Embargo until delivery
At the Joint meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly and the European Parliament
24 September 2002
The development of Europe as an area of freedom, security and justice
In June 1991 my son Gal was almost three years old. He was excited about the coming holiday at the seaside where he would swim, fish and do everything that three-year-olds do when they are happy and carefree and feel safe with their parents.
But we did not go to the seaside that summer. Suddenly the sunshine of the early summer was gone, blotted out by the wings of a Yugoslav Army MIG 21, and there were soldiers, and tanks, and guns everywhere. We went to sleep in peace, and we woke up in a war.
Admittedly, it was not a long war, and its human cost today seems almost irrelevant compared to the carnage that followed in other parts of the former Yugoslavia. But it was a war – and I will never forget the look in my son’s eyes, huddled in his mother’s arms in the semi-darkness of the improvised bomb-shelter in the basement of our house. Only three years old – yet old enough to understand that something was terribly wrong.
If my personal experience with war – traumatic as it may have been − pales compared to the suffering of the people in Croatia, Bosnia, or Kosovo, it has nevertheless helped me to understand better the horrors of the war in Slovenia’s immediate neighbourhood.
It was not something that was happening only on TV – an abstract tragedy affecting strangers in places far and distant – it was happening in the middle of Europe, and I knew it was real, and I knew how it must have felt. Throughout the tragedy of Vukovar, Srebrenica, Racak, and others, I was haunted by the images of children, some of them frightened to death, others simply dead.
I apologise for invoking such images on an occasion that is meant to be cheerful and oriented towards the future, but I need to speak about the past to explain what the words “freedom, security and justice” – the theme of today’s meeting – mean to me, and why.
Throughout those difficult times, the Slovenian and the European flags were always flying side by side. They represented the two parts of our identity. In the minds of the people, the twelve yellow stars on the blue background did not represent one or the other institution, they simply symbolised the hope that beyond the fear and insecurity of today, there was a chance of a better life tomorrow. The European flag represented values – of freedom, of justice, of democracy, of human rights – the values embodied in the statutes of the Council of Europe and the European Union alike.
Today, we are again confronted by the threat of war. Not on Europe’s soil, but a war which, if it takes place, will certainly have serious consequences for all our countries.
I am sure that nobody in this room, regardless of his or her views on United States policy on Iraq, is taking the prospect of a war lightly. On the other hand, I am not one of those who would categorically reject any use of force. After all, the bloodbath in the Balkans did not end before the international community used force, first to end the war in Bosnia, and later to stop the ethnic violence in Kosovo.
A lot has happened since then and only this morning the Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favour of the accession of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The extent to which NATO-led operations played a role in the subsequent change of regime in Belgrade is open to discussion, but one thing is clear. During the bombing of Belgrade and other cities across the country there were children in the shelters and there were innocent people who lost their lives. There may be justified wars, but there are no clean ones. This should be our message to all trigger-happy leaders, on both sides of the Atlantic.
What we need to do in Europe – and today’s meeting is an excellent opportunity to contribute to that – is to forge a common position – on Iraq and other issues − based on our common values, and to defend this position forcefully.
I am, and always have been, strongly in favour of close links with the United States. Twice in the past century, they intervened decisively to defeat the forces of evil that have emerged on Europe’s soil. We need the United States, but this is only one side of the coin. They also need us, much more they are currently aware, or ready to admit.
As a friend of the United States I wish to ask some harsh questions, because the people I represent in my parliament – and I am certain that you all share this experience − are demanding clear answers.
These questions concern the fundamental basis of Europe – justice, human rights, sustainable environment and respect for international law.
They concern the International Criminal Tribunal, the policy on Iraq but also the United States’ policy – or rather lack of it – on the Middle East. They concern the Kyoto protocol and commitments to implement the decisions reached in Johannesburg. They concern the abolition of the death penalty and respect for the human rights of all.
Today’s session is an opportunity to ask these questions together. We need to ask them together because the European Union and the Council of Europe share more than a flag and an anthem; they share the responsibility − before all the citizens of Europe – to preserve the vision of our continent as an area of freedom, security and justice.