Year LXI, 2019, Single Issue, Page 145
EUROPE AND THE WORLD AFTER 1989*
The profound changes which have upset the political and constitutional scenery of Eastern Europe during 1989 must be placed on the same level as the great revolutions of the past, from the French Revolution to those of 1848 and 1917-18. They have two characteristics in common with them.
The first is represented by the fact that the forces of renewal have so far destroyed more than constructed, which is inevitable in the explosive phase of every revolution. The historical course of Communism has come to an end. Autocratic regimes, whose identification with the ideology they were based on was becoming more and more problematic, have fallen. In their place there are now great expectations, but very few certainties. It is not yet clear what political and social order will rise from the ashes of what has been destroyed. The future still has to be thought of and organized, and everywhere it looms menacingly.
The second is represented by the fact that, as in all past revolutions, the institutional transformations in Eastern Europe have reflected a deep transformation of the international setting within the individual countries. The decline of Russian-American bipolarism had been in progress for some time, and it had been strongly accelerated by the increasingly evident absurdity of the logic of deterrence based on the suicidal rush for nuclear armaments. Not by chance the impulse to the process — thanks to the happy occurrence of the appearance of a historical man— has been given by the Soviet Union, i.e. by the country that was most heavily oppressed by the unbearable weight of a setting long made obsolete by the real power relationships.
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The internal and international factors cannot be separated in the attempt to understand what possible directions will be taken over the next few years by the history of Europe and consequently, in a context of strict interdependence, by that of the world.
It seems possible to claim with some degree of certainty that, if a sufficiently stable and evolutionary new order does not take shape within a short time, the road followed by Central and Eastern Europe will be that of nationalism and international anarchy. This will be inevitable because, in the absence of new forms of organization of civil life and relations between states, the end of the bipolar equilibrium and the concurrent fall of the ideological shield represented by the confrontation between Democracy and Communism will leave the national principle as the only commonly accepted principle of legitimacy. Moreover, the alarm signals which give an idea of the reality and importance of this risk are multiplying. They manifest themselves in three distinct areas: Germany, with the re-opening of the reunification problem; the ex-satellite countries of the Soviet Union, with the border problems tied to the inextricable ethnic tangle which had already made these regions ungovernable in the period between the two wars; and the Soviet Union itself, which the numerous autonomist and secessionist impulses having ethnic and/or religious origins place before the very real danger of a disintegration process.
It would be irresponsible to deny the seriousness of the consequences in Europe and the world if events should follow the path of nationalism. The Eastern European states do not have a territory vast enough to guarantee — in the absence of a strong degree of integration in a continental framework — an economic development compatible with the preservation of their newly acquired democracy. Nor does the latter have a basis solid enough to withstand the trials it would be subjected to by strong national tensions. It is therefore predictable that their regimes would rapidly degenerate into authoritarian forms of national-populism.
On the other hand, if the two Germanies should take up the road to reunification in an exclusively national perspective — which would be inevitable in the absence of credible alternatives — the whole European equilibrium would be upset. The rise, or the mere expectancy of the rise, within the heart of Europe, of a national state with eighty million inhabitants and endowed with a formidable economic potential would encourage the design of creating a German zone of influence and a hegemonic area of the D-Mark extended to a few countries of the East; a design that would certainly be weak and unstable in the long run, but in the immediate future would be strong enough to place the very existence of the Community in question.
Finally, the centrifugal forces within the Soviet Union could only be controlled by acting upon Great-Russian nationalism. It would represent the defeat of Gorbachev’s policy — maybe through Gorbachev himself. The Soviet Union would find its unity again no longer under the sign of Communism, but under that of nationalism through the domination of the strongest national group.
Certainly, history does not repeat itself, and even if all these hypotheses were to materialize, nothing would go back to what it was before. The way would probably be prepared for a new beginning, within a wider framework, of the European integration process. But the time required would become indefinitely longer and within the short-medium run political tensions and economic disorder would arise again. The hopes roused by Gorbachev would fade and world equilibrium would once again take up the traditional path of relations of power, even though its physiognomy would change and its centre of gravity would tend to move again towards the Pacific area.
