This is Europe

A series that takes a pan-European lens to explain the challenges that transcend borders and confront our continent.

‘Ukraine’s resistance has secured Moldova’s existence, and Moldovans are now sowing the seeds for their European future.’ A pro-EU rally in Chisinau, Moldova, 21 May 2023. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

While Russia’s war on Ukraine rages on and Kyiv prepares its counteroffensive, Moldova, the former Soviet republic sandwiched between Ukraine and the EU, is fortunate to be still standing. Had Russia succeeded in its original war aims, not only would it have captured Kyiv and Odesa, but from there it would have been a matter of days before Russian forces had reached Chisinau.

Moldovan authorities have no doubt this was Vladimir Putin’s plan. The prime minister, Dorin Recean, is crystal clear: Moldova survives only thanks to Ukrainian resistance. If Moscow had been able to spread the war to Moldova, there is no way it would have been able to put up the kind of fight the Ukrainian armed forces have.…  Seguir leyendo »

Emmanuel Macron at a ceremony marking the 78th anniversary of the victory of 8 May 1945 in Paris. Photograph: Eric Tschaen/Sipa/Shutterstock

As France was commemorating the end of the second world war in Europe this month, Emmanuel Macron cut an isolated figure on a near-empty Champs-Elysées, surrounded by steel security barriers to prevent any member of the public from getting within shouting, let alone pot-banging, distance.

For the first time, and by police order the French people were barrred from a large area ringing the official 8 May remembrance of the liberation. Six years after his first presidential victory and a year after winning a second term in the Elysée, Macron can scarcely show his face in public without being booed, heckled or insulted.…  Seguir leyendo »

Vladimir Putin, presidente de Rusia. Foto de consorcio por Gavriil Grigorov

En los tiempos de Brézhnev —en los años de juventud de Vladimir Putin—, el 9 de mayo era una fecha señalada para el militarismo, de ensalzamiento de las armas y del poderío. Podría olvidarse, al menos por un momento, que la guerra por elección de Leonid Brézhnev se libraría y se perdería en Afganistán menos de dos décadas después de que los festejos del 9 de mayo comenzaran. Del mismo modo, la guerra que será probablemente la última de Putin se está librando y perdiendo hoy en Ucrania.

Durante ambos conflictos, la ciudadanía occidental se preocupó, comprensiblemente, por la posibilidad de una guerra nuclear.…  Seguir leyendo »

Putin Is Fighting, and Losing, His Last War

In the Brezhnev era of Vladimir Putin’s youth, May 9 was an occasion for Soviet militarism, a celebration of weapons and might. It could be forgotten, at least for a moment, that Leonid Brezhnev’s war of choice would be fought and lost in Afghanistan less than two decades after he began the May 9 celebrations, much as what is likely Mr. Putin’s last war is today being fought and lost in Ukraine.

During both conflicts, people in the West worried, understandably, about nuclear war.

Today’s Russia issues an unending stream of nuclear threats. In the West today, unlike during the Cold War, these are discussed in psychological rather than strategic terms.…  Seguir leyendo »

A protester on a skateboard rides over burning bins during a recent demonstration in France. Photograph: Charly Triballeau/AFP/Getty Images

The French adventurer Sylvain Tesson may have put it best when he wrote: “France is a paradise inhabited by people who think they’re in hell”.

The images from France over the past two months have seemed hellish enough – mounds of rubbish, sometimes on fire, serving as backdrop for violent clashes between some of the more extreme protest groups and body armour-clad riot police. Enough for my parents to repeatedly ask over FaceTime if it was really OK for me to be out and about in my neighbourhood, which borders a main protest square. (It was, I assured them each time, just France being France: the overaggressive nature of the confrontations and the dismissive and “arrogant” government response simply the self-fulfilling result of everyone assuming this was just how things would unfold.)…  Seguir leyendo »

Workers at a Volkswagen factory in Poznan, central Poland, April 2020. Photograph: Jakub Kaczmarczyk/EPA

When the iron curtain was swept away on that miraculous night of 9 November 1989, it exposed some of the deepest differences between geographical neighbours the world has ever recorded. The 13:1 GDP per capita gap between Poland and soon-to-be united Germany was twice that between the US and Mexico.

