Europe in the Post-Yalta Era

Europe in the Post-Yalta Era

History knows no neat radical breaks.


History knows no neat radical breaks. Even the dramatic changes in East Germany, for all their suddenness, do not make much sense without the background of perestroika, and they are also the beginning of big changes that will affect the shape of Europe. Yet events such as the crumbling of the Berlin wall are history’s turning points. They are both symptoms of its acceleration and symbols of a changing age. They compel us to reassess the past, to revise our values, to make tentative projections despite a number of unknowns.

Of all the Eastern European capitals, Berlin was probably the hardest to set in motion. Sofia now seems to be following, and Prague’s days are also clearly numbered. (Rumania is clearly a special case.) The end of an era is thus undeniable, but in order to counter the massive propaganda that is designed to write the whole story as an epitaph for socialism, one must explain that what is now coming to an end is not socialism but the Stalinist model that was brought to Eastern Europe by the Soviet tanks liberating It from the Nazis. The successive failures to overhaul this model after the departure of the dictator H.111 have to be examined to see why it is beyond repair– and what can be put in its place. First, however, we must look at another, larger denouement that is forecast for the not too distant future: the end of Yalta, the settlement imposed by the victorious powers after World War II.

The Crimean spa of Yalta was the site of the second of three conferences–the first was in Teheran; the third, in Potsdam–at which the Allies determined the postwar frontiers of Europe. In February 1945, in the former summer residence of the czar, Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin carved out their spheres of influence. It took three more years and a series of events–Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech in Fulton, Missouri; the Truman Doctrine; the Marshall Plan; the Prague coup; and the blockade of Berlin–for the wartime alliance to be frozen into the cold war and for the two halves of Europe to be turned Into hostile blocs. But the spheres of influence were drawn up at Yalta, and it is the dismantling of this agreement that is now on the political agenda.

Western political leaders sound strangely reserved in their hour of triumph, when the conflict at least gives the impression of being resolved in their favor. Their reticence is not entirely due to the establishment’s instinctive dislike of popular interference with its plans and timetables; the political awakening of the people always sets a bad precedent. Neither can it be fully explained by the fact that the spokespersons of the East German opposition, especially those of New Forum. do not share the reverence for capitalism displayed by many of their Hungarian or Polish colleagues [see Gunter Minnerup, “Opening Up a New Europe?” December 4]. Western rulers are genuinely perturbed by the very prospect of change. For West Germany’s European partners, it spells two rather contradictory threats: first, that the Federal Republic, lured by the attractions of the East, will desert or subvert the Common Market; second, that it will come to dominate the European Community completely after it is strengthened still further by some form of German reunification. President Bush faces the specter of rapid disarmament in Europe, the removal of U.S. troops, the dissolution of NATO and drastically reduced control over the Western alliance.

From Yalta to Malta

Stalin grabbed territory up to the Elbe to create a glacis and guarantee the security of the Soviet Union. He changed the social system in Eastern Europe as an afterthought and as additional insurance. The two nevertheless became linked: Eastern Europeans were not only forbidden to leave the Soviet bloc but also to change their own regimes, as the Czechoslovaks tragically discovered twenty-one years ago. In that sense, the Brezhnev Doctrine no longer exists: Gorbachev has no intention of interfering in his neighbors’ domestic arrangements by force. The Polish example shows that if popular movements are controlled and include guarantees for Moscow–provided In this case by the presidency of Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski–the search for a different regime, even for capitalism, will be tolerated. Exit from the Warsaw Pact will not. It has been argued that a minor and strategically peripheral country such as Hungary might be allowed to become neutral. But there is no question of Poland or the German Democratic Republic leaving the Warsaw Pact unless both treaty systems and blocs are dissolved. Since no change in the status of Germany can be carried out without the signature of the Soviet Union, one of the victorious Allied powers, the road to even the preliminary stages of German unity leads through the dissolution of NATO.

