Charlemagne Prize 2014: Herman van Rompuy Brings Tolstoy into Russia Ukraine Situation

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Erik Redli attended this year's Charlemagne Prize, and is bringing us a series of posts bringing out the key issues of the forum.

"Berlin is becoming a melting point of Europe." These were the words of John Holten, an Irish writer and translator living in Germany, at the European Karlspreis Forum 2014 in Aachen, Germany. For a few days, the whole of Europe focusses on Germany whilst Aachen hosts the traditional Charlemagne Prize ceremony. It rewards personalities that have fostered the process of ‘Europeanization' and this year's laureate was Herman van Rompuy, the president of the European Council.

Whilst the whole forum waited for his arrival, they discussed various issues (many of which I will go into in future articles). One of the main topics was the peace and stability of Europe. There is the concern that the situation in Ukraine may impact on neighbouring countries, including my homeland of Slovakia. Our government has already reinforced the border controls and businesses are getting ready for the alleged trade barriers. But absolute isolation is not an option. Dr Jean-Claude Trichet, former president of the European Central Bank, called for greater European integration and unity in order to sustain the global competition of the US, China and the BRIC.

Gyordy Konrad, a Hungarian essayist, argued that anti-European political parties can really destroy Europe. Many people are proud of being Eurosceptic but they aren't aware of what their words might cause - as evidence he suggested the 50+ people killed in Donetsk.

Soon, Herman van Rompuy joined the forum. A man in his 60's, he quickly responded to all the questions, referring back to recent issues and newspaper headlines, as well as what he had seen on YouTube and even classical literature. In relation to Ukraine and Russian; he went back to Leo Tolstoy, paraphrasing his words that we (Europe and Russia) have one thing in common - Christianity. He also spoke in favour of a diplomatic solution to the Ukrainian conflict. And it looks like they think Ukraine is willing to cooperate, together with other eastern European parties. Why else would they invite the prime ministers of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia to give speeches at the forum?

About 800 Ukrainians gathered in the main square in Aachen for the speech by their Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. However, they were separated into two blocks divided by barriers and patrolled by the police: on the left stood the pro-EU campaigners; on the right the more violent pro-Russian fighters. Because of their whir we could not even hear the prime minister's speech. They come from the same country but stand on opposing sides of the barricade, thus proving Mr Konrad's words about divided loyalties.

I asked a young EU-oriented Ukrainian about his view and solution to the situation. He said that once the conflict had been triggered by Putin it is hard to stop. If Ukraine tried to stop it alone, it would result in even more violence. Therefore they look for help in Europe.

Herman van Rompuy ended the ceremony with a speech where he thanked everyone and called us to the pursuit of a better Europe. He also recognized Charlemagne - Charles the Great as a great man for Europe, who did not give people anything for free, instead giving them the tools to make it themselves.

For more on the Charlemagne prize check out @Charlemagne, @EYCP2014, @EUyouthprize @ErikRedli and @Aegee_Aachen on Twitter.

Erik Redli is a university graduate from Slovakia who lived in London for much of his graduate life. Read more of his posts here.

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