The Humiliation of Europe

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By George Weigel

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But it is nearer to us. Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, that war is exercising its ruthless brutality. Obviously I am thinking of the fratricidal battles in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The whole of Europe is being humiliated by them. Its institutions are being ignored. All the peace efforts of recent years have been as it were destroyed. After the disaster of the two last World Wars which had originated in Europe, it had been agreed that States would never again take up arms and support their use in order to solve their internal or mutual differences. The Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) has even worked out principles and a code of conduct, adopted by consensus by all the States taking part.

Now, before our very eyes, these principles and the ensuing commitments are being systematically transgressed. Humanitarian law, a laborious achievement of this century, is no longer being respected. The most elementary principles governing social life are being scoffed at by veritable hordes spreading terror and death.

Ladies and gentlemen, how can we fail to think of those children for ever marked by the sight of so much horror? Those families separated and thrown into the street, dispossessed and without resources? Those women dishonored? Those people shut up and ill-treated in camps which we thought had for ever disappeared?

The Holy See is constantly receiving anguished appeals from the Catholic and Orthodox Bishops and the Muslim religious leaders of these regions, appeals that this collective martyrdom might cease, and that at least the humanitarian law might be respected. I echo those appeals before you, this morning.

The international community ought to show more clearly its political will not to accept aggression and territorial conquest by force, nor the aberration of “ethnic cleansing.” This is why, in fidelity to my mission, I believe it necessary to say here once again, in the most solemn and firm manner possible, to all the leaders of the nations which you represent, and also to all those who, in Europe and elsewhere, have in their hands a weapon in order to attack their brothers and sisters:

—war of aggression is unworthy of man;

—the moral and physical destruction of the enemy or stranger is a crime;

—practical indifference in the face of such forms of behavior is a culpable omission;

—finally, those who indulge in such actions, and those who excuse them or justify them, will answer for it not only before the international community but still more before God.

Let the words of the Prophet Isaiah resound here: “Woe to those call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness” (Isaiah 5:20)! Peace can rest only upon truth and freedom. This demands today much clearsightedness and courage. The Catholics of Europe implored this grace of Assisi, at the moving prayer meeting held on 9 and 10 January. By means of prayer and purifying penance, we asked pardon of God for the many offenses against peace, the many occasions on which brotherhood has been scorned, and we implored him to spare Europe these waves of hate and pain which man seems unable to stem.

Europe, torn between community integration and the temptation to nationalist and ethnic disintegration, is in fact experiencing a painful transformation. The sources of violent tension which are battering several Republics of the former Soviet Union (I mention in passing Georgia and the Caucasus region), as well as the destiny of the Balkan area, will weigh heavily on the future of the continent.

These tragic uncertainties challenge peaceful and prosperous Western Europe, which on 1 January entered the phase of the “single market.” Strengthened by the unity of a political and economic project and by the sharing of common values, this Western Europe must continue to increase the contacts and gestures of solidarity and openness towards the rest of the continent. Genuine and lasting progress cannot be made by some without the others, nor by some against the others, still less with weapons in their hands.

George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. and holds EPPC’s William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.