We recently celebrated the fall of the Berlin Wall, one of the most momentous and welcome events in world history. I remember wandering along the old route of the wall, coming across a monument to those who died trying to escape. The last person was killed in March 1989, just eight months before the wall fell. I recall thinking if only he knew. But that’s the thing, no one could have ever known. The world that was taken for granted in early 1989, assumed to stand forever, was gone before Christmas. But the collapse of East German communism was only possible for one reason; because there were multiple simultaneous anti-communist movements in other Eastern Bloc countries.
I have recently come across discussions in other European countries, who are watching UKIP’s geometric assent. There is increasingly a theme emerging in the conversations I have with people of other nationalities – we would like to leave the EU too, but we can’t be the first country. We need one country, probably Britain, to go first then we can join them. We can’t be the first ones.
Many of these nationals are from countries behind the Iron Curtain. They know better than most that, when you put your head above the parapet, the central authority crushes you unless you have multiple countries with you. History shows that countries which fought on their own went down in flames. Hungary stood alone against Soviet tyranny in 1956, and was crushed. Czechoslovakia stood alone against Soviet tyranny in 1968 and was crushed. But in 1989, when multiple anti-communist movements stood up in multiple Eastern Bloc countries more or less at once, the ossified regimes there could not stand.
The same can be applied to Euroscepticism. For years, UKIP supporters only focussed on their own country. At UKIP meetings when I mentioned scepticism in other countries, I was surprised at how disinterested the membership seemed. They were interested in building ‘Euroscepticism in One Country’ to borrow the lexicon of the left. But this would fail. If a Eurosceptic government was formed or about to be formed in Britain, or indeed any single EU country, you can guarantee one thing – that the EU would round on us and bully us into submission. But if multiple sceptic parties across the EU were about to enter government, even as coalition partners, it is doubtful whether the EU could survive. It is likely that such developments, across the EU at once, could bring about a second 1989.
It is encouraging to see scepticism growing across the EU. Some sceptic parties publically want their countries to leave the EU. Others will tell you off the record they want to leave, but have to restrict themselves to criticism and reformism because the mood isn’t quite ripe in their countries. Some parties are upset about one area of EU policy but not others. My experience is that reformists ultimately always end up as withdrawalists, because they eventually realise reform of the scope and type they need, is not possible. The only reformists who don’t become withdrawalists are those who were never serious about reform anyway (the British Tories for example). So if a political party in Europe doesn’t quite advocate withdrawal from the EU just yet, my advice is give them time.
The Eastern Bloc governments pre-1989 had a lot in common with the Europhile establishments of European countries now. In both cases, diversity of thought was not their strong suit. They all believed the same things, all had the same solutions and all held their populations in contempt. Yet, once the populations of multiple countries at once moved peacefully to change their political situation, the ossified elite ceded power. We need to do this again.
Photo by Trish Mayo