THE LEGACY OF WORLD WAR II
A HALF-CENTURY AFTER THE WAR BEGAN, THE OLD EUROPEAN ORDER IS MELTING
In the heart of the city where Adolf Hitler launched his brutal campaign to impose a Nazi New Order on Europe, at the point where East symbolically meets West, it is as if the Continent is still locked in hostility and frozen in the depths of the Cold War. Even under a blazing mid-August sun, with tourists casually snapping souvenir photographs, the Berlin Wall cannot escape its image as one of the world’s most profound symbols of political oppression. On Aug. 13, the anniversary of the day in 1961 when East Germany’s Communist government began building the Wall, it was the stage for yet another ritual confrontation. At Checkpoint Charlie, the fabled border-crossing point, a West German civil rights campaigner named Wolfgang Holzapfel lay across the dusty white line that marks the boundary between East and West Berlin to dramatize how the Wall “cuts through our lives.” And on the other side of the divided city, 50 young East Germans tried to toss roses over the Wall and chanted, “We want to get out.” The incident conformed to all the stereotypes of postwar Europe—divided into two hostile camps by a sinister and heavily guarded border.
But only six days later, another incident along the political fault line that runs through the Continent dramatized how radically those assumptions are changing.
For hundreds of other East Germans seeking new lives, escaping to the West was, quite literally, a picnic. They joined a gathering at the border between Austria and Hungary where local people had assembled to picnic and celebrate the removal of the barbed-wire fence marking what was known for four decades as the Iron Curtain. As Hungarian border guards watched impassively, about 500 East Germans—some crying, others laughing— simply pushed open a gate and walked along a muddy track into Austria and freedom.
That scene was a joyful contrast to Europe’s an-
guished past. Fifty years ago—on Sept. 1, 1939—Hitler sent an army of young Germans eastward to seek the “living room” promised by their Nazi leaders. Under the cover of predawn darkness, they invaded Poland and plunged Europe into a nightmare of killing that lasted almost six years. Two days later, Britain and France declared war on Germany and, a week after that, Canada joined Britain at war.
Before it was over, the United States, the Soviet Union and much of the rest of the world were engulfed in the most devastating war in human experience. The Second World War cost 53 million lives—and the Europe that emerged from it was quickly sundered. Between the capitalist West and the communist East there was only mutual suspicion and little contact. But now, half a century after the cataclysm that split Europe, the familiar postwar order is melting with astonishing speed.
Vigor: Inspired by Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms in the Soviet Union, the once-monolithic eastern half of the Continent is in disarray. Old rivalries are re-emerging as the nations once collectively known as the Soviet Bloc go their separate ways. Arms negotiators on both sides are preparing to resume talks in Vienna on Sept. 7 that may lead to deep cuts in conventional forces in Europe within as little as 12 months. West-
ern Europe, traditionally in the shadow of American military and economic might, is showing new vigor as it moves toward much closer economic union in 1992. And West Germany is assuming a more assertive political role more in tune with its long-standing economic strength.
Now, those apparently unconnected processes are merging. Eastern Europe, sliding further into economic stagnation, is scrambling to forge links with the revitalized European Community. Tens of thousands of Poles, Germans and other Eastern Europeans, drawn by both the promise of freedom and the lure of prosperity, are migrating westward this summer in the biggest human tide since the late
1940s. And n the West, debate is rapidly growing over how to respond to the shifting patterns in the East. One answer will come in September, when the EC plans to deliver about $250 million worth of food aid to Poland, food pledged by 24 industrial countries, including Canada. For the first time, the European Commission, the EC’s executive body, was given the task of co-ordinating all Western aid. It was a new step in the emergence of the EC as a political entity—and a recognition of Western Europe’s special role in any plan to help the faltering East.
Vision: Politicians in both camps have swiftly coined new slogans to reflect the changing realities. Gorbachev, in visits to West Germany and France earlier this summer, pressed his concept of a “common European home” in an effort to break down the East-West divide. In a speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg on July 6, he proposed a European summit within two years to consider the framework for a “new European community of the 21st century”—one that would include Mos-
cow as well as Madrid. And President George Bush, in an address to the Polish parliament recently, spoke of his vision of “Europe whole and free.” Both concepts may be vague—but they run counter to all the assumptions of the postwar period.