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It is a fact that the road to nationalism of Central and Eastern Europe is considered in many political circles in all European countries — to begin with in the two Germanies — with lucid apprehension. And everywhere the need is felt to find forms of unity and collaboration between nations thanks to which nationalist tendencies can be contained and a stable and peaceful setting can be created in Europe. The widest framework which is taking shape within this perspective is that of the countries taking part in the Helsinki Conference, therefore including both the Soviet Union and the United States. It is the framework into which Gorbachev’s proposal of a “Common European House” fits. And undoubtedly this is the dimension in which the problem of security in Europe is posed. Many, too many, forget that what has happened and is happening in Eastern Europe has been, and is, a consequence of the policy wanted and launched by Gorbachev, and that the democratization process in the states of this region can continue only because Gorbachev holds the reins of power in his country in a situation of international détente. To try and exploit Eastern European events in an anti-Soviet intention today would therefore be foolish and irresponsible. The process must be conducted with and not against the Soviet Union, just as it must be conducted with and not against the United States, which remains a decisive pole in the new setting. That of the Helsinki Conference must thus become the framework wherein détente is institutionalized and the necessary resources are released not only to begin great projects of economic co-operation between East and West, but also to organize on a new basis the relations between the North and South of the planet, thus creating the premises for setting up what Einstein called a partial world government. In this way it would be possible to achieve a decisive reinforcement of the UN, which can function effectively — until the world remains divided into a multitude of sovereign states — only on the basis of a stable collaboration between those states with the highest worldwide responsibilities.
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The Helsinki framework is essential to prevent the revival of nationalism, to guarantee security in Europe and the world and to create the first embryo of a partial world government. But today the project of a “Common House” is still little more than a slogan, expressing a need rather than proposing a solution. Even if it were propped up by some kind of institutional structure, it would still remain, to the extent that it were based exclusively on the existing national states, an unstable framework, uncertain in its physiognomy and unable to contain the impulses towards disintegration that the process has released up to now.
For it to be consolidated and prevail on the alternative course of the revival of nationalism, many difficult problems of the internal organization of Europe will have to be solved by defining the structure of the various existing state groupings, the possible creation of new groupings and the organization of their mutual relations. It would be useless at this point to make any predictions concerning the future structure of the military alliances and their mutual relations, the final outcome of the COMECON reform process, the birth of some new form of institutionalized collaboration among Eastern European countries, the evolution of their relations with EFTA and the EEC and between the latter and the whole of the COMECON.
One thing is certain, however. For the project of the “Common House” to acquire the ability to stabilize détente in Europe and the world, it has to point out prospects that give a clear and comprehensible answer for everybody to the hopes roused by Gorbachev’s new course. It must present itself as a structure able to evolve towards irreversible forms of ever closer integration and progressive consolidation of democracy.
This will be achieved only if a process of federal construction starts off within it. With the evidence of facts, it would make everybody aware of the truth that today the only historical alternative to nationalism is federalism, as it is the only formula which allows the affirmation of democracy on an international scale. Any confederal solution, as in the most favourable hypothesis can only be that of the “Common House” in its initial phase, can therefore be accepted and promoted solely as a transit station along the road to a federal outcome.
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The only ambit in which this great historical experiment can be started is that of the European Community, or the more limited framework of those among its member-states that are willing to set the pace, in the awareness that the others will follow. In any case, only by giving a decisive impulse to the federal unification process within this framework will it be possible to pose the problem of the unification of the two Germanies in non-destabilizing terms. The decisive political knot to be undone today is thus that of European monetary Union and the structure of Community institutions. The course that world political events will follow in the near future no longer depends on Gorbachev — who started off the process — nor on Bush, but on the decisions the Heads of Government of the Twelve will or will not make. And not by chance the Community recently assumed a central position in the political vision both of the Soviet and the American leader.
The results of the European Council of Strasbourg lead one to think that the Heads of Government of the countries of the Community — with the usual exception of Mrs. Thatcher — are aware of their historical responsibilities. In particular the government of the Federal Republic, although in an emotional atmosphere made difficult by the opening of the Berlin wall, faced with the choice between continuing along the path of monetary Union or giving in to the temptation — probably more productive in electoral terms — of sacrificing it on the altar of German unity and of a reinforced and extended area of hegemony of the D-Mark, has chosen the first alternative. Monetary Union, and therefore the prospect of political Union, have made an important step forward in Strasbourg. The very entry of Italy into the narrow band of the EMS is a sign of the fact that the expectations both of the public and the operators are oriented towards the irreversibility of the process.
Of course, there is still a lot to be done. The monetary unification process has not even entered its first phase, by far the least demanding of the three foreseen by the Delors Plan. Political Union, unceasingly evoked and hoped for by many, and which was solemnly approved by the Italian people with the referendum of last June, is still at the starting point. But now all the alibis have disappeared and the Eastern European events, with their dizzy speed, force to keep silent — at least temporarily — all those who have so far slowed down Europe’s course in the name of “realism”. The objectives, the procedures and the instruments, after years of proposals and debates, stand out clearly before everybody. All that has to be done is act, and act quickly.
* This editorial was published on The Federalist, 31, n. 3 (1989), p. 195.