New Life for the Old World : Europe: The estrangement of East and West is ending, and the peoples emerging from totalitarian bondage have a gift for the world: a commitment to human rights and a rejection of terror in any form.

Czechoslovakia's President Vaclav Havel wrote this commentary for U.S. News & World Report on the eve of his first visit to the United States this week.

People speak of Europe as "the old continent." It is because Europe has been the cradle of a civilization that has shaped the history of the world for the last past 2,000 years. European civilization discovered, explored, conquered and dominated other continents, other civilizations. It has brought European thinking, enterprise and inventions to the remotest corners of the earth. It has also brought war, misery and endless suffering to millions of people in less fortunate countries. In this century in particular, Europe became the center of mercilessly competing ideologies and of two world wars that cost tens of millions of lives in Europe and elsewhere.

Still, Europe's power and its ability to project its civilization and strength have diminished. It no longer has the power to dominate other continents, other cultures. New centers of power and thought have emerged. Europe has aged.

In yet another sense, Europe is a continent that does not exist. For more than 40 years, there has been not one Europe, but at least two. One is the Europe of the West, the land of democracies and relative prosperity. The other is the Europe of the East, of totalitarianism until recently unchallenged, the Europe that has finally awakened.

Western Europe was often taken to stand for the whole of the continent, while obituaries were periodically pronounced over the East. Eastern Europe, or at least the people who lived in it, felt equally European and watched with envy and despair the luckier half that seemed to be floating away all the time. The dividing line became a gap which threatened to widen into an abyss.

Europe has been divided in yet another sense. The dividing line in my country did not run between the Communists and the rest of the people, it ran between what is good and bad in the heart of each man. So, too, the dividing line in Europe did not run only between the East and the West, but through the heart of the continent.

Materialism may have failed as an ideology in the East, but it has certainly triumphed as a matter of practice in the West. In exchange for the prospect of prosperity and security, many Europeans became all too willing to forget about the bigger Europe of spiritual values, humanistic ideals and intellectual integrity. A strange sort of newspeak developed in which "noninterference" stood for indifference and "detente" for appeasement.

Then the tide turned, and the concept that turned it was the old European (and American) concept of human rights. Perhaps a political invention in the beginning, designed to win concessions from the other side, it soon evolved into something real.

In less than 15 years, this simple concept of human rights came close to accomplishing what the theories of "containment," "deterrence" and "mutual assured destruction" could not. Let us note that unlike these concepts, backed by the most impressive collection of hardware that man has ever assembled, this was a concept purely spiritual. With the moral rather than tangible support of other Europeans (and Americans and Canadians), this concept of human rights paved the way for the enormous changes in Eastern Europe that we have recently witnessed.

These changes, and the steps toward integration in the West, now offer Europe a chance to become a whole after 40 years of dual existence (or nonexistence). Not through war, but through a consensus of its nations and people. Such chances do not occur twice.

Europeans in the West have made clear their intention to overcome national, political and geographical barriers, and to enter the next millennium as a single community. Europeans in the East have made equally clear their interest in joining this community of free nations.

What kind of place could or should the new Europe be? What principles would hold this community together, and what could it contribute to the rest of the world?

First of all, because Europe is as much an idea as a place it would have to remain bigger than a sum of its parts. Any concept of a new Europe will have to deal with the existence of the United States and the Soviet Union, and not only for political reasons.

The United States, though completely outside Europe, is not entirely non-European. It was born out of Europe in a rebellion against it. The Soviet Union, though not completely inside Europe, has gravitated toward Europe for centuries, without ever taking the final step. In this century, the United States and the Soviet Union fought a war against a totalitarian ideology that threatened to undermine the very idea of Europe. Then, they almost fought each other over another incarnation of totalitarianism. If that had happened, the battlefield almost certainly would have been Europe once again. Thus both the Americans and the Russians, though in different degrees, may lay claims on the loyalty of Europeans. And both, fighting as they have for control of the continent, have earned different measures of distrust from Europeans.

If Europe becomes whole, it will have no need for guardians or protectors. But there should always be a place in Europe for the United States, the strongest democracy in the world. And there should be a place in Europe for a truly democratic Soviet Union. The histories and destinies of Europeans, Russians and Americans are interlinked in countless ways.

Germany, the country that started the last world war, has paid for that with its identity. As Europe has embarked on a search for a new identity of its own, the reunification of Germany is apparently drawing near. With the last of the Nazi war criminals dead or dying, the Germans are certainly entitled to a fresh start if that is their will. Just let us not forget that it was not the changes in Germany that brought about the changes in Europe; it was the other way around. The process of European integration should not stop at the reunification of Germany; it should go on. Only then will Europe be a safe place for Germany. Only then will Germany be a safe place for Europe.

How can we, the people of the East, the prodigal sons and daughters of Europe, help to make this vision reality, and what, if anything, can we contribute to it?

As people who have suffered or who saw others suffer the consequences of totalitarian rule, we may have developed a heightened sensitivity to the symptoms of totalitarian thinking in ourselves and in others.

As people who were finally liberated not by any outside force, but by an up-swelling of millions of individual human wills, we can remind Europe of its own legacy, of the importance of individual responsibility for the fate of the community, and thus repay it for the concept of human rights it has given us. In fact, individual rights together with individual responsibility for the common good may constitute the very idea of Europe we are looking for.

As countries that were often divided and turned against one another to crush the aspirations for freedom and European identity in other nations, we can try to make our way back in a dignified and coordinated manner rather than trampling one another in a rush to outrun the others. We can show that Europe can be integrated by first integrating a small part of it.

And finally, as people who achieved change in a peaceful, nonviolent manner, we can advocate the values of nonviolence and tolerance not only as a possible, but perhaps as the only way of achieving social change. Today, we who were terrorized for so long in the surreal world of real socialism know with something approaching certainty that terror does not work and that nonviolence does.

So what kind of place will Europe be? When all is said, it will not become an Orwellian superpower, it will not become a fortress. It will be a smaller but perhaps a nicer place. Yet it will be big enough to be a home not only for James Joyce and Marcel Proust but also for Franz Kafka, Fyodor Dostoevsky and William Faulkner.

We hope that it will become a community of many different but equal people who will share individual responsibility for the welfare of the community, and who will show empathy and tolerance to all other communities.

Europe is "the old continent." Its qualities, then, should be the qualities of many, though not all, older people: Wisdom, tolerance and understanding.

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