Western leaders generally welcome those changes after four decades of denouncing the division of Europe. But, increasingly, many officials in the West are now also emphasizing the potential risks involved in upsetting the established order—and the enormous difficulties that must be faced in any attempt to fulfil the promising visions. The division of Europe, bolstered by nuclear deterrents on both sides, was indeed repugnant to Western concepts of democracy, the analysts note, but it produced a stable, peaceful Europe. “You can argue that the old stability was quite pleasant: the Rus-
sians kept their side quiet and we kept ours quiet,” says David Anderson, a former American diplomat and director of the Aspen Institute, a West Berlin think-tank. “But now Gorbachev is changing the rules—and most of us are ill-prepared.”
Conflict: Many observers are drawing attention to those new problems. Historically, Europe, they note, has been wracked by bitter national, ethnic and religious conflict—the fuel for two world wars and countless other conflicts. Lifting the artificial unity imposed on Eastern Europe by its Stalinist regimes after the Second World War has produced severe tensions.
Hungary and Romania are quarrelling bitterly over Romania’s treatment of its Hungarian minority. The governments of Poland and Hungary, by far the most liberal Eastern nations, both recently condemned the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia—prompting swift rebukes from Czechoslovakia’s hard-line government, which continues to defend the crushing of its reformist experiment 21 years ago last week. East Germany, similarly, has
condemned what it calls “antisocialist” tendencies in neighboring countries. And its relations with Hungary are tense because of that country’s decision to dismantle the barbed-wire fence along its border with Austria—tempting hundreds of East Germans to take advantage of a new route to the West.
Turmoil: Some of the turmoil in Eastern Europe arises from long-standing grievances over the realignment of borders and spheres of influence arranged in 1939 between Berlin and Moscow, and in 1945 among the victorious Allies at summit meetings in the Soviet city of Yalta and in the occupied German city of Potsdam.
Only last week, massed antiSoviet demonstrators in the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania marked the
50th anniversary of a Hitler Stalin pact that they blame for placing them under the Kremlin’s rule. In Poland, which was partitioned under the 1939 pact—the Soviet Union retained a 70,000-square-mile slice of northeastern Poland after the war—the new parliament in Warsaw also condemned the
Hitler-Stalin agreement. Some of the pressure experienced by West Germany to accept immigrants of German ancestry comes from Poland, which gained more than 40,000 square miles of previous German territory by an agreement among the Soviet, U.S. and British leaders at
Potsdam. In West Germany, Finance Minister Theo Waigel provoked a public controversy in July when he challenged the legal validity of the Potsdam summit’s transfer of “eastern German territories” to Poland. Ethnic Germans from such territories form
part of a new mass exodus to the West that has been provoked by economic decline and political stagnation in Eastern Europe. West Germany, in particular, has been inundated by tens of thousands of refugees—East Germans as well as people from Poland and the Soviet Union
claiming German ancestry, which gives them the right of citizenship in West Germany. Last year, West Germany received 240,000 such “aussiedlers” (literally, out-settlers), and this year, officials expect the total to be well over 350,000. From East Germany alone, they now expect more than 100,000 refugees—up from just 44,000 last year. That flood has produced a crisis in relations between the two Germanies. Bonn closed its missions in East Berlin, Prague and Budapest late in August after about 300 East Germans seeking asylum packed the buildings and refused to leave. Last week, West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl asked the East German leader, Erich Honecker, for an urgent meeting to discuss the problem. Meanwhile, Kohl must also deal with a backlash against the new tide of immigrants. Most analysts agree that resentment among workingclass West Germans against newcomers, whom they fear will compete for jobs and housing, has contributed to an upsurge in support for the far-right Republican party.
Led by onetime Waffen SS officer Franz Schönhuber, the Republicans won 7.5 per cent of the German vote in elections to the European Parliament in June— a clear warning to Kohl’s ruling Christian Democratic Union that it faces a new electoral threat from the right.
Rules: Those who are seeking new lives in the West provide similar explanations for their actions. At a crowded refugee centre in West Berlin’s Marienfelde district recently, a young couple from Warsaw described why they decided to leave. “It is worse and worse in Poland,”
said Dorotazgoda Merchmin, _
23, who has applied to stay with her 24-year-old husband, Jacek, under rules that allow people of German background to resettle in West Germany. “The government may be changing—but it will take years to make things better, and we want to live now.” Refugees from East Germany also speak of their desire for a freer life. “I waited 13 years to get out,” said a 46-year-old woman who gave her name only as Monika. “I lost my regular job as soon as I said I wanted to go, and ever since then, I haven’t been able to plan for the future. Now I feel as though I can begin my real life.” The tide of migrants from the East will likely swell as East European economies deteriorate and their governments relax emigration rules. That has led some
Western observers to note that it would not be in the interest of Western Europe if what remains of the Iron Curtain, including the Berlin Wall, were to be torn down. “The Wall is in many ways a blessing for the West,” said one Western diplomat based in West Berlin. “If it disappeared tomorrow there would be a real problem: the East would lose people it cannot afford to lose, and the West could not absorb them all.”
