Fülöp Mihály

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A memory overshadowed by the Cold War: the European peace settlement Magyar Külügyi Intézet, Európa Intézet, MTA Történettudományi Intézet. Europe re-united?The Memory of the Cold War c. kollokviumon, Budapest, 1998. október 10.

Mih«ly FÜLÖP :

A memory overshadowed by the Cold War: the European Peace Settlement

I. The Split of the European identity (1945-1947)

The European peace settlement is an unfinished business.  After World War II, the Great Powers worked out peace treaties of secondary importance with Italy, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary and Finland.  The central issues however remained open - the German Peace Treaty, and the situation of the minorities in Central and South-East Europe.  In 1947, the victorious alliance split in two.  Germany and Europe were divided and a two-alliance system was created – the Soviet alliance and NATO.  Thus the collusion of the German Peace Treaty became impossible.  Only the changes in 1989/90 made the continuation of the European peace settlement possible.  The USSR, the USA, Britain and France – instead of a formal peace treaty - succeeded to have the final settlement with Germany on 12 September 1990.  A united and democratic Germany was born, as a potential European great power ; the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia ceased to exist.  In an incredibly short time and by a surprisingly peaceful process, a series of states between Germany and Russia rediscovered their independence.  The unsettled questions of minority issues and conflicting national interests re-emerged.  The dissolution of the Soviet alliance led to the reorientation of the foreign policy of these countries.  The rebuilding of democratic regimes from 1989-90 radically changed the European military and political equilibrium.  Today these small countries are aiming to become part of the EEC/European Union and the Atlantic military alliance.

This way of dismantling the Soviet Empire – very few had expected this to happen without a war – was due to the progressive loss of control over the satellites, and began well before Gorbatchov.  For this, the West could hardly claim much credit.  Nor could the governing elites in the new democracies.  The major changes became possible only because the USSR was unable to oppose by force – as in 1956 (defeat of the Hungarian Revolution), 1968 (The Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia) and 1981 (state of siege in Poland) – the natural re-emergence of democratic forces and the rediscovery of the national identity in Central and South-East Europe.  The Soviet foreign policy had systematically tried to prevent the formation of a reformist pro-western Warsaw-Prague-Budapest axis, and to this end, had intervened with force in these countries.  This unnatural order based on force – the Pax Sovietica in Eastern Europe - has now ceased to exist, and nowadays by a peacefully negotiated process the small states – with the consent of the major European powers – must establish in this part of Europe a new political and territorial order which will be widely accepted by the international community.  This transition period is the first in the 20th century when the small countries between Germany and Russia could, in principle, settle their fate without the interference or arbitrage of any great power.

The Soviet order did not provide an equitable and durable solution to the problems of Central and South-East European states, even though the status quo was tacitly accepted by the West.  The fact remains that the Soviet Union failed to harmonize the national interests of its satellites, and succeeded only in freezing the conflicts between those nations.  At the beginning, the Soviet Union aimed to establish a reversed cordon sanitaire against Germany, and an exclusive sphere of influence with Soviet-type systems in the small countries.  The Soviet alliance building process between 1943-1947 focused on the victorious Slav states – Czechoslovakia, Poland and Yugoslavia.  The vanquished States – Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary – were integrated in this scheme between 1947-1949.  In 1948, Yugoslavia, and in 1961, Albania left the alliance. The Soviets systematically destroyed the identities of small nations in their sphere of influence which were considered as “dangerous bourgeois nationalism” and eliminated the sentiments of the elites to be part of “Western civilization”. Stalin’s policy and Western alliance building split Europe in two militarily, politically and ideologically antagonistic parts in 1947-1948 : the East and the West. The Cold War cultivated and reinforced the East/West divide and split the European identity.  There was not anymore only one European identity but two : Western Europe and the Soviet dominated Europe. Despite the longtime existing differences and simplistic definitions, such a deep antagonism in the identification of the two parts of Europe was unknown in modern history. When we speak of Western Europe, we usually mean England, France, that is to say the culturally and economically leading countries in Western Europe, and not the most western ones (geographically speaking) such as Iceland, Ireland, or Portugal.  However, splitting Europe in different parts has traditions in history.

II. The Historical Roots of the East-West divide

A distinction between a European West and East was non-existent for a long time.  It was only in Russia in the course of the 19th century debate between Westerners and Slavophiles that this dichotomy came to the fore.  Subsequently, many historians adopted a cultural-religious criterion to justify the dualistic approach to Europe’s past.  After Wold War II, the term « Eastern Europe » became synonymous with the Soviet bloc.  It also involved a recognition of the region’s forcible separation from Europe.

