It would be logical for me to say that, returning to the United States after another four months this summer and fall in various countries of Europe, east and west, I found a great many misconceptions about the continent in American media and public opinion. Yet it would not be fair to limit myself to such a remark, because in Europe too such misconceptions are staggering; at least those which are engendered in the east about the west and in the west about the east. This is the more astonishing as these two halves are scheduled to be gradually working out their rapprochement, in order finally to unite. The truth is, however, that such a “unity” is nothing more than a slogan, a magic word that carries two different meanings: the east of Europe regards unity as a method of receiving vast sums from the west, in the form of gifts, investments, joint ventures, and tourism (myriad hotels are being built to receive visitors); the west of Europe regards unity as a means of flooding the east with needed and unneeded merchandise, as a means of making instant and huge profits through investment (there are already guidebooks to this effect).

The negative aspect of these sharp ambitions on both sides is the fear of the other’s Machiavellianism, or, more plainly, its tricks. The west, including even Austria, is worried about the new migrants from the impoverished lands: Gypsies from Rumania, black-marketeering Poles, masses of Russians; the east is even more worried that the respective national resources and patrimonies will be bought up by foreign capital under the pretext of “privatization,” and that “western culture” will invade minds and tastes that have successfully resisted forty years of communism and brainwashing.

This is, then, the rather desolate truth in place of the illusion that East and West Europe wish nothing better than to cooperate and unite. Underneath the politicians’ official embraces, old and new fears surface, national jealousies thrive, and among western investors themselves a kind of shark-morality prevails: who can cut a larger slice from the soon-to-be neocolonized east? About 40 percent of Hungary’s newspapers are already in the hands of western presslords: Maxwell, Murdoch and the French Hersant. With only 30 percent of the take, the German Springer Verlag (Hamburg) is already in the position of vetoing the arrival of French newspapers—or at least delaying them for days (and who wants yesterday’s papers?).

These are more than just glimpses of the supposedly happy east/west relations. In Western Europe proper the idea of unity is regressing, although the cause has become so sacred that all lips pay service to the wonderful prospects coming in 1993. Yet the Germans want none of the “union,” none of the common currency, and if you look at France or Spain, you readily understand why the Germans are so reluctant and why they will end up dictating the future. France is full of striking workers, students, public employees—and every month a huge foreign trade deficit. Spain is increasingly desolate, its industry retrogressing, its (socialist) government supported by only 29 percent of the population. The Germans, with their skill and know-how, penetrate Spanish economic life like a knife into butter, and they are also mightily present in Eastern Europe (and Russia), where France is virtually absent.

The long and short of it is that hegemonic Germany does not need a united Europe, and, together with England although for different reasons, Kohl or his successors will systematically torpedo such a construct. Why England, after Margaret Thatcher? Because no matter what Englishman becomes prime minister—tomorrow even Neil Kinnock—he will return to the Thatcherite line. England is not part of the Continent, the Heseltine claim was a political gimmick; truth is. Englishmen detest the Continent, and the opening of the tunnel may even exacerbate this feeling. What we may expect is that the January 1, 1993, deadline for unity will be put off to later, then again and again, until such time that the whole unmanageable mess will be dropped and forgotten. For the past three or four years the notion of unity was a strategy of France to a) prevent German unification, b) prevent Russo-German rapprochement (a new and dreaded Rapallo), and c) tie a relatively weak West Germany to a permanently lame France. This strategy failed at every point, although Mitterrand now puts on a good face—hiding his fury.

Yet, the clowning goes on, and Kohl, Andreotti, and John Major keep smiling at the prospect of unity, hiding their second thoughts, at least as long as Jacques Delors lords it over in Brussels as high commissar of unity. Delors, a cold technocrat and a Christian Democrat to boot (a good mask for deeper layers of Jacobinism, thus ultra-centralization of all powers), is a typical Frenchman in the sense of “either I lead you, or I prevent you from playing the game.” All groups that include the French end up succumbing to this sense of superiority—except the Germans who, when powerful, display a different but just as devastating arrogance. Delors’ mandate as Brussels’ superstar will soon end, and chances are that Belgian Prime Minister Martens will succeed him. This means, since Martens is a Fleming and not a Walloon, that British interests will be better safeguarded than the French, and we may then see an ephemeral alliance between London and Berlin—against Paris. At any rate, the triangular situation does not promise much “unity” but a lot of haggling, which will also be to the detriment of the “small” ones, from Lisbon to Oslo to Athens—not to speak of Eastern Europe, still only interested in getting funds.

This is the happy harmony at the top; among the citizens there is absolutely no enthusiasm for the “commonly shared” Europe. Juan Goytisolo asks in the leading Spanish paper, El Pais, just what may be the issue or the tradition on which the nations of Europe would see eye to eye? The common man’s attitude is either complete indifference or indeed fear that he would lose his job to better qualified European “brothers,” or that his little private sphere of life would be invaded by North Africans and Asians. European unity may be efficacious in one area, but it will also breed racial hatred, which is already growing as the laws issued from Brussels clearly advantage the “immigrant” over against the local population. The common man knows he is being sold a bill of goods; his reaction is not yet savage, but his patience is not inexhaustible. A typical reaction by a French shopkeeper: For the time being, we hardly manage to coexist with North Africans, and not at all when they approach majority in any given arrondissement or village; but God only knows what will happen if Germany kicks out its Turkish workers (replaced easily by ex-East Germans), who then merely cross our borders—without a passport.

