University of Notre Dame

The Story of Notre Dame

America - Europe

A Transatlantic Diary 1961 - 1989

Klaus Lanzinger

Innsbruck, [Beginning of March], 1977

Vienna as Transit Station

Hardly a day goes by without a dissident from the East Bloc countries arriving in Vienna with hopes of being able to go on to the United States. The human rights catalogue of the final accords of the Helsinki Agreement has proven to be a time fuse. The voices demanding more freedom in the East Bloc are not to be silenced anymore - first the Charta 77 in Czechoslovakia,* then the group around the physicist Sakharov in Moscow.** The hope for more freedom is being nourished by President Carter’s firm stand on human rights. The follow-up Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), which will convene by the end of summer in Belgrade, promises to have an intense debate on a timely issue.

*[On January 5, 1977, 257 citizens of Czechoslovakia signed the Charta 77. They demanded that the human rights catalogue of the Helsinki Agreement be fulfilled, as had been promised.]

**[The renowned Russian nuclear physicist Andrei Sakharov, who was born in Moscow in 1921, fought relentlessly for human rights. In 1970 he founded the Committee for Human Rights, and in 1975 he received the Nobel Peace Prize. Sakharov was sent into internal exile to Gorky, 1980-86. After a short period of freedom in the Gorbachev era, he died in Moscow in 1989.]

Passed on the Left

In the last decades the understanding of democracy in America and Europe has been reversed. While American democracy has always been too liberal for Europe, a conservative America now stands opposite to a radical progressive Europe. Aside from the people’s republics of Eastern Europe, which have turned the democratic idea into communist dictatorships, the increasing radicalization in Western Europe is evoking a crisis in the mutual understanding with the United States. How should the United States adjust to the growing Euro-communism, and how can the radical leftist-leaning reformers in Europe be understood in Washington? In its understanding of democracy, Europe has passed America on the left.

How Far Left is Left?

At the University of Rome a downright street battle broke out when a communist union official addressing the striking students was stormed by radical leftist student groups. Sworn to anarchy, how far left are these students standing? Yet what happened in Rome was only a visible sign of the inner social unrest which is threatening large parts of Europe. Most European countries are facing an avalanche of unemployed academics. The masses of young people, who leave the universities every year with or without a degree, are quite in the air in regard to their future. A great deal of misery, hopelessness and disappointment is hiding behind this uncertainty. The futility and aimlessness for the future harbor an explosive danger that can lead to violent riots.

European Pessimism

Coming from America to Europe, one is confronted with a pessimistic attitude that is difficult to grasp. There is a widespread sullenness nourished by the assumption that whatever one does is of no use anyway. People here live in the past; they keep their eyes closed to the future. It takes a while until one gets used again to this defeatism. This pessimistic attitude is destructive. It is a heavy burden on the young generation who is striving to develop its abilities.

Marbach, Baden-Wurttemberg, [Middle of March], 1977

Naples on the Neckar

Whoever visits Marbach on the Neckar these days, the birthplace of the German playwright Friedrich Schiller, will be surprised to see that this small town has assumed a southern Italian character. Italian foreign workers have moved into the half-timbered houses where well-established burghers once lived. The inns have been turned into pizzerias, and the laundry hangs across the narrow alleys for drying. In front of the town’s fountain produce stalls have been set up. All this gives the small town a certain Mediterranean charm. But Marbach only illustrates what is happening to many small towns north of the Alps. It is the sociological infiltration from the poorer European countries in the South. While the affluent middle class is moving to the suburbs, the foreign workers take over the empty, old and partly dilapidated buildings left behind. This reminds me of a similar event, which I was able to observe in Cincinnati, Ohio.* Basically, such shifts in social structure are not unusual. They will increase here to the extent the European Community will be united and will allow free movement to its population.

*[Transl: See above entry “Over the Rhine,” end of June, 1976.]

Innsbruck, March 16, 1977

Austrian Studies in America

Today Chancellor Bruno Kreisky presented the University of Minnesota a donation of 1 million dollars for the purpose of establishing a Chair for Austrian Studies. At the same time also an Institute for Austrian Studies will be established. The financial means for this donation were procured by selling “Amerikasterne” (America Stars) during the Bicentennial Year. All sections of the Austrian population participated in this fund-raising campaign out of gratitude for the help Austria had received through the Marshall Plan.

March 18, 1977

Concerned about Human Rights

In his address to the United Nations, President Carter made an impassioned plea to the world community to make every effort for the protection of human rights. No state, Carter emphasized, can regard maltreating its citizens as a domestic affair.

Vienna, [End of March], 1977

Refugee Tragedies

Austria is by its geographic location an outpost of the Free World. Not a day goes by without a number of people fleeing, at the risk of their lives, across the border to Austria. Here refugees from the East arrive first, here they are accepted, taken care of, and transferred to Western missions. More than ever, refugee tragedies play out at the U.S. Consulate in Vienna. People who fled from the East are standing in line under heavy security. They all hope to be admitted to the United States and to start a new life there. This opportunity is offered only to a few, while many others have adjusted to years of waiting and endless petitions. Despite favorable signs of easing tensions, the border here to the East has lost nothing of its harsh reality.

Vienna, March 31, 1977

Easing of Travel Restrictions

The détente between East and West shows here in Vienna that travel restrictions with Hungary and Czechoslovakia have been eased. On Sunday mornings tour buses arrive here with tourists from Budapest and Prague who spend the day in Vienna. These guests from the East can now be seen in the Prater amusement park, in the Schönbrunn Palace, and in the museums. It is astonishing how devoted these visitors stand before the remnants of the Habsburg Monarchy. It may also be regarded as progress of détente that a Hungarian restaurant chain can now operate establishments in Budapest, East-Berlin, and in Vienna. Here in the Danube region, the lessening of tensions has become irreversible.

<< Klaus Lanzinger >>