Europe: Coming Together and Falling Apart

December 15, 1991|By DIANA JEAN SCHEMO | DIANA JEAN SCHEMO,Diana Jean Schemo just ended a tour as a Sun correspondent based in Paris and Berlin.

Hegyashalom, on the Hungarian border with Austria, September 1989: East Germans line up in their pastel Trabant cars, pushing, jump starting and cajoling the cardboard automobiles across the border. At the first parking lot in Austria, the clown cars meet sleek BMWs and Volkswagens. West Germans emerge, tearfully embracing their kin from the East.

Berlin, two months later, about 9 p.m.: a couple of East Berliners, testing what they'd heard on the television news that evening, try to cross the Berlin Wall at Bornholmerstrasse. They make it. By midnight, East and West Berliners are popping open bottles of sparkling wine atop the wall, and dancing on the Kurfurstendamm.

Sljeme Ski resort, outside Zagreb, April 1991: About 150 young Croats in U.S. army surplus fatigues practice shooting, marching and laying ambushes. Their commander, upset at the unit's discovery by reporters, describes it as an anti-terrorist squad. In fact, it is the nucleus of the Croatian army, now locked in civil war against the Yugoslav federal army.

Paris, November 1991: The far-right National Front party of Jean-Marie Le Pen, growing confident with its rising popularity, reveals its program for the 1990s -- a chilling throwback to the 1940s. Among the measures the National Front proposes are deporting unemployed immigrants and revoking the French citizenship of non-Europeans naturalized since 1974.

These are the most vivid pictures of an exhilarating 4 1/2 years in Europe, during which the once-fearsome Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall -- presumed flashpoints of World War III -- were sold off as paperweights and souvenir earrings, and the Soviet Union peacefully bowed out of the superpower game.

For the first time since the end of World War II, Europeans are being left largely to themselves. With the massive closure of U.S. military bases and Western Europe beginning to take control of its own defense, Diana Jean Schemo just ended a tour as a Sun correspondent based in Paris and Berlin. the U.S. presence across the Atlantic is dimming.

Now, perhaps, is the moment to ask:

Will the real Europe please stand up?

It is the first time we may glimpse the Germans as they are, rather than as we need them to be. For 45 years, they have lived under the American and Soviet thumbs. How do they see their own history? And their future?

For the French, surrendering Charles de Gaulle's sweet deceptions has been the sobering price of German unity. No longer propped up by a divided Germany shy of political leadership, or boosted by NATO-Warsaw Pact rivalry, Paris has had to accept that its days as a great power are gone. Now, its major preoccupation is harnessing Germany's emerging power into common European structures.

Ironically, relief from the danger of nu- clear annihilation has not ushered in the halcyon world once imagined by leftist dreamers. Instead, it has brought out the continent's ancient divisions, fueling ethnic and national rivalries that superpower dominance seemed to have suppressed for decades.

Superficially, Europe appears to be driving in two separate directions.

Economically, it is preparing for the 21st century, ceding national sovereignty in the hope of weighing in more heavily through the European Community. At the core of the EC's push for unity are France and Germany, two countries that have invaded, slaughtered and occupied each other so intimately over the centuries that the last thing one would have expected of them was free cooperation.

At the Dutch city of Maastricht this past week, the 12 launched the EC toward a common political and security policy, ambitious steps that even the visionary architect of the European Economic Community, Jean Monnet, dared not imagine.

But domestically, the states of Europe appear to be falling backward in time. In Yugoslavia, ethnic hatreds and competing claims of sovereignty have led to civil war. Serbian army and irregular forces have destroyed Vukovar and Dubrovnik, the Croatian city so touching in its beauty that invading armies spared it time and again throughout history.

The turmoil is not confined to patchwork states like Yugoslavia or the Soviet Union, made up of ever-divisible minorities. Largely homogeneous European countries, too, seem suddenly preoccupied with defining and preserving their cultures.

Xenophobia and racism -- originally explained as the putrid harvest of Communist repression -- are no longer dismissed so smugly. For it did not take long for the rot to spread west, despite 45 years of democracy.

Some here believe the uninhibited hostility against foreigners and Jews in Eastern Europe, watched nightly on television sets in Paris and Bonn and Rome, legitimized Western Europe's smoldering anti-foreigner sentiments, which had been growing since the late 1980s anyway.

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