Letter FromnEastern Europenby Thomas MolnarnA Difficult RoadnOver the course of a one-month (April)ntrip through five European countries,nEastern and Western, I collected notesnof many conversations, particularly withnyoung people, about their view of whatnis called over there “the situation.” Anmore concrete term should not be usednsince not even the leading quattuor,nGorbachev, Thatcher, Mitterrand, andnKohl, know exactly what tomorrow willnbring. “The situation” is fluid, or atnleast half of it is: while Western Europenshifts between joy and anxiety, andnfollows the road of consumer societies.nEastern Europe makes history, for thenfirst time since about A.D. 1500 whennthe Turkish occupation put an end to itsnindependent existence. There followednother occupiers, Habsburg, Russian,nand German up until 1918, and therenwere new occupations, German andnSoviet, up to the crumbling of the BerlinnWall. Add it up: close to five centuries.nThe history now made in EasternnEurope may bring with it revolutions,ncivil wars, wars among nations, unexpectednindependence (the Ukraine?),nthe breakup of Russia, new hegemoniesn(Germany). Or it may bring anpeaceful unity with Western Europenand the extension of consumer society’snwasteland from West to East.nEverything is possible; history continues;nFukuyama was mistaken.nMy contacts in Eastern Europe,nFrance, Switzerland, and Austria werenmade easier by the fact that in severalnplaces I gave lectures and seminars, sonthat I was able to meet large groups ofnarticulate people. The additional factnthat I came from America bestowed onnme a kind of extraterritoriality, whilenmy European origin and the languagesnI speak brought me closer to them thannwould be the case of a journalist orninterviewer. We talked after classes, atnbeer halls, on mountain paths, in cafesnand homes. I think I can trust what mynyoung friends told me.nCORRESPONDENCEnYoung people in the West regardn”the situation” with unbelieving eyes.nThis is already the TV generation innEurope too, conditioned to registernonly what the screen deity reports, or elsenthey formulate their views accordingnto the opinion-group to which they belong:nnationalist, Gatholic, anti-German,nsocialist, liberal, radical, or Jewish.nAlmost everybody is enthusiastic,nminus the chauvinists in France, dutyboundnto suspect the “Boche” whatevernhe does. (So much for the Franco-nGerman love affair, the foundationnstone of a “united Europe.”) The greatestnsympathy is manifested for Rumania,na “Latin sister,” but as one travels eastward,nsentiments palpably change, andnHungarians and Poles win handsndown.nIn the West I asked questions aboutneventual threats to the consumer societynin case reforms in the East provencostly for Western budgets. At first, thenanswers indicate solidarity and generositynwith the East; then people becomenslightly nervous, and strictly localnproblems leap into focus: unemploymentnand African immigration innFrance; joining or not joining the UnitednNations in Switzeriand; and joy innVienna about reassuming the centralnposition of the city (and country) lostnwhen Hitler annexed Austria asnGermany’s easternmost thus-marginalizednprovince. I concluded from all thisnthat sacTo egoismo is still uppermost innthese people’s minds, and that peoplengenerally are only superficially interestednin what happens next door. Sacrificingntheir prosperity for others is out ofnthe question, solidarity and sacrifice arenactivated exclusively within the nation.nThus Hungarian students, upon hearingnof Geausescu’s fall and the needs ofnthe Magyar population in Transylvania,ncollected truckfuls of foods withinn24 hours and drove them to Rumanian— where Securitate sharpshooters receivednthem. There were quite a fewncasualties.nAs my train or car traveled east, notnonly the landscape, but the mentalitiesnand worries changed. My interlocutorsnbecame more alive to “the situation.”nIn, Austria, Liechtenstein, and Switzerlandnmany of the people I talked withnnnwere Polish, Hungarian, and Czechnstudents, and their first concern wasnthe state of the economy and generalnmorals at home. While the expertsnhatch projects and Western or Japaneseninvestors buy up entire industries andnmedia groups and install sex-shopnchains, my young friends, almost withoutnexception, are pessimistic about thenyears of transition, which may be asnlong as one or two decades. Duringnthat time and without the party’sncrushing presence (but it crushed badnthings, too, they acknowledge, such asnopenly offered pornography), people’snselfishness and indifference are likely tongrow and corruption of all sorts tonspread. “We are at our best when itncomes to talking or writing, but wherenare the practical minds and the organizers?”nOr: “Politicians are filled withngood intentions, but there is not onenstatesman among them.” Or: “A unifiednview would be necessary, not thendispersal of party-politics, yet nobodynwants another monolithic power structure.”nDemocracy, yes, but withoutnthe anarchy of pressure groups andndemagogy; a strong national government,nyes, but without one party inncharge; etc., etc. A young Polish womannsummed up the general preoccupation.nShe and her friends were fightingnfor years for political and cultural pluralism,nbut are beginning to have doubtsnas they are now face-to-face with Westernnanarchy and confusion. It suddenlynbecomes clear to me: if the one-partynsystem had not been a totalitarian onen(this is no contradiction), and had beennable to acquire legitimacy in the eyes ofnthe people, they would have hesitatednto overthrow it. The multiparty systemnis not received with enthusiasm. Only anminority of the population votes — notnbecause they are unused to democracy,nbut because they distrust Danaos etndona ferentes.nA group of students from Praguenand Brno was, perhaps, the most evenminded.n”What we have seen of yournconsumer society scares us,” one of thengroup said. “If it invades us too, therenwill be those who succumb to it, butnalso others who will try to block it withnany means. A cultural civil war may bennext on the agenda.” A Finnish girinJANUARY 1991/43n