Europe in the Quest for Itself (Second Part)

    Author: Boban Batrićević      
The age of passion and the age of hope
First part >>>

On 1st September 1939, the bloodiest conflict in human history has started and it will last until the 2nd September 1945. Over 50 million people will be victims, and war ravages have exceeded all former wars.

Reality consumed the atomic bomb. The worst, after Japan, happened in Europe. Ravaged from Moscow to Normandy, bombed, raped and burned, Europe paid the bill for uncontrolled growth of totalitarian appetite.

However, the world has united in some way during those years. Due to the great sacrifice in the fight against Nazism and fascism, the Soviet Union became the part of anti-Hitler coalition, although it was already clear that, at the national level, this country was monstrous, Stalinist machinery of terror and tyrannical regime. Great anti-fascist coalition of democratic and communist world has managed to beat Germans, Italians, Japanese and their allies’ troops. Bright pages of heroism and sacrifice will be written by famous victories and uprisings – on 13th July 1941 Montenegro led the largest armed uprising in, at the time, occupied Europe, El-Alamein, Moscow, Leningrad, Stalingrad, Kursk, Normandy, the Warsaw uprising, Berlin.

What will make, beside numerous victims, even larger scar is a phenomenon of concentration camps for the racially undesirable.

The Holocaust, the suffering of the Jewish, and then all other nations, represent the most shameful and the most tragic phenomenon in European history. Auschwitz, Treblinka, Dachau, Mauthausen, Buchenwald, Jasenovac and many other dots on the map of evil, cyanide and gas killing, hammer killing, railway wagons full of women and children, crematoria etc.

Any vision of human history as a progress seemed grotesque during the last days of the war when perceived through the doctrine of “superhuman”.

It was clear that although victorious, the free world must break off with the interwar political practice.

From the adoption of the Atlantic Charter to the Potsdam conference, the idea of equal world was developing.

Western governments were mobilizing masses for war using the discourse of fight for democracy and human rights promoted fight for justice and equality. On the 9th May 1945, Europe has rightfully begun to hope.

“Golden Era“ and two European realities

Forced friendship between the capitalist West and the communist Soviet Union lasted shortly after the Victory Day. Although the Americans were generous at the beginning of negotiations on the restructuring of the world and indulged Stalin, these relations will soon start cooling.

Occupation zones in Germany and territorial split on the principle “Who marched in first” during the war became the base of the future European map. It was clear that opposing ideologies and different views of reality could not find a common language.

Rapidly outdated political platform from Potsdam will remain basic document of governing Europe until 1990, and unification of Germany.

The United Nations should replace loose society of nations and control global trends to avoid new conflict of biblical proportions. The first two years after the war were characterized by increasing popularity of communism in the West; the quarter of body of electors in Belgium and France voted for the Communists.

Since 1947, due to the cooling of relations, the world began to choose between the liberal and democratic West and the rigid Stalinist East.

Due to allies’ agreement on the spheres of interest and tense situation in certain areas, the line of ideological demarcation went through the heart of Europe.

The largest part of the Eastern, South Eastern and Central Europe falls under the Soviet orbit, while the rest of the northern and Western Europe remained loyal to democratic values.

Because this part of Europe was exhausted by the war, the United States became dominant force that could save liberal democracy from communisation.

Experience of the interwar monetary instability that caused inflation and favoured radical politics, led to the foundation of the International Monetary Fund, which has controlled monetary stability. Main stimulus for building post-war Western Europe was the Marshall Plan, when the tax rate increased to 15% in US, and injected 12 billion dollars in Europe during the five-year period.

Thanks to that, the democratic part of Europe (excluding Spain and Portugal where dictators Franco and Salazar were in power) started to grow effectively.

The US moved focus from the world initially to the Atlantic framework, which soon led to the establishment of NATO, the provider of collective security.

Opposite to that, the Soviet Union did not find appropriate mode, Cominform and The Zhdanov Doctrine on the battle “socialism versus imperialism” had no effect on the economy of Eastern Europe.

All these socialist countries control by Moscow have been able to rebuild, but they will not achieve the effect of the pre-war economic growth.

