HIST 202: European Civilization, 1648-1945

Lecture 24

 - The Collapse of Communism and Global Challenges


The disintegration of the Soviet Union resulted from a number of different factors. Three important ones are nationalism among Soviet satellite states, democratic opposition movements, and economic crisis. Along with these elements, the role of Mikhail Gorbachev should not be discounted. Although his attempt to reform communism was rejected, his reformist positions as Soviet premier helped open the way for full-fledged political dissidence. One of the major challenges faced by Europe in the wake of the collapse of communism has been that posed by ethnic nationalism, a problem that erupted violently in the Balkans in the 1990s. Immigration and the defense of human rights are two problems that now confront the United States, as well as a United Europe.

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European Civilization, 1648-1945

HIST 202 - Lecture 24 - The Collapse of Communism and Global Challenges

Chapter 1. The Fall of Communism: Nationalism, Democratic Reform, and Economic Change [00:00:00]

Professor John Merriman: I guess what I’ll do today is talk a little bit about the fall of communism. It’s hard to believe, because all that happened, and now, next year it will be the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Wall. You guys were not born yet, a few of you. Some of you were born in 1990. Is that possible? Were you born in 1990, some of you? See, that’s after the Wall fell. I can remember seeing on TV the quick trial of the Ceaucescu couple, and them being gunned down in the garden behind their house. They were really a nasty pair. But now it seems like old history. I’m going to talk a little bit about that and then talk about kind of global challenges, and themes that we’ve talked about. We talk about immigration; we talk more about globalization. But I’m going to talk a little bit about that, too. Let’s do that. Then we’re out of here.

Again, it seems like this is — to some of you it’s not history at all. It’s something that we all lived through, and in a way anticipated, and then saw developing. We were in France when all that was happening, and just listening on the radio, and BBC, and all this stuff. It was really quite amazing. The big difference, of course, that made possible the dramatic, dramatic changes that happened in Eastern Europe between 1989 and 1992 must begin with a guy who, independent of the fact that the Soviet system just didn’t work, but with a guy whose declining reputation in Russia I find just incredible. That’s Mikhail Gorbachev. It was relegated a few years ago, he actually did a TV ad for Burger King, at that point, because he needed the money.

The fall of his image in the former Soviet Union and Russia I find extraordinarily hard to imagine. It made all the difference in the world that when people in Hungary and in Czechoslovakia, which then split between the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and in Poland — and in other places, but mostly those three places — when they began to push for reforms, and they decide that they wanted to reform communism, and they didn’t want even communism at all. The big difference was in 1953 when there were riots in East Berlin, and I’m old enough to remember crossing the border, the Wall in East Berlin. They were squished like grapes.

In 1968, when Dubcek, who ends up basically with janitorial duties after that, tried to put a human face on communism and reform communism, there were, as the expression goes, tanks before teatime. The Soviet tanks rolled in and squished them, too, like grapes. They had their martyrs in Wenceslaus Square. One guy burned himself to death in protest. It’s still a memory embedded in the collective memory of that place. But there was a big difference. There was a big, big difference, in that Gorbachev made clear that there wouldn’t be tanks before teatime. When he went to Berlin, and when he went to Prague and his name became a sign of protest, when they were chanting, “Gorby, Gorby,” they’re chanting for the demands of reform in their own states.

When the various groups had been meeting off and on, particularly in Poland and Hungary, where dissidence was most developed, and where there was an alternate kind of civic society or civic space developed, Gorby’s name had become symbolic with the possibility of change. He made clear that there weren’t going to be tanks sent in. At that point, these huge changes were inevitable. But these changes in Eastern Europe in the former satellite states really were facilitated, were accentuated, were made inevitable by the fact that communism didn’t work in the Soviet Union, that the lines were longer and longer. There was more attention to consumer goods. But also that Gorbachev was a very different leader.

