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New Europe

Introduction

Michael Palin - New EuropeIt became clear that it would take us too long to cover the whole of Europe. Most interesting to me was that half of my own continent which, for most of my lifetime, was chilled by a Cold War and concealed behind an Iron Curtain. Now, with the Cold War over and the Iron Curtain lifted, there was the prospect of being able to travel through once-forbidden lands; of making a voyage of discovery on my very own doorstep.

Trying to describe such a journey in purely geographical terms didn't seem quite right. Some countries were clearly part of Eastern Europe, others very definitely Central Europe, while others, like Turkey, Moldova or Ukraine, didn't fit into either category. What they all seemed to have in common was a sense of rapid change, an opening-up of new horizons. It wasn't just names that were changing. Opportunities were being seized, old systems challenged, economic and political alliances entirely rethought. Nothing was quite as it had been before. Peoples, cultures and traditions with long historical roots were being shaken up and re-energised. Compared to the relatively secure and settled shape of Western Europe, the realignment of the eastern half of the continent was hurtling along. What was taking shape, both on the map and in the head was a new Europe. Or as we say on television, a New Europe.

If I'd made this journey eighteen years ago, instead of haring off around the world, it would have taken me through ten countries. Today there are twenty. More than all the countries in our Himalaya and Sahara journeys put together.

Many of these new nations are tiny, some with total populations smaller than that of London, but despite their size they have a very clear sense of their own identity, reinforced and defined by their own language, culture, history and currency. What makes their existence viable is the supportive hand of the European Union. Not all are part of it yet, but all feel that its benefits are worth taking seriously. After a century of power struggles which have visited unimaginable horrors upon the continent this coming-together is breathtakingly fresh and promising.

So I set out with considerable excitement in May 2006, and, a year later I find myself neither disillusioned nor cynical. The spirit of New Europe does exist, the hopes and dreams still burn and the future is full of opportunity. Our journey might just have been through a very small window in history and my natural tendency to optimism and half-full glasses may have misled me, but whatever the future holds I think it is important to have marked this moment when, for the first time in a thousand years, the old Europe of domination and conflict has been replaced by a new Europe of co-operation.

Let's, for all our sakes, hope that we can make it work.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Introduction
  • Country/sea: England
  • Place: London
  • Book page no: 6

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