That same night, my pregnant mother and her brothers were workers in the shadow economy on an eco-farm near Frankfurt, helping to meet the needs of a newly minted class of environmentally aware Germans. My family admired that country where “you never got lost on a highway”. People in Germany drove immaculately clean cars and manual labourers could play Stille Nacht on several instruments – which they did at the farm for Christmas 1989 – leading my mother to marvel at an education system that could so universally equip people not just with marketable skills but also with an ingrained sense of beauty.…  Seguir leyendo »

A protest near the Russian embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine, February 2022. Photograph: Sergei Chuzavkov/Sopa Images/Rex/Shutterstock

Four years ago, I wrote a novel in which the feeling that there was a “deficit of future” was so acute that every nation in Europe wanted to hold its own referendum on the past. Until then, referendums had always been about the future. But the moment arrived when the horizon closed, and we started to only look back towards the past. A referendum on the past would involve choosing to return to the happiest decade or year from the 20th century in each nation’s history. A deficit of future always unlocks huge reserves of nostalgia for the past: which decade would nations choose?…  Seguir leyendo »

‘The symbolic importance of this ceremony can hardly be overstated.’ King Charles III and Camilla arrive in Germany. Photograph: Ian Vogler/AFP/Getty Images

King Charles III will not only travel to Berlin during his state visit to Germany this week, but also Hamburg, the country’s second largest city and home to its biggest port. Hamburg is a trading hub known for its anglophilia, with close connections to Great Britain that go back centuries that were revived during the British occupation of the city after the second world war, when the former enemy quickly turned into a close partner.

When you take the long view at UK-German relations, this part of the king’s trip is at least as important and meaningful as his appointments in the German capital.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Ukrainian flag illuminates the EU Commission, European Council and European Parliament buildings in Brussels to mark the anniversary of the war on 23 February, 2023. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Nine years ago, Maidan, the main square of my home city Kyiv, was filled with people carrying EU and Ukrainian flags. Maidan, or the Revolution of Dignity, was the last successful European democratic revolution. The protesters won. They – we – managed to overthrow a regime that was actively preparing Russia’s political annexation of Ukraine. Nine years ago, the human ocean of Maidan carried on its shoulders the coffins of activists who had been shot dead by police. The tragedy was immense but the space for mourning was limited: the annexation of Crimea began and we realised that the Kremlin had gone to war against Ukraine, against us.…  Seguir leyendo »

Riot police and migrants at the border between Morocco and the Spanish enclave of Melilla, June 2022. Photograph: Javier Bernardo/AP

European Union leaders want to reinforce their controversial “fortress Europe” policies by clamping down even harder on inward migration. This reveals a deep and self-defeating disconnect between the 27-nation bloc’s internal actions and its international aspirations.

The EU’s self-image is that of a benign power and a force for global good. European leaders spend a lot of time telling the world about the virtues of “European values”. There is even an EU commissioner whose sole task it is to promote the “European way of life”. Other countries are constantly taken to task, often through the imposition of sanctions, for their failure to align with international human rights standards.…  Seguir leyendo »

‘The administration of Joe Biden has now passed the world’s most generous package of climate incentives.’ Photograph: Héctor Vivas/Getty Images

European governments have for many years basked in a sense of climate superiority over the US. We had the most ambitious climate goals; we were the constructive actor at Cop conferences; we had carbon-pricing mechanisms; and since 1990, we have reduced emissions by 28% against just 2% in the US. The US, by contrast, had climate-denying Republicans.

The Biden administration now has the world’s most generous package of climate incentives – a $370bn green subsidy package, which goes by the misnomer Inflation Reduction Act. But instead of celebrating the US handouts and tax breaks for investment in such things as electric vehicles and solar panels, many European governments are furious.…  Seguir leyendo »

Ursula von der Leyen ‘oversees the commission like a military operation’. Photograph: Sarah Meyssonnier/Reuters

News magazines from Time to Austria’s Profil have put Volodymyr Zelenskiy on their covers as Person of the Year 2022. The business weekly Forbes’s choice was a little more surprising: naming Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, “the world’s most powerful woman”.

A good choice. After a weak start three years ago, the former German defence minister is becoming Europe’s crisis manager par excellence. With her somewhat formal, stiff demeanour, Von der Leyen may have won few hearts and minds, but during the pandemic, and especially since Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in February, she has established a reputation for getting things done in Europe.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Bolloré Group is now trying via Vivendi to acquire influential titles such as news magazine Paris Match. Photograph: Jacques Brinon/AP

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, adopted by France in 1789 to enshrine the principles of the French Revolution, noted that “the free communication of thoughts and of opinions is one of the most precious rights of man: any citizen thus may speak, write, print freely”.

Today’s French constitution echoes that same defence of the “freedom, pluralism and independence of the media”.

And yet, media pluralism is at risk in France. Yes, in France.

This may surprise outsiders who tend to think of Poland or Hungary when considering threats to media freedom in Europe.

But pluralism is also an issue in France because of the expanding reach and power of the Bolloré Group.…  Seguir leyendo »

‘It is impossible for any country to escape geography.’ Photograph: DNY59/Getty Images/iStockphoto

The soap opera of British politics in recent months may have eclipsed something more consequential for the UK in the long run than the revolving doors in Downing Street. The relationship between the UK and the rest of Europe is slowly and quietly changing.

