Last week saw the anniversary of two events that shaped Europe; Armistice Day and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Although separated by many decades it is the act of remembrance that unifies them. For the last couple of weeks Brits in Brussels have been wearing a small poppy in their lapels, prompting colleagues and strangers come up to them and ask "What's that for?"
The use of the poppy is a sign of remembrance that comes from John McCrae, the Canadian soldier who wrote a poem in 1915 that began with, "In Flanders fields, the poppies blow, Between the crosses, row on row". Armistice Day services are without pomp or ceremony. Just a few words and two minutes of silence and the sound of the Last Post from a solitary bugle.
This year, Armistice Day was made more poignant as the last veteran, Harry Patch died in July, meaning that this is the first anniversary with no living witnesses. The twenty years since the collapse of communism means that many under 30 will have little memory or appreciation of how the world was shaped by the Cold War, the possibility of a nuclear conflict or the nature of a totalitarian regime.
History is written by the victors, it is said, but this is harder to achieve now, with increased education, access to information and the decline of dictatorships. In his novel, 1984, George Orwell's central character, Winston Smith, is an official falsifier of history, erasing references, altering photographs and inventing the past according to Party dictates. This is a more chilling aspect than the surveillance society he imagines.
Today, although all nations like to romanticise their past, it is only in closed societies that a complete rewriting of history can take place, such as in North Korea. However, there are those who are falsifying history for their own ends.
An example is those who deny the Holocaust. It is no coincidence that, as witnesses pass away, the revisionists gain pace. today, there are several MEPs who deny this great crime, the moral low point of the modern world. When we look at them, it is clear that they are also the ones who would remove fascism from the dustbin of history, who would like to see it emerge again.
If they can't be honest about the past, how can they be trusted with our futures?
Europe's history is soaked in blood. By remembering the victims of war and the sacrifices of those that fought. By remembering the brutal nature of war and the suffering it causes, we can also remember what where we came from and this will help us to continue to build a peaceful and fair society.
Whatever the failings of the European Union, it was the greatest instrument to building peace in a shattered continent and remains our best bet to achieve these goals. What we need to do now, is to improve the Union and fight against those who lie about history, who wish to see its darkest days return.