I was just seven years old when the Soviet tanks rolled into the streets of Prague in a brutal crackdown against reforms designed to deliver basic freedoms to the people. And while the majority of the troops were from the Soviet Union, there were also contingents of Polish, East German and Hungarian troops involved, in order to give the impression they represented the whole of the Warsaw Pact, united in disapproval of Dubcek’s agenda. For many of us today, it’s easy to forget that, within living memory, conflict between European countries ignited with horrifying regularity.
One of the founding ideals of the European Union was to bring peace to a perpetually warring continent – and it’s more important than ever that we never take for granted the success that has been achieved. As the EU embraced former Eastern bloc countries, demonstrating the essence of its soft power by extending the area of peace, prosperity, liberty and democracy, it achieved far more than it could ever have done through military means.
50 years on, the future feels increasingly uncertain. As the far right rises across Europe again, as an unpredictable US president replaces diplomacy with threats of war by Twitter, and as – here in the UK – Prime Minister Theresa May charts a chaotic path towards a disastrous Brexit, we must urgently learn lessons from our shared European history. So many of the challenges we face now cross borders. We can overcome them – if we work together.
Caroline Lucas is co-leader of the Green Party of England and Wales. She has been a Member of Parliament for Brighton Pavillion since 2010, when she became the Green Party’s first Member of Parliament; she was reelected in the 2015 and 2017 general elections.