Ending a Half-Century of Moral Darkness

WILLIAM PFAFF

October 23, 1992|By WILLIAM PFAFF

ESTERHAZA, HUNGARY — Esterhaza, Hungary. -- The years between 1945 and 1989 were a tunnel, through which the East European peoples passed, all but completely cut off from the cultural as well as political and economic development of the liberal West.

The people in this region grew up in isolation, experiencing a shabby economic security and a rigidly doctrinaire education and public culture. They now find their economic security destroyed by their countries' convulsive attempts at economic renewal on the Western model. They confront a storm of controversial and even contradictory ideas and cultural influences from the West, remaking not only their politics but their moral universe.

The liberal values that were part of the intellectual and moral resistance to communism in these countries now risk foundering in this confusion, while the new democratic political systems that have been established reward appeals, ideas and beliefs drawn from the past -- from before that moment in the 1940s when life in the region went dark.

This experience of a half-century in moral darkness provides part of the explanation for how the Serbian leadership could have launched the Serbian nation on an anachronistic drive for Lebensraum, racial purge and racial purity -- as if Nazism had never been defeated, racism discredited, and with it these ideas vital spaces and blood and earth that were implicated in the catastrophe of World War II. In a fundamental way, Serbia's leaders, and those who follow them, do not know the world in which they live. They are creatures of another time.

In Hungary, the ruling coalition includes figures who have chosen to appease similar sentiments of racial exclusivity and intolerance, directed here against Gypsies, Jews and ''cosmopolitans.'' To do this in Hungary is explosive, as a third of the total Hungarian population lives outside the frontiers of Hungary, some 400,000 of them inside Serbia (in Vojvodina), where they may soon themselves become the objects of ''ethnic cleansing'' by the Serbs.

The idea, current in the West until recently, that market economics and free elections were all that were needed to make Eastern Europe part of our world, is quite wrong. A deep cultural chasm exists that isolates many there, for whom the transformations of the Western moral consciousness since 1945 are quite simply unknown.

To say this is not to make an argument for the wonderfulness of the contemporary West. The ills of the West are another subject. It is to state a fact about a cultural phenomenon. The West has confronted, and internalized in its civilization as well as its politics, the moral significance of World War II. It is no longer possible in the West to put forward the ideas and use the `D language now current in parts of Eastern Europe.

This is not a matter of internal censorship. It is because the West has achieved an understanding of its 20th-century experience, and has changed. This has not happened in the East. That is why neo-Nazism in Germany exists primarily in the former Eastern Germany.

For this reason it is vitally important that the two parts of Europe be reconnected culturally. There is no other solution to the moral isolation of the East. To end this isolation is much more urgent than to solve the economic crisis in the region.

TTC Things can and have been done to re-establish cultural connections. One such initiative -- of the many that are needed -- will establish its base here at Esterhaza, an 18th-century chateau built by the Esterhazy family, where Franz Joseph Haydn lived for 29 years as musical director for the Esterhazy princes, and where he composed his greatest works.

The chateau is being restored by the Hungarian government and in 1994 is to be placed at the disposal of a new musical foundation created by a half-American, half-French lawyer, Alain Coblence, to restore cultural bonds between East and West.

The foundation will establish an academy here, to be called the Mozart Academy, for 75 advanced musical students, one third of them from Eastern Europe, a third from Western Europe, and a third from elsewhere, mainly from the United States and Japan. All the East Europeans will be on full scholarship.

The academy will emphasize and attempt to extend the great Central European musical tradition, broken and scattered by World War II and the Cold War. It will deliberately challenge the emphasis on mere technical accomplishment characterizing much present-day musical education in the West. The curriculum of the new academy will include instruction in the philosophical, literary and historical framework in which this musical tradition developed, and the visual arts which were part of the ''intellectual accompaniment'' of the music.

The foundation's honorary chairman is Vaclav Havel, and it is being financed in part by the European Commission, together with other public, corporate and private groups. It has such notables as Yehudi Menuhin, Pierre Boulez, Elliott Carter and Rolf Lieberman on its board, and will have the Hungarian conductor Sandor Vegh as its director of musical education. It will sponsor musical festivals annually in Prague, Krakow and Budapest, the first of them next Easter in Prague.

Music, politics and racial war would seem distinct matters, with music unrelated to the other two. This is not so. All are aspects of a civilization that in Eastern Europe bears grievous wounds. These must be healed if the turbulence of Eastern Europe and the Balkans is not again to draw the Western countries into tragedy. Mr. Coblence's foundation is one ambitious and coherent attempt to heal our common civilization.

William Pfaff is a syndicated columnist.

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