As it joins the EU, Hungary can teach us to dream of new possibilitiesby Julian Evans / May 20, 2004 / Leave a comment
Book: Leopard V: an island of sound Author: ed George Szirtes and Mikl?s Vajda Price: Harvill, ?14.99
The passport, a document about which there is a lot of fuss these days, is younger than powered flight and only just as old as the first mass-produced car. Introduced in Britain by the Asquith government as a temporary measure in 1915, it was a novel means of interfering with human mobility. Before 1915, Britain had not required a passport for departure, nor had any continental European country required one for admission. But emergency regulations stick. By 1934, when Patrick Leigh Fermor was walking to Constantinople, passportless travel was finished. Wandering across a field in eastern Austria, he found himself abruptly hailed by a man in uniform who wanted to know where the devil he thought he was going: "’You were walking straight into Czechoslovakia!’ the official said reproachfully as he stamped my passport."
Nevertheless, Leigh Fermor was at home all over Europe. In Holland, he had benefited from the Dutch welcome that promised the humble traveller free overnight shelter in a police cell; and in Germany, though harangued by brownshirts, he repeatedly found himself on the receiving end of German hospitality. Meanwhile, in Britain, the publishers Chatto & Windus had refused an invitation to translate Du C?t? de chez Swann into English, on the grounds that any British reader who wished to read Proust’s novel would be capable of reading it in French. When Gallimard, the French publisher, distributed the book in London, the printing rapidly ran out.
Today, that easy permeability between cultures seems oddly quaint. The European political entity we inhabit, increasing on 1st May to 25 states, is as peaceful now as it was not then, and politically and economically closer: a Europe of open internal frontiers and liberal outlook, a Europe discussing a common constitution. Yet we may have forgotten some of the virtues of that earlier porosity. The difficult relations then were those between governments, not people, and though the impetus for the founding of what later became the EU was the desire to rebuild Europe after the second world war, one consequence of political union has been that the mixture of cultural individuality and commonality between us has faded. Italian novelist Alberto Moravia’s delightful description of Europe as "a reversible fabric, one side variegated, the other a single colour rich and deep," no longer applies.…