Jack Hanning: Youth and Europe
Secretary – General of the European Association of Schools of Political Studies
Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen!
It is a great honour and a great pleasure for me to be with you today.
I would like to thank the Hellenic American College and the Greek Section of the Association of European Journalists for inviting me to address you at this meeting. I am of course particularly grateful to Mr Koskos and to Mr. Papandropoulos.
I have known Athanasios Papandropoulos for many years. He is a great European and one of the leading journalists writing about Europe at a time when the media, particularly in my own country, are increasingly Eurosceptic.
The topic we are to discuss tonight, namely Youth and Europe, is especially challenging because we all know that young people (and indeed not just young people) across Europe are disenchanted with politics and tend to blame the European Union or Europe in general for the economic problems facing their own country. With unemployment at unprecedentedly high rates, particularly for young people in Greece, who can blame them?
However the problem is not as simple as that and nor is it confined to southern Europe or to the EU. Moreover Europe is not just a question of economics. It is much more than that. Europe and European values determine the kind of society or culture in which we live today and to which I believe young people in Greece and in many other countries across the European continent are as attached and committed as their parents.
This will be the main thrust of my remarks to you. I would like to look at young people and Europe through the prism of values, identity, education, economics and citizenship because all these notions are essential ingredients of democratic societies whose origins are to be found in Athens and in Greece.
I have never lived in a totalitarian state but I do remember that when I was 5 or 6 we spent a family holiday in the French Basque country and went to the Spanish border which we could not cross because the people living there were not free and we would not be allowed in. Obviously a child does not grasp what that really means but it is something I have never forgotten.
In Greece you too have been deprived of your freedom and denied your basic rights not only during WW II but much more recently when this country was run by a dictatorial military junta.
Now, I don’t intend telling you the history of the European Union and the other institutions which were set up in the aftermath of WW II. My point is merely to remind you that they came into being as a reaction to the atrocities which Europe experienced in the first half of the XXth century with millions killed in wars and millions more in concentration camps victims of probably the worst genocide the world has ever known.
Some people say that the origins of the European project are irrelevant today and that young people are disconnected from these events which happened 50, 60 or 70 years ago. I disagree.
I disagree because while on the one hand much of Europe and the European Union area have remained at peace, on the other, events in Kosovo, Georgia and now in Ukraine and the Crimea show us just how easily peace can be turned into confrontation, violence and war.
When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 signaling the end of communist totalitarian rule in the Soviet Union and its satellite states in Central and Eastern Europe we naïvely imagined that a new era of peace based on democracy, human rights and the rule of law had dawned.