The historical states, Bohemia, Poland and Hungary (East Central Europe) did belong to the Western civilization in the Middle Ages.  Christianity and all that it stood for had come from Rome ; therefore, the Western impact was the dominant and the lasting one.  These countries were shaped by and experienced all the great historical currents : Renaissance, Reformation, Enlightenment, the French and the Industrial Revolutions.  They differed drastically from the east, as embodied by Muscovite Russia.  They regarded themselves, and were regarded by others, as the bulwark of Christendom. Their eastern frontiers marked the frontiers of Europe.  Yet it would be a mistake to visualize these borders as rigid and impenetrable.  East-Central Europe represented cultural crossroads.  Influences of the Byzantine world remained crucial, that is to say, they underwent a significant orientalization.

Czechs, Hungarians and Poles often looked up to the West – particularly England and France – with a mixture of adoration and envy.  Everything « European », a synonym for “West”, seemed worthy of praise and imitation.  But this feeling of inferiority needed to be, and often was compensated for by a glorification of national history and national uniqueness.  Feeling unappreciated or ignored they emphasized their spiritual ideals, which they opposed to the materialistic and degenerated West.  Obviously, different periods produced different reactions, but the ambiguity of this relationship, including a love-hate component, was semi-permanent.

The Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy markedly differed from the Eastern, non-western European Empires: Tsarist Russia and the Ottoman Empire.  Austria-Hungary in this sense belonged to the “West” between 1867 and 1918, so did democratic Czechoslovakia , a highly industrialized “Etat de droit” between the two World Wars (1918-1938). Russia was clearly defined as Eastern Europe : geographically (the Urals), politically and historically. Having spent the eighteenth century copying contemporary European models, the Russian state went on to offer its citizens two different models to identify with.  During the nineteenth century, the Russian state represented itself as true Europe in a situation where the rest of Europe had failed the best in its own tradition by turning away from the past values of the ancient regimes. During the twentieth century, the Russian state represented itself as true Europe in a situation where the rest of Europe failed the best in its own tradition by not turning  to the future values of socialism. Dostoďvsky wrote: “in Europe we were hangers-on and Slaves, whereas we shall go to Asia as masters. In Europe, we were Asians, whereas in Asia, we too, are Europeans. Our civilizing mission in Asia will bribe our spirit ….” Therefore the “historical East-West divide” traditionally separated Bohemia, Poland, Hungary from Russia - the Balkans belonging during centuries to the “Asian” Ottoman Empire.

III. The European identity and the Cold War

What is « European identity » or « identities » nowadays ? The European identity is limited in time and space.  It is democratic and linked to the European institutions (1948-1998) building. The confusion between West and Europe becomes possible, because East-central Europe was barred from the possibility of participating in the building of the European identity -EEC/European Union. The beginning of the Cold War, i.e. the division of Germany/Europe in two, created and deepened the East-West divide and played a decisive role in the process of (western) European identification. After the Berlin blockade, Western/Free Europe and Eastern/Soviet dominated Europe consolidated the split. The Rome treaty (1957), the progressive enlargement of the EEC from six to fifteen members solidified the modern European identity in the sixties, seventies and eighties. Theories were built up and justified the division in historical and civilizational grounds (see the latest book of Henri Mendras: l’Europe des Européens - 1996, or François Heisbourg, etc). Did the idea of “Being European” have a totally different meaning in the minds of the West and East-Europeans? Did the Soviet control lead to a new identification in the Eastern part of Europe?

The issue of this colloquium is not to know who began and won the Cold War. The real issue of this colloquium is : What are the vestiges of this period in the living memories of the societies, what are the vested interests of western institutions and elites to preserve the East/West divide? Was the European peace settlement (a sort of natural European unification process) stopped and overshadowed by the Cold War ?

Hungarians, Poles, Czechs desperately wanted to join the West (1956 : Hungary and Poland, 1968 : Czechoslovakia, 1980-1981 : Solidarnosc in Poland, 1989 : the democratic transformation of the Eastern part of Europe). These democratic, pro-western experiences did not get through because of the presence of an external military force : the Red Army, and the Western inactivity. The small nations tried to escape Soviet domination and recover their independence, but there was no room of maneuver for the small states to “step out of line” in the Cold War divided, Soviet and US dominated Europe.  The Austrian drive to independence and neutrality became a never fulfilled dream for the other Central-European states, the Austrian model was not valid in the forgotten part of Europe. The West-European attitude towards Eastern Europe helped to consolidate the Soviet Empire, the continuation of the division of Germany made the conclusion of a German peace treaty impossible and perpetuated the Cold War.

