Standing together for Europe
A strong central Europe was, and remains, essential to Europe as a defense from the East, and for a more equal balance of power within Europe. It is a stabilizing factor. The freedom of Western Europe could only be sustained under American protection during the Cold War from 1947 to 1991, when all of central Europe was under Soviet control. Most of central Europe was able to join the European Union and Nato, after the fall of the Soviet Union – a big advantage for Europe as a whole.
In the medieval ages and up to the 15th-16th century, the center of Europe consisted of two important kingdoms, Hungary and Poland/Lithuania. Hungary fell in the attacks by the Ottoman Empire and the burden of Europe’s defense in the East remained with the Austrian Habsburgs and Poland. France, for short-sighted political reasons, supported Turkey from the 15th to the 18th century in order to weaken the Habsburg empire and Poland.
King John III Sobieski (1629 – 1696), the liberator of Vienna from the Turkish siege in 1683, was the last important king of Poland, which had a number of problems thereafter, besides the lack of ease in defending its natural borders. Two of its stronger neighbours were aggressive and expansionist – Russia in the east and Prussia in the west. Sweden, across the Baltic Sea to the north, was also aggressive.
Poland lacked a hereditary monarchy but elected its kings. The power of the oligarchy was stronger than the crown and jealousy between the oligarchs was enormous. Poland also had a parliament which decided with unanimity but a weakened country allowed other European powers to intervene.
This led to the three partitions of Poland in the 18th century, primarily driven by Russia and Prussia. Austria also decided to participate, mainly because it feared – with just cause – that Russia and Prussia would become too powerful.
The demise of Poland created a direct border between Prussia and, later, Germany and Russia. An important part of central Europe ceased to exist politically. Central Europe continued mainly in the Habsburg Empire, which protected the smaller nations.
The Habsburgs inherited the Hungarian crown and liberated Hungary, including today’s Croatia, Transylvania in today’s Romania, and other territories from the Turks after the battle of Vienna in 1683. This was the basis for the later Austrian-Hungarian empire which gave protection and internal peace to the area for the next 200 years.
An exemplary administration helped achieve almost total literacy and independent courts were installed. This empire stretched from the Swiss border to the center of today’s Ukraine in the east and from Cracow, Poland, in the north to Trieste, Italy, and Sarajevo, Bosnia, in the south before the First World War in 1914.
The Habsburg Empire consisted of a number of nations, federally organized, which had basically equal rights in language. It consisted of 55 million people – Ukrainians, Poles, Romanians, Slovaks, Hungarians, Germans, Czechs, Croatians, Slovenians, Italians and Bosnian Muslims.
These ethnicities lived in this decentralized empire with equal rights. When nationalism started in Europe, triggered by the French revolution, the Habsburgs managed to preserve this successful federation for more than 100 years. The Habsburg empire, not being nationalistic, was considered a thorn at a time of extreme nationalism spreading across Europe, from France, Britain, Russia, Germany and Italy. This nationalism ended in the perversions of fascism, national socialism and communism.
This overheated nationalistic spirit led Europe to self-destruct in a civil war called World War One.
The short-sighted policies of nearly all nations before and during that war saw the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy as a primary target. Disinformation on the Habsburg’s Austria was spread in France, Germany, Russia and Britain and is still maintained in history books. Austria maintained a strong monarchy, individual freedom of its citizens and an independent language, ranked above those of other major European countries such as France, Germany, Britain and even Russia, before World War One.
The willful dissolution of this empire, which fought a four-year war for its existence, resulted in the loss of Europe’s center. It opened the way for Germany’s Adolf Hitler and Russia’s Joseph Stalin to dominate the continent.
For a number of short-sighted and stubborn national leaders in the 1930s – even some in Britain and France – Hitler, as a nationalist and socialist, appeared to be a reliable resistance against restoration of a stronger central Europe under Habsburg leadership. Central Europe’s fragmentation appealed to them.
It led directly to Hitler’s triumphs – and the Second World War – where all central European countries were betrayed to Hitler before Western powers once again betrayed them to Stalin, at the Teheran and Yalta summits at the end of the war.
It is one of the European Union’s major achievements to have provided a home to these central European countries once more after the horrors of the Second World War and the Soviet occupation.
The European Union is, like the Habsburg Empire, in essence a peace project. But a peace project can only survive if the political elites and the populations are willing and ready to fight for freedom and peace.
Europe’s freedom has always been decided in central Europe, whether it was attacks by Mongols, Turkish or the Soviet threat in the 20th century. Central Europe is the heart for all of Europe and must include the Baltics, Ukraine, and Moldova. It is important that Western Europe never betrays central Europe again.
The objective is not just to contain Russia, but to develop clear policies based on a level playing field, an efficient defense strategy and free trade with all our neighbors especially Russia. An economically successful Russia – respected, satisfied, self-confident and disinclined to show aggression – would be the best guarantee for further peace.