NINETEEN EIGHTY-NINE: THE END OF WHICH EUROPEAN ERA?
Postwar Europe was erected upon a foundation of myths and forgetting. This is not as cynical or as dismissive as it may appear; the myths were often positive and helpful, there was much that needed to be forgotten, and the results, especially in the western half of the continent, were impressive. Nor are such exercises in collective self-construction necessarily foredoomed to futility. The treaties which ended the wars of the Reformation, the Thirty Years War, and the Napoleonic wars all depended upon comparably ambitious attempts to put the past away and all of them succeeded in some measure; their effects are with us still. But for reasons peculiar to the shape of twentieth-century history the post-1945 settlement has proven peculiarly illusory, something which was already clear in Eastern Europe by the early 1980s and which 1989 and subsequent developments have brought home to everyone. The purpose of this essay is to try to understand the era which has now closed in its historical context and to sketch an outline of the terms in which Europe might think of itself as it enters a new and distinctive stage in its history.