Year Zero: A History of 1945
Year Zero: A History of 1945

Year Zero: A History of 1945

Oct 1, 2013

Ian Buruma makes a compelling case that many of the modern triumphs, such as the European Union, the United Nations, and Japanese pacifism, as well as some of the world's unresolved conflicts in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, all took root in 1945, that fateful year of retribution, revenge, suffering, and healing.


JOANNE MYERS: Good morning. I'm Joanne Myers, and on behalf of the Carnegie Council, I would like to welcome our members and guests, and to thank you for joining us for this Public Affairs program.

It is a pleasure to welcome Ian Buruma back to this podium. In his most recent book, entitled Year Zero: A History of 1945, Ian writes about this decisive year of victory and defeat, and talks about how, in 1945, worlds collided and in that collision modern history was born anew. I know from past discussions of his earlier works, whether it was Murder in Amsterdam, Occidentalism, Taming the Gods, or Bad Elements, that this thoughtful and respected author, critic, and academic will, with his signature skill, inspire us to think about war and its aftermath in a way we have not done before.

When most of us think of war, our thoughts turn to the front lines—the carnage of the battlefields, the weapons, and the death. But, as Ian reminds us, there is another side to war's story—the crushing ironies and tragedies at war's end, which is often not written about. One is often left wondering, how do people respond at the moment of so much destruction? How do they sift through the emotional and physical devastation, and start living again? Are they able to forgive and willing to forget?

These questions take on a special poignancy in that Ian's father, who was a young Dutch student at the time, was captured by the Germans and forced to work in wartime Germany. At the end of the war, as his father made his way home through a bombed-out Europe, he discovered how life had changed forever. He was, Ian writes, the inspiration for this narrative.

Year Zero makes a compelling case that many of the modern triumphs, such as the European Union, the United Nations, and Japanese pacifism, as well as some of the world's unresolved conflicts in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, all took root in this fateful year of retribution, revenge, suffering, and healing.

Causes of war often receive far greater attention than war's end. For an understanding of what happened when one world ended and a new, uncertain world began, please join me in welcoming a man who, in writing this book, not only has refashioned our understanding of the past, but has given a basis for understanding the present, our speaker today, Ian Buruma. Thank you for joining us.


IAN BURUMA: Thank you for that kind introduction.

I'll start with the story of my father, because that, as you have pointed out, was the inspiration for this, and he sort of stands in for his generation.

I was born six years after the war, which means that my generation, of course, still really grew up in the shadow of World War II. My primary teachers were still full of stories of resistance and derring-do, most of them utterly phony. We knew where to go shopping. You didn't go to that butcher's because that butcher had been "wrong"—meaning he had collaborated with the Germans—or you wouldn't buy candy at a particular cigar store because that lady who worked there had had a German girlfriend.

But the story of my father is really as follows. He was a law student at Utrecht University in 1941, during the German occupation. As a law student, it was expected that you became a member of the fraternity, because that's where you made your future contacts. Becoming a member of the fraternity, then as now, meant you had to go through an initiation ceremony, which meant a lot of hazing—polishing the shoes of your seniors, jumping up and down like a frog, shaving your head—all kinds of humiliations that were part of that sort of thing. Because the fraternities had been banned in 1941 by the German occupation as potential sources of resistance, this still went on, but it had to go on underground, as it were; it was clandestine.

So he went through this and, like all other students, he was told to sign a so-called oath of loyalty to the German occupier, which he didn't. Seventy-five percent of students didn't. But that meant, if you didn't do that, you would be forced to go work in Germany for the German war industry. That meant that most students, like my father, went underground, into hiding.

Somebody in the student resistance screwed up and issued instructions that my father and others had to come back to their hometowns, which he did. He was met at the station by my grandfather, who was then not in very good health. They happened to be surrounded by the so-called Grüne Polizei, German police force, and were threatened that those men between certain ages who did not sign the oath and did not volunteer for work in Germany—that their parents would be arrested. My father didn't dare take the risk, and so he ended up in Berlin in a locomotive factory.

He lived through the Battle of Berlin, the bombings during the day by the U.S. Air Force, at night by the Royal Air Force, and the Stalin organs coming in from the East. He was almost shot by a Soviet soldier. He collapsed in the middle of Berlin of hunger and exhaustion, was nursed back to some kind of health by a friendly prostitute, ended up in a displaced persons camp, and, in 1945, came back to Holland.