Retrospectively, the European peace settlement had already divided Europe in two : victorious/vanquished nations, the Cold War overlapped all this with a new East/West divide between the victorious great powers. The European institution building started then from the weakest victorious great power, France and the major vanquished nation, (West) Germany. The other three (The Soviet Union, the USA and Great Britain) abdicated  in favor of the France – (West) Germany axe. In 1947-1948 other choices were open, but Great Britain did not want to take the European lead. During the crucial year of 1947, a desperate Bevin wrote: France “wants to balkanize Europe” and “put the clock back to Napoleon times”. Howe ver, France, quickly abandoning the punishing attitude toward Germany, took the lead with the Schuman plan (inspired by Jean Monnet). From the very beginning the European institution building and West-European identification process is the consequence of the unfinished business of European peace settlement. The Cold War not only created the artificial East-West divide, but also overshadowed the unfinished peace settlement. The presence of the Red Army was prolonged, and prevented the re-unification of Europe, setting obstacles to the current enlargement of the European Union.

IV. The causes of the non re-unification of Europe between 1989-1999

The two divisions of Europe inherited from the unfinished European peace settlement

and the Cold War suddenly came to an end in the anno mirabilis : 1989. Concluding a half century peace process, the German Peace Treaty negotiations begun in 1947 and the European peace settlement negotiated in 1945-1947, the final settlement between the two German states and the four victorious great powers definitively ended the Second World War in Europe (the only open issue of World War II remaining a Russian-Japanese peace treaty). Not only the political frontiers of the seven states (Italy, Rumania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Finland, Austria, Germany) included in the European peace system issued from the Second World War became guaranteed by the United States, Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union (or the main successor state: Russia), but also being recognized in the Paris peace treaties, the Austrian State Treaty and the Final Settlement on Germany, in each state’s peace treaty and territorial settlements ( “the treaties concluded or to be concluded”), European borders are for all intent and purposes intangible. No frontier included in the system can be changed without creating a precedent : for instance, the Rumanian-Moldavian unification became impossible for that reason.  Furthermore any modification of Hungarian frontiers requires on the one hand the consensus of the three great powers (the Soviet Union, the USA and Great Britain) who drafted the peace treaty and, on the other hand, a peacefully negotiated agreement of the neighboring country or countries concerned by a voluntary cession of a territory in favor of Hungary. This settlement eliminated armed conflicts on territorial or other grounds in the central part of Europe in the crucial years of transformation. However, the other conflict, the East-West divide was not so easily overcome. The first question in the West that emerged from the sudden and completely unexpected, peaceful transformation of the eastern part of the European continent was a complete misunderstanding : who won the Cold War ?

The points of reference are divergent : the main losers, the Russians, refused to recognize their defeat, due to the recognition for the whole Germany of the right to be a member of NATO. The United States, and Germany, the major winners, (and maybe historically, the initiator of the division of Germany, Great Britain) considered the unilateral concessions of the Gorbatchov administration as the natural consequence of Russia’s weakness and the recognition of its defeat. The perceptions of the East and the West are so different and influenced by personal experience, that there is no common ground to analyze and judge recent history?  The two sides did not share any common historical experience during the 20th century.

The shock of the final settlement, the birth of an unified Germany and the East Central Europe transformation provoked the French initiative of deepening the European integration, the formation of the European Union in 1993 and the drive to introduce the Euro in 1999. This kind of ”fuite en avant” as an answer to the German unification was accompanied by the efforts of stabilization in East-Central Europe. The conception and the type of unification of Chancellor Kohl reassured the European partners: he confided the unification to free market forces without establishing a “unification” policy with a special set of laws. East Germany was merely absorbed in West Germany by a sort of democratic and market force “Anschluss”.

The continuation in the early years of the 1990’s of this typically Cold War thinking is particularly striking in the perception of succession crises in the multinational federal states: the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. At the outbreak of the conflicts, widespread and hasty generalization shaped in the spirit of the Cold War and simplified and distorted the nature and the significance of the events in the Eastern part of Europe. The whole region was depicted in the dark colors of “ethnic conflicts”, the imminence of wars (for instance in 1991-1994, the outbreak of war between Rumania and Hungary on Transylvania, announced at every possible moment, finally remained in the never-never land). The Western European diplomacy, mainly French, never made the distinction between, on the one hand, the surprisingly peaceful and smooth transition of Central Europe (Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary) included in a stable European peace system and, on the other hand, the violent succession crisis of the Soviet Union and the “small version of the Soviet Union” in the Balkans: Yugoslavia.

