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some parts of Europe yearn to return to a fabled past, Western Europe itself is living with an image of itself that is outdated.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.