We like to tell ourselves that ‘Europe’ is defined by its achievements, when in truth our story is just as much one of barbarism, ignorance, and violence as it is about civilisation, enlightenment and high culture
This morning I participated in a panel discussion at the Wroclaw Global Forum, a security conference hosted by the Atlantic Council in the Polish city that in a former life was the German city of Breslau.
The conference is held in a facility next to Wroclaw’s Centennial Hall, built in 1913 when the city was still part of the German Empire, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Nations, when a coalition of armies from Russia, Prussia, Austria and Sweden defeated Napoleon outside Leipzig. A concrete counterpart to Leipzig’s magnificent Völkerschlachtdenkmal, its design, original purpose and former Polish name (Hala Ludowa, Hall of the People), serve to illustrate how a monument can stand still whilst names, systems, borders and local inhabitants change around it.
As if to press home the historical precariousness of Central European existence, conference guests stay at the Hotel Monopol, which has the dubious honour of having hosted Adolf Hitler in 1938 when he travelled to Breslau so as to address a gathering of Sudeten-Deutsche who had made the journey from nearby Czechoslovakia. The setting helps gives even the most platitudinous Atlanticist clichés about the value of freedom a resonance they lack when regurgitated in their native Washington.