colleagues prefer, throughout the European South, resulted into a mistrust between the North and the South as well as between the South and the North.

What we need is true LEADERSHIP.

-- Accountability for and by those political and economic elites responsible for the present situation in Europe.

-- Bridging the chaotic in-depth and consequences gap between the European Union institutions and bureaucracies and the citizens of Europe. More democracy within the European decision-making and taking process, matched by a permanent forum inspired by the Athenian agora, a model of direct participatory democracy.

Europe cannot make it without the Europeans.

Europe will be a smaller enabler in Middle East or/and in global politics as long as the present lack of political and economic asymmetry persists.

This definitely incomplete and -- I accept it -- pessimistic picture of present European politics and impact, notwithstanding Germany's global economic competitiveness and might, could , at some extent at least, explain the standing intra-European divisions, trichotomy indeed, over the ''Arab Spring'', since December 2010.

This division, within the EU, NATO and the UN Security Council, became apparent and clear during the Libyan chaos, the Tahrir Square and mostly during the Syrian tragedy. It is good to see that Germany, the single most powerful EU member-state, concurred at the Vilnius Meeting to the necessity for an appropriate response to Damascus.

4. The Road to Damascus

In a recent article, posted ten days ago with The Huffington Post, I made my position clear regarding the Syrian tragedy:

First: Yes the Syrian dictator must be punished. I understand that the red line crossed was the use of chemical weapons. Obviously, ''chemical Ali'' has like-minded followers in Damascus.
A rhetoric question: A Hundred thousand Syrians dead, killed during the uprising, is not considered as a reasonable figure and criterion to engage an internationally endorsed punitive action?

Second: Four politico-military conditions have to be met before any kind of military engagement. In Syria or elsewhere . Based, inter alia, on the ''Iraqi freedom'' experience :

A. a decisive in configuration and firepower force is needed to secure the effectiveness of any kind of military operation

B. a clear political aim/target has to be fixed

C. the definition of ''success'' should be clear(ed) in advance

D the political ''exit strategy'' definitely secured,to avoid premature ''mission accomplished'' celebrations.

Last but not least: The ''Day After'' should be the outcome of meticulous orchestration and not a wishful thinking political option.

In other words, we must secure the endgame and the outcome. Securing simply the process is not enough. The political process, or what is commonly called including the case of Syria the ''political solution'', is not an end per se . It is just the way, the means to reach the target.

In general terms, I believe that:

-- The era of the familiar to most European and international leaders Baath-style dictators and absolutist monarchies, without constitutional checks and balances, is about or will come to an end. Equally, the model of non-democratic and centralized countries in Middle East is about to change. At least in the format we knew so far.

-- Those who will understand early or earlier than others the requests and demands for reforms ,democratic institutions and liberty will survive longer.

I have no recipe for individual countries; there are general axioms applicable all over the world. Yet, we are still not there. In fact, they are enshrined in the UN Charter and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

-- The case for democratic reforms and for respecting the individual dignity and liberty is now a moving sand from Gibraltar to the Gulf and beyond.

There is always a distinctive line between the ''sands of sorrow'' and the ''sands of joy."

5. The Process: The four pillars of wisdom

Let me also share with you some lessons learnt -- I hope at least -- from the recent, very recent indeed, Balkan wars and dramas:

A) There is no standing guarantee for effective early warning, preventive action and political engagement of the so -called international community.

There was not adequate commitment and engagement proportional to the humanitarian catastrophe to prevent or even to confine the wars during the dismantlement of former Yugoslavia. A country, let's not forget, that emerged as a leader for approximately forty years in the Non Aligned Movement and the UN system. From 1972 to 1987, Yugoslavia was also a driving force within the Helsinki process ( C.S.C.E.).

NATO's interventions in Bosnia and in Kosovo took place only after crimes against humanity were committed. The red line was crossed.

B) The path from absolutism, despotism and human suffering to democracy and human dignity is not a single act. It's a PROCESS. Sometimes, a long process. Currently, there are no armed conflicts or hostilities in or between the States that emerged from the collapse of former Yugoslavia .

Yet, DEMOCRACY is not deep-rooted ; or better, it is rooted in an uneven manner.

In fact:
-- there are still tensions, fueled by nationalism and irredentism
-- border issues are often surfacing or re-surfacing.
-- there is not a proper dealing with the past
-- there is a deficit of the rule of Law, flourishing corruption and organized crime,
-- no much of international direct investment
-- deficit of economic prosperity.

The Independence dividend is not cashed by all.

C) To Change the process: make the difference.

-- Make the difference by respecting the minorities, the gender equality, the religious institutions and monuments.

-- The cultural heritage of the others.It also means to strengthen the democratic institutions.
-- Learning to live in democracy is also a process.It requires more time than what is expected or anticipated.

-- For sustainable success in the process of change, patience and perseverance are needed. Let me also emphasize that to be successful in the process of change, one must learn to live in peace with your fellow citizens, within your borders,with your neighbors and above all with your own conscience.

-- Democracy, is not simply to cast a ballot in free elections.The hardest, the most rewarding test, is to reach an all inclusive consensus. It is about respecting the will of the people for governance. The people, by the people, for the people.

D). There are not permanent friends.There are only permanent interests.And the interests differ and change. Both in nature and in content.

This is the case in domestic politics, for example in shaping governmental or opposition coalitions.

This is also the case in regional politics. At this juncture, Kurds can now understand it much better than others.

Last but not least, this is the rule and not the exception in international relations ;in particular in global power politics.

In Europe, Kosovo is such a typical case. In 1995, during the Paris and Dayton Conferences and Accords, Kosovo 's status was not in the radar. Four years later, NATO was bombing Serbia. In 2008, Kosovo became an independent state.

Serbia and Kosovo,yesterday's enemies, are today engaged in the reconciliation process targeting the full normalization of their relations and their commitment in the European Union membership process; the catalyst for their reconciliation.

6. From UNSC RES 688(91) to the ''safe haven''

Before leaving Athens for ERBIL, via Beirut, I received a word from a number of people to think twice before embarking in this trip in the aftermath of Saint Petersburg's failed attempts to shape a joint and common response to the Syrian tragedy. In fact, very few realized that I was going to the more secure territory in Middle East. A ''safe haven'' indeed.

This is already a fundamental contribution of the Kurdistan Regional Government to regional and global security. It is an important, a key enabler in the PROCESS.

On April 5, 1991, by adopting the Resolution 688, the UN Security Council acted swiftly to save the Kurds from a second ANFAL-style operation orchestrated by Saddam Hussein.

The UNSC , acting under Chapter VII, decided to protect the Kurdish refugees. Russia was on board. Today the Kurds themselves have established a ''safe haven."

I remember very well that day. It was a Friday, in New York; the Holy Friday of the Greek Orthodox Church. The Permanent Representative of Greece, a distinguished diplomat, delivered late in the night his statement before the Security Council, in support of the adoption of this historic Resolution. He stressed the need to act swiftly and save the lives of the Kurds.

I deeply regret that on the ''no fly zone'' and ''safe haven'' proposals on Syria, consensus was not reached among the P5 (permanent members of the UN Security Council). I truly regret that.
A preventive UNSC action in this direction, could have aborted the use of internationally prohibited chemical substances in Syria.
. . .
Most of the words used during the Arab ''Four Seasons'', from Tahrir Square to the roads leading to Damascus, such as chaos, tragedy, demon, tyranny, anomaly, drama are of Greek origin. I am confident that they will be replaced by others, such democracy, political ethos, metron, symphony, synergy, pragmatism and dialogue. They also sound Greek.

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