Recognition of those problems has led to a renewed debate over what Western countries should do to ease the East’s painful process of transition to market-oriented economies. During the 1970s, Western banks lent billions of dollars to such countries as Poland and Hungary. The result: the money was wasted through investments in inefficient industry, and the countries were saddled with massive foreign debts—in Poland’s case, $46 billion—that con-
_ tinue to cripple their efforts
at economic recovery. That experience has provoked extreme caution in considering any new Western aid to the region—but some analysts still maintain that a major effort is required.
Money: At one extreme are those who call for a coordinated Western program inspired partly by the American Marshall Plan, which helped restore the devastated economies of Western Europe in the late 1940s and the 1950s. Says Hanns-Dieter Jacobsen, an expert on EastWest relations at the Free University in West Berlin: “We need some kind of Marz shall Plan—a massive economic engagement for the reconstruction of that part of the world. But we are talking about billions of dollars.” The money, he said, could be channelled through a fund supervised by the International Monetary Fund to help such countries as Hungary and Poland ease the pain that will stem from the bankruptcies and unemployment that are bound to follow major economic restructuring. “Ultimately, it is in our interest,” Jacobsen said in an interview. “Western Europe needs an economic backyard for investment—and the East can play that role.” Plan: Many other experts, however, stress the many hurdles that must be passed before such a plan could work. Reform-minded East-
era countries, they say, must finally break with socialist economics and introduce key measures, such as market pricing and making their currencies convertible with Western currencies. Even with those measures, say the pessimists, Eastern Europe’s economies are shattered to such an extent that there is little the West can do. “It is nonsense to talk of a Marshall Plan,” said David Anderson of the Aspen Institute. “Who will mount the financial barricades? There is nothing out there [in the East], and quite frankly, there is not much we can do. They really must save themselves.” Realization that they are slipping further behind the West has led the Eastern Bloc countries to seek new economic links with Western Europe. In June, 1988, the East Bloc’s economic association, COMECON, signed a mutual-recognition accord with the EC. Since then, all the Eastern nations except Romania have negotiated individual agreements with the common market. The biggest accord, a 10year pact with the Soviet Union covering commercial exchanges as well as co-operation in the fields of energy and technology, is due to be signed this fall. Kohl has predicted that, within 10 years, some Eastern Bloc nations—notably Hungary, the most Western-looking of all the
Warsaw Pact countries—may become EC members. But that may prove to be impossible. Peter Ludlow, the director of the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels, noted that even if the Warsaw Pact broke up, its members would still have to remain neutral countries in the shadow of the Soviet Union. That status would conflict with the EC’s current attempts to gain greater influence in European defence. Said Ludlow: “That bars membership to neutral nations—and specifically to those whose neu-
trality was imposed by Moscow. They would not be totally independent.” Other nations are also knocking on the EC’s door—including Turkey and Morocco, which have both applied for membership. New enthusiasm for the common market has been inspired largely by its ambitious plan to establish a vast single market of 323 million consumers by the end of 1992 among the 12—West Germany, Britain, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Denmark, Ireland, Greece, Spain and Portugal. Trade tariffs among EC members were removed in the decade following its formation in 1957. But the 1992 plan would go much further by tearing down dozens of nontariff barriers that have hindered trade, including differing technical standards and government procurement policies. In July, the EC reported that it had adopted about half of the 279 pieces of legislation that make up the plan—keeping it on schedule. That same month, community leaders also pledged to embark by mid-1990 on the first stage of monetary union—which could eventually lead to a common European currency replacing pounds, marks, francs and the other national currencies. Planning for 1992 has reached fever pitch in
European business circles, leading to crossborder company mergers and dozens of ambitious joint ventures designed to make Europe competitive with Japan and the United States in high technology. Those include co-operative ventures to build high-definition television systems, missiles, advanced silicon chips—and even a European space shuttle. At the same time, plans to eliminate or reduce border controls will increase the need for police and customs officers in different countries to communicate quickly. As a result, the EC has recently commissioned a $100,000 study to develop “Policespeak”—a type of standardized language that will enable security forces to speak to each other with a minimum of misunderstanding.
