On 8th May, VE Day, as they celebrated the Allies victory, people tasted the first fruits of their freedom restored. As we commemorate the 70th anniversary since the signing of the ECHR this year, Tom Blackmore remembers the first steps taken in Europe after WWII to maintain the freedoms for which so many fought and died, and looks forward to those same freedoms roaring back as we negotiate our way out of pandemic restrictions.
Early in this pandemic, before he was ill, Boris Johnson surveyed the future. He was introducing widespread restrictions on his people’s movement and freedom, but his concern was the disruption to GB plc. Not to worry he said, ‘The economy will roar back.’
After the Second World War there were many financial hardships and problems to be faced. The economy had been turned upside down by the war effort. There was widespread displacement, bomb fuelled dilapidation, and there was loss.
But there was also joy. Because in the war for freedom, those who loved freedom had won. The Nazi threat had been to freedom conducted under fair law, and it had been defeated.
On VE Day people tasted the first fruits of their freedom restored.
The Russians defeated one dictator to enable another and were lost for fifty years. They sucked the freedom from the Eastern Block, until the Berlin wall came tumbling down.
But in western Europe after the war, freedom came roaring back into everyday lives.
And governments took steps to protect it.
As well as commemorating victory, this year provides the chance to remember the first steps taken in Europe to ensure that there could be no repeat of the threat to freedom.
At the War Crimes Trials at Nuremberg, the allies sought to re-establish freedom under the law by giving to the leading Nazis that which they had deprived so many, justice. Opening a mere six months after the end of conflict, in November 1945 this justice was rough-hewn and incomplete. But it did allow for the collation of immense stockpiles of evidence of guilt which stands as record. And it did provide the opportunity to confront the leading Nazis with this evidence, and their part in the atrocities. And it did provide a springboard for discussions about the prevention of a repeat of barbarism.
These discussions continued through the 1940s in the shadow of the drawing up of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the United Nations in New York. And so, in 1950 Europe signed a legally binding treaty to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms enforced by a court. This Convention has become the pre-eminent regional instrument of the Universal Declaration.
In the Second World War people fought for freedom. When they won, they ensured that freedom roared back into all aspects of their life.
Now we are fighting for lives. But we will need to summon the courage to maintain the freedoms for which so many fought and died, and so many more celebrated on VE Day.
In the words of Franklin D Roosevelt :
‘All we have to fear, is fear itself.’Franklin D Roosevelt, 1933 inaugural address