He soon went back to Utrecht, only to be told that because the initiation ceremony for the fraternity had taken place underground, it had to be done all over again. There were men, like my father, who had been through this and some boys who had been through worse, who had been to Dachau and Buchenwald and so on, who suddenly were compelled to start jumping up and down like frogs and be humiliated by senior students, many of whom had never left Holland.

I was baffled by this story, and I said to my father, "How is it possible that you put up with this kind of thing after all you'd experienced?"

He said, "Well, we didn't think much of it."

Gradually, it dawned on me, talking to him, that it was really because people were so desperate for normality, to go back to the world that they had known before the catastrophe, that this to them, in some ways, represented what the normal world had been, and so it didn't bother them so much.

Now, of course, the idea that you could go back to normality after a catastrophic time like that is an illusion. There is no such thing, really, as a normal world. It will never be the same as it was in 1939—nor should it have been. I'll come back to that later, but one of the few positive elements of a catastrophe like this, of an enormous bout of destruction, is that it also leads to creation. It was also the beginning of a new kind of idealism of a generation that felt this should never happen again, we should have more equal, freer, better societies, and so on and so forth. It was the beginning of social democracy in Europe and all those other things—the United Nations.

But I'll come back to that later. I'd like to really highlight two themes in the book. There are several. I wrote it thematically. It's not an encyclopedia of what happened in each country, because I wouldn't have had the knowledge or the time to do that, and it would have been probably rather boring because a lot of it overlaps. So I did it in themes, and two, I think, stand out—also because you see them coming back over and over after every war, including the one in Iraq recently. The two themes are revenge and legitimacy: How do you put a country together again after occupation, after conflict, after civil war? Who has the legitimacy to govern a country after a conflict like that? It's, of course, linked to the thirst for revenge for everything that people have experienced.

Occupation, of course, and the roots of revenge, which are very rarely spontaneous—I mean, there are, of course, cases of people who will want their vengeance on specific individuals because of particular gripes. But I found that most of the serious bloodletting after the war in terms of revenge against the German-speaking population—in Silesia or Sudetenland, for example—or against the collaborators in France, let alone the civil war in Greece, was almost always politically orchestrated. Revenge does need people who will organize it. The feelings are there, but it needs to be stirred up, as we also saw in the former Yugoslavia, of course.

The roots of these feelings go back further than the occupation and the war itself. What the Nazis did in Europe or the Japanese in Asia was usually to use old fissures that existed in societies and make them worse. In other words, the Vichy regime in France would never have existed without the German occupation, but the roots of the Vichy regime, of course, were there, and were there since the French Revolution. The revanchist, monarchist, Catholic, anti-Semitic right wing had been there, people who hadn't been reconciled to the French Republic. The German occupation gave them their chance.

The same thing happened, in different ways, in most countries under occupation. In Belgium the conflict between the French-speaking Belgians and the Dutch-speaking Belgians had been there. It was the Dutch-speaking Belgians who saw their chance under Nazi rule to suddenly get traction over the French speakers, who, they felt, had always been lording it over them before the war.

The occupiers, of course, used these things. In East Asia the Japanese very deliberately used sentiments towards the Chinese minorities, for example, in countries like Malaya to pander to the Malays. It was not for nothing that most of the people who resisted the Japanese in Southeast Asia, in countries like Malaya, were Chinese, and often Chinese communists—but in any case, Chinese. That, of course, made the sense of revenge after the war much, much worse.

The civil wars that actually did break out in Greece, almost broke out in Italy—and, some would argue, actually did break out in Italy—which could have broken out in France, and so on, were all really a direct result of the occupiers using these antagonisms to their advantage.

There's also another element in revenge which is very political and, I would say, explains very much what happened to the German populations of Czechoslovakia and Poland in particular, also a little bit elsewhere—Romania—which is revolutionary revenge. The German speakers were the old upper class, really, in the Sudetenland and Silesia. They were the university professors, they were the businessmen, they were the mayors of cities, and so on. They were the urban elite, whereas the local Czechs and Poles and so on had been more rural, more provincial, often less educated, and so on. Very much stimulated by the communist parties after the war, the understandable feelings of resentment and vengeance towards the German speakers also had a strong revolutionary component: "Now we're going to get these people who have always been bossing us around."

