Monday Book: The East comes West


THE TITLE of these essays was invented by George Kennan to describe an earlier book by Timothy Garton Ash, a deft phrase to describe what the grand old man of foreign policy called "that small and rarely visited field of literary effort where journalism, history and literature... come together". Within this fertile intellectual triangle, the author situates his evocations of the Europe that has emerged and is still emerging from the rubble of the Berlin Wall and the retreat of Soviet Communism.

As Garton Ash observes, Westerners are steeped in the Whig tradition of expecting history to bring progress, and the good to drive out the bad. Yet the happy ending that 1989 seemed to provide to a century overshadowed by two hot wars and one cold one proved illusory. Ten years on, the future has been forged in a part of Europe by violent "ethnic cleansing", rockets and mortar shells. It is being resolved, or rather cauterised, by means of aerial bombing and an international protection force.

The sheer scope of this collection reminds us that the continent of Europe is wide, "Not only up and down but side to side", as Cabaret's Sally Bowles observed. Garton Ash rightly insists on the term "Central" rather than Eastern Europe - the latter being a lazy appellation that makes it too easy to discount the emerging democracies as lying beyond the main family of European nations.

As the Balkans darken and Europe havers, his frustrations intensify. "One day," he writes at the end of 1995, "I want to hijack Helmut Kohl, Jacques Chirac and Jacques Santer and all the other leaders of the European Union." He would take them to Sarajevo to confront the despair and the lack of belief in the West as saviour. "I should like to see if they can go on smoothly delivering their soft, prefabricated speeches about our Europe of peace and progress."

The point is well made. The gap between the rhetoric of European integration and the inability of institutional Europe to prevent bloodshed, let alone build the promised Common European Home, verges on the grotesque. Yet Garton Ash's contempt sometimes strikes me as coming a little too easily. The spectateur engage, as he describes himself just a bit preciously, has the best of both worlds. He investigates reality and often finds it wanting, while avowing that it is not his business to change it.

Another chapter describes his extended argument with Vaclav Havel about whether the place of intellectuals is to reflect on politics or become involved. When Havel suggests that some people are capable of injecting "a new wind, new spirit... into the stereotypes of everyday politics" - people like the author, in fact - the spectateur's fastidiousness reasserts itself: "The role of the intellectual should be as mirror-holder," he writes.

This is a conundrum not only for countries emerging from totalitarianism. The result of this intellectual retreat from active politics is all too clear here in Britain, in the baleful inadequacy of arguments about the euro. Cultivated, cosmopolitan people with profound doubts about the direction on which the EU has embarked are reluctant to become openly associated with campaigns against the single currency. So the predominant voices opposed to EMU too often appear shrill and isolationist, while we continue to build the wrong sort of Europe.

Garton Ash has an uncanny ability to sketch transition through a single encounter or scene. There is a masterful account of meeting the late Erich Honecker, dying of cancer in jail in the unified Germany. Honecker doggedly explained that the East German economy wasn't that bad - because one had to offset the hard-currency deficit against a surfeit of transferable roubles.

In such scenes, the author's psychological accuracy rarely errs as he nets political and intellectual shifts. Towards the end of the book, he revisits an old friend from Solidarity in Poland, transformed into a successful newspaper editor and free-marketeer. When he reminds her that he once described her as the "Rosa Luxemburg of Solidarity," she writes back without embarrassment, "I am Thatcher now, not RL any more."

This is a book that makes me want to take the next plane out to Warsaw, Budapest or Sarajevo and reconnect to the peoples and parts of Europe we tend to say were "cut off" by the Cold War, but from which an inward- looking West continues to distance itself. One conundrum asserts itself by its near-absence, and that is Russia. The map that concludes the book shows European Russia, but the mighty and troubled land itself is scarcely treated here, other than in relation to other countries.

I wondered whether this betrayed a suspicion that dare not speak its name: that Russia will continue to lie outside the paradigm of the liberal order Garton Ash desires. The Nineties have been one of Europe's great formative decades, although what precisely is being formed remains unclear, and its boundaries are uncertain. That is the fear, and the challenge.

Anne McElvoy

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor