While the European Union was fighting against “the Russian hybrid war”, the terrorists hit us in “the heart of Europe” – as a slogan at the Brussels Airport, one of the terrorists’ targets, calls the city. Meanwhile the EU political elite in Brussels as well as in many national capitals throughout Europe behaves like Don Quixote. We face Islamic terrorism and further radicalization of our youth in our own societies. Yet, by now we have spent so much time, attention and efforts in vain fighting “aggressive putinism”, “Kremlin propaganda” and all other sorts of absurdities. We face the fruits of what we welcomed as “the Arab Spring” several years ago, but turned instead into “an Islamist Winter” later. However, we are being told that the real threat comes from the Russians. Just like Don Quixote we are being told to fight windmills, the “Russian hybrid war.” Taking into account that the EU is notorious for being an economic giant but lacks almost any military might we are being told to equate the EU to NATO.
Meanwhile, the real enemy is no longer at our gates. The enemy is among us – at a bus stop waiting for the same bus as us, standing in the same line at the airport, using the same car in the subway. This list is endless and for this very reason so dreadful. While Don Quixote is ready to fight windmills believing they are giants he has nothing to fight them with. The advocates of “the fight against the Russian hybrid war” say this is not a problem because there is a weapon, NATO’s troops at Russia’s border.
The EU and national political elites are having a real fight for the minds and souls of ordinary Europeans. For many of them, Khodorkovsky is equal to Sakharov; Putin is equal to nothing less but Brezhnev and Russia is a 100% synonym of the late Soviet Union. In other words, Russia lives in the mid-1970s (in the best case scenario) while progressive Europe is way ahead in its development, living somewhere in the happy 1990s. If we stick to this perception, we are deeply wrong about our position in time and space. We have to face the reality – the world is going through tectonic shifts and if we keep denying the reality, we will become a Don Quixote – living in an imaginary world of our own fears.
There even have been voices advocating for limiting cooperation with Russia in every possible field in the last two years. But what does this mean in practice? After the November attacks in Paris experts and politicians admitted that cooperation among secret services is critically low, even within the EU, especially when it comes to the exchange of intelligence. It is becoming a frightening trend, when top politicians and heads of national security agencies admit post-factum that “we got some information beforehand,” “we had some clues,” “we were just starting this track of the investigation.” Every channel of information is of an utmost importance, especially in an atmosphere where the U.S., the EU and Russia share a common enemy – Islamic radicalism. One other thing also causes no doubts – we have to fight the root causes of terrorism. If the international community does not unite under the leadership of these three actors to fight the root causes of terrorism, the fight will essentially remain a meaningless slogan. For the purpose of this, closer cooperation and exchange of information is of crucial importance.
Terrorism might be something the Russian society is, unfortunately, more aware. This is definitely not the case here, in Western Europe, especially when it comes to smaller countries like Belgium. For most of us here, a terrorist threat was more or less something abstract. Belgium is not a “melting pot” like France and the UK. While Brussels is quite international, it remains mostly a bureaucratic city. The last considerable terrorist threat that Belgium saw dates back to the mid-1970s and the mid-1980s, i.e. the times of left-wing terrorism, similar to the one of the Red Brigades in Italy, the Baader-Meinhof Group in West Germany or Action Directe in France. Belgian foreign policy was never as active as that of the UK, France or Germany. It remains unclear whether the Belgian intelligence had any security concerns but there were no serious security concerns among ordinary people for at least several years now.
Things have changed and “Charlie Hebdo” and Paris attacks in November 2015 are not what initially triggered the fear among Belgians and all other nationals living in this small EU Member State. Belgians have been increasingly concerned about the outflow of local young men to join the ranks of ISIS. Now we are putting all our energy into finding a solution to the migration crisis. Unfortunately, we will now see all populist and extreme right parties prosper due to the fact that security services have not dealt with the migration crisis in due time. Unfortunately, attacks against ordinary hard-working and honest men and women simply because they are Muslim are going to be a part of our daily life because of this. A lot of mainstream right-wing politicians are going to embrace hate-speech exploiting people’s fears. Violence and hatred are going to continue until another terrorist attack happens somewhere in Europe, then violence and hatred will multiply. If we allow this viciousness to continue, we will undermine the European Union ourselves.
The emotions are running high less than a day after the Brussels Airport and subway attacks. However, as the pain for the victims and the horror after what happened today subside, we have to reconsider what and whom we are fighting against. The common sense is telling us – we have to address the real threats and not damage our relations with Russia, the country that can be our trustworthy ally in the fight against Islamist radicalism. Otherwise, we risk looking like Don Quixote – full of good intentions, but fighting against windmills. This is not going to make the European Union a safer place.