Europa, Europa | The Nation


Europa, Europa

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Precisely Judt's preoccupation with the role of historical memory, however, leads to the major ambiguity in his achievement. The story he tells continually bursts out of the framework imposed by "postwar" collective memory. As an analyst of the so-called historians' controversy in Germany, I know how captivating a perspective such a preoccupation can provide. The history of what we now call collective memory has obviously responded to a powerful need finally to take stock of the moral legacy covered up by a generation of shame and opportunism. But the question arises whether this emphasis fails to capture how decisively Fascism and Communism have been left behind. And it threatens to obscure an equally powerful European development, which has been not the repression but the outgrowing of memory. Whoever passes through a European airport and looks at the young or even middle-aged professionals boarding a flight from London to Frankfurt, or Paris to Rome, must come away with the sense that the struggles of the postwar period are irretrievably past. Judt knows this, and he devotes appropriate attention to such current issues as migration and the admission of Turkey to the European Union--both of which threaten to mobilize impulses that, seventy-five years ago, led to Fascism.

About the Author

Charles S. Maier
Charles S. Maier teaches European and international history at Harvard University. His book Among Empires: American...

Indeed, despite its title, Judt's history covers far more than the postwar period: It is also the story of breaking away from the postwar. In a revealing passage Judt cites the collective decision of Europeans in the 1960s to wager on the future and raise a fertility rate that had contracted since the 1930s. The anthropologist Laurence Wylie reported a similar phenomenon half a century ago: When he lived in the Vaucluse in 1950, French farmers gave up replenishing their olive groves because they had no confidence in the long-term future, but by the 1960s they were replanting the trees that took so long to bear fruit. Today, of course, birthrates in Europe are lower than they have ever been, but they will probably rise again: Demography dances to a different rhythm from politics.

In the political and economic spheres, too, the reader will find interval after crucial interval crowded with decisive watersheds, from postwar ruins and initial reconstruction dominated by American and Soviet models for intervention; then the broad plateaus of development and normalization of the 1950s and '60s; the discontents of the '70s; thereafter the '80s, teeming again with the collapse of Communism and the forging of the European Union; and finally a Europe disoriented by the challenges of globalization, unemployment and new sources of conflict and violence, whether in the breakup of Yugoslavia, the outbreaks of Islamist terrorism or the insurrections arising from mass immigration and the bleak segregation it has produced, as seen recently in France. These current clashes do not derive from the ideological rifts that brought Europeans to dictatorship and war and still hung over their politics in the 1940s and '50s. The concept of postwar will not prepare us to understand them, but Judt's narrative fortunately transcends this framework.

Still, the grand ideological themes grip Judt more than the social transformations. This is pre-eminently an East-West and not a North-South story, but it may be the last time an East-West story can remain so dominant. Those of us who have reached late middle age will find this book the repository of our public lives writ large. Moreover, Judt renders justice where justice should be done--especially to Mikhail Gorbachev, too often treated with condescension by complacent Western commentators. To be sure, the courageous Gorbachev of 1989-90, who let the Soviet Union's satellites regain their independence without intervention, looked confused and cowed two years later, apparently still believing that reform would preserve Russian socialism until he was undone by conspirators and then his rescuer, Boris Yeltsin. Yet as Judt underscores, Gorbachev's audacity was real and of historic significance, even if he was operating on the basis of a strategic miscalculation. More important, Postwar reminds us that Washington's role in the dismantling of Communism was secondary. The system collapsed clamorously under the weight of bureaucratic inertia and economic stagnation--its administrators no longer believing Communism had a future--while its long-standing critics reorganized a civil society. Though the American right was quick to claim credit for the overthrow of Communism, it was as astonished as everyone else by the Eastern European revolutions, having accepted Soviet totalitarianism as a regrettable but permanent fact of life. What the revolutions of 1989-1991 demonstrated, pace Aron, was that sometimes in history the romantic is the real, and what has passed for realism is revealed as mere husk.

Judt covers the sequel well: The velvet divorce in the Czech and Slovak lands, the cruel and partially needless civil wars in the Balkans. He is not afraid to render moral judgments--French foreign policy in fissioning Yugoslavia under François Mitterrand and his generals is criticized for abetting Serbian violence; Clinton's Balkans policy comes off better but none too gloriously. For anyone who wants to follow history with a score card, this book is ideal--at the end of each episode responsibilities are neatly allocated, even when the author divides the blame for disaster. In a virtuoso performance Judt traverses the Continent from east to west and north to south, examining the resurgence of regionalism in Spain and in Northern Italy, where resentments against the persistently lagging Mezzogiorno fueled a movement less ethnically separatist than those in the Balkans or Spain and more squalidly middle class: what he terms the separatism of the prosperous.

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