Ten years ago, the leaders of western Europe set the wrong priorities. Instead of confronting the challenge of the end of communism, they embarked on monetary union. There is thus a direct link between Emu and ethnic cleansing. Half the energy spent on the euro might have averted disaster in the Balkans.by Timothy Garton-Ash / July 20, 1999 / Leave a comment
Ten years ago this month, Poland voted in its first semi-free election since the communist takeover at the end of the second world war. I will never forget the quiet satisfaction of my friends as they crossed off the names of so many communist candidates, one by one, from those absurdly long ballot sheets. The result was a triumph for the opposition movement, Solidarity. Within three months, the country had a non-communist prime minister. Within six months, East Germany and Czechoslovakia had followed where Poland and Hungary led. The Berlin wall was no more. The cold war was over. Soon there was no Soviet Union either.
The central European revolution of 1989 was without precedent in European history. A rapid and fundamental change of system was achieved without violence, by a combination of mass civil disobedience and negotiation between government and opposition elites. It was an extraordinary, creative departure from European revolutions as they had been known since 1789: the roundtable replaced the guillotine. It produced a model of non-revolutionary revolution which would be looked to as far away as South Africa, and by Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma, but also by an unknown French-trained intellectual called Ibrahim Rugova in a distant corner of Europe called Kosovo.
While the main causes for communism’s collapse lay inside communism itself, this was a triumph for the west, and specifically for what was then still called the European Community. However ropey the EC looked from inside (Orwell once said, “from inside, everything looks worse”), people behind the iron curtain saw it as a shining example of a peaceful, prosperous, integrating Europe: and this was an inspiration for their revolt. The leaders of the velvet revolutions would famously talk of the “return to Europe.”
The 1989 revolution-and its immediate consequences-ended the short 20th century, marked by the great, three-cornered battle between communism, fascism and liberal democracy. If one thought of the history of Europe in the 20th century as a line on a graph, then it began to look like a “V”: descending from 1914 to the depths of barbarism in the second world war and the Holocaust, but then slowly ascending again since 1945, first in western and northern Europe, then in southern Europe, and now in eastern Europe. A “V,” it seemed, for Victory.
That was the euphoric spirit in which we set out to build “the new Europe.” But…