Uniting today’s Europe

  • 2010-07-08
  • Interview by Anna-Maria Galojan

Michael Borshchevsky, born in St. Petersburg, Russia, and based in London, is a scientist and creator, as well as the chief editor of Herald of Europe, the self-styled magazine of pan-European culture, politics and economics. Professor Borshchevsky, who through his magazine, has had a notable influence not only on economic and political questions in modern Europe today, but also has had a tremendous effect on the European mindset as well.

The professor here discusses with The Baltic Times some of the pressing issues facing our world today.

What spiritual and intellectual meaning does Europe have for you personally? Did you experience some cultural shock when you, already a well-known scientist, moved to Great Britain?

I was born in St. Petersburg, more than 70 years ago. At that time, this city still had the patina of more than two centuries of European influence on the Russian imperial culture. When you live there long enough, you become a “European,” in a sense. For me personally that always meant that Europe is my motherland. Therefore, when I was invited to Great Britain [in 1989] I did not feel any kind of “shock,” but a great interest towards everything new I have met on all levels.        

How did you come up with the idea to establish Herald of Europe, the pan-European magazine?

In 1801, the great Russian writer and historian Nikolay Karamzin established the Russian magazine “Vestnik Evropy.” One can translate it as “Messenger of Europe” or “Herald of Europe.” At the time, that was the only magazine supplying to the Russian public information about European life, history, culture, etc. It has had a great influence on the Russian intellectuals and high society in terms their “Europeanization.” In 1918, the magazine was banned by the Bolsheviks. My friends, Mr. Yegor Gaidar, Mr. Viktor Yaroshenko and Mrs. Ekaterina Genieva re-established the publishing of “Vestnik Evropy” in 2001, and I started to cooperate with “Vestnik.” A couple of years later, I came to the conclusion that it is important to have not only a European source for the Russian speaking audience, but also to have a platform in the most widely spoken and used English language, in which the intellectuals, politicians and general public can exchange their ideas and opinions on European life and development.

What is the most important thing about publishing a magazine that includes so many different topics of life, from the economy to culture, from politics to art and development of Europe? What are the main ideas you wish to communicate to your readers?

On the back cover of every issue you can see our slogan: “The time has come to discuss again what unites and what divides modern Europe.” And present life proved that this slogan is very important and timely.

In what languages is the magazine published, and what languages will it be translated into?

We have a cooperation agreement with “Vestnik Evropy” and, despite the different goals of our magazines, we are exchanging about 30 percent of articles between both magazines. Ideally, I would be happy to see “Herald of Europe” translated into the main European languages, at least into French, German, Spanish and Italian, but that is only the matter of necessary funding.

The current economic and financial crisis has affected Europe as a whole, and each individual European country in a different way. Should the so-called Old European countries continue to finance the new members of the Union? Do you think these new members must now learn to stand on their own feet and begin to contribute as well as receive support from the others?

We can see the consequences of the recent economic recession not only in the newest European member states, but also in the “old” countries such as Greece and Spain. In such time of hardship it must be remembered that the European Union has been created as the economic and political confederacy in order to develop a single economic market, as well as to avoid political, social, ethnic conflicts between its members, to prevent a possibility for a new European war. I believe that the latest European initiative to form the Euro zone Stabilization Fund will be extremely beneficial, equally for “old” and “new” countries, not only as a measure of economic significance, but as political mechanism which will further support the newer members’ integration.

In your opinion, will the foreign investment in the Baltic States increase in the next five years?

Undoubtedly. However, the Baltic States themselves should continue working on creating a more favorable economic and financial environment in order for this to happen. It is very important to establish the transparency and compatibility in all essential European legislation: in business, taxation, customs and excise laws. It is also important to return the educated and qualified workforce, [which has] currently escaped to seek employment in the “old” European countries. For that purpose the formation of work places is crucial.

I would like to stress one more vital point. I think that politically and economically it is very important to create a balance and amicable approach in the relationship between the Baltic States and Russia. This relationship obviously needs to find a solution to turn the historic page and to “re-boot,” in a sense. The Baltic sea is a big gate for the transition of goods, services and people between Southeast Asia, Middle Asia, Russia and the European Union, and the role of the Baltic States is truly imperative. Such a geographic position, together with the appropriate infrastructure, can be the most attractive for the foreign investors.

How would you define “human rights” today?

Since the Bill of Rights was introduced in the United States of America by James Madison in 1789, I think that the definition of “human rights” has not been seriously changed. The modern conception of human rights can be traced to the Second World War, the establishment of the United Nations and the adoption of the Universal Declaration of the Human Rights in 1948. As a reminder to the readers, the UDHR includes such rights as: the right to be free and equal in dignity and rights, the right to life, liberty and security of person, the right to be recognized as a person before the law, the right to freedom of movement and residence, the right to a nationality, the right to marry, to own property, the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, the right to work, and the right to social security, amongst others.

Is it possible to prevent discrimination by law only, or is it a large part of the ethical and cultural background, also of tradition? Is legislation enough to protect human rights?

The Council of Europe is an essential structure protecting the human rights in all European Union countries. I like to compare the set human rights to the Biblical Ten Commandments. Just like the Ten Commandments, human rights are adapted to the transformations in our civilization, but their essence remains untouched.  

Should the principals of tolerance be employed on the non–governmental level?

The acknowledgment and practical pursuit of the concept of tolerance must not be in the form of a top managerial order to act in a certain way. Tolerance is something that is a result of maturity and growth of the human spirit, both collectively and individually. To view it in this way would mean to involve all private, as well as state, organizations.

Estonia is a very small country, comprising about 1,340,000 people of different ethnic backgrounds. There are about 100,000 jobless people now. The media and government are often too optimistic when referring to unemployment, trying to ‘cover up’ the real situation. What do you think about this?

I think that any truth should be transparent to the public; it should not be hidden in a form of state secret.

Jobless and unhappy people are much less tolerant. In your opinion, why and how do economic problems influence the culture of tolerance?

Obviously, the worsening of the economic climate would decrease tolerance, simply because poor economic conditions diminish the opportunities to observe and satisfactorily implement the human rights in a society. For example, the right to work, to have adequate standard of living, etc.

Is the role of mass media important in increasing culture and tolerance between European nations and their people?

The role of mass media is key to cross cultural communication and tolerance. Today, despite the development of mass media, there is not enough cross cultural interaction, in my view. 

The Baltic States became independent from the Soviet Union recently, 19 years ago. What was the most import lesson learnt during these years?

Throughout life “inside” the Soviet Union, the Baltic States kept their cultural and national identity to the highest level possible within the Soviet empire. Now there are a lot more opportunities to expand on this within the European Union. If we talk about the lessons of the last 19 years, the main lesson, in my opinion, is that in order to maintain the memories of the past it is indispensable to look into the future.

What would your wish be to our readers?

I would like to wish your readers prosperity and happiness and, most importantly, to view themselves as Europeans.