In the case of the explosion of Yugoslavia, Cold War perceptions overshadowed the existence of a solidly built European settlement. The explosion of Yugoslavia, the interpretation of Serbia’s aggressions generated a deeply pessimistic perception of the nature of these nations. These typically cold war perceptions of the conflict in 1992-1993 led to the genesis of the Balladur plan. The Balladur plan’s main purpose was to stabilize the existing borders, preventing the outbreak of new, Yugoslav type conflicts by a preventive diplomacy. The only fruit of this diplomatic efforts was the conclusions of the basic treaties between Hungary and Slovakia in March 1995, and between Hungary and Rumania in the fall of 1996. Consolidating Hungary’s neighboring frontiers was a useless exercise: those borders had already been recognized, stabilized and guaranteed in the Paris peace treaties of 1947. Nevertheless, these treaties largely contributed to reassure the French diplomacy itself and opened the way to the re-emergence of the protections of minority rights.

In the case of the perception of the succession crises, we can ask ourselves: why did it happen that way ? More generally why did the West European powers react belatedly, confusing the two politically and territorially distinct regions : Central Europe and the Balkans? The EEC/NATO remained unshaken during the transformation (1989-1991) and conflicts between the East European successors states gave a new mission to the Atlantic alliance. These institutions formed during the Cold War preserved a certain amount of vested interests to continue the East-West divide, and developed in the last years a certain dose of sentiment of “forteresse assiégée” against the idea of widening/enlarging Europe.

These unchanged perceptions of the cold war are seen in the case of the complete misperception of conflicts in ex-Yugoslavia. Whenever external actors have attempted to become involved in the sequence of conflicts, the heritage of the Cold War has apparently played a great role in influencing this actions.  The essence of that heritage is not to be found in the specific propaganda themes of 1991 but rather appears in a general pattern of perceptions which can be summarized in three main axioms :

·        There can be no more than two actors in a conflict.

·        These actors are states.

·        Among these, one is good and one is bad.

These perceptions are completely misleading: in virtually every situation of the Yugoslav conflict, however, the actors have never been fewer than three, and even this number is reached only after great simplifications. Peoples, or more precisely nations, have been actors, too, just as much as states and – with few exceptions – the actions of these actors are a matter of bad and worse, rather than good and bad, at least when judged by general moral standards rather than by the criteria of political expediency. Isolated, when such a complex reality confronts the cold war axioms, one of the two things tends to happen.  The axioms may « win », which results in an image of the conflicts that, when once we have the premise of what external actors try to do, normally misrepresents reality to such an extent that their attempted interventions do more harm than good.  The other alternative is that reality becomes too much for the axioms.  In this case, however, the results tend not to be a better understanding of the conflicts, but rather a kind of intellectual and moral capitulation, expressed on a preference for the image of a region populated by lunatics constantly at each other’s throats. The result was Balladur’s stability pact – preventive diplomacy – in order to prevent wars and the change of borders. Apparently, conflicts were “prevented” in that region, where there was no real political willingness to provoke the outbreak of armed conflicts, whereas in ex-Yugoslavia, where there were real political forces trying to dominate other nations and waging wars against them,  only the intervention of an extra-continental power, the United States, succeeded in stopping/halting the conflicts. The Balkan nations’ western characterization is partly unjust: historical rights for territorial claims of civilized, culturally superior Western European nations led actually to the reversal of old antagonism between France, Benelux and Germany in 1947 and the Western European solution of German reparation started the process of the European integration.

The Dayton agreement pacified Bosnia, but the ongoing Kosovo crisis (1998-1999) prolonged the image of immature, undemocratic, politically, economically and culturally backward  small states in the region with outbursts of atavistic nationalist sentiments.

The merits of the three historical nations, Poles, Hungarians and Czechs(Istvan Bibo), are undeniable in the unification of Europe. In three historical moments, in 1956, 1968, 1980 they proved to the world,  that the term “European” (democratic and free) can not be limited to Western Europe, European identity can not be limited and exclusive, the Cold War East-West divide did not create a distinctive “East-European” identity.  They succeeded to bypass “the misery of the small states”.

The unanimous approval of NATO enlargement (1997-1999), the Hungarian referendum on the issue (November 1997), the beginning of the screening process and the negotiations for the first wave of future European Union members in 1998/1999 have recently started to change the old stereotypes of East-West divide considerably harmed by the institutional and budgetary debate about the reform of the institutions and the enlargement. Apart from the military and economic integration, there are only a few signs of intellectual acceptance of a new, widely perceived and interpreted European identity which could lead to a real re-unification of the two parts of Europe and to a spirit of reconciliation between the Europeans.