William Pfaff Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

The End of the Cold War in Europe: Conversation with William Pfaff, columnist, International Herald Tribune, May 7, 1990, by Harry Kreisler

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Thoughts on Western Europe

So, in essence, the Cold War is over, Soviet power has collapsed, America is suffering from an exhaustion of ideas and of resources, so now the question is, can Europe get its act together on its own?

Western Europe has got its act together for all practical purposes. Obviously, things go in a complicated way, and often in a way that has not been foreseen, but it's a group of highly successful societies cooperating to a degree that would have seemed almost inconceivable fifty years ago. [They are] now faced with the challenge of bringing the East European societies into this community, and I say again, one must not underestimate the danger that exists in the Soviet collapse of civil disorder, of real crisis in the Soviet Union. It's by no means a prospect of unmixed joy, what's happening now. But I see no reason why it can't get its act together and I think there's a will to get its act together

A certain amount of nonsense has been talked about the problems of ethnic struggle, nationalism, and so forth, in Eastern Europe, which are, of course, real issues. The whole Serbia and Kosovo and Transylvania, and all these old problems obviously exist and will continue to present serious problems, but I think we see a remarkable will to come to terms with these problems. What is much more important [is that] these are inherently limited problems, circumscribed problems, which were important even in the past only because the major powers exploited them.

Sarajevo [in 1914] would have been an isolated act of terrorism if it had not been that Austria wanted to make use of it in order to teach a lesson to Serbia, and Russia wanted to teach a lesson about itself as the mother of all of the Slavs. A series of great power interests became involved in this, but nobody today gives any sign of wishing to support Central European tensions to their own advantage, even if there were some evident way in which this could be accomplished.

Is Germany still a problem for Europe, or is it now part of the solution?

It may be either. Germany is always a problem. Germany, as a united society, has never been a success. From 1871 to 1945 it was one catastrophe after another. There is in German political culture -- de Toqueville wrote about this 150 years ago -- a taste for general ideals, and for following general ideals to their limit in disregard of the practical consequences. This has been a recurrent trait of German political society. It's what a French writer a year or so ago called the "verige German," a German vertigo. Obviously, cultures change, but this is still an element that we must take into account.

On the other hand, having been through all that it's been through, there certainly is every reason to think that Germans today are certainly aware of their history, and they are aware of the advantages, the richness that they have -- I don't mean merely material richness, the richness political and every other respect that they have gained from being part of a cooperative community of democratic nations. So that there is every reason to be optimistic, but one nonetheless knows that nothing is unmixed benevolent prospect, and that there is a flaw in Germany that we must all be aware of.

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