BRUSSELS TO ATHENS
By L. S. B. SHAPIRO
Maclean’s European Correspondent
(.Author’s note: In this record of my trip from Brussels to Athens, I’ve tried to give you the feeling of Europe and its people—just what I’ve seen and heard, without trying to fit it to a pattern. It may help you to bring the complexities of Europe into better focus.)
BRUSSELS: This is no doubt the luckiest city in Europe today. It is so busy, so neat and so cheerful that it’s difficult for me to realize that less than 20 months ago I rolled into this same capital behind the liberating tanks of the Guards Armored Division, and that a year ago the Boulevard Adolphe Max was thronged with British, Canadian and American troops on leave from the mud and cold of the front lines. There are hardly any troops to be seen now, and the bars in the Place Brouckere are now filled with well-dressed civilians, their puffy cheeks and ample underlips paying tribute to the richness of Belgian cooking.
Belgium is lucky. We fought vicious battles for three months in France, but the Belgian campaign lasted for little more than 48 hours, and the country emerged practically scot-free so far as destruction is concerned. The German counteroffensive mauled the Ardennes, Liège and Antwerp, but this hardly affected Belgium’s economic potential. The whole nation is bright-eyed and busy today.
This morning I talked with a Belgian editor. “We are well off now,” he said, “but mark my words, there will be a reaction. The people are cheerful, because we are so far ahead of our neighboring’ states, but we secretly know great fear. If Britain and America do not make a definitive settlement with Russia—one that guarantees a long period of peace—our recovery will slow down and eventually stop altogether. Belgium is an industrial country; and industry requires investment and long-range planning, which in turn require confidence in the future. Our people are afraid of the future. In their personal affairs they are digging in rather than spreading out. We must have this assurance of peace; otherwise the coming depression—and one must come—will be a terrible affair.”
There was no time for a long discussion. Tonight I go to Paris to gather a dozen visas for the coming tour of Europe and the Near East.
Paris: The night journey from Brussels was filled with peacetime comforts. The sleeping car attendant had wine and champagne splits for sale “to help the sleep.” My sleep didn’t need help. In my single-bedded chambrette I slept the whole way from the Gare du Midi to the Gare du Continued on page 50
Brussels is buoyant. Parisians munch bread on the street. Rome's belly is full, her heart empty. Athens is still geared for war
Continued from page 12
Nord. Only those who have campaigned through Europe can know the full satisfaction of travelling through Belgium and France in a sleeping car.
Parisians seem to be the poor cousins of the Bruxelloise. As during the war, they munch bread as they walk from the bakery to their homes. It gives the impression they cannot wait to fill their hungry stomachs. Unlike Brussels, where one can have a substantial meal for 80 francs and an exquisite dinner for 300 (well within the range of the huge middle class), Paris effects a deep schism between the well-fed and the perpetually hungry. In a restaurant which buys in the black market a good meal costs 1,400 francs, far beyond the buying power of the middle-class Frenchman.
When I asked the cashier at the Grand Hotel to change some Belgian money, he said eagerly, “You have just come from Brussels? Ahhh—!” and he shook his head in a typical Gallic gesture combining sadness and envy. “They were the lucky ones,” he continued, “they suffered little, and did good business in the war. And what have we? We have 35 newspapers in Paris and 28 political parties. How can we have a policy for recovery when we cannot even agree on a government? The Frenchman is his own worst enemy. We are being strangled by politics. It is the same as before the war. Ach!” And he finally produced my exchange.
Though it is not yet April, Paris is lovely. And its loveliness accentuates its sadness. The Bois is gracious as ever, but the young men and their girls who walk there seem forlorn. The scene reminded me of Hildegarde singing “The Last Time 1 Saw Paris.” The city is liberated, but it is not yet alive.
Here, too, everyone talks in whispers about war. The thought of it is incredible to Frenchmen, but of anyone in a position to know something of the inside of European politics they
ask intently, “Do you think there will be war between Russia and the western powers?” Even their own political dilemma has been overshadowed by the real fear of a new war.