Gorbachev was educated. Unlike Brezhnev, who was his extremely elderly predecessor, he could give a speech without reading it off note cards. Well, Ronald Reagan really couldn’t either. But Gorbachev was compelling. He was smart. He was educated. He understood the system. He had come up through the system. And he was committed to change. But until the very end, even when they kind of kidnap him — not kind of, they kidnapped him, and he was held under house arrest in Crimea. He stuck until the end with the belief that communism could be reformed, and that you could put a human face, à la Dubcek — he didn’t look at Dubcek as a model, but on communism. Until the very end, he believed that you could have communism, this good idea gone terribly wrong, that could be reformist. He’s very, very different than his predecessors.

Khrushchev has often been underappreciated. Khrushchev, after all, did come out against Stalinism in the famous Party Congress, and all of that. Khrushchev was a very wily guy who knew a lot about agriculture and, in some ways, was a compelling character. But his disappearance in 1964 — isn’t that when Khrushchev leaves power, in 1964? — he was followed by a couple of really orthodox Stalinians. Gorbachev’s rise really must be seen in that context. Gorbachev was born in southern Russia in 1931. He worked his way up, as you had to, in the party organization. He studied law at the University of Moscow. He knew the West and respected many things about the West. He also knew how just devastating Stalinism had been for his own country. Both his grandfathers had been arrested on false charges when he was a boy. He was very talented. He knew how to manipulate the system, and he becomes secretary to the Communist Central Committee.

Like Khrushchev before, in his origins, he was responsible for Soviet agriculture. Unlike his predecessors, really including Khrushchev, he was less xenophobic. He had less of this suspicion of non-Russians, and the Soviet Union was dominated by Russia, let us leave no doubt about that. So, he believed that the communist dream had been destroyed by Stalinism, and by the rigidity of the structure, and by the inability to enact serious economic reforms. The Soviet Union, like the other powers, had simply miserable economies, miserable economic situations. The East European satellite states were in many ways victimized by unfavorable economic arrangements with the Soviet Union, who exploited them. But nonetheless, they were able to be kept afloat by the Soviet Union.

He embraces the — only two terms, I didn’t send these out, to be remembered, I suppose. One is the policy of liberalization which is called glasnost, openness in government combined with a greater degree of free expression. He takes people who are liberals, who are real reformers not just party hacks, and he gives them positions of responsibility. He realized that if you live in northern Russia, you can see Finnish television. If you live in Estonia, where the language is somewhat similar to Finnish, that most difficult of languages, you can see what’s going on. These images of, as in East Berlin, West Berlin and of a different way of life. You can’t simply pretend that there wasn’t a better way of life for many people. There were lots of people in the former Soviet Union who may have had their doubts within the following ten years about the kind of runaway, bandit capitalism, the high-crime capitalism that developed in the victimized Russia, and Bulgaria, in particular, and in other places as well.

He spoke openly, publicly about the failings of the system. That was the hush-hush where you didn’t talk about the failings of the system. You were always talking about the “radiant future.” Remember the radiant future. But the future wasn’t radiant. There were long lines. It just simply didn’t work. He realized that if you’re going to supply the cities with consumer goods, you have to return to the free market. You really have to return to the old New Economic Policy that you already know about in the early 1920s. Also, the second is perestroika, the restructuring of the whole system with the belief, that he had, that communism could be made responsible to the desires of ordinary people in the Soviet Republic.

He said — and he could toss off memorable phrases very easily, he was an extremely bright guy. He’s still very much alive. “We need a revolution of the mind.” You had to recommence with zero. You had to begin from the beginning and reconstruct this reformed communism that would be responsive to ordinary people. It didn’t work out the way he thought it was going to work out. The entire system collapsed. Three things made this possible, the fall of communism in the Soviet Union and in Eastern and Central Europe. First, within all of these states — but most notably the Baltic states where people held hands, they formed a human chain all the way across Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia holding hands, a human chain across the entire Baltic region — these places had strong nationalist movements, such as the Lithuanian movement that we discussed earlier. These continued. But also in Eastern Europe, particularly in Hungary and in Poland, but also in Ukraine.

