A new era

November 21, 1990

The photograph told the whole story: The heads of 34 nations of Europe and their North American offpsring were in a most jovial mood as they gathered for the photographer to record the momentous occasion for posterity. The language was extravagant, but so was the achievement: The Cold War was officially over; a charter had been adopted committing all of Europe -- not just Eastern Europe and Western Europe, but all of Europe -- to "a new era of democracy, new era of democracy, peace and unity."

The group reflected the remarkable diversity of modern Europe, the distillation of 2,000 years of evolving civilization. There were some whose names were scarcely known to anyone, like President Gabrielle Gatti of San Marino with its 25,000 inhabitants. And there were names known to everyone: Bush, Kohl, Thatcher, Mitterand -- representing nations virtually every one of which had been at war with one another at some time during the past two centuries. But above all there was Gorbachev, who more than any single person was responsible for the unprecedented gathering. He perhaps captured the mood best with his exultation, "What a long way the world has come!"

Such was the general tone of optimism at the conclusion of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) Paris summit. The document the leaders signed was long, and its rhetoric lofty. But it boiled down to a simple understanding: The leaders of Europe had confronted their history. They had gone through 20 centuries of warfare, and what had it gotten them? A continent soaked in the blood of their ancestors for 600 generations. Now they had reached a profoundly important collective decision: We are just going to stop killing one another. That, indeed, is a perfect basis to prepare for a new century with the hope and faith that all the world may come to such an understanding.

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