Photo: Richard von Coudenhove-Kalergi / © Archives de la Fondation Richard N. von Coudenhove-Kalergi, Centre d'archives européennes (Institut européen de l'Université de Genève)
On the evening of September 18, 1946, two gentlemen discussed politics at Zurich's Schweizerhof Hotel. The older man's large, expressive face nodded in agreement as he took notes. The meeting took place just one day before this same man uttered the historic expression, “the United States of Europe” at a speaking engagement. The gentleman in question was Winston Churchill and our second mystery man was about 50 years old, a European whose distinctly Asian features were easily discernable. Churchill made a point of mentioning the second man's name during his famous speech at Zurich University by stating, “Quite a bit has been done to achieve this objective (European unification) through the efforts of the Paneuropean Union and largely due to Count Coudenhove-Kalergi's efforts ....”
Possessing a rare, almost mystical gift of political foresight, Coudenhove- Kalergi dedicated his life to trying to avert the potential catastrophes that threatened Europe in the 20th Century. In the 1920s, he underlined the menaces stemming from factors such as inter-European hostility, which could potentially sow the seeds for another world war. Coudenhove-Kalergi argued that only a united Europe could counter Stalin’s sinister personality, Soviet Russia's increasing power and ambitious plans for expansion on the one hand and the lethal menace that was Nazism on the other. Coudenhove- Kalergi ceaselessly referred to the absurdity of borders and customs barriers within Europe as well as the pressing need to introduce a single European currency. A staunch advocate of European patriotism, Coudenhove-Kalergi considered that Europeans should share common citizenship with joint armed forces as well as a single European flag and anthem. Urging European nations to develop solidarity and mutual support, Coudenhove-Kalergi argued that only a strong, united Europe stretching “from Portugal to Poland” would be able to overcome the 20th Century's greatest challenges.
Coudenhove-Kalergi defined Europe's Eastern border as democracy's final frontier, with Russia excluded for obvious reasons. However, he predicted that this would not always be the case and wrote, “It is quite possible that Russia will reunite with Europe someday and then it won't be the Urals – but the Altai Mountains – which will mark the frontier between Europe and Asia. Europe's border will thus extend to the Chinese and Japanese Empires and on to the Pacific Ocean...” Coudenhove-Kalergi concentrated his brilliant mind and political acuity – qualities which many of his illustrious contemporaries appreciated – on achieving his goal of European unification. He corresponded with Thomas Mann, Sigmund Freud, Rainer Maria Rilke and Konrad Adenauer – all of whom were sympathetic to the Paneuropean concept, with some even going so far as to join going so far as to join Coudenhove-Kalergi's International Paneuropean Union. The Count’s allies included some of the 20th Century's most prominent politicians, such as Aristide Briand (who became Honorary President of the Paneuropean Union in 1927) and newly independent Czechoslovakia's first president, Tomas Garrigue Masaryk. After World War II, Kalergi sought Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle's support in the process of European unification. He spoke frequently on topics such as liberating Central and Eastern European nations from Soviet occupation and creating closer economic and political ties between free European nations. The great, if not crucial, role Coudenhove- Kalergi's ideas played in creating the European Union as we know it is undeniable.
Concepts including the free movement of people and goods, a single currency and legal system aimed at a common foreign policy and equality for all European citizens yet preserving a sense of national identity can all be traced back to Count Coudenhove- Kalergi. Business Mir Magazine (№ 10, “The Western Bohemia is the Cradle of the European Union”
) has already explored the history of Coudenhove-Kalergi's unusually multicultural family, with its various generations hailing from the West, the Far East and Russia. The son of an Austrian diplomat and a woman from a traditional Japanese background, Coudenhove-Kalergi was distantly related to Russian Chancellor Karl Nesselrode and was directly descended from Crusaders and Byzantine aristocrats. Richard von Coudenhove- Kalergi was born in Tokyo and raised in a cosmopolitan environment throughout his childhood. The family then left Japan for his father's family castle in Western Bohemia. In his memoirs, Churchill's friend Coudenhove-Kalergi wrote, “Next to the desk was a huge globe, which I liked to spin while dreaming of distant lands. When my eyes fell on the Japanese islands, I thought of Kihachi and Jonne, our grandparents...The big, green splotch that separated Japan from Europe was Russia, my paternal grandmother's birthplace, which her Great Uncle Nesselrode ruled over for 46 years. Naturally, Austria, Bohemia and Hungary were familiar to me, as was Germany, given that we often crossed the forest marking the border with Germany during our walks.
