20 Years Ago Freedom Succeeded in Central and Eastern Europe

February 13th, 2009   Uncategorized

In this article Gustav Blix, member of the Swedish Parliament, discusses the EU parliamentary election campaigns in Romania and Sweden, and is somewhat appalled by the lack of interest. He claims “the key to a higher turn out rate is most likely to combine the dream of a joint, open and peaceful Europe and the strife towards improvement in everyday life” while adding that the young people of today “should be made aware that less than 20 years ago our part of the world was divided by an iron curtain which separated free democracies from authoritarian communist dictatorships.”

It all started at the Lenin docks in Gdansk, Poland. There, the democracy movement Solidarnost started their struggle against the Polish Communist one party state. After several years of strikes and protests, in spring 1989, the movement finally forced the regime to a round table dialogue on the future of the country, resulting in the election of a new parliament. The outcome of the in part free elections of June 4 – approximately 20 years ago – frightened the regime as the democracy movement won all mandates in the lower chamber , i.e. where the establishment have allowed competition. The election to the senate was to a larger extent free. Thus, the democratic movement won all mandates except one which went to an independent candidate. Several leading communists did not even achieve enough votes to qualify for the seats which had been reserved for them. Little did they understand that their time had finally come to an end. 

In September 1989, Tadeusz Mazowiecki formed the first non-communist government in Poland since the Second World War. This would later turn out to be the first step towards the fall of communism and the first democratic change in Central- and Eastern Europe. In November 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. However, that was just the beginning. In May 2004, Poland, as well as several other former communist states in Eastern and Central Europe, joined the European Union. In July this year, the citizens of these countries get to choose their representatives in the European Parliament.

While writing this, I have the privilege to close handedly observe the election campaign in Bucharest, capital of Romania, EU member since 2007. Although, just like at home, some campaign ads are indeed posted in the city and though the media seems to report on the campaign, it doesn’t seem to be very much of a vivid debate. Just like in Sweden, the turn out rate in the EU elections is likely to be low, and I have to admit to being somewhat appalled by the lack of interest.

The events in Poland, Romania and other communist dictatorships 20 years ago had an enormous impact on Europe as well as the entire world. The freedom won by the people in Eastern Europe deserves more attention. Not just by Europeans’ going proudly to the ballot boxes to manifest our freedom. The young of today, born after the fall of the iron curtain, should been made aware that our part of the world less than 20 years ago found itself divided by an iron curtain which separated free democracies from authoritarian communist dictatorships. In spite of this we don’t seem to fully appreciate the effect of the EU membership on the Union’s most recent members. The new member countries – Sweden included – are today freer, richer, more open and way more fun than 20 years ago. But why should this come to pass as the finale? The daily work in the European Union also paves the way for a successful environmental cooperation, a more efficient crime prevention and more people at work in better (and more well paid) jobs than before.

The key to a higher turn out rate lies most likely in combining the dream of a joint, open and peaceful Europe with the strife towards improvement in everyday life. This seems more and more apparent from the discussions I have had during the election campaign, a campaign where there is indeed a growing interest for the EU issues. More and more people seem to realize the growing importance of who we choose to represent us in the European Parliament.

Twenty years after the fall of the wall, I would have loved to see a more vivid dedication, both to Europe’s past and its future. The fall of the Berlin wall should be commemorated– also in Sweden. Our government, holding the ambition of Sweden as part of the core of the EU cooperation, should strive to make 1989, the year of freedom, a joint European memory. One way of doing this is to initiate a European forum for commemoration through a fund for scientific research on Communism and Nazism and their victims.

Furthermore we need to look forward. The EU cooperation needs to be developed in several areas, especially with regards to foreign affairs and security policy. We need a joint response to an increasingly authoritarian Russia. In addition, a liberalization of the agricultural policy is required to make Europe one of the world’s most dynamic regions. Furthermore, we need better shaped economic structures to meet the financial crises of today as well as those of tomorrow.

The distance between Sweden and Poland is approximately the same as between Göteborg and Halmstad or Stockholm and Norrköping. Although the twenty years that have passed since the dictator Nicolae Ceauºescu was removed from power in Romania may feel like a long time, it isn’t in the history of Romania or, for that matter, in the history of mankind. It is easy to forget how good our lives are and how many people would like to be in our place. They want nothing more than to live free, to voice an opinion and to elect their leaders and demand they take responsibility for their actions.

Voting does not hurt. What hurts is not being allowed to vote. Despite this, too few Polish, Romanians and Swedes use their right to vote, when the opportunity is given. To change this is a task that goes beyond the election date of June 7, 2009.

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