It even perhaps explains one of the most perverse instances of vengeful violence after the war, which was that of the Poles, who had suffered horribly under the Nazis, against the one people who had suffered even more, the Jews. There were pogroms in Poland just after the war against the few Jewish survivors who managed to stumble back out of the concentration camps or out of hiding. They were suddenly free game for Polish militias and so on.

There was a strong sense of class vengeance there, too. Even though most Jews in Eastern Europe before the war had been actually poor, the image of the Jews, of course, was that they all had money, they were rich, they were privileged, and now we're going to get them. One of the worst examples of this is that even the brave Poles who had actually hidden Jews were often targeted, not so much for any ideological reason, but because it was assumed that if you had hidden a Jew, you must have got rich out of it because the Jews have money. The brave Poles who had helped Jews often kept very silent about it because they themselves would become targets of this kind of violence.

Often, if you look at the patterns of revenge, it was not revenge against the former occupiers or the former perpetrators; it was often against your own countrymen, and often minorities within your country. The Jews in Poland are one example, but there are many others.

The Chinese in Southeast Asia are a clear example of this. In Indonesia, or the Dutch East Indies, as it still was, there was relatively little vengeance against the Japanese who were still there—and Japanese troops, by the way, had to often guard their former Dutch POWs in camps against Indonesian nationalists—but it was against the minorities in the Dutch East Indies who were associated with the colonial regime. So if you were Ambonese or Chinese, you were in more danger, often, of local vengeance of the nationalist rebels than you were if you were Dutch or Japanese. This was also a fairly common phenomenon.

Now, vengeance is very much, as I said, linked to the question of legitimacy: Who has the legitimacy to rule after the catastrophe? It's tempting to see this rather in terms of left and right, since fascism and national socialism are largely associated with right wing ideology and much of the resistance against them—not exclusively, but much of the resistance against them—came from the left, often directed by communists, but not solely. The problem—and Vichy France, of course, is the clearest example of this—was that those who collaborated or were most likely to collaborate with the occupation regimes were people of the old guard, the conservatives, the right wing as it had existed in the countries before occupation, and those who resisted were of the left.

The people in the resistance, who were often of the left, as I said, in 1945 had a strong claim that they should really be the ones who would rule, as it were, after the war. After all, they had stuck their necks out, they had died, they had spilt blood in resisting the fascists and the Nazis or the Japanese, and so it was now their turn. The old conservative elites had really blotted their copybooks, were very tainted by collaboration, and had no legitimate right to take over again.

One of the ways in which this potential conflict could be overcome was if you had a figure who sort of stood above these differences. It helped if you had a monarch, for example, who was associated with resistance, who could then come back and paper over these cracks. If you compare, say, the Netherlands to Belgium, it's interesting to see the difference there. The Netherlands had a monarch who had fled to London in 1940. There is still quite a lot of dispute over whether she should have done that or not. But she did, and so she was very much associated with the anti-Nazi resistance. She spoke on the radio from free London and so on. So she was seen very much as a legitimate figure to oversee the postwar order symbolically.

The Belgium king was a much more complicated case, since he did go back. There were efforts on his part to make some kind of deal with the German occupiers, and so he didn't really have that same legitimacy. Also, because of the French-speaking and Dutch-speaking antagonism, it was a lot more difficult, and there could have been a civil war in Belgium, in a way that in the Netherlands it was hard to imagine.

In France it was really de Gaulle who put things together again, by pretending there was la France éternelle (Eternal France) and that everybody was in the Resistance. Even though he didn't trust the communists at all and wanted to get them out of the way as quickly as he possibly could—and the communists on the left certainly didn't trust de Gaulle, again for very good reasons—he did at least have a legitimate claim as the man who stood up for resisting the Nazis right from the beginning, as a figurehead who could try and put the nation back together again.

But left and right are not always so straightforward. If we look at Asia, for example, there you could argue that the nationalists in places like the Dutch East Indies, Indochina, and so on were of the left. They were the anti-colonial nationalists who saw the Japanese occupation as a chance to get rid of European colonial rule and were able to organize militias and so on, gain a certain pride. The fact that they collaborated with the Japanese for nationalist reasons is difficult to categorize as either right wing or left wing. But after the war, they were associated with collaborating with fascism, and often by the left.

So you had a socialist government in France which sent troops to Algeria to put down—and put them down with enormous bloodshed—nationalists who wanted to get rid of colonial rule. And by the way, a lot of the French troops who were sent to Algeria had been fighting either in the Resistance or in the Free French Army against the Germans, before being sent to Algeria to put down nationalist rebellions there.

