From time to time, it is interesting to look back over my interviews so far and find where there is consensus, or otherwise. I’ve discovered that most interviewees would go for Austria or Italy if seeking decent coffee, for example. But what about the more serious questions? One of the questions I find most compelling is ‘What do you think is the most significant moment in European history? Why?‘
Here are the responses so far:
“The 20th century. Two world wars and the Union, rising from their ashes.” (Thomas Gansch)
“Not a moment, but a movement: Enlightenment, that freed us from the tyranny of superstition, and from its organized form called religion. Enlightenment opened the door to the next most important stage in our civilization, the rapid development of science and technology.” (Justine Saracen)
“This is a difficult question due to Europe’s long and complex history. I am struggling to say which of the various mass migration movements throughout Europe’s history, or which of the endless conflicts have been most significant. However looking at today’s Europe, I would either say it was the formation of the EU, or the first world-war (WWI). As WWI was obviously significant on its own right, but it also set the difficult financial situation for Germany later, which then became a massive contributing factor for the second world-war (WWII). WWII was horrific, millions of people were killed including six millions of Jews who were systemically targeted. The end of WWII laid then the basis for the EU. So my answer in short would probably be the first world-war, as this ultimately set off various events which later became the reasons for a united Europe.” (Kat Boettge)
“1789. The impact of the French Revolution, which proclaimed that all citizens were equal before the law, reverberated across Europe, and law codes based on the French model are still in use all over Europe thanks to Napoleon. Revolutionary ideals of freedom led in the long term to German and Italian unification, to the Greek struggle for freedom and independence, more or less to the map of Europe we have today.” (Anne Amison)
“Maybe the industrial revolution because it completely changed our life-style and unfortunately not in a positive way. By having jobs communities fell apart and people started to live alone.” (Karin Gersak)
“I feel the fall of the Berlin Wall was a significant moment in European history as it brought together a nation split by ideology and reunited it.” (Moez Adamjee)
“The reformation in England, The destruction of the Berlin wall, The renaissance, The French revolution, ww2, the list of major events is a long one and each has has a massive implications so to pinpoint one as being more important than the others is a tough call. I’m probably going to go with ww2 and the resulting treaties. We would probably not have NATO and the Council of the European States, the Common Market and then the European Union without the war.” (Catherine Pawsey)
“The ending of WWII. Peace is the most important achievement we must continue to strive to maintain.” (Madeleina Kay)
“I think the end of World War II, and the subsequent Treaty of Rome were the two most significant, and triumphant, moments in European history. They signified the defeat of fascist values, and the decision of European countries to come together and resolve to commit to pacifist ones. Of course, the fall of the Berlin wall and the USSR and the resulting annexation of East European states into the EU were a very significant part of this process.” (Elena Remigi)
There have been a wider range of answers to this question, so far, than I perhaps expected. What has struck me though, as each interviewee has responded, is that there is a common theme. The important moments in European history for nearly all of my interviewees have been the times when Europe was divided and turned towards unity. The history of Europe has been one of fragmentation, division and battle, from tiny nation states to dynastic empires. Until the Treaty of Rome and the European Union.
If our European turning points are about division, Europe has generally turned towards unity, compromise, working together and moving forward. The EU is the epitome of this. It seems almost impossible, given the weight of this historical drive, that that outcome of the Brexit referendum will ever be a massive turning point in the history of Europe. It goes against the march of history and progress, against what it is to be European in the modern world: to put conflict and fragmentation behind us and seek unity in diversity.
It was said the Brexit vote would trigger the downfall of the EU. Instead, we’ve seen Austria, the Netherlands and France all reject the path to separatism and increased support for the EU across the continent. The support is not unqualified, and nor should it be. The EU must reform. But the signs are, it will stay united. Britain stands isolated in its apparent desire to bring about division in the union. As such, the Brexit vote seems insignificant and stripped of its power, when compared to the modern European instinct to unite.