Remember, Ukrainian is a different language. It’s a related but different language. There’s still huge problems because so many Russians still live in Ukraine. We don’t have time to talk about the ethnic complexities of these regions. The Russians who were left in Latvia, there were more Russians in Latvia than in Estonia or Lithuania, faced all sorts of discrimination. This is a problem. Anyway, these cultural demands, these nationalistic demands could not be placated by talk about a reformed communism. In the Soviet Union, the idea that the republics were equal was a sheer myth. The idea that there would be tolerance, toleration of different ways of looking at the world — basically, there was some showcase stuff about the flowering of the cultures, but it was basically myth.

Secondly, in 1989 in these countries, amid economic crisis, the great horrors of deprivation, the long lines of people wearing threadbare coats waiting for trams that were late, a reform movement, a politically democratic movement emerges in all of these states. In Russia it was led by the Nobel-Prize-winning physicist Andrei Sakharov, who had helped develop, of all things, the hydrogen bomb. Then, whereas the works of Solzhenitsyn — Solzhenitsyn, whose vision — you have to separate Solzhenitsyn’s critique of the gulag from his vision of the return of the czar, or whatever. Solzhenitsyn, I used to run into him here in the Sterling Memorial Library. He was here for a year or two working in the stacks, in the collection there. Solzhenitsyn, whereas before his stuff on the gulag was passed from hand to hand, typed scripts passed secretly from hand to hand, you could read it. You could read Solzhenitsyn on what was the increasingly no longer hidden secret of the gulag, and what happened to people sent to the gulag.

These dissidents begin to reach an increasing audience within all of these countries, within all of the Soviet Republics and in the United States. Gorbachev comes to Washington, D.C. in the Mall, and he scares the hell — in a country that had had political assassinations, you will remember this one — out of those people who were supposed to protect him. He leaves the limousine, and he plunges into the crowd, and gives the Russian equivalent of high fives and shakes hands with people. They were just scared to death someone was going to blow them away. He charms the Reagans, and of course his intellectual capacity was many times those folks. His interest, I shouldn’t have said capacity, his interest. He charms people. He was a real live, functioning intellectual in politics, obviously committed in putting his reputation and putting the whole estate on the line. This was the second thing.

Third, it was the extenuation, acceleration of this economic crisis. Things weren’t getting better. Poland is the great example of that, the reason that Solidarity starts in 1980 in the shipyards of Gdansk. It’s bizarre to go back there. They’re probably going to close. There’s huge pictures of the pope all over the place. But it still is a sight of memory when you go to Gdansk. The reason that solidarity starts with Lech Walesa — and not just alone — and my friends in Poland, who are a little bit younger than Lech Walesa, and lots of other people — is because there wasn’t enough to eat. You had a terrible situation. So they unionized. They said, “We’re going to put forth our claims,” like unions had done in France, and in Italy, and in Spain, and in other places, as people had wanted to do in the early days of the Soviet regime, and they had been squished like grapes. Everybody’s been squished like grapes.

The economic crisis makes these three things merge: nationalism, democratic reform, and the desire for economic change. You’ve got this charming man who takes big-time decisions. Lots of Jews, for example, wanted to leave the Soviet Union. They were victimized by anti-Semitism there. They were often treated as second-class citizens. Gorbachev says, “Fine.” He says, “Yes, you can emigrate. You can go to Israel or the United States.” So, things change. There’s palpable change, and people have a sense of what’s going to happen, that new things are going to occur. The speed with which this happened took Western leaders by surprise. They were not Thatcher. That’s a good example. They were not ready for the speed at which these changes were coming.

Chapter 2. The Dissolution of the Soviet System in the Satellite States of Eastern Europe [00:16:47]

When people are shouting, “Gorby, Gorby, Gorby,” the subtext is that we want the reforms in Hungary, in Poland, in Czechoslovakia, and in other countries as well, but the movements were much smaller in Bulgaria or in Romania, which was under the police state of Ceausescu. You had the same situation in Albania, kind of the cult of Hoxha, who was very tied to communist China, etc., etc. He makes clear in Strasbourg, in a speech to the Council of Europe in July 1989, that he rejects the Brezhnev doctrine, his predecessor Leonid Brezhnev, that the Soviet Union, as in 1953, and as in 1968, or in 1956 in Hungary — I remember when I was a really little kid, I remember Hungarian children who had been lucky enough to escape the revolution coming to Ainsworth School in Portland, Oregon. He said, “Any interference in domestic affairs and any attempts to restrict the sovereignty of states, both friends and allies or any others, are inadmissible.”