The only exception in the European context was Tito’s Yugoslavia, which quite early abandoned Stalin’s embrace, having realized that the anti-imperialistic Soviet phraseology actually hides imperialism. Since 1951, Yugoslavia will enjoy Western loans that will facilitate its construction, and by signing alliance agreements with Greece and Turkey, Yugoslavia informally stood under the umbrella of the West.

Democratic Europe had several specific objectives – to recover Italy and West Germany, to establish monetary stability, stop nationalism and prevent spread of communism by reducing social inequality.

The period from the fifties to the mid-seventies will adorn philosophy of “Welfare State”, which was the golden age for Labourism in Britain.

The right to free education and health care have become one of the European values. It was less liberal and more social democracy that is not recognized any more by bourgeois extravagance from the interwar period.

The right and classic centres were retreating, and the genesis of the European political scene flowed from centre-left to the centre-right.

The answer for this could be found in rivalry of Europe with communism, but also in tradition of the authoritarian system that had realistic social programs earlier.

Economic boom led to state intervention and etatisation, energy sector strengthened so railways and some banks, particularly in Britain and France fell under public administration.

Unions were granted with right to have their representatives in the managing boards of companies and factories. State provided loans to support reconstruction, which provided great results. In this period, democracy will become a key European motto based on human rights, which the Soviet Union considered as “formality”.

The Council of Europe in 1949 and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg in 1959 introduced the institutional protection of human rights.

More than in interwar period the horizons of Europe opened and Europe started to form its stronger identity. While many consider that uniting of Europe started in the fifties when the European Coal and Steel Community, the European Economic Community and the European Atomic Energy Community were formed, prehistory of EU actually started with the establishment of OEEC (Organization for European Economic Cooperation) in 1948.

It was supposed to control and efficiently allocate US aid among countries that are foreseen as beneficiaries. In the next few decades, successes were visible.

Starting from Italy, as vividly described by Fernand Braudel in Material Civilization, where you could meet worker during the fifties whose lunch was a loaf of bread and a tomato, and after a few years, the country has become a European leading economy. Europe wanted to show socialist countries an alternative path of development that is not based on central planning and authority of Moscow.

Unlike Eastern Bloc that rested on the reverence and the Soviet Union directives, Western Europe operated on the principle of alliances, attempting to settle disagreements (especially between France and Germany).

Therefore, the Eastern bloc was more unstable. After Stalin’s death, Nikita Khrushchev announced de-Stalinisation at the XX Congress of the CAP (b); suppression of the Hungarian “Spring” has shown that the Soviet structures and doctrine that produce power have not changed.

Young people from the East fled more frequently to the West, particularly over East Berlin. That is why the Soviets supported the initiative in 1961 that DR Germany authority should build the Berlin Wall, the most striking symbol of the bipolar world.

As a slight western influence in the bloc of “people-oriented democracies” can be considered prevention of nationalization in Poland or Lieberman model in the economy according to which this Soviet economic theorist proposed an increase of the autonomy of the factory in order to meet the highest quality standards prescribed by centralized planning.

Hungary attempted to reduce dissatisfaction by increase of social spending, which is commonly called “goulash communism”.

The established European lifestyle model resembled the one in the United States.

Mass consumption and improvement of property culture were just one side of the coin.

On the other side, there were different problems. The new generation that was experiencing the peak of its power during the sixties was largely used to the freedom of speech and the mass media.

Therefore, a large number of movements arises with demand for further deepening of human rights and stressing the negative consequences of capitalism – the production of weapons that were sold and used in the “Third World”; colonial exploitation of Africa, Asia, Central and South America; a terrible status of non-white population and the US; British and French military campaigns outside Europe.

Review of tradition was represented in theory, science and culture.

This was a time of great criticism of postmodernists and deconstructionists, blooming of anthropology and human science, rock and roll revolution and pop art.

Increased growth in population immediately after the war caused a large number of young people who have not experienced the terror of war, but were looking for their place in society during the sixties.

Therefore, in 1968 a big expansion of protests and movements happened in Europe. Commenting on the sixty-eighters, Georges-Henri Soutou in his review of the European history points out: “Everywhere the 1968 was characterized by a radical challenging of the authority and traditional values, more than any previous political and social opposition.

