Common section

The More Things Change

After 600 or so years of modern European history, several things have become apparent to casual observers and historians alike.

First, the desire for self-determination is one of the most powerful forces known to humanity, proven time and time again to be something worthy of great, even ultimate, sacrifice.

Second, ideological differences and religious differences simply are part of life. While diversity is difficult sometimes, oppression in the name of order and assimilation always leads to violence.

Third, regardless of how tough things seem to be, humans persevere. Whether the challenges were related to disease, war, economic depression, uncertainty about science and religion, or simply the ability to coexist peacefully, European civilization has always managed to find a way not only to survive but to thrive.

Fourth, in spite of all the turmoil history has thrown at Europe, Europe still managed to produce some of history’s most brilliant and creative minds. People often say that history repeats itself. It doesn’t. However, people are and have always been the same. Therefore, just as there have always been conflicts in the past, there will be conflicts in the future; hopefully just not as many and not as destructive as in the past. Likewise, future Europeans undoubtedly will surpass the Europeans of the past intellectually and creatively, just as past Europeans surpassed those who came before them.

Finally, just as the past has presented a never-ending supply of fascinating characters and stories, so will the future. As the nineteenth-century author Alphonse Karr said, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”

Responding to Terror

Throughout European history, those not inclined to diplomatic means have resorted to violence, threats of violence, fear, and oppression to deal with problems. Most often these problems arose over religion and politics, although economic conditions occasionally sparked such attacks. In the twenty-first century, although much has changed since the Middle Ages, people are still the same. There are still people in the world who cannot deal with diversity and differences of opinion. For these few extremists, the way of handling diversity and change is through cowardly attacks and the threat of fear. Acts of terror can be committed by individuals, by groups, and even by states. The most frequent acts of terror include car bombing, suicide bombing, assassination, and hijacking. On a greater level, terrorism includes bio-terrorism and nuclear terrorism.

Numerous terror attacks occurred in Europe throughout the late twentieth century, including the 1972 Munich Olympics attacks; numerous Irish Republican Army bombings in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s; the 1986 bombing of a discotheque in Berlin; and the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. However, after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States, Europe faced a new kind of enemy. Though Europe had been relatively safe from nonEuropean attacks, as had the United States, that era was over. On March 11, 2004, a bomb exploded in a commuter train in Madrid and killed 191 people. That same year, a bombed Russian airplane killed 90. Also in 2004, terrorists took schoolchildren hostage in Russia and 344 died. In July 2005, terrorists detonated three bombs in London’s public transportation system on the eve of the G8 summit, killing more than 50.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair (b. 1953), despite taking heat at home, took the lead in the European response to terrorism. Blair immediately sided with the United States in the days and months following the September 11 attacks, and he committed British troops to the “war on terror.”

Continental Quotes

“In the global context true security cannot be achieved by a mounting build up of weapons-defence in the narrow sense—but only by providing basic conditions for peaceful relations between nations, and solving not only the military but also the non-military problems which threaten them."

—Willy Brandt

Since 2001, intelligence and counter-terrorist measures are reported to have greatly increased security throughout Europe, but security officials will attest that there is still room for improvement. In Spain, for example, Spanish authorities have increased surveillance in strategic locations and have increased the frequency of anti-terror raids on suspected terror cells. In the wake of bombings of the London bus and underground systems in July 2005, English Prime Minister Blair proposed new measures to help in the war on terror. Among the proposals were the refusal of asylum to former terrorists, making glorification of terror a crime, increasing the power to close a place “fomenting extremism” even if the place is a house of worship, and deportation on the grounds of fostering hatred. These proposals go beyond the traditional responses of increasing security at target areas and increasing intelligence activities. In eastern Europe, Russian President Vladimir Putin has been relentless in using troops to respond to acts of terror such as the frequent activities of Chechen rebels. Furthermore, Putin has encouraged European powers not to stand by but to become actively involved in the war on terror. 

Challenges for the Future

Considering what the last century has been like for Europe, the continent is in remarkably good shape. The overall economy is fair, no European powers currently threaten to upset the peace or balance of power for the rest of the continent, and the economy is becoming more globalized and, at least theoretically, less volatile.

However, there remain several challenges that will have to be dealt with in the coming years. Perhaps most fresh on everyone’s mind is the challenge of dealing with terror. Creating a political entity in the European Union without challenging the sovereignty of nations will certainly be a challenge. Both the UN and NATO face the constant challenge of policing the continent. Furthermore, just in the last few years, the two organizations have had to reevaluate their mission and role in the political affairs of sovereign states. States will continue to face challenges regarding alliances and the way those alliances affect relationships with other European states, particularly alliances with the United States and China.

The Least You Need to Know

• Communist states, once they became smitten with democratic ideals, fell one after another, especially in 1989. Eventually, Communist East Germany joined with a democratic West Germany.

• The mighty Soviet Union fell in 1991 after Mikhail Gorbachev introduced changes to save communism there. Ironically, the liberal changes intended to save communism actually spelled doom for it.

• After Tito died, Yugoslavia experienced terrible nationalist wars between Serbs and minorities. The wars featured genocide and ethnic cleansing, both of which are charges facing former Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic.

• The former EC developed into a 25-member economic and political entity known as the European Union. Many of the member states traded in their national currencies for the common currency of the EU, the euro.

• The British royal family has experienced triumph and tragedy, romance and heartache. It remains the most popular and widely followed royal family in the world.

• The most pressing challenges facing Europe include the development of the EU, the response to terrorism, and the effective administration of NATO and the UN.

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at Thank you!