The same happened in the Dutch East Indies. Sukarno and others who had worked with the Japanese in order to—what they hoped—gain independence were tainted in Holland at the time as fascist collaborators. People who had been in the Resistance during the war were sent to Indonesia. Not all the troops who were sent to Indonesia had been in the Resistance, but they included people who had been in the Resistance. They were sent to the Dutch East Indies to put these people down, as though they were fighting the Nazis all over again. Again, the government at the time was a social democratic one. So there you really can't say that the left-right juxtaposition makes a great deal of sense. It was a lot more complicated than that.

There is, as I said in the beginning, a ray of light in all this, which was that it was also a period of great idealism, which was largely left of center, to put it mildly. One of the sources that was very useful to me in researching this book was a U.S. Army magazine, written by a GI for other GIs, called Yank. If you read Yank now, it's as though you're reading The Nation magazine. The politics of Yank were well to the left of the current Democratic Party.

This was a worldwide phenomenon. It's what produced the GI Bill and many other things in this country. It's what produced the first election after the war in Britain where Winston Churchill was voted out and Attlee was voted in. The reason is that armies—the British Army in this instance—felt, because the common soldier often came from the working class, that they had sacrificed themselves, they had fought for their country, and they didn't fight for their country to go back to the old order. Things had to change. They felt that they were entitled to proper housing, a decent education, and so on.

All these measures, of course, were already put together during the war, and not only in Britain. If you look at the Resistance underground press in a country like Holland, there was an enormous amount of discussion already during the war of what the postwar order should be like, and it was almost always about more egalitarianism, greater democracy, and so on. So there was a great swing to the left, not just as a result of communist resistance organizations, all over the world—the idea that we had to have a better world, a more equal world, a world which was also more united.

So it's not for nothing that it was in San Francisco in 1945 that the Charter of the United Nations was signed. The idea of European unity—a much older idea, of course—gained a lot of currency after 1945. There was this notion—and, indeed, to a large extent, the world was built along those lines, which is now beginning to unravel fast, because we now have several generations that have no memories of World War II, who don't have sort of the impetus of creating societies in which these things can never happen again. People just don't remember.

There are other reasons why the welfare state, as it was conceived under Attlee and others in Europe at the time, is unraveling, but one of the reasons, I think, is because of memories. The memories are no longer there. People don't feel the need anymore. Very few people in Europe would now say that we have to fight for more European unity because, otherwise, France and Germany and so on will be at war again. Nobody seriously fears that. Without that fear, something else has to take its place in terms of idealistic impulse. I think most of us might probably agree that without a certain dose of idealism, the world is a poorer place.

Now, I'm not entirely optimistic about these things. I do think often, for that kind of idealism to gain momentum, it almost invariably does come from great disasters. I fear that another great disaster probably will happen. One can only hope that enough of us will survive it to build up the same kind of idealism that came out of 1945.

On that somber note . . .


QUESTION: Susan Gitelson.

That was so enlightening. No one could not listen, it was so fascinating. But I can't help thinking, how would you contrast 1945 with 1919? After all, that was "the war to end all wars," and the same feeling that we should never have war again, the impetus for the League of Nations. So soon afterwards, another world war happened.

IAN BURUMA: You're quite right. I think one of the differences—the idea of the just war was probably much stronger after 1945. Very few people doubted that it had been an essential thing to defeat the Nazis or the Japanese in Asia, whereas I don't think, in 1919, most people had a clue why they had actually been fighting this war. That makes one big difference.

The other is—you're quite right, the basis for the League of Nations and so on was also an idealistic one, certainly on the part of Woodrow Wilson. All it shows is that idealism has a way of petering out. It petered out rather quickly after 1919, partly because the basis of the League of Nations wasn't really firm enough.

There are others in this room who know far more about this than I do, but I think when the United Nations—not as a wartime alliance, but as the United Nations that we know today—was conceived and put together, people were extremely conscious of what had gone wrong with the League of Nations. So they put in all kinds of conditions and provisions and institutional elements that would prevent it from falling apart in the way that the League of Nations did.

QUESTION: James Starkman.

How would one extrapolate your theme to the war that started at Karbala in the seventh century between Shia and Sunni, and the aftermath with the Arab Spring today?

IAN BURUMA: I'm not quite sure how to answer that question. I certainly wouldn't venture a direct comparison between what happened after World War II with what happened after a battle in the seventh century.

