Conflicts. Small ones and bigger ones. Those only local, and those that capture the attention of the entire globe. Conflicts that occur far, far, away, and those that happen just outside of the European Union’s borders. For almost two years now, we have all been living in a media storm with the press, television and Internet bombarding us with thousands of interviews and personal reports from the local people of the Ukraine’s conflict zone. That is not what this article is. It is simply an honest chat, a friendly conversation, and an intercultural dialogue between two girls from either side of EU’s borders.
In today’s world there is no such thing as ‘world peace’. We, human beings, seem incapable of getting by without getting involved in conflicts with others. Moreover, we seem unable to respect others, to pay attention to their needs and respect their fundamental rights. And sadly enough realising that, we find ourselves asking how these rights can be even called fundamental if they do not form the fundament of anything, not to even mention our world. How is it possible that after the many global conflicts that Earth has witnessed during the thousands of years of human existence and supremacy, and the murder of billions of individuals, we have yet not learnt anything? No matter how much of an exaggeration the above stated is for you, it is undoubtable that we as a species seem to be at the exact same spot we were hundreds and thousands years ago in terms the prevention of war. At the spot of constant, exhaustive, ongoing armed conflicts.
42, 180’000, 12’181’000. Those numbers (and how unimaginably cruel it is to reduce these lives to mere numbers) respectively showing how many active conflicts, worldwide fatalities and refugees were reported just in 2015, are gruesome. There is not a single continent where a conflict is not occurring. Before you finish this sentence, someone will die at another human’s hands. What’s more is that these statistics are stated to be the highest since the end of the Cold War. The popular tagline of europhiles is often that the foundation of the EU was the end of European military conflicts. In fact, no, there have been many. What else could you call what happened in Ukraine? What about Yugoslavia and the Balkans? Or the military actions in Georgia? Turkey. Russia. Armenian-Azerbaijani relations. On my map, that is still Europe.
The same Europe of our ‘shared values’, one may say. Values such as peace-oriented diplomacy, democracy, and human rights. What happens to those common values when a conflict occurs? Where is the European motivation to keep the peace, when all of the States are aware of an armed conflict slaughtering innocent people just outside of the EU’s borders? Realising these questions will always be left with no unequivocal answer; yet, the basic one to be asked must be- what are those fundamental rights, which are bereft of appliance neither to humans nor in any fundamental way in case of an armed conflict?
As simple as my theoretically philosophical approach to an armed conflict may seem, it is not as simple for others, especially those whose fatherlands have been invaded and take the duty on themselves to share the truth and make use of the only power they possess, the soft power, with the outside world. One such individual is my dear friend from Ukraine, Julia Drobysh.
The year 2014 and the conflict in Ukraine came as a surprise to her. In the modern age, given our apparent functional international law and order one would never expect such a violation of a nation’s right to self-determination, and yet what happened in Ukraine was a clear example of disrespect of a state’s sovereignty rights. Being an International Relations student, Julia attempts to understand both the motivation and the complexity of an armed conflict. “On the one hand, I realise that an armed conflict is a clearly set foreign policy of another state, its expression of influence maximisation, its resources, but I refuse to accept the suffering of thousands of displaced people who had lived peacefully in those territories and had to flee to different parts of the world” she says.
Living in a country that is in a state of conflict brings various risks. It is no longer a wounded stranger or a victim but it may tragically be our friend and our relative. Day to day, night to night, a constant fear and a feeling of insecurity surrounds you. Julia refers to my concerns in a very her way-„My parents are doctors –my Mom, a cardiologist, can be called in as a field medic at any time. My Dad is a surgeon, but he retired several years before conflicts broke out. However, I have friends who study in Kyiv, Kharkiv and other Ukrainian cities, where volunteers (students) from their universities died in Eastern Ukraine. I don’t personally know anyone, but I feel that we – Ukrainians – have become one strong family, especially after two revolutions, which makes it harder to hear about casualties happening every day.” This sentence also makes me think of the internal unity a conflict brings to a nation. Compared to how easily political, social or economical issues divide societies, even sometimes friends or families in my country for example, hearing such statements, sends a chill down my spine. How easy it is to take the state of well-being for granted.
And these basic needs such as the right to live in peace bring us down to the core values of human rights. What are they? Where do they come in in an open conflict zone? „I live in a country which strives for democratic reforms and has been through different hard times. I see fundamental rights as an attempt to make human beings more civilized but unfortunately, I think they will never be fully preserved, especially in the state of war. If all means are used to defeat or persuade the opposition, in my opinion, ‘just’ means will be rarely used, especially in an environment filled with violence and hatred. There is a long way to achieve full preservation of rights, especially in the state of war”. Julia responds in an again quite distant but at the same time very emotional way. And I cannot agree more with what she believes and stress enough how far we are from the appropriate preservation of these rights. Whose responsibility is it to make it happen? Is the EU and its actions such as the European External Action Service a sufficient solution in any ways?
Her opinion on the stance of the European Union, although contrary to what one might expect, is highly rational but still targeted from the point of view of an insider. According to her, the EU does the right and only thing by not going beyond its defined limits. The way the EU Julia suggests may actively partake is by using its soft power. „Financial, military and economic support with the transparent use of these resources could serve as a great help for the state involved in a conflict, if it is accepted and used appropriately. Soft power, applied to the aggressor is also effective, although, in my opinion, hard power can be only used in extreme cases when the weak state is asking for help and can’t defend itself.”
The quote I find most accurate and wise when it comes to international relations is Sun Tzu’s statement that “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting”. If only we could learn how to embrace this idea, there might be no armed conflicts, no rising death tolls and no need for any calls to arms or EEASs. The question is, however, can we manage to change the way we see conflicts and show the softer part of our souls? I hope we can, do you?