Mr. Gorbachev was not the one to tear down these walls

This essay about the destruction of old borders in Europe, and the creation of new ones, is both fascinating and captures the feel of the continent spot-on. I hope it becomes a longer essay, there’s rather a lot to say about where Europe’s heading and how that will change the sense of identity for many, many people:

Yet, while attending several celebratory conferences over the last few months about the revolutions of 1989, I found myself thinking about the new walls that have risen within and around Europe. The same Schengen agreements that create a zone of free internal movement for all but a few EU members require the construction and defense of a single external European frontier. This is as it must be; but with the result that someone from beyond the zone, from Belarus or from Turkey, may find herself refused entry. The difference between not needing a passport at all and needing a special visa is considerable, and creates a distance that can be psychologically and politically damaging.

Europe itself seems much further from the United States than it did twenty years ago. In western Europe, the election of Obama has undone some of the feeling of estrangement that resulted from the American decision to invade Iraq; while in some east European countries, such as Poland, Obama sometimes takes the blame for the weakened American position in world affairs. In the meantime European and American society have become increasingly incomprehensible to one another. Standards of living in several west and central European countries are now much better than in America. I did not expect twenty years ago that poor Poland could become so quickly comparable to the United States in its infant mortality rates and life expectancy. Its downtowns feel safer and its public transportation is better. Although Poles and other east Europeans are more likely than West Europeans to repeat the rhetoric of economic libertarianism, they accept the fundamentals of the welfare state that in America are now so contested. It is no easier to explain American debates over health care reform in Warsaw than in Vienna.

Yet all is far from well within Europe. In much of central and eastern Europe, nationalist populism—whether in Russia, Poland, Hungary, or Austria—is more resonant than twenty years ago. Throughout the continent, pedagogical systems have remained national, or, in such cases as Russia and Ukraine, become so. Young people in almost every European school system learn versions of history more appropriate for the nineteenth century than the twenty-first.

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