I will say one thing. It's a bit like the Battle of Kosovo. It suddenly became a big issue in Serbia, in more recent times—not Clinton's Battle of Kosovo, but the older one. People sometimes assume, and propagandists, of course, deliberately make it seem as though, these historic events, which may or may not have actually taken place, but which become mythical, are there, simmering in the hearts of every true patriot or Shiite or Sunni or whatever it is; they burn brightly forever. And, of course, that's never really true.

These myths are there, but the people who could claim to be heirs to these events often live together perfectly amicably, until somebody uses these myths to stir things up again. That's an extremely dangerous phenomenon, and I don't think mankind will ever get rid of that.

That's all I can really say about that. Most countries have these myths, invented events, slights. The idea of common suffering is probably the most powerful demotic way in which a community can feel that they are a community.

This may seem to go too far afield, but if you look at identity politics in the United States, as the original thing that bound a community together, in terms of language and religion and customs and so on, fades, which inevitably it does, usually what takes its place—very dangerously, in my view—is sort of the idea of common suffering. Everybody wants their own Holocaust. I find that an extremely regrettable phenomenon. I think nothing but bad comes from it.

QUESTION: Robert Shaw.

Your remarks at the end—what makes you so pessimistic about the future?

IAN BURUMA: This is not a rational answer. I have a very strong feeling, at the moment, of drift. It's not like the 1930s in that there's an obvious sort of Hitler figure anywhere, but there doesn't seem to be a clear sense, even in an ideological sense, of finding a common way forward to what might be a better world.

I think one of the unremarked consequences of 1989, the collapse of the Soviet empire, which was an entirely good thing, but has also had its negative effects—I think the baby has been washed away with the bath water, in this sense, that almost everything associated with Marxist thinking, including social democracy, which was, of course, anti-communist—Attlee was very much an anti-communist and not a sympathizer at all—anything to do with collective welfare, that the state should play a large role in making sure that societies are not too unequal and so on, was really washed away. It was already fading perhaps, for all kinds of reasons, but I think it was the coup de grace (death blow), in some ways, for that kind of thinking.

I'm not nostalgic in the sense that I think we should simply go back to the Beveridge Report and bring back socialism of that kind. I don't think we can. But so far I don't see anything else that has taken its place.

Perversely, the only remnant of it you can find amongst the neoconservatives, in their idealistic foreign policy notions that American force should be used all over the world to bring democracy and freedom. We see the results of that kind of ideological thinking, which is not entirely positive either. But I think the neoconservatives are the real heirs to postwar left wing thinking. After all, their fathers were often Trotskyists.

But I don't see anything else. And in a world that is drifting in that way, where it's sort of every man for himself, it would seem to me that it probably will mean another great disaster, which doesn't necessarily mean a nuclear world holocaust or anything like that. It could be a terrible economic crisis, something much worse than we have seen. But it probably needs something to concentrate minds again.

QUESTION: Danilo Türk [former president of Slovenia].

I would like to explore this a little further. When you are saying that the world needs an idealistic impulse, that an idealistic impulse existed in 1945 and that has led to a very long period of prosperity and development, and that such an impulse is lacking today. The question is, what should be the nature of an idealistic impulse of the 21st century? The ideologies, the role of state—all that has been diminished. Civil societies have grown. The non-governmental world has grown. There has been an enormous development in communications. Can we expect an idealistic impulse from civil society, kind of a global fairness movement, something like that?

I know that I'm excessively idealistic in this point, but one has to look for alternatives, which do not necessarily have to be state-based or ideology-based. I'm wondering whether you have any thoughts on that.

IAN BURUMA: If I had an answer to that question, I'd be a far richer man than I am.

I'm skeptical about the Internet utopians who believe that this is going to be the answer. To some extent, the Internet, I think, has strengthened the phenomenon that I was already talking about of sort of every man for himself. In a sense, the Snowden affair would seem to illustrate that. I mean, he is an idealist of a kind. But it's very much the nerd as an idealist, the man sitting behind his computer screen who thinks—maybe rightly—that his conscience dictates that he has to release all this stuff because then the world would be a better place. But that's an entirely individual act.

I'm not sure that great political progress can ever come simply from individuals acting according to what they think is right. I'm leaving aside whether what Snowden did was right or wrong. The Internet seems to be a great forum to encourage that kind of thing rather than collective action.

