“An Essay on the Freedom of Europe Between Russia and Germany”

Freedom and independence seem synonymous, except that freedom is more associated with individual freedoms, while independence refers to the sovereign form of existence of a state or nation. The main question we ask ourselves today is whether freedom and independence are goods in themselves, or rather, should they serve a purpose?

The key to a good understanding of freedom is to distinguish between negative freedom and positive freedom. The first is freedom from all restrictions, the other is expressed by the desire to do something. Echoing the warnings of the English historian of ideas, Isaiah Berlin, modern liberalism accepted the conclusion that positive freedom leads to coercion. Berlin indeed saw a risk in the operation of the state, which could intervene in all areas of the citizen’s life for the sake of positive freedom, as in the case of Nazism or Communism.

However, the circle of freedom that Berlin exposes takes neither morality nor conscience into account. Indeed, the Christian concept of negative freedom distinguishes between “honest goods”, “useful goods” and “pleasant goods”. The last two can be a threat to freedom if their pursuit is at the expense of others. On the other hand, pursuing honest goods avoids this danger. For example, taking care of people or educating children is of course an honest good, even if it is achieved in different ways, sometimes better and sometimes worse. They say: “Everything is permissible for me”, but I say: “Everything is not good”. “Everything is permitted to me, but I will not allow anything to rule” – these words of St. Paul form the basis of the Christian approach to freedom (1 Cor. 6.12).

Therefore, the question arises whether independence is a good in itself or a means to achieve the goals of a society, whether it is defined according to ethnic or civic criteria. In both cases, the independence of society is similar to the freedom of man: it must serve a purpose. It should serve the well-being and spiritual development of citizens, raise their talents and encourage the pursuit of “halal goods”. Otherwise, it is useless or can become a dangerous tool in the case of aggressive nationalism. The answer to this question is extremely complicated, since state and nation are often different concepts in the history of the countries of the Three Seas region. The following quick overview may be confusing, but a more detailed explanation of the question would require an entire book (which I am in the process of writing, soon to be published under the title). Cultures of the Three Seas).

In the case of Austria, the word “freedom” has many meanings. This can sometimes be attributed to the breakaway of the Third Reich by the neutralized Austrian state after World War II, sometimes to Hitler’s repression of Austrian origins and approval of the Anschluss in 1938, and sometimes to the apogee of the Habsburg dynasty that ruled over many. nations in the region.

Poles should have no doubt that an independent state is an essential condition for the healthy development of a nation. However, in their long history, they lived either as a privileged noble class or as a people who formed their identity in captivity. The memory of Polish culture in the territories of present-day Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine is a problem for Poland’s relations with these countries. The commitment of the generation that survived 1918 and rebuilt the Polish state as the Second Republic and then paid the price in blood for that independence is one thing. Another is the belief that regaining independence is not costly, and sometimes brings happiness. Communism made the Poles fully aware of geopolitical shackles, although in Poland “to fight or not to fight?” a strong tradition of rebellion based on the question continues. for freedom despite the circumstances. Poles are also defending themselves against the ongoing processes of secularization, because the Catholic Church has always been a pillar of the freedom struggle, the latest example of which is the pontificate of Pope John Paul II.

Hungarians are also a special case among the peoples of the Three Seas region. The barbarian raids of the Hungarians in the 9th centurye century ended with the Christianization of Hungary, whose symbol remains King St. Stephen wearing his characteristic crown. The multi-ethnic Hungarian kingdom also included Slovaks, Croats and Romanians from Transylvania, but their liberation faced many obstacles. The fate of this kingdom, which was under the rule of the Habsburgs until the reform of 1867, was to some extent similar to the partition of Poland. Finally, the Treaty of Trianon of 1920, which removed Hungarian control over Slovakia, Croatia, and Transylvania, is a drama that Hungarians find difficult to accept.

Among the Balts, too, the word “freedom” evokes various associations. The Estonians and Latvians did not establish their own state until 1918, although their ancestors’ struggle against the German occupier, the rule of the German nobility, and Russian rule until the end of World War I, and then until 1918, were responsible for great demographic and cultural losses. Soviet communism is fertile ground for their patriotism. Regarding Lithuania in the XIV centurye created a Grand Duchy extending into the Ruthenian lands in the 18th century, the problem was the Polonization of the local nobility in the Jagiellonian state, a perfect example of which is the example of the poet Adam Mickiewicz, the author of these verses written in Polish: “Lithuania, my homeland”.

