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Book review

by Carol Strong

The wall and after: Australasian perspectives on Europe
edited by Stephen Gregory

Published by Southern Highlands Publishers, 2002

Once past the expectation that a book entitled The Wall and After would focus on the political and economic developments within Europe following the 1989 collapse of the Berlin Wall, a multifaceted examination of how the European ideal was cultivated throughout the twentieth century can be appreciated. Spanning slightly more than the century, from 1896 forward to the present, this book addresses diverse issues ranging from political legitimacy, the impact of leadership and party formation, to the formulation of EU-specific social policies and the role of the media and literature, respectively, in the context of contemporary European politics.

In his introductory remarks, the editor, Stephen Gregory contends that this anthology reflects the ‘enormous complexity of which the erection and continued existence of the Wall … represented for Europe’, both East and West, throughout the Cold War (p. v). Gregory further argues, however, that while the most prominent symbol of divided Europe may have been demolished, other social and psychological boundaries have subsequently emerged across the continent, in direct response to the further integration of the European Union. In an effort to reflect this, The Wall and After could easily be sub-divided into generalised sections, with the first focussing on pre-1989 developments, and the second on the events leading to, but more importantly following the negotiation and ratification of Maastricht.

The first two articles, offered by Bruce Kent and Pierre Daprini, accordingly address the economic and political components of the reconstruction of Europe following World War II. Kent firstly challenges the teleological assumption that the division of Germany was the intentional by-product of the competing, geo-political imperatives of the USSR, the US and/or the UK alone, through his emphasis on the contested appropriation of funds after the war. A political perspective is then provided by Daprini’s analysis of the re-establishment of French and German cooperation during the same period, specifically focussing on the conciliatory role assumed by the former French president, Charles de Gaulle.

Felix Patrikeeff changes direction slightly with his portrayal of the extended Civil War in Siberia and the Russian Far East between 1896 and 1914. By highlighting the supplementary role of non-Bolshevik leaders, Patrikeeff disputes the idea that Soviet dominance was a foregone conclusion in the region at that time. While not directly related to the EU, this topical area nevertheless demonstrates how contentious the loss of national sovereignty can be for local populations, whatever the political orientation and/or structure of the dominating power.

Concluding the first section, John Moses explores the (often contentious) consolidation process of political legitimacy. To illustrate his point, Moses outlines the ill-fated attempts of the former East German regime first to politicise, and then instrumentalise the legacy of Martin Luther (and the protestant church) from the personal and/or spiritual realms, to that of the political foundation of the German Democratic Republic itself.

The second half of the book, by contrast, includes commentaries on the re-conceptualisation of EU objectives, initiated in response to the negotiations surrounding Maastricht. Amber Cernous firstly considers the ideological dimension of the post-1989 transformation of the Italian Communist Party (PCI) to the Italian Democratic Party of the Left (PDS). By profiling the party’s conscious shift from the more traditional issues of employment and welfare to the demands of the EMU and European integration, a generalised, but contemporary dilemma of the Left in Europe is highlighted.

Jasmine Cernous explores the changing workforce in Europe, arguing that EU official policies inadvertently characterise women as economic-based workers, not citizens of the Union. The paradox highlighted is that millions of women remain excluded from full social benefits, at a time when the European charter guarantees equality across the region. Simon Gray follows this with an enquiry into the role of the media during transformational situations, as he examines the process by which political and commercial elites in Russia came to dominate the country’s media complex following the 1991 collapse of communism.

Stephen Gregory closes the book with his exploration of selected literary pieces by John Berger: Keeping a Rendezvous (1992), To the Wedding (1995) and Photocopies (1996). According to Gregory, even as these three books revel in the seeming hopelessness fostered by the development of a more intrusive European (supra-national) structure, Berger simultaneously projects a nascent hope for the future, as illustrated by his characters’ efforts to cope with the changing political environment in Europe.

While this anthology does not wholly transcend the dangers frequently encountered with books compiled from conferences – specifically that the presentations on the day, but more importantly the finished product can become disparate and linked only vaguely by topic – the authors here, in aggregate, encourage a critical re-assessment of the continuing development and legitimacy of European Union. Each article moreover challenges common fallacies associated with issues ranging from political imperatives and economic practices, to the social implications of a deeper European integration. Thus highlighted is the fact that no future analysis of Europe should be accepted without discourse.