Although “European unity” is becoming a swear word, the Strasbourg “parliament,” blissfully ignoring popular wishes, has just now voted a resolution turning the future Europe into a “federation.” Federation, confederation, total unity—whatever the label—all people expect the consumer society to continue and even to be further “Americanized.” I said “all expect,” but this is not quite true. In the West, consumerist habits are by now so ingrained that not even confiscatory taxes prevent the citizen from living a life of mindless purchase. In the East, things have not gone that far, because a perhaps majority of citizens value their regained homeland and want to continue their national existence, interrupted for half a century. But inside every East European country there is also a vocal minority—technocrats, liberals, agnostics, pro-capitalists—who want an instant consumer society, to hell with the nation’s past and communal interests. These people publish most of the newspapers and magazines, shape the TV programs, teach at the universities. Many young priests have joined their ranks. Facing this strong minority, there is the usual silent majority, reluctant to disperse the national patrimony in the name of “privatization,” and insistent on, for example, religious instruction in schools. You find the split between Lech Walesa and Adam Michnik, or between Jozsef Antall and Janos Kiss. For the time being, less than a year after liberation from the Soviet nightmare, the forces of tradition are strong enough to win elections for top posts; the zealous brothers from among western bankers and speculators have, however, mounted their financial offensive to put the local liberal Democrats in power. Walesa is the target of scurrilous attacks—and his name stands here as a collective phenomenon.

At any rate, it is hard to imagine that the cause of European unity would resist the innumerable conflicts that are quite natural for Europe, although baffling to Americans. How do you achieve union when, on the one hand, Germany is strong and vital enough to reabsorb in a matter of a few months her eastern provinces, while France is so weak as to want to grant independence to Corsica? How do you achieve union when all the nationality conflicts are ablaze in Eastern Europe, and Russia herself becomes fragmented, each fragment entertaining hostile intentions? No wonder that under the circumstances those who begin to doubt the magic January 1, 1993, are proposing new configurations, not as artificial as Jacobin Jacques Delors’ Robespierrian abstraction. If not pan-European unity, they say, why not regional groupings, as suggested by Italy’s foreign minister, De Michelis, who foresees German hegemony and proposes as a counterweight a line reaching from Barcelona to Trieste, and farther up to Slovenia and Hungary. Others have a Baltic-to-the-Mediterranean axis in mind, reaching as far as Morocco. Skeptics say that one look at the map demonstrates that the northern capitals (and industrial areas) are nearer each other, such as London to Stockholm, than the southern capitals, say from Madrid to Ankara, a line that passes through vast underdeveloped regions. In other words, it seems that a united Europe would still offer unbeatable advantages to the northern countries over those of the south. Unity would thus mean exploitation not only of Eastern Europe by Western Europe, but of the soft southern underbelly by northern industry.

Mme. Marie-France Garaud, who used to be Pompidou’s and Chirac’s chief advisor, now admits in Geopolitique that unity remains an empty slogan when reality is preparing a continental shift from west to east (including Russia), whether fragmented or unified. There may be in this a historic justice. A united Europe did exist, under the Church’s aegis, in the Middle Ages; it was the Christiana respublica. It broke up around 1500 A.D., when the Turkish invasion detached east from west. During the subsequent centuries the west profited by the Renaissance, the age of discoveries, science and industry, while the east fell into stagnation, devastations, wars, and poverty. “Unity” under these conditions has been a historical misnomer, a mere geographical fact. It appears now that the east is taking its revenge: while Western Europe has nothing to offer except more consumer goods. Eastern Europe reenters history, thanks partly to the recapture of the national idea and to the historical imperative of Russo-German cooperation. Many, mostly outside, fear a recrudescence of national feelings and other strong emotions, eventually ideologies. If so, this cannot be helped; it is primarily the fault of the Western Allies after the Second World War, which instead of integrating the “two Europes” pushed one into the crushing arms of the Soviet Union. Resistance and accumulated suffering created new national energies that will be difficult to channel because the only alternative channel is a democratic-liberal model unsuitable for Eastern Europe.

In this perspective—which is not that of the eternal illusionists and late-regretters—the “unity” of Europe is a last-minute trick to pour the east in the mold of the west. The goal is a continent-wide supermarket, without a soul, without an identity, without the lessons of the past, and above all without protection from future dangers. East European populations aspire understandably to all those things from which they were deprived for five decades, whether it be easy travel abroad or imported luxuries, or even (why not at this stage) pornographic literature. Thus they give the impression of being as frivolous as their counterparts in the west. But, do not underestimate the will to national sovereignty and the power of symbols and traditions. This is the reason (which we in the west try not to see) why Cerman unification is regarded by Eastern Europe as a positive thing. Over against a vaporous “united Europe” a Cerman hegemony is not really feared, particularly if Russia also envisages her own modernization through German know-how. Contrary to recent history. Eastern Europe sees in the cooperation of Berlin and Moscow a potent factor for peace in the area, or at least a period in which the small countries will not have to take sides between the two continental “superpowers,” and will not have to suffer devastation by one, then another, army. In this light, a “united Europe” seems like a paltry, technocratic dream, an unnecessary complication. Conflicts would still remain, except that they would not be called “foreign wars” but “civil wars.” What is the advantage, except, as Talleyrand said after the Vienna Congress (which also gave birth to a “united Europe”), a new but just as hypocritical verbiage?