As Time Unravels, Europe Is Mesmerized by Hate


September 10, 1992|By WILLIAM PFAFF

Paris. -- There is serious pressure now in Flanders to break Belgium into two new countries, one Dutch-speaking, the other French. ''We have lived together for 160 years and have never been truly happy. Let us divorce,'' a Flemish leader said a few days ago; ''let us separate by mutual consent, like the Czechs and Slovaks.''

In Hungary the leader of the right wing of the main party in the governing coalition, the Democratic Forum, Istvan Csurka, has just published a pamphlet virulently attacking his own government and demanding that Central Europe's frontiers be revised to give Hungary new ''living-space'' -- presumably those parts of Romania and Serbia with Hungarian populations.

Mr. Csurka, a novelist as well as a politician, also asserted that there has been a deterioration in Hungary's social climate which has a ''genetic'' source, a transparent allusion to the place of Gypsies and Jews in the country.

Meanwhile xenophobic violence against refugees goes on in eastern Germany, while Chancellor Helmut Kohl, President Richard von Weizsacker, and both federal and regional authorities have seemed at a loss to understand it or deal with it, inviting former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt's charge that the country is leaderless. A new party of the extreme right, the DA or ''German Alternative,'' exploits and profits from this failure of the authorities.

Belgium and Germany are far from the Balkans, and they and Hungary are far from the ex-Soviet Union, places where ethnic and religious violence has already installed itself. The number of new refugees set on the roads by that violence to search for help and shelter wherever they can find it now is several million -- prospective occupants of those refugee shelters being stoned and set on fire in eastern Germany.

While this goes on, the West European governments, and the campaign team currently governing the United States, demonstrate their effective incapacity or unwillingness to do anything about the crisis, or even to think about it and its implications in a coherent way. Yet the public in all the Western countries is extremely anxious. People know in their guts that it is the people who will pay for all this, not the politicians -- as the people did in 1914 and after, and again after 1939.

A French historian of Germany, Pierre Behav, has observed that during the totalitarian period we just have left, when state power used every means at its command to suppress free thought and speech, a psychological deformity was produced in the people who were its victims. They were put in a position where they could only think negatively -- about what they hated and opposed. They had no positive thoughts because positive ideas were useless. There was no hope of applying them.

They were also cut off for a half century (three-quarters of a century in the Soviet case) from the positive ideas that existed elsewhere. The whole intellectual and moral evolution the post-war West experienced from the 1940s to the 1980s passed them by. Thus they don't understand what enabled the Germans and French and British to overcome a century of hating and fighting one another. They don't grasp how the Europeans in the 1950s and 1960s were able to make an economic and political community where before there was violent rivalry, chauvinism, willful distortion -- the resolute refusal to credit the other side's beliefs and values.

This passage through a historical tunnel is one reason for the situation in Yugoslavia. It lies behind the capacity of all sides there to make -- and to believe -- mad claims and accusations, lies and fantasies. It is what drives the factions in the ex-U.S.S.R. to stake out extreme or impossible ethnic frontiers.

But the West's own cooperation, tolerance and willingness to compromise risks being undermined by the pressure of refugees and war on its borders, and by its own inability to agree on how to deal with these things. The Western countries' immense achievement of international cooperation could break down under the influence of this explosion of hatreds and cruelties out of the past.

Thus, people do ask why Belgium should not be broken up. Why go on making the effort to cooperate? The Czechs and Slovaks are separating -- peacefully, but with much bitterness, and much trouble yet to come. The Romanians and Hungarians are again in conflict over Transylvania. Ideas of national expansion, reunion with ''lost'' populations -- living-space -- make their way. The Yugoslavs who 75 years ago wanted their South Slav federation, and for the last 47 years, thanks to Tito and the Cold War, managed to live together in a tolerably successful way -- and indeed even profited from doing so -- now are behaving like savages to one another.

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