Gorbachev says that these movements in Hungary and Poland are inspiring. He found them personally inspiring. So, the rest, as they say, is history. You’ve all seen images of the Wall, first of young students your age, your age, putting flowers in the guns of the Vopos, who were the East German guards, flowers in the guns. Then the whole goddamned thing just collapses. Suddenly people are pouring over the Wall. People on trains are — and the East German government, Honecker was one of the very, very worst of all of them. He really was just awful. The Stasi infiltrated almost every organization. There’s a great movie called The Lives of Others, a great, great movie. If this course went this far, I would recommend you see The Lives of Others, about spying, and integrity, and just all sorts of things.

Honecker was saying, “Give these people, return them to East Germany.” The Hungarians say, “No, we won’t return them to East Germany.” They start taking down the barbed wire borders around their own country. The whole thing just happens like that. The Berlin Wall collapses, and within a month Ceaucescus, for better or for worse, have been gunned down in a garden after a very hasty televised trial. They were very bad people. There’s no doubt it. But there was no due process. But that was the end of that. And Honecker, whose slogan was “Always forward, never backward” until the very end — and the Czech leader was very much the same, and the Bulgarian and Romanian leaders, and Albanian leaders — Albania is a case apart — were going to keep the whole thing alive. The whole communist system was going to survive, no matter what. Of course, it didn’t work out that way.

In Czechoslovakia the group of writers and intellectuals, including Václav Havel, who had signed Charter 77 and were put in jail as a result of that, who demanded reform. You already had in Czechoslovakia, and in Poland, and in Hungary, you already had intellectuals who were anti-communist, or who were reforming communists, meeting sometimes very openly. In these countries that transition to democracy or to parliamentary rule would be easier, because the passing of the torch was easier. In Czechoslovakia you know there were some parliamentary antecedents. Poland also did. Hungary less so, but you had this sort of flourishing, alternative civil society that had been developing. So, the passing to the new generation, despite all the economic problems, and despite the ethnic tensions that would remain, was much easier than it would be in Bulgaria, for example.

In Bulgaria, what the leadership does, they feel cornered, so they try to accentuate anti-Turkish feelings, because there were many Turks who lived in Bulgaria. Lots of Turks flee and then they go to Turkey. In fact, they find that things are worse in Turkey and many of them go back to Bulgaria. The tensions between the Romanians and the Hungarians in Romania helps generate change for reform, because outside of Bucharest the big calls for reform and the organization is the work of Hungarians who are living in the Hungarian parts of Romania. But the transition to parliamentary regime would be much harder in those places. The case of Bulgaria is particularly interesting. It’s also the one I know the least about. They have just had the change is so slow in many ways they’re happening. The kind of banditization, or the kind of infiltration of major crime networks in Bulgaria really continue to run the show. You find that to an extent, as everybody knows, in Russia. But that’s another case.

So, the Velvet Revolution occurs in Czechoslovakia, where the entire Politburo, that is the ruling group, resigned on November 19, 1989. This is just a matter of a short period of time after the Berlin Wall essentially goes down. One of the interesting things about all this is that despite the huge ethnic tensions in many of these places, you didn’t have the kind of awful blood bath that you would have in ex-Yugoslavia, which was primarily the work of the Serbs in those horrible, horrible wars that began bloodletting, ethnic cleansing. Mass murder is a less fancy way of putting it than ethnic cleansing. For example, you had all these tensions between Poles and Ukrainians, because of the parts of Eastern Poland had passed back and forth, and lots of Ukrainians live in that part of Poland, and lots of Poles live near Lviv in Ukraine.

