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Going down memory lane for a peaceful future

January 24, 2013

KARACHI, Jan 24: Punctuated by personal anecdotes and experiences, diplomats and scholars painted a fine picture of a peaceful and prosperous Europe at an event organised at the Goethe Institut on Thursday evening to celebrate 50 years of Franco-German peace and friendship, established after the Elysee treaty.

The first speaker was Dr Christian Wagner, head of research division at Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. In a talk moderated by media person Ghazi Salahuddin, Dr Wagner set the tone of the programme by narrating his personal experiences against the backdrop of the Elysee treaty. He said that he had been born in a German town 20 kilometres away from the French border. According to him, his generation was the first beneficiary of the peace treaty signed 50 years ago when he was only a teenager. He shared that he used to go to France to buy cigarettes and some other stuff with his friends because the items there were cheaper.

“Trade between the two countries had a positive effect and as a 19-year-old I saw borders vanishing just like that,” he said. “With time, even officers posted on the borders stopped fussing over visitors from the other country.”

Dr Wagner said that the Elysee treaty generalized into the core of Europe’s integration project, which took shape later with the formation of the European Union. He argued that the treaty caused significant improvements not just on the political front, but also on the societal and security levels and related it to theory of functionalism (one thing spills over to have influence on other areas).

Taking a cue from Dr Wagner, the foreign correspondent of Spiegel Online in Pakistan, Hasnain Kazim, also shared his personal experiences with the audience. He said that he was born in Germany and had only been in Pakistan for the past four years. He said he remembered the time when crossing over to France in his car was a routine exercise for him. “I was surprised to learn that France and Germany had been arch rivals when I read their history,” he said.

German Consul-General Dr Tilo Klinner said that nationalism was defined by exclusivity, by ‘the other’, and by being united against someone else. He echoed the sentiments of earlier speakers saying that Europe’s history was marred by revenge and punishment but its leaders had subsequently found it necessary to overcome the negativity by opening a new chapter. He reiterated that though it was hard to emulate the Franco-German model of friendship in the subcontinent, inspiration could be drawn from it.

French Consul-General Christian Ramage narrated an anecdote from when he used to live on the French countryside in 1964. “One day I heard some people talking about something in the church. I discovered that there were German soldiers in our area,” he said. “Initially, it came as a surprise and there was fear in people’s eyes because there had been three wars between the two countries during the past 70 years. Later we realized that peace and friendship treaty meant cooperation in all fields… including defence.”