On the other hand—there are always two sides to this—in oppressive societies where there is a great deal of press censorship, such as China, it can have a mobilizing effect. For example, when there was a terrible earthquake in Sichuan in China, nothing much would have happened if it hadn't been for people getting together on the Internet, being able to communicate, being able to get news out that the papers wouldn't print. It led to a great deal of mobilization of Chinese who actually went out there to help, which wouldn't have happened without the Internet.

So it can mobilize people, there's no question about it, but it tends to mobilize along very emotional issues. Again, I don't see how that's really going to replace the kinds of idealism that go into political progress. But I hope I'm wrong.

QUESTION: Philip Schlussel.

To what extent does that internecine hatred and fear still exist, especially in Europe?

IAN BURUMA: Well, the fact that it doesn't bother me when Germany wins a football match anymore I think should make us feel a little optimistic. I grew up in a time when it was a source of great grief when Germany won a football match. Nobody really minds anymore. And in any case, the German team is full of Poles and others.

So I don't think internecine hatreds in Europe at the moment are a great problem. That doesn't mean that there cannot be serious violence in the future against minorities. We all know that there are great problems with Muslim immigrants, and that could, under certain circumstances, lead to mob violence of one kind or another. So I'm not sanguine about that. People have never really learnt their lesson. They behave according to circumstances. If there were a terrible economic crisis—we see it in Greece—it could very easily lead to violence.

Of course, it's not for nothing that there is such a strong and violent extreme right wing movement in Greece, because that does go back to the civil war, as did the Colonels' regime in the 1970s. That goes back further also than the German occupation. It began with the Metaxas dictatorship in Greece. What happened was that the left was put in prison under Metaxas. They came out, and when the Germans occupied Greece, the old right-wingers under Metexas became the collaborators. The left took to the hills and became the communist resistance, which was also often very violent. But all the hatred sown then can easily come back when circumstances become dire.

Which is not to say, again, that these hatreds are always burning in everybody's heart. It's just that they flare up. In various ways, that could happen in Europe. But I don't expect, really, that European nations will start fighting each other again. I think the likelihood of that is fairly slight.

QUESTION: Rob de Vos. I represent the Netherlands in this town.

I'm a Dutchman and I still don't sleep at night when we lose a football game against Germany. But that has nothing to do with respect for Germany, because we do have great respect for Germany, and especially after the latest election, which is maybe a reminder to Europe that even on austerity you can win political elections.

Let me try this one on you, to be a little bit more positive. This summer I realized, when I was in the Netherlands and I visited towns like Rotterdam and Amsterdam, that there is a very positive mood, a vibrant mood. Lots of people said, "We are very positive about our mayors. The cities are clean." The cities apparently seem to work around social cohesion, and their leaders are popular. At the same time, we need decision-making on the European level.

Now, my question to you is, isn't the national level, the national parliaments—are they not a problem? I see them struggling in countries like my own, in the Netherlands. I see them also struggling in countries like the United States. So maybe we should look higher up, the global level, the European level in our case, and lower down, the cities, to see if we can work out a model which is convincing for the population.

IAN BURUMA: Let me say several things. I hope you're right about the political optimism. The leaders may be popular, but one of the most popular politicians is Geert Wilders, who does nothing but stir up all kinds of resentments, and benefits from disaffection. So it's not an entirely positive picture.

I agree that the parliaments are experiencing problems everywhere, but I'm not sure that they are the problem. Isn't it more true that the parliaments in Europe are experiencing problems because politically the EU institutions haven't really yet been sorted out properly, in the sense that national governments are, very conveniently, being able to blame the EU for all kinds of unpopular things that they don't want to take responsibility for because they lose votes?

That strengthens the feeling amongst disaffected people—and that mood in Holland is very strong—that Europe is to blame, it's these sort of Eurocrats that are running our lives, Brussels is the source of all our unhappiness, and so on. One of the problems that parliaments have is that, because the EU institutions, without being democratically accountable, have taken on an awful lot of power, they make the parliaments look more and more impotent, and so you get political disaffection with the democratic institutions nationally, which is, in turn, blamed on Brussels as this authoritarian entity that's somehow ruining our lives.

So I think to say the solution to political disaffection in nation-states is more Brussels—I would be skeptical about that. But I do think we have to really rethink how European institutions work. I don't share an increasingly common sentiment in Europe, which is that the EU is all outdated, let's forget about it, and go back to the nation-states. I don't think that's desirable. I don't think we can do that. But I do think that the mood in Brussels is often very complacent. People don't really take much notice of what goes on inside nation-states. It has to be seriously reformed.

