This week, the people of Europe will mark the 30-year commemoration, on 9 November 1989, of the fall of the Berlin Wall, a totemic event in the history of our continent. Europeans will commemorate the winds of freedom, which blew away a wall, and with it, an ideology that relied on the restriction of individual rights and freedoms to sustain it.
As a man who grew up under the yolk of this unfreedom, I will forever remember the corruption of the state apparatus, hidden behind a single party, which assumed the right to speak and make decisions on behalf of the people.
Many will remember the barbed wire, concrete and weapons that were the shame of our divided continent. It is the solemn duty of those who lived through these times to pass these memories, and the lessons we have learnt, on to a younger generation of Europeans today. For the reality is that, in the aftermath of the Second World War, totalitarian regimes in Eastern Europe instigated a silent, physical and moral war against their own people.
Let us not forget the dark side of our past, nor disregard the considerable progress we have made.
We honour those who suffered and struggled against tyranny behind the Berlin Wall. However, we will also commemorate thirty years of peace and reconciliation in a country, Germany, and through it, in an entire continent. The winter of 1989 sowed the seeds of a European spring, which today allows us to live, to work and coexist in one great area of freedom.
The European Union of today is far from perfect and we have a duty to transform it, but it is too easy to forget that the European Union is primarily a project of unification and a phenomenally successful peace project. There is much to do, but let us not forget the dark side of our past, nor disregard the considerable progress we have made.
While recalling our past, now is the time to plan for a future together in which any remaining East-West divisions are healed and disparities eliminated. Our collective goal should be to build a solid foundation for a more united Europe, which is more democratic, a Union that prioritises citizens, involving the peoples from East to West, in a collective project of renewal with enhanced legitimacy.
Pro-Europeans have a duty to fight with determination against all the attempts of some illiberal rulers and political parties to return to the suffocating tyranny of the past, by defending the liberal democratic structures built in Central and Eastern Europe, following the collapse of the Berlin Wall.
Our European democracies are fragile and cannot be taken for granted; liberal democracy must be fought for. Exposed to emerging nationalist and clientilistic movements, both external and within our borders, are exploiting social media and using disinformation techniques to polarise our communities and question received wisdoms.
This is why the fight against fake news and the manipulation of information must be an integral part of our digital strategy. We know that there are powerful tools on which authoritarian powers invest, distorting the progress that has been made.
The European Union of today must better protect its citizens from physical weapons, but also from the weaponisation of ideologies that impede freedom, limit creativity and aim to stir up hatred rather than promote empathy and cohesion.
Attacks on the rule of law and political freedom, as we have seen in Hungary, must be firmly combated. We must be resolute and make clear that it is unacceptable to see Government-led investigations against an opposition political party, aimed at intimidating and deterring any opposition, in the Europe of 2019. Opposition movements, like Momentum, are fighting back, despite constant harassment, and building, systematically, a solid alternative to Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party and they need our support.
Thirty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, let us commemorate those who gave their lives to win their freedom. We celebrate our achievements since and the freedoms, peace, we have secured. However, let us not stand idly and watch as undemocratic forces unpick these, by undermining our hard won freedoms.
In response to the obvious limitations in the functioning of our the European Union institutions, let’s roll up our sleeves and launch a Europe-wide conference on our shared future, involving EU citizens, in order to lay the foundations of a progressive and inclusive new European project.
Dacian Cioloş is the former prime minister of Romania and the president of the Renew Europe Group in the European Parliament.