Bush is now faced with a dilemma. In a world that is no longer bipolar, how do the two superpowers establish their relations? Do they determine new ground rules to avoid dangerous conflict in the Third World, speed up disarmament, conventional as well as nuclear, and include in this context the gradual abolition of Europe’s great divide, with the United States relying for its ultimate strategic victory on the progressive integration of the Soviet bloc into the capitalist world market? Or should the Americans slow down the process, assure Gorbachev that the question of German reunification will not be raised for years, and thus induce him to avoid the issue of dissolution? The snag is not only the crucial role that arms production plays in the Western economies, particularly the U.S. economy. It is also that Europe, and notably the Federal Republic, are now too strong to be treated merely as an object of negotiation.

Washington was originally the sponsor, almost the originator, of Western European integration, which it saw as an instrument for fighting Communist influence. More recently it has had second thoughts, since a Western Europe that coordinated its investments and pooled its resources threatened to become a dangerous economic rival. A more closely integrated Europe, however, appeared unlikely. As long as West Germany accepted the division of the world into two blocs and its own dependence on the U.S. nuclear umbrella, it could not act as a force for European federation. This was the sense in which the German “economic giant” was described as a “political dwarf.” Today, when the deutsche mark dominates the European monetary system, West Germany has every opportunity to bring its political power up to the level of its economic might.

Deutschland Über Alles?

Although the question of German unity will not have to be faced in concrete terms for some time, it already overshadows European politics. The French, echoing François Mauriac, used to say they loved Germany so much they wanted two of them. On November 3, seated next to Chancellor Helmut Kohl, François Mitterrand proclaimed that he saw no objection to German unity and that the problem would probably be tackled in the next ten years. Skeptics at once pointed out that the French President was trading a vague promise for the future for an immediate tactical gain. The conclusion that Mitterrand drew from this argument was that for Germany to be one day reunited, the Federal Republic must first be more closely linked to an integrated Western Europe. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, speaking after the events in Berlin, tried to play down their dramatic importance and, pretending that nothing should be done to disturb Mikhail Gorbachev, pleaded for a slowdown on all fronts. The two leaders’ tactics were transparent. With the unified market due in 1992, the members of the European Community are jockeying for position. Paris is in favor of rapid integration on monetary, social and political matters. London is against any rush. But it is Bonn that will ultimately decide the pace of European economic integration.

The French would also like to hamper Germany to some extent in its Eastern ventures by giving more control over aid for and investment in Eastern Europe to the European Community in Brussels. Everybody, however, is convinced that the Federal Republic, with its financial resources and its highly efficient industrial sector, will outbid its partners in both Poland and Hungary, as well as the G.D.R. When its two halves are finally brought together, whatever the framework and state structure, Germany, with more than 80 million people, will still be the primus in Europe–only no longer inter pares. It will stand head and shoulders above its partners.

Is not this preoccupation with German power a remnant of the past, a product of conditioned reflexes? Undoubtedly the balance of forces in Europe is now altered, the economic and social conditions are radically different and any analogy with Nazism at this stage is absurd. Yet there are other reasons to worry. When a West German Chancellor traveling through Poland refuses to recognize the permanence of the Oder-Neisse frontier–the Polish-German border sanctioned at Yalta–in order to avoid antagonizing right-wingers at home, and when he lectures East Germans on the direction their economic reform should take, something disturbing is afoot. The new tone of clumsy self-confidence of the West German Chancellor was the sinister counterpoint to the joyful sound of East Germans entering the political arena.

Scope for the Left

One might consider what I have written so far to be quite odd: At the very time when Berliners remind us that history is also made from below, I am writing about the great powers, about the preoccupations of the mighty and, in general, about politics from above. Yet there is some method to my apparent madness. The above lines were designed to suggest where the Western left can exercise pressure on events to help them move in a progressive direction. For once, the scope for Its action seems to be quite considerable. The first item on the left’s agenda is obvious. It can now relaunch a vast campaign for nuclear and other disarmament, for the dissolution of both military blocs, for the removal from Europe of nuclear weapons and foreign troops. This action can be coordinated on both sides of the Elbe. Indeed, the question of German reunification and the spectacular loosening of Soviet control over its sphere of influence add a sense of urgency. The circumstances are propitious. Those who used to proclaim their devotion to democracy in Eastern Europe and who now, when they can do something about it, desperately cling to NATO, will be revealed for what they ultimately are-spokespersons for the armorers.