I had time between taxi trips to various embassies and legations to cal on an old contact in the French Foreign Office. “France,” he summed up, “has three tasks. The first is to prevent a new war by taking upon ourselves the task of stabilizing relations between Russia and Britain and America. This is paramount. We know too well that another world war means the end of France as a power. The second is to promote the economic recovery of our country, something on which we have not yet made a beginning. We are a pauper nation. We cling to the respect of the world only by the threads of our past glory.
They Still Fear Germany
“The third is to ensure that Germany is never again a threat to us. In many respects this last is our most difficult task. We cannot convince America and Britain that France cannot afford a strong Germany or even a recovered Germany.
“No one else in the world knows what it means to be Germany’s traditional enemy and to live next door to her. We say: if it comes to a choice between keeping Germany impoverished and removing the eternal threat to France, our choice is clear, and we will not be deflected from it. Germany must be kept mutilated and impoverished.
“You cannot blame the French for insisting that as between French suffering and German suffering we prefer that the German suffer. Call us hard-hearted? Yes, but you don’t live next door to Germany, and you have no conception of the German talent for recovery.
“Give her economic and national unity—and I don’t care how many Allied troops you have on occupation duty—Germany in 10 years will be in the best position of any power to wage atomic warfare. Don’t fool yourself:
Goering in the prisoner’s box was the spirit of Germany, and all Germany in chains has the arrogance of Goering.”
Rome Fills Its Belly
Rome: This is air travel. Last evening I had dinner in Paris. The night military train brought me to Frankfurt this morning. A 40-minute automobile drive delivered me to the headquarters field of the United States Air Force in Europe, where a special plane was warmed up to take me and three other correspondents on a tour of Europe and the Near East. We took off from Wiesbaden at 10 o’clock this overcast midmorning in a Douglas C-47, and we landed at Istres airbase (near Marseilles) three and a half hours later. There was a short stop for lunch and refueling and we took off from Istres for Rome.
The plane SKimmed a few hundred feet above the Riviera coast until we hit Cannes; and the panorama combining the blue of the Mediterranean and the gold of the coastal hills was ravishing to the eyes. The sky was cloudless; the sun a tonic after the foggy cold of Germany. Once in sight of Cannes we turned southeast into the open Mediterranean, cutting across the northern tip of Corsica, and, 45 minutes later, we roared over the Italian coastline. We landed at Ciampino airport at 5.30 Rome time, well in time for dinner at Alfredo’s. In 24 hours, without any sense of hurrying, I had visited France, Germany and Italy.
This was my first day m Italy since the bitter fighting around Naples and Foggia in September, 1943. In the light of my last experience there, Rome seemed to me extraordinarily sedate and excessively beautiful. We were driven to the Excelsior Hotel by a young Italian cabby whose face and physique would make Tyrone Power’s look rather ordinary. Then we made for Alfredo’s to see how this restaurant of pre-war fame was faring in the face of Italy’s serious food problem.
We found out. Alfredo served us with antipasto, followed by a heaping plateful of fettecini, the house specialty. This is a form of egg noodle smothered in butter. There was a huge choice of main dishes. I chose breast of turkey à la Milanaise. With this Alfredo produced a bottle of Ch ianti, which must be described as sheer delight. The meal ended with assorted pastries and coffee and strega. I may have had more magnificent dinners, but I cannot readily recall them.
I shouldn’t like to leave the impression that we were rich westerners who had come to undermine Italy’s sacrificial spirit in behalf of her starving masses. The restaurant was crowded with stout, cheerful Romans who, indeed, looked upon us as skimpy eaters. The meal cost for each of us was 900 lire (about four dollars); to the average Italian peasant 900 lire constitute half a week’s earnings. But Rome apparently has little in common with the hungry countryside. In Alfredo’s and in two night clubs we visited lire flowed as lavishly as wine; there were crying violins and laughing women and a sense of smug well-being which seemed curiously inept.