Actually, for all of the persecution of ethnic Russians living in Latvia, above all, but also in Estonia and Lithuania, you really didn’t have the kinds of massacres that happened in ex-Yugoslavia. Two reasons for that. One is because of the ethnic religious complexity, in that the massacres were primarily perpetuated against Muslims by Orthodox Serbs who were inspired by one of the real villains of the last century, or any century, Slobodan Milosevic, who died during his trial in the Hague, who kept talking about a “Greater Serbia” to include Kosovo, to include everywhere else. Also on a more minor scale, those carried out by some Croatians against Muslims and all that. That was one major reason why you didn’t have that same thing, that is, the religious difference.

Secondly is that in Ukraine nobody was really talking about “Greater Ukraine.” People in Poland weren’t talking about “Greater Poland,” imagining annexing anybody they could possibly do, the way Hitler had done, or the way that Milosevic perpetuated his sleazy career as leader of the Yugoslav and then Serb Communist Party by giving inflammatory speeches in Kosovo, etc., etc. So, the whole thing collapses. Of course, this doesn’t eliminate problems. If you don’t have a real tradition of parliamentary rule, how do you suddenly create parties that are viable? How do you create this sort of civic culture? That’s not very easy.

Also, the Americans, particularly from the University of Chicago economic school, were giving advice in Poland saying, “You just need an automatic infusion of capitalism. That will solve everything.” That’s not what happens at all. If anything, it increases the gap between the very, very wealthy people, who formerly would have been party cadres in the Communist Party and very ordinary people. Anyone who follows contemporary Russia now knows all that, or in the Côte d’Azur in Nice, in the Negresco Hotel in Nice. I shouldn’t knock the Negresco, I’ve stayed there while guiding a Yale alumni tour. But anyway, you find these extraordinarily wealthy Russian billionaires buying up everything, including soccer teams in England, while there’s still people with not enough to eat.

There are other problems. These ethnic challenges, of course, are nowhere more graphically and horribly revealed than in the Balkans. The problem of all of these communist systems — they said above all, you must have large-scale industry. So, they start building these awfully soon out-of-date factories that crank out pollution at unimaginable levels. One of the effects is, for example, the obstruction of the Black Forest in Germany by these clouds of pollution coming from the Czech Republic, to say nothing of the fact that a lot of the Soviet nuclear installations were in Kazakhstan, and other places, and trying to get these diffused and immobilized, particularly when the United States has been, under this last regime, has been trying to restart the arms race. This is a personal comment, but too bad. I’m talking about how Europeans view America.

The Americans now have this idea to put bases in Poland. This is a terrible idea, because these bases could be transformed into offensive weapons, as well. This can very well, as Putin, who sometimes can’t be trusted, and who was a vigorous, aggressive Russian nationalist, for better or for worse, that this could start again, unleash, whatever you call it, this arms race, and that would be awful. So, there’s still lots of problems. What can I say? Yet every time I go to Poland, which, as I said, is very frequently now, and to other countries, there is just great hope. There wasn’t a lot of hope in 1987 or in 1986. Suddenly, there was this new, incredibly transformed world.

In many places it was easier to tear down, to say what you are against, that you didn’t want this unreformed communist state, or you didn’t want communism at all, than it was to sort of miraculously create this new affair or world. In Warsaw I’m constantly amazed. Warsaw was completely rebuilt. When I was a kid I was there. All you saw was rubble, basically. Now when I walk on the Hotel Bristol, a very fancy, famous hotel, and I turn left, it looks like the Champs-Elysées, or the Rue Saint-Honoré in Paris, all these fancy shops. As we go out to the university, then you see all these people still wearing the same threadbare coats, waiting in line for the trams as before the communist revolution. Yet, things are better. One of the reasons, by the way, things are better in Poland is that they never did completely collectivize agriculture at all. Petites propriétaires, small units still existed, and so the transition there was easier than other places.

Chapter 3. Globalization and Americanization in Europe [00:29:00]

Well, what can I say? This is what I’m going to say now is how Europeans view Europe. Also, as kind of a European, how they view the United States. I might certainly be tempted at the end to talk a little bit about that, and about human rights. We talk about globalization and all of that. José Bové lived in Los Angeles for two years. He’s actually a city guy, but he made his reputation in the south of France marching, and with tractors blocking French Air Force installations, trying to keep part of lower Massif Central called Larzac from being turned into a place for bomb testing, and all that business. Then he took his campaign against McDonalds. McDonalds, MacDo, became identified with globalization and with Americanization. So, the old anti-American sentiment among intellectuals, and José Bové is that. When he came to Yale a couple years ago, Jim Scott brought him here to Yale. My daughter took him to Rudy’s. That’s what she did. When he came here, he came here as sort of a symbol of anti-globalization.

