‘Lithuania is an activism superpower.’ With these words, Andris Gobiņš of the European Economic and Social Committee began his speech at the closing ceremony of the European Year of Citizens in Vilnius. The words ‘superpower’ and ‘activism’ seldom sit peacefully together. Gobiņš himself made this clear as he spoke of the on-going repression of protests in Ukraine. He reminded the audience that singing protests across Lithuania played a significant role on the weakening of Soviet power in the late 1980s; that Lithuania was the first of the Baltic States to declare independence from the Soviet Union; and that Lithuania currently bears the brunt of a partial Russian trade embargo.
The great potential of activism was a major theme of the conference, hosted by Lithuania at the close of its Presidency of the Council of the European Union. It is the role of such events to celebrate, congratulate and, perhaps not often enough, to commemorate those activists who have gained and protected the rights we enjoy. The European Year of Citizens has called on people to do more as citizens, particularly in 2014, a European election year and the end of the current European Commission.
Few can question this sentiment but what of people who struggle to be recognised as citizens? The recently published Council of the European Union report on EU Citizenship states, ‘EU citizenship strengthens and enhances European identify enabling EU citizens to participate actively and equally in the European integration process.’ One wonders how equally this participation can be enacted when so many people are not free to enjoy their rights and fulfil their obligations as citizens, from so called Third Country Nationals to victims of prejudice afraid to speak out.
Perhaps, in former ‘Eastern bloc’ countries, such as Lithuania, the lesson that some people must struggle to be recognised as citizens is more readily remembered, than in the centres of EU institutional power. The European Union implores its citizens to fulfil their obligations in the face of political apathy and nationalist opposition throughout the Member States. At the same time, it must remember that the growth of EU citizenship as ‘an identity’ has been and will be achieved through the struggles and claims of people who have felt that it was not given to them but had to be claimed.
Activist networks across the European Union have been coordinated by the European Year Citizens’ Alliance.
‘Enacting European Citizenship’, edited by Engin Isin and Michael Saward is available now, published by Cambridge University Press.