The second plank of the left’s campaign is more educational, since it is less likely to influence policy. Our official pundits have been preaching self-determination in Eastern Europe and condemning all forms of Soviet interference in the internal affairs of other countries. But as soon as our Western governments and financial institutions got a chance, they showed what they are capable of in practice. Helmut Kohl told the East Germans plainly that if they want serious cooperation they must provide a market for capitalist expansion. The International Monetary Fund told the new Solidarity government to apply unpopular measures for which it had no mandate (not that the I.M.F. asked for such a mandate). Mammon has its own conception of democracy, and it would be idle to expect it to mend its ways even if an effective campaign were mounted against its interference. Since the one who pays the piper calls the tune, the consequences of deep Western financial penetration of Eastern Europe are incalculable.

In light of this, one should qualify what was said earlier about Gorbachev’s attempt to preserve the bloc while its members opt for different social systems, and about his legal capacity to control the situation. If the economic frontiers between the two blocs were opened completely, with full convertibility of currencies and no control whatsoever over foreign trade, at this stage in their development, with their different levels of productivity and living standards, the countries of Eastern Europe would be rapidly absorbed into the capitalist system. Contrary to what some Eastern Europeans think, they would not even occupy a position as comfortable as, say, that of Austria or even that of Mexico. But they would be absorbed nevertheless. Once the social system across the Elbe is abolished- that is, should Eastern Europe be converted to capitalism-no legal veto will enable Gorbachev to perpetuate the division for long. To survive separately, the “post-capitalist” countries of Eastern Europe, including the Soviet Union, must invent an alternative model of development and preserve it, at least for a time, against the full blast of foreign competition. It is in this search for an alternative that the Western left has its most ambitious and most difficult task.

The October Revolution took place seventy-two years ago. In roughly the first half of that period, it had a dual impact on the outside world. On the one hand, the pioneering example of the Bolsheviks’ successful seizure of power inspired millions in their struggle for a better life. On the other, the identification of socialism with a backward and rather barbaric state discredited the very concept. It is difficult to calculate which was the more important. Rather ironically, it was when efforts had already been made to purge Stalinism of its worst features that its image deteriorated most sharply. The propaganda about the gulag became most successful when the gulag had shrunk beyond recognition. In the past twenty years or so association with the Soviet Union, real or imagined, was nothing but a handicap for the Western left. Now the Russians themselves are disowning their Stalinist and Brezhnevian past. Naturally, we must still study the Soviet past carefully to avoid pitfalls, but we can make it quite clear that we are looking for something more than just an improved version of the Soviet model.

Deprived of its handicap, and of its guilt by association, the Western left should get on with its job. It must attack the very foundations of our own system: its inability to turn technological invention into meaningful jobs (or even a sufficient number of mindless ones); its incapacity to conceive of growth for any purpose other than profit, with the attendant environmental destruction; its commercialization of art, culture and even human relationships; its exploitation of the Third World; and its perpetuation of social, sexual and racial inequalities. The attack is important, and at the same time insufficient. It will not be persuasive until it is coupled with an alternative project and the vision of a different society.

What does this have to do, it will be objected, with the Soviet world? The Eastern Europeans will dismiss such ideas as, at best, a game for the privileged and, at worst, the ravings of the rich. The objectors have a point. We should be neither surprised nor shocked by the fact, confirmed by the recent images from Berlin, that many Eastern Europeans are dazzled by our city lights and the displays in our shop windows. To break the spell of the not so discreet charm of the bourgeoisie, it is not enough to reveal the seamy side of our glittering society. It is necessary to show the East that we can build a better life together, despite our different origins. Voices from East Germany suggest that our search for companions with whom to build a radical alternative on the ruins of the shattered Stalinist model may not be quite as long and as difficult as it once seemed.

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