Earlier today Herbert Hoover held a | press conference in which he described ] Italy’s food situation as “desperate.” And yet the shops and restaurants of Rome are overflowing with good food. We had a late snack in one of the many rosticeria neartheCorso Umberto; the counters groaned with as lavish a display of roasts and chickens as I have ever seen. I’m puzzled. It seems to me that a capital should reflect the country’s sense of emergency; but not so Rome. Here there is a spurious gaiety.
Later, at a night club, La Conquilia, we joined a party of Italians who obviously considered themselves of the ; aristocracy. I asked one of them to ! explain why Rome appears so carefree when the remainder of the country is so stricken. “Perhaps it is because we are discouraged,” he said. “We have
lost our colonies, and we are going to lose Istria and Trieste. Knowing Tito as we do, we realize that war between the West and the Soviet states, including Yugoslavia, is inevitable.
“What is there for us to do? Only to live in the present, to snatch what pleasure we can between the disaster ot the past ánd the disaster of the future. That is why you will find morals in Rome so loose; women say to themselves, ‘Why not?’ There is no substance, no constructiveness, to life any more.”
Italy’s Spot in the World
Rome (three days later): I have
discovered the world’s most leisurely profession; it is being a diplomat in the foreign service of a small state. This morning 1 went to the Afghanistan Legation (which for some mysterious reason handles Iraq’s business in Rome) in order to get a transit visa through Bagdad. Although it was 10.15 a.m. when I arrived at the luxurious legation, a caretaker told me sleepily that the place wasn’t yet open for business, but he would awaken the first secretary. At 10.40 the first secretary appeared. The legation closes its business day at one o’clock.
During the last three days I have spent my time mostly with diplomats and foreign correspondents in Rome, and I have come away with three impressions:
First, that Italy has not the slightest awareness of having been an enemy country; Italian intellectuals display a sense of indignation that their country should be treated otherwise than as an Allied belligerent.
Second, that Italy depends wholly on the Americans and the British to negotiate her problems with Yugoslavia; Italy is helpless, spiritually and militarily, to stand up to Tito’s territorial demands.
Third, that Italian diplomats feel that the return of her African colonies is essential to the country’s economy. They have put the point thus: either Italy regains her colonies or she continues to be a charity nation.
Tonight 1 had dinner with an old friend, an officer in General Anders’, Polish Corps. He feels the British have treated the Poles shabbily, particularly in the matter of Churchill’s onetime offer of British citizenship to all Polish soldiers who feel they cannot return to their native country. Bevin, my friend thought,declined to honor that promise. Of the 150,000 Polish troops now under British command in the Mediterranean area, at least 130,000 will decline to return to Poland; they will become the world’s new problem in stateless people.
1 tried to explain to him Britain’s embarrassment in maintaining a Polish Army which is unfriendly to the legal government of Poland and obviously a sworn foe of the Soviet Union. “Come now,” 1 said, “I have been in Poland recently and I have seen evidence that the Anders Army conducts an intelligence network inside Poland and has its agents spreading anti-Soviet propaganda. Be frank with me. You know it is so.” My friend smiled—smugly, I thought. “Yes,” he said, “it is so.”
A Newer Flanders
Athens: We took off from Ciampino airport at nine o’clock this morning. The plane climbed steeply to 12,000 feet, arid we crossed the Apennines with a good margin of safety. Dropping altitude as we came over Foggia, we reached the Adriatic, near Brindisi. An hour later we could see the islands off Greece. At noon we flew low over Athens and came down at Hassani airport.
Although the election is over, Greece
retains the atmosphere of war more distinctly than any country we have visited. Barbed wire surrounds this airport area and British troops with bayonets fixed patrol every entrance. The road into Athens resembles any French roadside during the Normandy campaign. Huge dumps of ammunition may be seen on all sides.
