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Ukraine: The Dogs of the Cold War are Awakened

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Democracy, Europe, Human Rights, International Justice, The former Soviet Union, The Search for Peace, United Nations, World Law on June 12, 2014 at 9:11 PM


By René Wadlow


“Cry Havoc! And let slip the dogs of war!”

William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar


The dogs of the Cold War (1945-1990) had largely fallen asleep after the 1990 Summit Conference of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Paris had put a formal end to the European aspects of the Cold War. A New Europe was the slogan of both governments and non-governmental currents that had been working for a Europe without its East-West divisions symbolized by the Berlin Wall.

Many of us had been involved in the April 1980 European Nuclear Disarmament Appeal, often shortened to END, of which the English historian E.P. Thompson was a leading spokesman. Mient Jan Faber of the Dutch Inter-Church Peace Council was the link to those working within church/religious groups on the same lines. Obviously, the level of arms − and thus disarmament − was not the only aspect of the moves necessary to move beyond the Cold War embodied in bureaucratic, and military-industrial forms.

There was a necessary ‘healing process’ − a need to remove the barbed wire in people’s minds and hearts.

The hope was that moving beyond the Cold War would become a citizens’ search for common projects, bringing together widening constituencies in a direct discourse beyond Cold War agendas and the media’s framing of the debates.

Many of us met in Prague in what was still Czechoslovakia in October 1990 for the creation of the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly with an aim of a democratic integration of Europe. Vaclav Havel who had become Head of State spoke to the opening session on the power of acting from principle guided by our consciences to build a thoroughly new Europe undivided into blocs.

Vaclav Havel (1936-2011), the Czechoslovakian dissident playwright who in 1989 led the country's 'Velvet Revolution', eventually becoming President of Czechoslovakia. From 1992 to 2003 Havel was President of the Czech Republic after Czechoslovakia was eventually dissolved.

Vaclav Havel (1936-2011), the Czechoslovakian dissident playwright who in 1989 led the country’s ‘Velvet Revolution’, eventually becoming President of Czechoslovakia. From 1992 to 2003 Havel was President of the Czech Republic after Czechoslovakia was dissolved. (C) John Macdougall/AFP/Getty Images

“Helsinki Citizens” had been chosen by the organizers as the name because Helsinki had been the city which saw the formal start of the governmental process in 1975 leading first to a certain stabilization of the European Cold War structure and progressively to tension-reduction under the title of “détente”. Since much of the governmental detente seemed to be aimed only at making a more stable status quo, citizen activists spoke of “detente from below”, as going beyond the current structures.

The visions of a better world differed among peace, green, and human rights groups. However all agreed that the future forms of Europe was beyond the current status quo.

I had gone to Prague already concerned with ethnic-nationalities tensions. These tensions were colored by the Cold War but also had non-Cold War roots as seen in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict within the then USSR. Through contacts in Geneva, I had become concerned by Nagorno-Karabakh and thought that good faith negotiations could lead to a resolution of the conflict. I was also concerned with the growing tensions in Yugoslavia. My paper read at the Prague conference “Future of Europe” was published in the Belgrade Review of International Affairs in December 1990.

Since 1990, the conflicts linked to the breakup of Yugoslavia, and the conflicts of Abkhazia-South Ossetia-Georgia, and Transnistra-Moldova all confirm my analysis that the key problem of our time is the manifestation of narrow nationalism. This narrow nationalist ideology must be countered by a strong cosmopolitan-world citizen ideology and practice.

The hope at Prague in 1990 was to build a pan-European movement participating in public debates, offering opinions and discussing alternatives in each country but also able to come together and act in a conflict resolution way in times of strong tensions and armed conflicts. There were a few efforts of the Helsinki groups during the Yugoslav conflicts, but they were not coordinated nor of massive size. I had participated in some of these undertakings at the UN in Geneva when the conference on Yugoslavia was in session there.

The Hofburg Palace in Vienna, Austria, which houses the Headquarters of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. (C) Bernard Henry

The Hofburg Palace in Vienna, Austria, which houses the Headquarters of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. (C) Bernard Henry/AWC

Since 1990, we have seen the rise in some European countries of hard line nationalist groups − often Right wing and some with Neo-Fascist aspects. This rise was illustrated by the May 25, 2014 elections to the European Parliament. The entry of an additional number of narrow nationalists will not have much impact on the way the European Parliament operates, but it will give the nationalists a media platform and a degree of legitimacy in their home country. There has not been a significant rise in cosmopolitan-world citizen movements, although cosmopolitanism as an intellectual framework has become increasingly common.

Without a well-organized movement of pan-European peace-green-human rights movements, “Europe from Below” has been unable to act in the Ukraine crisis. Individual governments, in particular Russia and the USA, have taken a highly visible role. The media in both countries dusted off the Cold War vocabulary and political analysis.

Talk of a “New Cold War” has been common. The OSCE − with Switzerland as President for 2014 − has called for restraint and negotiations. There has been no equivalent “high profile” efforts on the part of non-governmental groups. Today, there is no Vaclav Havel to serve as a bridge of respect among both governments and non-governmental movements. Certainly, the dogs of the Cold War have awakened to remind us that they are still there. In addition, new nationalist, and authoritarian tendencies are emerging. Although these nationalist movements are sometimes led by comic figures, they need to be taken seriously.

Counter voices also need to awaken, and the ability for nongovernmental conflict resolution groups to act must be strengthened.


Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

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