Reflections On Mitteleuropa
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Crowns and thrones may perish, kingdoms rise and wane, but the church of Jesus constant will remain."
Remember the words of the hymn "Onward Christian Soldiers?" Their meaning really comes home to you when you travel in central Europe. I had an opportunity to do just that in early September, accompanying my parents on tours of three central European cities: Prague, Budapest and Vienna, with a number of other stops en route. An additional blessing was joining 32 other people on our bus, all from the northern England area where I grew up and where my parents still live. I found it particularly interesting to hear their comments on the emerging European Union.
It is sometimes very difficult for those who have grown up in the Anglo-Saxon countries to really grasp history and prophecy. The reason is quite simply that our nations have been around so long. I know that the United States is only 220 years old, but it has enjoyed over 130 years of peace and stability, with a continuous political system within the same stable borders since the end of the Civil War. England has done even better, with almost 300 years of stability under the present royal house, stability that nations like Australia and Canada have been able to share in through their ties to the throne.
This means that nobody living in either of these countries is as old as the country itself. Our memories are of stability so it is difficult to understand the turmoil that others nation have found themselves experiencing during our lifetimes. Yet, it is true to say, that most of the nations in the world today are younger than I am, and I am not yet 50.
The Czech Republic and Slovakia, for example, two of the countries I recently visited, are only just over five years old. Today's Hungary is less than ten years old. The Austrian Republic, as it now is, did not come into existence until 1955. The Federal Republic of Germany did not exist until 1949 - and with its present borders, is only seven years old. Even France's Fifth Republic is only celebrating its fortieth anniversary.
Of course, there were nations on the same pieces of land for centuries before the present political entities came into existence. Some of those nations were even composed of ancestors of the present occupants. But the past, as they say, was another country, no less so than Colonial America was distinct from the United States of America.
These changes have all had an effect on the peoples of these different lands. Whereas Americans and Britons have been lulled into a false sense of security, the peoples of nations that have endured decades of war, foreign domination, political uncertainty, revolutions, divisions, and financial upheaval suffer from what the Germans refer to as angst, a constant worry about the future.
I have often observed that, whereas most American males read the sports page first, most Europeans don't. When you travel on the London Underground it's interesting to see what people are reading. Most are reading a newspaper-there are plenty to choose from-but most people do not read the sports page first. The front page often impacts their daily lives in a way that Americans would find difficult to understand. Accordingly, the average citizen is usually better informed about the issues of the day than the average American.
It came as no surprise then, that the people on our tour all had an opinion on the Euro, the new currency that will bind eleven European nations together from January 1, 1999, just a few weeks away. The United Kingdom is not one of the eleven. The ruling Labour government is in favor of the Euro but will not consider joining it until after the next election, due in 2002. The opposition Conservative Party is divided over the issue, with most of its members against the Euro.
It is hard for Americans to understand the issues here. It is as if the United States was forming an economic union with all the nations of the Americas, and now a common currency was to be set up run by an independent bank based in Havana, Cuba. With a three year transition to start in January, initially both the U.S. dollar and the "Curo" (fictional name for the new currency of the Americas) would be accepted in all businesses, but by the year 2002 the dollar would be phased out and only the Curo would remain, with a "Super Federal Reserve" based in Havana.
With the above scenario, it's doubtful that many Americans would be supportive of the change. Yet opinion polls show that just under 50 percent of the British electorate now supports the Euro. One third is opposed while the others remain undecided, or disinterested.
The dominant nation of the Euro will be Germany, with whom Britain has fought two major conflicts this century. The British people are, in effect, being asked to hand over control of their finances to peoples of other nations, principally their old enemy, Germany.
That's an over-simplification. London is still Europe's biggest financial center, a role that began in colonial times but has continued right up until this time. The British pound is still a major world currency, though not as vital to the world trading system as it once was. Britain has lost a great deal of its independence since joining the European Community in 1973, but losing its own currency and adopting one controlled mostly by others would be the biggest single step ever taken away from independence. Whatever course Britain decides upon, its role as an international financial center will be affected.
