reede, detsember 21, 2007

sacre charlemagne

If you read enough books about European foreign policy, you'll encounter curious ideas forged in time. One such nugget is found in Anatol Lieven's The Baltic Revolution from 1993 which states that Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were attempting to rejoin the Europe of the 1920s and 30s, not the Europe of the 1990s.

At the Lennart Meri Memorial Conference in March, I heard Bruce Jackson, another East European expert, claim that the Europe Ukraine was attempting to join was the Europe of 1914 (before the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, of course).

These are interesting ideas. As Alice would have pondered in Wonderland, "curiouser and curiouser." But what do they mean? On the surface they are utter nonsense. Estonia, home of free wireless Internet, did not wish to return to the era of fascist Europe where life was broadcast by radio. Ukraine certainly doesn't wish to return to 1914 when it was a constituent part of the Tsarist empire.

But looking at Europe from this northern European perch, I might identify some eras in which Western Europe -- the arbiter of modernity -- is stuck. I would say that if some parts of Europe yearn to return to a fabled past, Western Europe itself is living with an image of itself that is outdated. Western Europe is stuck somewhere in the 1960s and 1970s, with these base national images of themselves, a tourist industry that still rests upon those images, and an image of eastern Europe as still lying beyond some civilizational curtain.

You can meet this version of Europe in any Western European capital. The Scots are still selling plaid and Sean Connery. The Danes are selling Tivoli, open-faced sandwiches, and Hans Christian Andersen. The Italians are selling the leaning tower of Pisa, the gondolieri of Venice, and Fellini. The Norwegians have Thor Heyerdahl, the Swedes have ABBA. And the French? They're still selling Serge Gainsbourg, even though he's been dead for 16 years.

Worse than the circa-1965 prism through which Western Europeans view the world, is the circa-1991 prism through which they view formerly communist Europe. For those who have come and enjoyed, the nightlife of Tallinn, Prague, or Bratislava are not to be missed. But for sadly too many, this half of Europe is a black hole, and empty space, someplace unknown and potentially threatening.

I think of all the times I have heard about Estonian women interrogated in passport lines about their intentions of entering country X. Then there are those provincial Europeans who have heard terrible stories about "Eastern Europe" and simply cannot believe that a person would live there willingly. They are baffled by the whole idea, even as they step over the local heroin addicts at the train station. One can imagine their shock when they arrive to Tallinna sadam and find out it doesn't look too different from the country they left behind. In some cases it looks even better.

For all these reasons, I think today's expansion of Schengen is a landmark event. A blanket of equality has descended on Europe. While Western Europeans might cringe in fear of Estonian drug dealers and Polish plumbers, it's about time that they were brought up to speed on the Europe too few of them know about. In a way, it's as if the Europe of 1965 has finally joined the Europe of 2007. Welcome to the present.

13 kommentaari:

space_maze ütles ...

Well I'm glad I'm not the only person who has been seriously bugged by "Western Europe" today. Austria, as the country most affected by the Schengen expansion, has certainly been an interesting place to be these last few days.

Which is to say, I cannot believe some of the stupid shit I've been reading these last few days. Did you know that by noon today, Vienna should have been plundered empty by the savage Czechs, Slovaks, Hungarians and Slovenians who have been waiting on our borders for years for this?

I guess our alpine climate is temporarily keeping them out or something.

I'm assuming Finnish attitudes don't stick any less. At least I hope so, out of pure self-interest. I don't want to be stuck in Europe's primary ape nation.

Ien in the Kootenays ütles ...

Thanks for the glimpse into a fascinating place! I stumbled onto
"The fourth Turning" today, and came acros you there. Will be back.
I really must tidy up my Blogger blog and get it ready for company.
Meanwhile I live here: http://freegreenliving.com

Max ütles ...

Couldn't be a more appropriate time to intensify language learning by everyone, too -- CLICK HERE

Kristopher ütles ...

Schengen should hopefully be the beginning of the end of the "former Soviet republic" tagline, which I detest.

If not, then we'll have to start referring to Western Europe as the formerly Nazi-occupied nations. If they're stuck in 1965, then WWII was likewise still the relatively recent past.

Puu ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
Trek ütles ...

Schengen could be great for tourism. Just think of the marketing opportunities.

"Come visit Estonia's border with Russia. As close to insanity as you can get, without falling in!"

space_maze ütles ...

Schengen could be great for tourism. Just think of the marketing opportunities.

"Come visit Estonia's border with Russia. As close to insanity as you can get, without falling in!"


Which should, with time, kill the whole "former soviet republic" tagline, yes .. even for the stupidest people in the west. Hard to consider Estonia as "just like Russia" when a de-facto iron curtain separates the countries.

Not that I'm exactly HAPPY with a new iron curtain coming up in Europe, but till Russia becomes politically stable .. (yeah, like THAT is ever going to happen ;-) )

Max ütles ...

space_maze wrote:

Not that I'm exactly HAPPY with a new iron curtain coming up in Europe, but till Russia becomes politically stable .. (yeah, like THAT is ever going to happen ;-) )



"In Russia, whatever be the appearance of things, violence and arbitrary rule is at the bottom of them all. Tyranny rendered calm by the influence of terror is the only kind of happiness which this government is able to afford its people."
-Marquis De Custine, Empire of the Czar: A Journey Through Eternal Russia, ch. 37 (1843).

De Custine went on to say of the Russians, "If they wish to be recognized by the European nations, and treated as equals, they must begin by submitting to hear themselves judged."


"Russia is like a dinosaur. A lot of time is needed for change to reach the tail from the head." —Alexander Lebed, Trud, 1995.

De Custine was writing in 1843, Lebed in 1995. WE'RE STILL WAITING, IVAN!

But come to think of it, in 1880Oscar Wilde wrote: "Nothing is impossible in Russia but reform."

OK. Forget it, Ivan!

Max ütles ...

Re Trek's slogan for the border:
"Come visit Estonia's border with Russia. As close to insanity as you can get, without falling in!"


In 1943, my uncle saw a sign German troops had stuck up east of Petseri (er, Pechory):

"Hier beginnt der Arsch der Welt."

Bernard ütles ...

puu -- i give up, what's your real name?

Giustino ütles ...

If not, then we'll have to start referring to Western Europe as the formerly Nazi-occupied nations. If they're stuck in 1965, then WWII was likewise still the relatively recent past.

I don't think Western European countries have re-imagined themselves since that time.

They have this basic societal framework and everything slides into place.

Max ütles ...

The snows still fall like sifting sand,

Thrown up by gravediggers in some lost hour.

Old Europe who shall stir a strengthless hand,

When imminent night draws down in mindlessness of Power?

-- Peteris Aigars,"Elegy of the Snow"

Puu ütles ...

lala