Sunday, March 04, 2007


What comes to mind when one thinks of Europe? Rationalism, secularism, rule of law, professionalism, individual accountability and responsibility, efficiency and progress. These are admirable values, all necessary for development. Turks aspire to them.

The other side of the coin is not as noble: Rationalism and efficiency comes with self-interest. Europeans left a mess whereever they colonized. They attempted to share whatever territory was left of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I. One cannot trust them. Our suspicions are confirmed by their unwillingness to show good faith at the negotiations table.

We would be happy to transform ourselves to become more like Europeans. But then, we are reminded that Europeans are not so nice and benevolent, after all. Who wants to be like them?

But do the Europeans have the responsibility to make the world a better place, anyway? Or is it in their own interest to do whatever they can to make the world a better place?

In Cumberland Lodge, in the middle of vast, beautiful parks owned by the royal family, European Institute students asked themselves whether they should feel guilty of Europe's past. The location was somewhat ironic.

One must feel guilty only if one is directly responsible for a regrettable action. In that sense, today's generation of Europeans are not responsible for what their fathers did. Therefore, they must not feel guilty.

On the other hand, as Willem Buiter and Dillon rightly pointed out, if you have something stolen in your house, and if you are aware that it is stolen, you must return it. With awareness comes responsibility for our future actions. We are not responsible for the past action, but we know, we are aware of what happened in the past and that it was unjust. This knowledge renders us responsible for our future actions, not only to make sure that it doesn't happen again, but also to correct the injustice, especially when we have the means. The truth is, although we are not responsible for our father's actions, we do enjoy the consequences.

(With denial -as in the case of the Armenian Genocide- we try to stay unaware, just so that we are not responsible.)

The connection therefore is not between responsibility and guilt, but it is between awareness and responsibility. Europeans are responsible to try to correct the injustices their fathers committed by whatever means they have (not by trade-distorting preferential treatment, but by direct development aid.)

Simply telling the world that they are the best will not make European values the best. Unsurprisingly, the rest of the world still has suspicions about the motivations of the west. Only concrete, legitimate actions to correct the injustice and bring progress to the rest of the world will convince humanity that Europe is truly a role model. This is the "soft power" Europe must exercise. This is the bigger story that might add more meaning to European lives.

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