For hundreds of years, the British people struggled against continental domination, to preserve their own freedom and the freedom of others and the unity of the multitude of nations that formed the British Empire until fairly recent times. Successive British governments based their foreign policies on not getting involved in European affairs any more than they had to, but always being ready to intervene to stop any single European power from getting too powerful. Now, the British have completely reversed the safe policy of centuries to actually become a part of the latest European super-power, the German led European Union.
Other nations, too, are becoming increasingly enamored of the E.U. Former communist nations in eastern Europe are turning their eyes away from the east to the west, western Europe, that is. All seem to want to be a part of the E.U. The Czech Republic and Hungary are two of the most successful former communist nations. Hungary's economy has really taken off since the end of the communist era. It now shows all the signs of being successfully incorporated in the capitalist west, with many western companies already operating there, as well as having traffic jams and the visibly obvious social evils that freedom brings.
Slovakia isn't doing so well. Economically it's progressive, having embraced free enterprise. But its government is still too dictatorial which holds it back. Entering and leaving Slovakia was very interesting—theirs was the only border with long delays, a sure sign of dictatorship.
Borders have become almost meaningless in western Europe. We emerged from the Channel Tunnel in France. Before we knew it, we had traveled through Belgium and were in Germany, not having had to show any passport or identification. These nations, together with some others, have removed all border controls allowing a totally free movement of people.
The Czech Republic is not yet a member of the E.U., but its border had little substance. We crossed very quickly. For the first time I had to travel on an American passport this trip, as my British passport had expired. I was singled out at all border crossings for special handling, much to the amusement of my English travelling companions. They all now have European passports and can cross any border with minimum hassle. You can certainly see advantages to the new Europe.
This new Europe is part of the appeal of the Euro. In an age where many travel to different countries the desire for one currency for all the nations of Europe appeals to people. Loss of independence seems to be of secondary importance to many.
Although the British government has not yet decided on membership of the Euro, one third of British companies reportedly are gearing up for it. It will be possible for visitors to spend Euros in the biggest British stores. This will add pressure to fully embrace the new money.
But it's on the continent of Europe that enthusiasm for the E.U. is greatest. This has been a disastrous century for the peoples of Europe. It has seen many wars during the three millennia of its written history, but in this century alone two world wars have been fought on its soil. Millions were killed, many millions more dispossessed, having to relocate to strange surroundings. By some estimates, 90 percent of Europe's historical treasures were destroyed in World War II alone. There has been much civil conflict and political division throughout this century, with ethnic tensions often surfacing. The 40-year division of the Cold War only recently came to an end-fears of Russian instability continue to dominate headlines on the continent.
The desire amongst most of the people of the continent today is for unity. Few have thought it through to the extent of exactly what kind of unity they want, but most would agree with the stated intent of the E.U. to work toward "an ever closer union," this same union which is prophesied in the pages of our Bible (see Revelation, chapters 17 and 13; and Daniel chapter 7). Revelation 17:12-14 shows that there will be a union of ten nations who receive power with the beast for one hour immediately prior to the return of Jesus Christ. Indeed, these "ten kings" (ten nations, or groups of nations) will turn against Jesus Christ at His return, but they will not win.
This union could pose a major threat to the Anglo-Saxon nations that have dominated the world for the last two or three centuries. Ironically, both the United States and Great Britain have played major roles in creating this European Union. Even amongst the British people, who are a part of this new Europe, there is a great deal of ignorance on the implications. Nobody on our bus even knew of the European Union-they all still referred to it as the EEC (European Economic Community), its former name when the intention was to create a single economy. The name was changed a few years ago to show that the goal now is full economic, political and military union, "an ever closer union". In a similar way, Americans often refer to the Euro as the Eurodollar, which it isn't. Europe has moved forward considerably during this decade.
In the next issue of WNP we will take a closer look at the three cities visited on my European tour, to understand their history and the historical, political and economic forces that are driving them toward European unity. WNP