Beyond New Europe: Does a Euro Curtain Exist?

By Rosapepe, James C. | Harvard International Review, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

Beyond New Europe: Does a Euro Curtain Exist?


Rosapepe, James C., Harvard International Review


Since September 11, 2001, there has been much talk regarding the potential clash between Christian and Islamic civilizations. But Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington, the popularizer of the clash theory, focused as much attention on the potential divide between Orthodox and Western Christians. In his 1996 book, The Clash of Civilizations, Huntington tied Orthodoxy to Islam and against the Catholic and Protestant countries of Western Europe and the United States. "Where does Europe end?" he asked, answering, "Europe ends where Western Christianity ends and Islam and Orthodoxy begin."

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Of course, the different religious traditions that developed out of the Great Schism between Eastern and Western Christianity do not create hard borders like that of Communism's Berlin Wall. Orthodox Christian Greece is a member of NATO and the European Union, while Catholic Croatia is not--yet. But as the former Soviet satellites of Central and Eastern Europe join major Western institutions while Russia and the other former Soviet republics do not, a new dividing line is being drawn in Europe, separating a unified Europe from its eastern neighbors. The resulting political geography looks a lot like a map from Huntington's book. All the new EU members are Protestant or Catholic, while all the former Soviet republics to the east are Orthodox or Muslim.

Historical Divide

Obviously, religion is only one of the factors that divide New Europe from its Western neighbors; geography and history are just as significant. In the less than 15 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, "New Europe," namely the non-Soviet states and the Baltics, has diverged dramatically from the former Soviet Union. Economically, the 15 new European nations have largely recovered from the depression that followed the end of central planning and are on track to lead growth in Europe over the coming decade. All democratic states, they are almost entirely at peace. Ten are already in NATO, and the rest could conceivably join in the next decade. Eight have joined the European Union, two more are targeted to join in 2007, and the rest have real possibilities to join in the future. Most will be using the euro as currency within a decade.

In contrast, most of the former Soviet states have not yet recovered from the economic and political collapses following the end of the communist regime. From Chechnya to Tajikistan, difficult conflicts remain. By last year, even with strong economic growth since 1999, Russia had recovered only 71 percent of its 1990 output. Belarus, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan are still dictatorial states. None are on the road to the European Union. That last point is a big one, both as a cause and as an effect. All of the countries of New Europe are either EU members already or can expect to join, if they meet EU standards. Non-members like Croatia and Albania have a clear road map to Western integration; Ukraine and Armenia do not.

Less than 15 years ago, the Soviet Union and its Central and Eastern European satellites seemed to be locked in a tight military, political, and economic embrace. The Soviet army occupied most of them, they were military allies, their societies were organized around communist ideology, most of their trade was with each other, and most importantly, their governments were propped up by Soviet power. There was an Iron Curtain. What is now New Europe was on the other side of it, along with the Soviet Union. When the curtain fell, there was an understandable inclination in the West to see the countries' strengths and weaknesses through the same lens. These were all countries going through a "post-communist transition."

Past Politics

But their experiences were actually quite different. The economic declines were much deeper, and the recoveries much slower, in the former Soviet countries than in Central and Eastern Europe. The gross domestic product (GDP) of New Europe declined by an average of 23 percent over a little less than four years. …

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