The Breakfast Table

Can Europe Be Invented?

Dear Mary,

Yes, I’ve seen La Haine–an extraordinary film that is hard to get out of your head. But I don’t think it would have occurred to me to call its alienated protagonists “committed cosmopolitans” (although, as I recall, one of them was a big fan of Taxi Driver), and I can’t say it filled me with much optimism about Europe’s future. No question, though, these are people let down by/excluded from politics-as-usual.

What you say about producing Frenchmen and Italians is food for thought, too. You’re quite right, of course: Dominant cultures can be made, invented even. (Japan is perhaps an even better example.) I can well imagine Prodi saying, “We have made Europe, now we must make Europeans”–if he hasn’t said it already. I can imagine Tony Blair saying it, too, for that matter. My reaction, if I’m frank about it, is that I can’t stand politicians who want to make me into something. I’ll decide what I am. There you are, Mary: Liberalism fights back.

I don’t think the Pinochet matter is open-and-shut. It weighs with me that Chile’s government doesn’t want him extradited, and that there is some (admittedly small) risk of political instability there if Pinochet goes on trial in Spain. These are not non-factors, to be swept easily aside. On balance, though, I’m with you, and for exactly the reasons you say: I do think those points outweigh the drawbacks.

I still don’t understand this bombing mistake: NATO admits something went wrong but its stories just don’t make sense. They seem to be describing another incident altogether. Whatever the truth, if it ever emerges, nobody can deny that the operation has failed to help the people it was meant to help. On top of everything else, these “mistakes” weaken the alliance (the cracks seem to be starting) and strengthen Milosevic’s resolve to hold out. The Kosovars lose out every way. You reminded me of the line in La Haine–“It’s not how you fall, it’s how you land.” Well, heaven knows how we land.

I’ve enjoyed these late breakfasts, too. You may find you have a pen-pal (or whatever the Internet equivalent of that is: cyber-correspondent, or something) even when Slate has stopped looking over our shoulders.