The word “freedom” sounds different to the Czechs and Slovaks who escaped the rule of Austria and Hungary, while for the latter there is also the question of freedom from the more numerous and economically developed Czechs. . On the whole, both nations have coped quite well with these problems.

The identity of modern Romanians is well reflected in the title of Adam Burakovsky’s book on this topic. Sad country full of humor. Romanians who escaped the terrible communist dictatorship can refer to the success of the creation after 1918 not only of the Old Kingdom, but also of Greater Romania, consisting of Transylvania, Bessarabia and Bukovina. On the other hand, they continue to argue about their ethnic origin and the origin of their state. Knowledge of the ancient history of Moldova and Wallachia is overshadowed in the West by the horror stories of the atrocities of Prince Vlad Dracula, but in Europe and beyond, it hides the brutality of medieval customs almost everywhere.

Bulgaria’s freedom is generally associated with the liberation of this nation from six hundred years of Turkish slavery and the preservation of its rich Orthodox spiritual and religious culture. Bulgarians are proud of the fact that it was before the invasion of the Turks in the 14th centurye century, they established a powerful state that could compete with the Byzantine Empire. However, it would not be correct to refer to its origin – it was created by Turkic invaders who came to the Balkans in the 7th century.e century from the Kama region, then it succumbed to Slavization.

Croats and Slovenes can also derive their national memory from the legacy of the first countries founded on their lands in the Middle Ages, although in later centuries they were colonized by Hungarians and Austrians respectively. Therefore, in Croatian and Slovenian, freedom mainly refers to the liberation from this domination, but it can also refer to the victory over the legacy of communism, a local creation in the former Yugoslavia.

The Ukrainian tradition of freedom remains relatively unknown in the West. The memory of Kievan Rus’ Scandinavian roots may remain strong among Ukrainians—President Zelenskiy was careful to recall these historical facts in a recent speech to the Norwegian parliament—but modern Ukraine is above all based on the tradition of Cossack uprisings. Tatars and the Polish-Lithuanian Binational Republic. Last and unable to gain independence in the face of the rise of neighboring Turkey and then Russia a little later, the Cossacks made the ultimately fatal strategic choice of signing the Treaty of Pereiaslav in 1654, which saw them side with Russia.

During the following centuries, the east of Ukraine was Russified, and the west came under the rule of the Habsburgs (Galicia) after the fall of the Polish-Lithuanian Republic. Under Austrian rule, Ukrainians were able to develop their national culture, especially in the second half of the 19th century.e They were persecuted under Russian rule in the 19th century. The Kremlin did not want to recognize the national identity of Ukrainians, the best example was the fate of the national poet Taras Shevchenko.

After World War I, Ukrainians were unable to establish an independent state, and under Soviet rule they experienced the horror of the Holodomor—a famine deliberately caused by Stalin in the 1930s. Galicia returned to the Ukrainians. The Kremlin continued to oppress this nation with an iron fist. Destroyed by Soviet rule and shaken by the disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, Ukrainians began to rebuild their identity at the beginning of the 21st century.e century, and as I write these words, I am resisting the Russian invaders with exemplary heroism. They pay for their freedom with their lives.

Until recently, the inability of the “new democracies” to modernize themselves was regularly emphasized in the West, while the conflicts facing them in the neighborhood were seen as a threat to peace in Europe. In practice, none of these prophecies came true. The economic growth of the countries of the Three Seas region is faster than the economic growth of the entire European Union. It was not local conflicts that threatened peace, but the barbaric imperial policy of Russia, which Western European countries, especially Germany, had tolerated for too long, and whose development was planned to dominate Russia’s resources and even its neighbors economically.

Corruption remains a problem in Central and Eastern Europe. However, although we have made significant progress in this area, and we see a real will to fight it, we see an increase in corrupt behavior in Western countries and the European Union, which they lead. The countries of the Three Seas are using their newfound freedom in different ways, but if they did not face the consequences of aggressive Russian imperialism and did not rely on wider understanding in the West, they could certainly strengthen the potential for freedom in the world.

Wojciech Roszkowski is a professor, historian, economist. Author of the seven-volume New History of Poland 1914-2011 and others. Member of the European Parliament in 2004-2009.

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