A New World in the Old : * Communism’s death did not mark the end of history. Instead, it brought a blizzard of fresh challenges.
In his years as President of the European Community’s Executive Commission, Jacques Delors has frequently proven himself a man of vision. But on an overcast September day in 1989, he was blind to the events lying just ahead--as were most of Europe’s leaders.
In the carpeted hush of his 13th-floor offices at the commission’s headquarters in Brussels, Delors that day spoke of how the rich nations of Western Europe could help as Poland and Hungary eased their way away from totalitarian communism. And he sketched a new idea that might allow East Germany to integrate economically with its western half.
“I don’t speak of reunification,” he quickly added.
Political change was in the early autumn air, but only as a whiff.
Neither Delors, nor any other serious student of European history, could dream that 21 months and 5 revolutions later, a Soviet president would stand in a Moscow conference hall--as Mikhail S. Gorbachev did last week--and deliver what was effectively a status report on the demise of the Soviet state to an assemblage of the Continent’s foreign ministers.
Under the crystal chandeliers of a hall built by the czars and where the body of V.I. Lenin once lay in state, Gorbachev talked of new dangers facing a post-Communist Europe, a Europe divided no longer by barbed wire but by differences in prosperity, experience and stability.
He pleaded for money and technical help; he spoke of simmering nationalist passions and raised the threat of mass emigration.
“If Europe wants to avoid a flood of refugees and inter-ethnic hatred, it must make sure that human and minority rights are protected,” Gorbachev warned.
Those who listened heard his message.
The death of communism in Europe had not brought the end of history. It had brought only a blizzard of unsettling challenges.
The statistics contained in the Times Mirror survey of European attitudes in the wake of these events are more than simply numbers. They reflect the cumulative view of individuals, most of them ordinary people, whose lives have been buffetted by history.
This reporter witnessed the personal dramas of some of those individuals.
In the late spring of 1989, the path of these momentous events led down a quiet dirt road west of Hegyeshalom, a small Hungarian town on the Austrian frontier.
A few weeks earlier, Hungarian soldiers had removed the first stretch of barbed wire from the road that had divided East and West Europe for more than four decades--part of what Winston Churchill christened the Iron Curtain.
Many of the concrete fence posts still remained because they had been far harder to remove than initially expected, but it was easy to see that anyone could now stroll across the potato fields and grazing land to Austria.
While the fencing had become obsolete in the wake of a visa-free travel accord for both Hungarian and Austrian nationals, the town’s young mayor, Zoltan Vincze, was puzzled when asked what would keep East Germans, who vacationed in Hungary by the thousands, from using the hole as an end run around the Berlin wall to freedom.
“Nothing, I guess,” he shrugged, turning away after a moment’s thought to return to his car.
Within weeks, the first trickle of East Germans fleeing west across those fields had become a steady stream. By the second week of September, they abandoned the fields. Hungary opened its borders for them to go legally.
The days of the Berlin Wall were numbered.
Just two months later, a young East German foundry worker, still in his blue work overalls, stood, dazed and dumbstruck, gazing at a world he thought he would never see--the West German border town of Helmstedt.
Hearing the frontier had opened, he had literally run home from work, piled his family into the car and driven west.
Clinging to his wife and small daughter in the fading light of a crisp November afternoon, he could only repeat what everyone felt: “I can’t believe this is happening.”
His words spoke for many in the weeks ahead--including the 6 year-old East German girl who emerged from a toy store in the West German city of Duderstadt the next day admiring a freshly purchased Barbie Doll with a look of wonderment that wouldn’t have been greater if Barbie had started to dance.
The words also captured the emotions of the hard-bitten Czechoslovak reporter who watched the revolution sweep through Prague. Coming out onto a crowded balcony overlooking the city’s main Wenceslas Square, he surveyed the mammoth crowd of about 200,000 protesters and the sea of red, white and blue national flags beneath him. And he burst into tears.
“It’s amazing!” he blurted, “and I can even write about it.”
The revolutions of 1989 brought the dream of “a Europe whole and free,” as President Bush put it during a visit to Germany during that hectic year. But they also revealed how little Eastern and Western Europeans knew of each other.
Early in 1990, on his first-ever visit to Sofia, the European Commission’s de facto foreign minister, Frans Andriessen, arrived exactly one hour late to his meeting with his Bulgarian counterpart. Flying from Prague, Andriessen’s staff had been so unfamiliar with the region that it never occurred to them there might be an hour’s time difference between Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria.
As East met West in the months that followed, this sense of distance grew. Doubts set in. In many instances, these doubts turned to disappointment. Tens of thousands of Germans gathered in front of the Berlin Reichstag last Oct. 3 to celebrate unification, but by then, the gaiety was forced.
In Germany, as in Europe as a whole, the awareness of the differences and the enormity of the problems across the old East-West divide were emerging.
Those in Eastern Europe saw Westerners as arrogant and reluctant either to share their prosperity or open their markets to an East that needs both to rebuild.
For Westerners, the East was not just different. It was a shambles, generations behind in technology and a century behind in terms of its social conflicts.
To a West European, the story of a young Croatian village woman, sobbed out at a Red Cross center in the Yugoslav town of Osijek early last July, seemed like a tale from a by-gone age.
Answering a knock at her door, she said she was confronted by a Serbian neighbor she had grown up with. This time, however, instead of the usual greeting, he was pointing a rifle at her, yelling at her to get out or be shot.
She escaped, but as she retold her story, the panic remained in her face.
In the refugee centers along the German-Polish border, the expressions among the Romanians and Bulgarians are more of despair than fear. Crowded into old East German police barracks after trying to enter Germany illegally, most have fled economic deprivation at home in search of a better life in the West. Unless they can prove they have been politically persecuted, they will be sent back.
If anything, conditions in the Soviet Union are even worse as nationalist movements spread across the south and winter looms in the north. Gorbachev has asked for $7.2 billion in food aid and emergency credits to bring his country through the winter and in many respects, Western efforts to respond seem as much defensive and humanitarian.
There is reason to worry.
At a private market in the industrial city of Podalsk about 30 miles south of Moscow, a frail, elderly woman, already wrapped in a coat and babushka against the nip of a Russian September, surveyed the meat she could no longer afford.
“I’m afraid about the winter,” she said. “There will be hunger.”
Times Berlin bureau chief Tyler Marshall, now on assignment in Moscow, has reported from various posts in Europe for 15 of the last 20 years, covering many of the anti-Communist revolutions and other major developments now reshaping the Continent.