Codes: The scope of the 1992 plan, however, has resulted in sharp debate among community leaders. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has been most critical of what she regards as attempts to use 1992 to undermine national sovereignty or impose socialist values on business through the EC’s proposed “Social Charter,” which would set out minimum requirements for such codes as health and safety standards and union rights. “We did not join Europe,” she said in June, “to be swallowed up in some bureaucratic conglomerate where it’s ‘Euro-this’ and ‘Eurothat.’ ” Thatcher’s attitude, as well as the natural rivalries among 12 distinct nations, foreshadow sharp confrontátions over the next year as the EC tackles such controversial issues in its 1992 plan as monetary union and plans to harmonize sales-tax rates.
In both the revitalized EC, and debates over Western aid to Eastern Europe, West Germany increasingly plays the key role. Traditionally the economic engine of Europe, Bonn was acutely conscious in the postwar period of Germany’s wartime role as aggressor, and as a result, it was reluctant to assert its political interests in a direct way. The political thaw in Eastern Europe has also caused West Germans to raise new doubts about the importance of maintaining large NATO armies and arms stocks on their territory—and tempted them to look eastward for new economic opportunities. As a result, say many analysts, West Germany is swiftly becoming more assertive in defending its own interests. At the latest NATO summit meeting in late May, the leaders adopted positions on short-range nuclear weapons that were close to proposals pressed by Kohl—East-West negotiations to reduce those arsenals before proceeding with NATO plans to modernize them in the mid-1990s. Role: The era when the United States, Britain and France could virtually dictate policy to West Germany is clearly over. “For the United States, it is going to be difficult to adjust,” says Robert Livingston, director of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. “We are going to have to cede to the Germans a much bigger role.” West Germany has also been most responsive to calls for economic aid from the East. In part, that results from a feeling of national kinship with the people of East Germany.
INCIDENTS SIGNAL A SHIFT ON EUROPE’S POLITICAL FAULT LINE
Despite the two governments’ sharp political differences, West Germany subsidizes the East German economy by about $1.5 billion a year through such measures as payments for the use and maintenance of access roads to East Berlin and through hard currency sent by West Germans to family members in the East. Now, the West German government is pressing for aid and co-operation projects with other Eastern Bloc nations. West German trade with the East remains at only two per cent of its trade with the West, but Eastern Europe retains historical allure for Germany, which dominated central Europe until Hitler’s regime collapsed in 1945. “Hitler tried to master the region militarily and failed,” one West German analyst said in a recent interview. “To put it cynically, we can do it economically now.”
West Germany’s enthusiasm for the reform process in the East has aroused fears among some Western analysts that it might slip away from NATO toward a neutral position between the superpowers. It has also renewed debate over a possible reunification of the two German states. Most serious observers, especially
those in West Germany itself, dismiss both concerns as groundless. “We should not be too excited by every little move eastward by the Germans,” says Gregory Treverton, a specialist on German affairs with the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City. “The Common Market will keep them in place.” Aim: And while West German politicians ritually maintain that reunification with East Germany is their country’s eventual aim, that is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future. In fact, it seems more realistic to expect that the two Germanies will multiply their contacts and gradually draw closer together in a kind of new association that would avoid arousing traditional European fears of a united Germany. Said David Fouquet, European editor of the London-based Jane’s Defence Weekly: “The
Germans could find a formula for it—a loose confederation or a recognition of common pinpose—that could lie easily with the rest of Europe.” In that case, even the Berlin Wall might remain—but it would become increasingly irrelevant as contacts and exchanges between the estranged halves of Germany increased. Said Klaus Haetzel, a spokesman for West Berlin’s Senate, its local government: “We don’t need theatrical calls to ‘tear down the Wall.’ We need to work toward a situation where the Wall may still be there—but it loses much of the horror that it inspires now.”
The new patterns now taking shape across
Europe give many people reason to hope that the Continent may, indeed, be able to overcome the horrors of its recent past and emerge finally from the long shadow cast by war. “It is the most interesting period in Europe since 1945,” says Dominic Lieven, a specialist in Soviet affairs at the London School of Economics. “Western Europe is coming together just as the Soviet empire is disintegrating. It is an opportunity for European statesmanship on a scale that has not existed since the war.” For millions of Europeans on both sides of the divide that still separates them, the real test will lie in just how wisely those opportunities are used.
ANDREW PHILLIPS in Berlin with WILLIAM LOWTHER in Washington, PETER LEWIS in Brussels and correspondents’ reports