All of you have seen images of people in Seattle throwing themselves against the police, or in Nice against police barricades, or in Italy as well. Globalization is sort of a catchall. But if you don’t believe that we live in a more global society, look at the impact of the economic crisis and how quickly that spread within the last two months. It’s an obvious thing that we live in a world where Adidas, and all these shoes, and shirts, and T-shirts, are often outsourced to the poorest people they can find in Indonesia and other places. When you have some problem with your cell phone — I still don’t have a cell phone, or whatever — but you’ll end up talking to somebody in India or Pakistan as easily as you are talking to somebody in New Jersey.

Chapter 4. Immigration and the European Union [00:31:07]

One aspect of globalization that is so much more visible now than even fifteen years ago, and which fits exactly into one of the themes of this course, is obviously immigration. There are no borders anymore. The creation of the European Union, for better or for worse, means that you can go essentially from Calais all the way to Lithuania and never have your ID checked not once. I travel on my French ID there. It’s only in England and in coming back to the United States that you need a passport at all. But the result is you’ve got all of these immigrants. You’ve all seen pictures of bodies bobbing in the sea of Moroccans, and people from Mali, or Tunisia, or Senegal, trying to get into Spain. Once you got into Spain you’ve essentially got it made. The same passages that Spanish refugees fled Franco’s terror during and after the Spanish Civil War bring people from Mali into France.

Of course, female and male sex trafficking from Moldavia in particular, from Bulgaria and from Albania, those are the three major points, is something that is just everywhere. Immigrants are not new. In the 1960s these governments said, “Please.” They put up signs. “Please come to work in France.” “Come to work in Germany, in Istanbul.” So many Turks went to Germany. Then, all of a sudden, when the bottom of the economy falls out with the Arab oil embargo in 1973 and 1974, then some of these people who helped make the economy run, and who still help make the economy run — there’s a whole underground economy and do jobs of lots of other people — they suddenly they say, “We don’t want them.”

One of the risks that’s an obvious risk to anyone who has studied Germany in the 1920s and 1930s, which you have, is that economic crisis causes people to scapegoat and to stereotype into scapegoat. In countries like France where the Gaullists made their pact with the devil and joined with the National Front in an over-the-top, aggressively racist political party whose leader was a torturer, Jean-Marie Le Pen in Algeria, and who described the Holocaust as “a minor detail” of World War II and whose supporters are négationnistes, negationists who believe that there wasn’t a Holocaust. When they start, when their discourse becomes extremely, extremely — not only prevalent but acceptable, then you have a problem.

Even in Switzerland, where it is very hard to become a resident of Switzerland, which does have a large immigrant population, you had a party of the extreme right. In Denmark, one of the most tolerant places one could ever imagine, you had one of the most over-the-top — and still have right wing organizations. Jörg Haider, who just got himself killed running his car off the road a couple weeks ago in Austria, he was, unapologetic is probably a bit too strong, but he said things were much better when the Nazis were in control of the economy. We didn’t have all these other people around. Economic crisis, and national stereotyping, and racism is a recipe for disaster.

Even in countries where democracy really, really works, again returning to the case of Poland, when you have black players being taunted in soccer games. Poland, as in other countries, as in Spain, one of the worst of a kind of racist baiting that goes on when these clubs play. In France, with Paris Saint-Germain, that’s another classic example, or Lazio, which is the Mussolini granddaughter’s favorite team in Italy, then you’ve got a real problem. When it becomes acceptable, and maybe some of you may consider unfair, but when Sarkozy, president of France, he’s the son of Hungarian immigrants, and when he borrows the language, the language of racism, the language of Le Pen, to help put him over the top — and when someone interviewed Le Pen and said, “Why do you do so badly in the elections?” he said, and he was right for once, he said, “Because they said the same things we’re saying.” Then you’ve got a problem.