A few minutes from the airport our cars passed a British cemetery where lie the men who died in the Greek civil war little more than a year ago. I recalled the reports of that time—500 or 600 British dead—and how negligible the losses seemed in the light of our war losses. But one must see 600 crosses row on row to know vividly the tragedy of that episode. Five or six hundred dead are a lot of dead, especially as one walks among the crosses and reads the names of the Englishmen who lie beneath.
This evening I had dinner with the editor of one of Athens’ great liberal newspapers. He was excessively discouraged about the future. Greece, he felt, had its choice between a royal dictatorship or civil war. On the basis of the election returns, it seemed that a royal dictatorship would result. While this was preferable to another civil war,
it was a sorry substitute for the democracy all of Greece hoped for.
“Do you want British troops to leave the country?” I asked. He shook his head vigorously. “That would be an unexampled tragedy,” he replied. “It would mean civil war within 48 hours of their departure. British troops must not be withdrawn until whatever government is installed finds the means to control the country. I firmly believe that is the wish of all Greek people.
“The root of our troubles,” he continued, “is that Greece is being used as a pawn in a great international game between Russia and Britain, with the stake being control of the Mediterranean. This explains Bevin’s astounding reversal on Greek affairs since he became foreign secretary.
“It explains why he has allowed British military authorities here to use their great power to maintain right wing officials everywhere in the country and thus ensure a royalist victory in the elections.
“Bevin is a Socialist, but in Greek affairs he is a Tory. On the one hand he is doing us a favor by keeping British troops here; on the other hand he is doing us a disservice by allowing the British military to prevent liberaliza-
tion of the country’s administrative position.
“But then,” he added, shrugging his shoulders, “Bevin is thinking of the British Empire. Russia is thinking of the Mediterranean. Nobody is thinking of Greece except ourselvesand we are helpless.”
The atmosphere is tense in Athens. The hope of most people with whom I talked is that the King will not attempt a return for at least two years, in the intervening time Russia and the western powers may reach an agreement which ensures peace and takes Greece out of the area of international dispute. If this happens soon, Greece may work out its own democracy and its own salvation. If the King attempts an early return, bloodshed appears inevitable, the left-wingers will come out of the hills bearing armsand the cemetery near Hassani airport, will have more crosses added to its tragic rows.
The atmosphere in Athens streets must be troubled. I am back in my hotel room now, and it has just struck me that not once tonight did I lift my eyes to see the ancient hills in the moonlight. Tomorrow morning we fly across the Mediterranean to Cairo.
Jobs for the Disabled
Beginning March 1 all British employers hiring 20 or more employees will be obliged to hire enough disabled persons to equal two per cent of their total employment. Formal notice was served on employers two and onehalf months before the scheme was to take effect, in order to give them time to prepare for the statutory obligations which will fall upon them under the provisions of the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act. The definition of a disabled person is “one who by injury, disease or congenital deformity is substantially handicapped in obtaining or keeping employment or undertaking work on his own account of a kind which, apart from that injury, disease or deformity, would he suited to his age, experience and : qualification.”
It is desirable to introduce a scheme of this complexity by gradual stages, and a start will therefore be made ! with the low figure of two per cent i as soon as the number on the Regis; ter in need of the benefits of the i scheme is sufficiently large to justify I having a percentage at all. The pre; scribed percentage will not remain as low as two per cent for many months, but will be raised as soon as is necessary to facilitate the resettlement of larger numbers of disabled persons ; coming on the Register. Two per cent is the standard percentage for general application, and will apply to all employers unle&s a special percentage has been fixed for any industry.
The only disabled people who will count for the purpose of the quota are those who are registered as such under the Act. Registration began on Sept. 25, 1945, and since then the number who registered up to Dec. 17 is 140,000. The numbers registering have thus far fallen below expectations, but the rate of registrations is increasing weekly. The scheme gives to registered d isa bled persons a special chance of engagement in order to fill a quota vacancy, and a measure of protection against discharge “without reasonable cause.”
The obligation to employ a quota does not mean that the employer must discharge nondisabled persons to make room for disabled persons. It means he must take the opportunity, when engaging fresh staff, to build up to his quota.—U. K. Information Office.