It is too early to speak of a turning point, but there is at least a chance that we will look back on 2022 as the year when Britons and other Europeans finally escaped a downward spiral that has, since the Brexit referendum, poisoned not just the relationship between the UK and the EU, but bilateral relationships between the UK and many EU countries.…  Seguir leyendo »

‘‘The collective fear reawakened across eastern Europe by this war is visceral.’ Photograph: Wojtek Jargiło/EPA

If the history of central and eastern Europe is being rewritten by the conflict in Ukraine, then so is the history of the north Atlantic alliance.

Two people were killed on Tuesday evening in Polish territory, struck, it seems, by a Russian-made missile. The US president, Joe Biden, and the Warsaw government sought to dial down the tension, saying on Wednesday that the missile most probably came not from Russia but from Ukrainian air defence.

The question for Poland, however, remains, as it would for any Nato member state, and especially one living in Russia’s shadow: what if this, or a similar incident, turned out to be a deliberate Russian operation after all?…  Seguir leyendo »

Ukrainian refugees with a Polish flag in Gdańsk, Poland, 6 November 2022. Photograph: Agnieszka Pazdykiewicz/Sopa Images/Rex/Shutterstock

If the outcome of the war could be determined by the toss of a coin, the camps would be clear: democracies would want  Ukraine to win, autocracies would want it to lose. But real-world political outcomes are not so binary. They typically fall on a spectrum between annihilation and total victory. This leaves the democracies divided into at least three camps: the English-speaking, the western European and the eastern European minus Hungary. What Putin calls the “collective west” all want Ukraine to win. But not necessarily to the same extent.

For Poland and the Baltic countries the matter is simple. They want Ukraine’s victory to be unequivocal.…  Seguir leyendo »

‘Viktor Orbán’s closeness to Putin is no mere coquetry but rather an integral part of the “special path” he is seeking to tread between east and west.’ The Hungarian PM, left, and Vladimir Putin in Moscow on 1 February. Photograph: Yuri Kochetkov/Reuters

The invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022 will go down in the annals of European history. Russia’s undeclared war has cast an almost apocalyptic shadow. And it has dramatically altered the relationships that had prevailed between east and west since the collapse of the USSR. Whenever or however this armed conflict ends, it will undoubtedly take a long time for a new peace-guaranteeing equilibrium to be established. At the very least, the European Union and Nato now have to reckon with a hostile power on their borders and to prepare for a new phase of the cold war.

Hungarians voted in general elections just weeks after the invasion, in April, and it seems reasonable to assume that the war next door had an influence on the result.…  Seguir leyendo »

A Finnish woman and Russian man meet on the Trans-Siberian Express in Compartment No 6 (Hytti Nro 6), directed by Juho Kuosmanen, based on Rosa Liksom’s novel. Photograph: © 2021 Sami Kuokkanen Aamu Film Company

I was born and raised in the western part of Finnish Lapland. Living in proximity to the Swedish border gave me a liberal culture and outlook. As a teenager in the 1970s, I walked across the bridge into wealthier Sweden to buy trendy clothes, pop LPs and American fashion magazines.

I was 15 when I travelled for the first time across Finland’s eastern border, to Murmansk on Russia’s Arctic coast. I was excited by the city, the Russian language, and the people, who seemed at the same time foreign and familiar. Since then, events happening in the Soviet Union and in Russia have been a part of my life.…  Seguir leyendo »

‘Thousands of us have taken to the streets in huge public demonstrations in support of Ukraine.’ Anti-Putin graffiti in Tbilisi, Georgia. Photograph: Stocksmart/Alamy

When Russia’s modern tsar escalated his war by announcing the partial mobilisation of reservists on 21 September, another wave of anxiety swept over Georgia. With due acknowledgment that every word written from this region at the moment should be about, or in support of, the Ukrainian people and their struggle, this anxiety is why I’m diverting to focus briefly on how we see this brutal war from Georgia, which, thanks to historical and geopolitical misfortune, happens to be a southern neighbour of Russia.

The invasion of Ukraine has revived painful collective and personal memories of Russia’s 2008 war on Georgia. The trauma from this not-so-distant past rose to the surface again in February and has remained there.…  Seguir leyendo »

Pictures of people killed by Serb forces in the Bosnian city of Prijedor displayed as part of a 2019 ‘white ribbon’ commemoration in Sarajevo. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Stop a person on the street in Sarajevo and ask them what they think about the war in Ukraine, and they’ll tell you they think that almost everything that happened in the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina is happening in Ukraine.

In April, we commemorated the 30th anniversary of the war against Bosnia-Herzegovina. We consider early April 1992 the moment a new era began: we have the before, during and after the catastrophe.

A month into the war in Ukraine I saw Ukrainians starting to use the phrase “before the war. We went through everything that’s happening to them, but no one asks us about it or wants us to help.…  Seguir leyendo »