QUESTION: John Richardson.

If you look at the European economic and social situation right now, you've got lots of governments struggling with deficits and unemployment. It's not a happy situation. It didn't take much more than 40 years, 45 years after 1945 for communism to be privatized. The Soviet Union is gone. You've got Russia—a huge military impact on Europe over 200 years, but nothing right now.

My question really is, in all this mixture of economic change but difficulties in controlling public finance, equality, and employment, are we going to see Marxism 2.0 or Marxism 5.0 come along and become popular again?

IAN BURUMA: Well, I don't know. I don't think it will be the same, because things never are. I don't think that we'll suddenly see a great rise in popularity of the Communist Party, although in the Netherlands there are two parties which have done very well in recent elections. One is the more or less right-wing, anti-immigration, anti-Muslim party of Geert Wilders, which, roughly speaking, would be on the right, even though on economics they are not necessarily on the right. The other one is a populist-socialist party, protecting our workers against foreigners and that kind of thing. So it's not that the left is dead. It's not a left that I particularly like, but it's there.

In some ways, I think we should have a revival of some form of political thought that does justify government action to make sure that inequalities don't become intolerable. I think the United States probably is more flexible in that respect than Europe is, because there is still such a strong myth in this country that if only you work hard enough, you'll make it, and if you don't make it, it's sort of your fault. So the United States can ride a lot of inequality for a long time. I think that's much harder to do in Europe, where expectations of equality are higher.

We'll have to find some answer to that. I don't know where it's going to come from. I hope it's not going to come from the sort of populist socialism, but I hope it's not going to come from the populist right either. That's what seems to be filling that vacuum at the moment. It's populism of one kind or another.

QUESTION: Don Simmons.

In today's world, so much of the hostility and rancor and killing is related to religious differences rather than ethnic ones. It does seem to me that the peace that descended upon Europe after the Second World War may have been substantially helped by the waning of religion and religious feeling. I just wonder if you would comment on that.

IAN BURUMA: Well, except that in the country I grew up in, it didn't wane for a long time. If you switched on the radio on a Sunday in Holland in my youth, it would be very hard to find a radio station that wasn't preaching at you. The waning really only began in the 1960s.

My feeling about religion as a source of violence is a bit like these great mythical battles. It can be used that way, but it's not always used that way. It's not that because you have religion, you'll have all kinds of violence. It's one of the potential sources which can be used very easily to stir up violence, as we see today. But that doesn't necessarily mean that to get rid of that kind of violence, we have to get rid of religion. In the first place, we won't get rid of religion. It's always going to be with us in one form or another.

I think it's a misunderstanding of the role that religion can play. I'm with Spinoza on religion. He was, of course, not religious at all, but he felt it's a good thing if it makes people behave better. It can play that role, too.

QUESTION: Anthony Faillace, Carnegie Council.

To try to elevate the conversation a little bit—we've been a little somber here—maybe you could tell us two or three figures from 1945 that you think distinguished themselves in a particularly positive way, and why.

IAN BURUMA: There is an obvious answer, in that you had a generation of politicians who certainly did do a lot of good. Konrad Adenauer would be one, and the architects of the European Union, like Schuman, certainly, and Monnet. There were a lot of admirable figures.

But the problem with that is that good things that people put in place can end up badly, too. Take somebody like Jean Monnet, who was, almost in every respect, an admirable man—a rare Frenchman at the time who felt as much at home in Washington and London as he did in Paris, which was very unusual. He was a free spirit in many ways and a great architect of European unity.

At the same time, for the best possible reasons, he represented exactly what's wrong with the European Union, too, in that he had a great distrust of democracy, which he thought was terribly messy and full of conflict and competition and so on. He was obsessed with the idea of unity, of gentlemen of good will working together as good bureaucrats who know what's good for everybody, shouldn't be questioned too much, should be allowed to get on with things, which is what created the European Union in many ways. It's also what's wrong with it.

So I think to concentrate on the admirable qualities of people in history—yes, they are admirable. They can do admirable things. It doesn't necessarily mean that it turns out right in the end anyway—to reintroduce a somber note.

JOANNE MYERS: One thing that did turn out rightly was having you here to speak to us this morning. I thank you very much.

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CREDIT: <a href="" target=_blank">zoetnet</a>, The Netherlands

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