The Coudenhove clan originated in Holland and later lived in today's Belgium for 100 years...and the globe appeared small and closely intertwined with our extensive family to me. And when I looked at the astral globe, which stood on the other end of the desk, the Earth seemed to be but a fragile boat, sweeping my family and I away on the stellar sea of a dark, unknown past into a dark, unknown future.” So exactly what did the young Austrian aristocrat's unknown future hold? In 1923, aged just 29, Richard Coudenhove- Kalergi published the manifesto which became known as his life's work – Paneuropa – in Vienna and the Paneuro-pean Union started its activities in Austria, Germany, France, Czechoslovakia and Switzerland. The annexation of Austria and the occupation of Czechoslovakia led him to emigrate to the United States. Originally a subject of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Coudenhove- Kalergi became a Czechoslovakian citizen in 1920, a French national in 1939 and chose to link his fate with Switzerland's over the following years. He bought a chalet in the Alpine village of Gruben, near Gstaad, in 1931. Through 1939–1940, Coudenhove- Kalergi rented an office for the Paneuropean Union (driven out of Vienna by Hitler) in Geneva's Palais Wilson, which housed the Secretariat of the League of Nations' headquarters from 1920–1935. His Lettres européennes/ Europäische Briefe newspaper was published there as well. But Europe soon became too dangerous for Coudenhove- Kalergi – Hitler had not forgotten the Paneuropeanists' irreconcilable views on Nazism and books by the “half-breed” were burned in town squares across the Third Reich. Consequently, Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi and his family emigrated to New York in 1940. Coudenhove-Kalergi left the United States in 1946 and spent the rest of his life at his Swiss home in Gruben near Gstaad.
The visionary philosopher viewed Switzerland as more than just a safe haven; it was an ideal model on which to base unification of the entire European continent. Switzerland's confederate political system, equality among peoples and languages were all characteristics that corresponded perfectly with Paneuropeanism's essential principles and served as a model for the future United States of Europe. Furthermore, the European Pact that Coudenhove- Kalergi formulated in 1930 was directly drawn from the Swiss legal system. As head of the Paneuropean Union, he worked closely with many Swiss politicians and often met with Swiss federal government ministers. Coudenhove-Kalergi likewise wrote many political essays on Switzerland's domestic and foreign policies. Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi's personal correspondence and documents relative to the Paneuropean movement have been conserved in a Swiss archive.
A confirmed pacifist, Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi wrote to numerous politicians tirelessly and even communicated with Nikita Khrushchev, among other prominent Soviet figures. However, he generally did not receive responses to the many epistles he wrote to Soviet leaders. The only letter of that nature preserved in the archive is from Maxim Litvinov, the Soviet Ambassador to the United States from 1941–1943, apologising for his refusal to attend the Paneuropean Congress. What happened to the pre-war archives of the Paneuropean Union is an interesting story. When Coudenhove- Kalergi hastily left Austria, fleeing Hitler's rising power, he was forced to leave behind various documents at the Paneuropen Union offices. He was convinced that the files had been destroyed, but the Nazis had carefully examined and stored the Paneuropeanist files in their own archives. In 1945, the documents were transferred to Moscow along with other spoils of war where they were conserved in yet another archive. For many years, the files lay forgotten in storage and it wasn't until the 1990s that they began to be studied by both Russian and foreign experts. In Russia, Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi's name is gradually being mentioned more and more frequently in political science circles and has even been uttered in echoing speeches by high ranking political figures. For example, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov referred to Coudenhove-Kalergi as a European visionary during his speech at the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly last year, stating that, “Perhaps it would not be superfluous to now refer to R.N. Coudenhove-Kalergi as the father of Europan ideals.
He not only published the Paneuropa Manifesto in 1923, but also recognized the truly disastrous state the continent was in. He spoke on the importance of federal relations and the need to begin building international relationships – including links between the 'United States of Europe' and Russia – primarily based on economic ties and avoiding interference in any nation's internal affairs. As he himself wrote, 'Europe can avoid an economic catastrophe in which the war will have plunged the continent only through economic cooperation with Russia and by participating in its reconstruction. Russia and Europe need each other to be reborn together'.” Many of Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi's dire predictions did eventually come to pass. He foresaw that the European continent would be devastated by yet another war far worse than World War I had ever been. For decades, the Soviet Union subdued Eastern Europe as well as parts of Central Europe. However, Europe finally followed the very path that Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi had predicted by implementing his plans for European unification and integration. High in the Swiss Alps, Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi's unpretentious grave is covered with wild grapes and nestles in a Japanese rock garden. The headstone reads “Pionnier des États-Unis d'Europe” – and it is unlikely that this prominent European patriot would want his epitaph to bear any grander title. The author would like to thank Dr. Lubor Jílek, Senior Researcher at the Institut Européen de l’Université de Genève, for his assistance in preparing this article.