Chapter 5. Human Rights in Europe and the United States [00:35:21]

“Fortress Europe” may be trying — all these human rights documents give people the right to emigrate, but not to immigrate. How these countries, including ours, treat people who are legal immigrants and those who are illegal immigrants is a true test of the kinds of values that they have. This is an obvious thing to say, but this is the future. This is an ongoing problem, an ongoing challenge, in every single European country. Toleration, civic harmony, generosity, caring in hard times is under assault. Our country has never been immune from that as well. This is an obvious case, but it’s something that’s going to concern people that work on Europe. Look at the role of xenophobia in the rise of the right in the 1920s and, above all, in the 1930s. It’s the same thing over and over again. Just to end with this.

There’s the question of human rights. Europeans have a hard time understanding the United States. They don’t understand capital punishment. They don’t understand why you can just pick up a gun. You can’t vote, but you can buy a machine gun at some gun show almost anywhere you are, north or south. They can’t understand that. One of the other things they can’t understand is why in this country we have a deep, abiding, institutionalized believe in the right to bear arms, etc., etc., but in civic rights or civil rights, your rights as defined by being a member of the state — but we have often not accepted human rights as a category. Europeans are often just mystified by this. Let me give you an example there. Again, this is not politics, but I can’t help saying this.

It’s very difficult to explain to people how it is that the United States in the last few years finds itself on a list of countries that torture. Not big-time, not Nazi Germany, not Stalin, not even the level of Pinochet, who they tried to extradite and they tried to do everything. Not on the level of Milosevic, who finally was carted off to tribunal. But the United States, in the smirks of President George Bush, and Cheney, and these people, these people put us on the list of torturers. Guantanamo hurt the United States, the view that people have of the United States, in ways that are simply unimaginable. The idea that these people — some of them are some really bad people, other people just got sort of caught up in the wrong thing — but even if they’re bad people, they never had charges pressed against them. You see them chained to the ground with their little orange uniforms. You see the images that came out of the prisons, or you have Blackwater or these private contractors gunning down civilians with impunity. This stuff didn’t used to happen in this country.

Even during Vietnam, when Lieutenant Calley, who murdered all those people in Vietnam — you don’t remember Vietnam. Bob sitting amng you and a few others remember Vietnam — Calley went on trial. But when states become involved with this, with kidnapping people off the streets, what do they call it? And secret plane flights to England, or to wherever, this is what made the United States lose so much of its image, of its respect. It’s incredible. Even in a place that I live with 330 people — and people are not terribly politicized, politics is still families that have hated each other for generations — but there is this image of, “How could this happen in the United States?” It was always the place that you wanted to go to, because things were fair. Things were right.

I believe, nobody asked me, but since we’re talking about the view of Europeans, I believe that people like Bush and Cheney ought to go before the tribunal at The Hague, if human rights is going to mean anything. Because they are from the most powerful country in the world doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t face the same kind of standards that you all believe. It should be that way. Bernard Kouchner is a sort of moderate politician in France. He’s somewhat socialist, but he’s in the government of Sarko, Sarkozy. He was the one who helped one of the original creators of Médecins sans frontières, Doctors Without Borders. French, but not just French, Americans and other people, many of you may do this, go off and try to help. I have a friend who’s a physician’s assistant who goes off to Guatemala all the time to help people in Nicaragua.

Kouchner is a really good guy. He’s very pro-American. He said — this is just chilling, it ought to be chilling for you — he said that the magic is done. “The magic is over.” That’s exactly what he said. He said it in English, too. He said, “The magic is over.” What was the magic? It was what this country represents to Europeans. The magic is over. Then he paused and he said, “Things will never be the same again.” So, I guess just in conclusion, it’s up to you to believe in human rights and believe in the value of people, whether they’re clandestine, or legal immigrants or not, and that human rights should be written on the face of this country as well, and that you can return and restore that magic.


Professor John Merriman: Good luck on the test. You’ll do fine.

[end of transcript]

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