It was something new: a cultural revolution with quite deep consequences that brought back old discords and topics, mostly outdated.

At the same time, from this perspective, we may believe that European societies, in its full development from the fifties, suffered a shock in 1968 by emphasizing only the previously visible progress, and integrating many of the former libertarian values.

The proof is development of liberal legislation in the whole of Europe in the 1960s for customs, sexuality, abortion, family life, relation between the sexes etc. In the future, it will be very difficult to make a distinction between the impact of 1968 and thorough development of European societies from 1945.

Material demands proclaimed at the time resulted eventually in production of faster consumer society.

“Student movements, starting from that year, become an extremely important part of the social monitoring, separate entity whose attitude toward the community has become very important. In both the 1960s and 1970s, large number of ultra-left-wing terrorist organization will emerge in the West, causing the fear in attempts to express social criticism, especially in the banking system and multinational corporations that dictate mass consumption.

Left movement in Europe are trying to present horizons of the communism, but the typical Soviet act of “warning” to Czechoslovakia during the Prague Spring in 1968 and tanks in a capital of one Central European country, adversely affect the popularity of communism.

Back then, many European leftists and communists begin to turn away from the Soviet Union, although the dissident literature offered to the European public horrific image of terror and brutalism of Soviets.

These decades determine great intellectual debate about European values and “values of communism”.

One of the most famous Yugoslav novels A Tomb for Boris Davidovich by Danilo Kiš will arise in response to the climate among leftists in Paris where Kiš was working, who were criticizing the fascism to justify some Soviet actions.

Not even the great world historian Eric Hobsbawm, big Communist, could not be glorified for his vision of the Soviet intervention in Prague. However, as noted, it was clear for most people that the Russian communism is not the way to progress, especially after the constitution of the Brezhnev Doctrine.

Left movements and communist parties in the West will drastically lose support, and left movement will be gradually transposed to feminist aspirations, anti-colonial and postcolonial criticism and later to the green movement.

Further re-questioning of the European order and thinking about the possible European model marked the seventies and eighties in the democratic Europe.

European culture and way of life have already been crystallized and there was only a question of how to further regulate Europe. The first major enlargements of the European community took place in those two decades.

However, two oil “shocks” in 1973 and 1979 put an end to economic growth, which was a constant after the war.

At the same time, one stage of European development ended, and another began – the one which would strive for individual understanding of democracy. Since the appointment of Margaret Thatcher in Britain, new liberalism will become a convention that will be the driving force of the West.

Reducing state etatism and state intervention, reducing state expenditures and strengthening the private sector were some of the new laws that would especially come to life after the fall of the communist paradigm.

Democratization took place both at regional and local levels and Europe embarked on a general course of decentralization of government and administration. New values were addressed in the areas of “democratic control” of institutions, transparency, the right to free access to information, environmental protection, control of public services and public media editing bodies.

Focus was also put on parts of Eastern Europe, which were traditionally considered part of the European cultural code.

The USSR, which struggled with the recession (although the oil shocks of the seventies were avoided by the USSR), The election of Pope John Paul II, who was Polish, was one of the measures taken to support the democratization of the continent.

The Helsinki agreement of 1975 additionally worked in favour of opponents of communism in the Eastern Bloc, as it guaranteed human rights, and was signed by all European countries, except Albania.

At the end of the 1980s, a wave of “plush revolutions” took over, after Gorbachev agreed that all peoples had the right to self-determination. Communist regimes began to decline with the domino effect, and the victory of European values over undemocratic regimes was symbolically marked by the demolition of the Berlin Wall and the unification of the two German states.

The wave of separation from the USSR began when Baltic states, followed by Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova declared independence, which also happened with many republics from the Asian part of the Soviet country.

Russia put the end on the communist revolution of 1917 and the decades-long experiment by declaring the Russian Federation as a state. Europe and the democratic world could, in 1991, be proud of their effort and development in relation to the situation they found behind the “iron curtain” when the curtain was lifted.

Further perspectives of European construction and inclusion opened up, the capitalist world looked forward to new investments in the East.

(Second Part)

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