Looking to the past to resolve the conflicts of the present
This year’s Körber History Forum focused on the political dimension of history and the role it can play in explaining the present. The speakers included Pierre Moscovici, Christoph Heusgen, Karen Donfried, Adam Roberts, Harald Welzer, and Nina Krushcheva.
“We are attempting to build a bridge between politics and history that stretches from Germany to the rest of Europe,” explained Thomas Paulsen, a member of the Körber Foundation’s executive board, at the opening of the two-day Körber History Forum in Berlin. The Forum brought together international academics, journalists, politicians, intellectuals, and historians for the second time. Paulsen continued by explaining that history offers guidance in the face of current crises and catastrophes. Moreover, as history helps to slow things down, it often appears to provide relief. However, Paulsen was clear that “the Körber History Forum should never act as a haven,” and that no attempt was being made to flee from a world that had been thrown off its tracks. “On the contrary, we are looking for answers to the questions of the present – answers to the time in which we are living in.” Finally, Paulsen stressed that it was essential to find out how history could help us better understand current conflicts and arrive at more coherent political decisions.
Russia continues to have an imperial mentality and acts accordingly, explains Russian American Professor Nina Khrushcheva in our interview. The dream of a "common European house" for her is – despite the challenges – perhaps the only possibility in the future.
25 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, what impact does the heritage of the former empire have in today´s Russia from your point of view?
Russia continues to have an imperial mentality. Its idea of power is very much based on an idea of size – size matters. Russia's very large size that covers almost the whole continent from Kamchatka to Kaliningrad, from Japan to Germany explains a lot of Russia's thinking about its power. Also as in many empires the relationship between its parts are vertical, not horizontal, ultimately all begins and ends in Moscow. If we talk about the heritage, Russian empire is far from over, it is seeking opportunities to regroup – hence Wladimir Putin's arguments about "Russia's traditional spheres of influence" – Ukraine, Georgia, and so on, i.e. the territories that once were official parts of an empire, and now are somewhat unofficial, and yet "ours" nonetheless.
As of late, quite a number of people in Russia talk about Europe as if Russia were no longer a part of it. What happened to cause this change of perspective?
The way Russians see it, Europe, well the West, rejected them. NATO expansion to its borders became a sign that the West itself doesn't consider Russia as Europe. So the Russians turned the tables-you don't want us, we don't want you. Russia really is not a follower country (most empires are not), and the expectations that it would just adjust to the West with a little say in the process was a big miscalculation on the part of Western powers.
How relevant is the past with regards to the current challenges in the dialogue between Russia and its European neighbors?
It is very relevant. Since Russia continues to think of its role in the world in imperial terms, past is paramount as it gives the Russians examples of how they succeeded before. I am not certain about the dialogue though. Are European neighbors really ready to have a dialogue with Russia rather than just telling it what to do and how to be?
Has the dream of a "common European house" finally come to an end?
This is a question for Europe more than for Russia. And I hope not. But since the United States under Donald Trump is hardly a Western leader, and Wladimir Putin has hurt feelings that Europe has not accommodated him, Europe is more on its own than it ever was. And it is up to Europe itself to lead. As for the Common European House with the Russians, it is (and perhaps the only) possibility in the future. However, with this Kremlin there is too much baggage to achieve it in the near future.
Nina Khrushcheva was one of the speakers at the Körber History Forum 2017; she joined the debate "Is Russia entering the post-European era?".
In his keynote speech the former Vice-Chancellor and German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer tackled the question, how we define the “West” today. The concept of the “West” was a transatlantic-European team effort which was determined by the rule of law, separation of powers, inalienable human rights and representative democracy. Because of a fundamental political credibility crisis, the concept of the “West” has been put to the test in the 21st century. What effect will the political change in the United States have on the continued existence of the western order system? What alternative order criteria are available?
Debate with Shlomo Avineri, Hebrew University Jerusalem, Zanda Kalniņa-Lukaševica, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Latvia in Riga, Gwythian Prins, Emeritus at the London School of Economics and Andreas Wirsching, Institute of Contemporary History Munich; moderated by Stephan Detjen, DeutschlandRadio. Renationalisation, isolationism, and populism are on the rise almost everywhere in Europe (and not only there). Which ghosts of the past are being awakened? Do we need strategies to overcome nationalism and populism?
Discussion with Samir Altaqi, Orient Research Center Dubai, Wolfgang Ischinger, Munich Security Conference, Henry Laurens, Collège de France and Anuschka Tischer, Julius Maximilian University in Würzburg; moderated by Dietmar Pieper, Der Spiegel. The Peace of Westphalia in 1648 ended the Thirty Years War in Europe. It created a peace and a European security architecture which existed for 150 years. Are there mechanisms and models from the peace order of the 17th century, from which peace processes inter alia in the Middle East could be derived for the present day?
Photos: David Ausserhofer