Poems of Liberty - War and Peace in Europe

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The number of wars and armed conflicts are declining throughout the world. It might not seem that way, due to the easy access of information and the tendency of the media to share news of conflict more than of peace, but despite perceptions, harmony among people is gaining ground over conflict. At least this was the trend up until now.

War is yet again ravaging Europe. The streets of Ukraine,that once looked vibrant like any other in Europe are now derelict and devastated. Several thousands are dead, and millions are forced to leave their homes. The majority of peoples in Europe, whether they are citizens of the EU or not, want peace. Even in Russia, where the propaganda media stops people from accessing valid information easily, almost a quarter of the population are against the war[1]. People are usually for peace, but strongmen of authoritarian regimes do not often share in the reasonable, moral, and beneficial support for harmony among nations. Unfortunately, the calm of Europe can be shattered by the terrible actions of a few people, like Vladimir Putin, who has been instigating atrocities in Ukraine since 2014, and in other European countries, such as Georgia even before, lying to the people of Russia, stealing from them and oppressing their freedoms.

Strong democracies, that reflect the decisions of citizens, are governed by rule of law, democracy and the goal of prosperity for all. Since democracies strive for growth and prosperity, rule of law and freedom, security and peace, it is not in the interest of their governments to start hostilities. This is particularly true for Post-WWII-Europe: In its western part, the peoples of the European Union have been enjoying the longest period of peace in their countries in history. The member states lived in concord with each other for 70 years, as peace among nations is one of the key priorities of the EU. In alignment with these priorities, the EU-Enlargement, just as the enlargement of NATO towards central and eastern Europe, was a peace-and-freedom-project, for which the bloc was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012. The EU, however, is not only interested in peace within its borders but internationally as well, similarly to most countries in Europe and all over the world.

Discussions about the nature, ethics, sense and impact of war are a common focus of arts. Paintings such as Guernica by Pablo Picasso, songs such as Gimme Shelter by the Rolling Stones, or the sculpture of a gun with a knot in its barrel, called Non-violence by Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd are all protests against armed conflicts. Poets too contributed countless works to the subject, and that is where our publication comes in.

This edition of Poems of Liberty seeks to explore the complex field of war and peace that we are witnessing in Europe today. It reflects on the arrival of war and the myriad of feelings that people encounter, in Isaac Rosenberg’s “On Receiving the First News of War”. In “The Charge of the Light Brigade”, Alfred Lord Tennyson then discusses the bravery and sacrifice of soldiers, as it is witnessed today in Ukraine. Famous Ukrainian writer Taras Shevchenko’s poem “Zapovit”, which is provided in the original Ukrainian, as well as an English version, ties into the narrative with his emotional plea for a free Ukraine. In a turn towards hope and resolution of the current war, Emily Dickinson’s “Hope is the Thing With Feathers” sends us a message of hope and solidarity, as we can find it in the support that Ukraine and those fleeing the conflict have been encountering across the EU. Finally, Ernest Crosby will offer us one of his powerful satirical poems “War and Hell, XVI  [I am a great inventor]”, in which he juxtaposes acts of war with those of kindness.   Poetry delivers a strong and lively testimony of history, in grasping the ambivalence of human emotions and reflections when it comes to war and peace, freedom and suppression, living though the horrors of war or fighting for just causes. They make us think and feel, and that is what we invite you to discover for yourself.