Europe is home; let's share it: Writers from both sides of the old Iron Curtain argue that Western Europe has failed the moral and political test of post-Communism

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IN APRIL 1946 the Dutch historian Jan Romein concluded his review article of Anne Frank's diary in these terms: 'That it was possible for this child to have been taken away and killed is proof for me that we have lost the battle against the beast in man. We have lost because we have not been able to substitute something positive for it. And that is why we will lose again . . .'

Forty-seven years later, these lines sound sadly prophetic. Are we again losing the battle against the beast in man in the Balkans or in parts of what used to be the Soviet Union? As if demoralised by its victory over totalitarianism, the West, and Western Europe in particular, seems to have lost its sense of common purpose - as though it had been defined only negatively, in terms of the Soviet threat to 'our' way of life.

People in the West have almost begun to idealise the 'good old days', when the East-West conflict seemed to provide a clear-cut international pattern and enabled most of those who had the good fortune to live west of the Iron Curtain to enjoy a relatively comfortable existence. In a way, the gap between 'them' and 'us' seems to grow wider, not narrower. In 1989 those in the East celebrated their 'return to Europe'. Today, they are increasingly feeling left out, and we in the West too often consider them undesirable competitors, even intruders. Contrary to rhetoric, we want our clubs - the European Union and the Atlantic Alliance - to remain exclusive, while the ties between members are loosened by national selfishness, old prejudices and new distrust.

For more than 40 years we used the terms 'Europe' and 'Western Europe' as synonyms. This was always semantic self-delusion, but today it threatens to become a lie that undermines our basic moral standards and our ability to understand that a window of opportunity has been opened that might close sooner than we expect. While Abel is bleeding to death, Cain asks: 'Am I my brother's keeper?'

For many Western Europeans, 'Europe' is taken for granted. Like the concept of democracy, the revolutionary idea of supranational integration, shared sovereignty, civic responsibility across borders, and cosmopolitanism is now taken for granted; it is no longer a value in itself. We are witnessing a return of Bismarck, who once remarked: 'I have always found the word 'Europe' on the tongues of those politicians who asked something of other powers which they did not dare to demand in their own name.'

Europe's present crisis is not simply the inevitable crisis of a continent that has regained its geography and history before it was ready. It is fundamentally a moral crisis in which 'our' prosperity is more important than 'their' liberty.

It is one of the greatest strengths - and one of the greatest weaknesses - of free democracies that they do not offer collective goals. They are based on every person's basic right to differ. Open societies presuppose a voluntary fundamental consensus about the values of human dignity, individual liberty, civil rights and responsibilities and, yes, solidarity with the weak. These values are permanently threatened by what Karl Popper has dubbed the 'revolt against reason' - the fear of freedom, the yearning for heroic myths - and the confusion of civilised tolerance and moral relativism, or even nihilism.

The West's answer to the challenges of the post-Communist era cannot be a return to the tribal view of the heroic man that is so fashionable now in the Balkans, with its hysterical cries 'We want our history] We want our destiny] We want our fight]' The true moral and intellectual challenge consists in defining our objectives in positive terms.

At a time when the Clinton administration is trying to adapt its international doctrine from the containment of Communism to the enlargement of democracy, the first priority for Europeans is to defend and spread democracy within their own continent. Charity begins at home, and it is from there that the Europeans' most important contribution to a global civil society, to a 'New World Order', must start.

'Where does Europe end?' is not the question to be asked here. We know where it begins. The Europeans from the other side of what used to be the Iron Curtain 'have offered us, with a clarity and firmness born of bitter experience, a restatement of the value of what we already have, of old truths and tested models', as Timothy Garton Ash put it in 1990. By understanding how much we owe 'them', we will understand that our help is an act not of charity but of enlightened self-interest.

The challenge could be called that of normality, had 'normality' not been the abnormal state of affairs in much of Europe for most of the 20th century. From Jerusalem to Moscow, it is the desire to lead a civil, civilian and civilised life that is putting people on the road to peace and democracy. And to Israelis and Palestinians, to Europeans from what used to be the 'East' and people from the Central Asian periphery of the former Soviet Union, the European Union still looks like a model of moderation, tolerance and prosperity. It is also true, however, that disillusionment with what 'they' perceive as 'European' hypocrisy in the EU is growing.

We in the West seem to forget that this community is the only real common European home. Europe - wherever it ends - will unite only if we do not lose the sense of wonder and gratitude for what happened when the Iron Curtain fell and Europe was reborn in liberty.

The time has come to transcend an economic approach and to develop new ideas about how Europe's new democracies could be integrated politically. Their stability depends on their prospects of joining the Union, and our stability increasingly depends on theirs. Enhancing their security will enhance ours.

Dominique Moisi is deputy director of the Institut Francais des Relations Internationales, Paris. Michael Mertes is a senior adviser at the Federal Chancellery, Bonn; he writes in a personal capacity.

(Photograph omitted)