If it’s Tuesday, it Must be Cold War Again

By Michael Lederer

“May you live in inter­est­ing times.”

Many Amer­i­cans com­ing to Europe are lured by the romance: foun­tains in Rome, cafés in Paris, Span­ish gui­tars, the cool vibes of Berlin. All those exist­ed in the nine­teen twen­ties and ear­ly thir­ties too, though now as then there is some­thing else in the air. It is not fea­tured in any of the very attrac­tive four-col­or brochures put out by tourist agen­cies. Indeed, one won’t see, hear, feel, or taste it if one only has a few hours off the cruise ship, or if the itin­er­ary has one shut­tling between air­port and hotel as fast as one can shout “Next!” But slow down enough to look between the mon­u­ments and land­marks and it’s here: Fear. Like a dash of Tabas­co in the soup, it is giv­ing life here in Europe an unex­pect­ed edge these days. A lit­tle bite to the brew.

Head­lines sud­den­ly are chock­ablock with all the wor­ry­ing details – reli­gious, geopo­lit­i­cal, finan­cial. Cur­ren­cy and debt crises, rise of the Left in the south, rise of the Right in the north, ISIL, Crimea, polit­i­cal assas­si­na­tions and cen­sor­ship, calls for Jews to leave Europe. Yes­ter­year not so yester as one would like. From Geor­gia to Ukraine to Transnis­tria, from Dres­den to Paris to Den­mark and beyond, the pen­du­lum is swing­ing once again, more wild­ly than it has for the last quar­ter cen­tu­ry. And the ques­tion looms: Will it get worse?

From The New York Times on March 14: “Poles Steel for Bat­tle Fear­ing Rus­sia Will March on Them Next.” The arti­cle quotes one Pol­ish aca­d­e­m­ic: “Wor­ries are increas­ing but they have not yet reached the lev­el of mass fear.” That same day from CNN: “US Admi­ral Rais­es Alarm Over Russ­ian Mil­i­tary Threat.” And, again from The New York Times on March 16, this gem: “Putin Says He Weighed Nuclear Alert Over Crimea.”

Is this what it was like in the thir­ties? A nice day in Europe, shop­ping, friends, walks through the park as some­where a whis­per grows into a shout, small arti­cles become ban­ner head­lines, then sud­den­ly the sound of glass breaking…and worse.

In the illus­tra­tion that accom­pa­nies this post, the Russ­ian painter Genia Chef (long emi­grat­ed to the West) shows Churchill, Roo­sevelt, and Stal­in at the Yal­ta con­fer­ence in Crimea, Feb­ru­ary 1945. A sol­dier stand­ing behind Stal­in is glanc­ing toward the back­ground where one of sev­er­al clouds drift­ing by is tak­ing on the shape of a mush­room, as a white dove in flight appears frightened.

This cen­tu­ry is fast approach­ing its own twen­ties. Instead of a new age how­ev­er, things are start­ing to feel a bit too famil­iar here. Let’s hope that Genia Chef’s paint­ing is not too prescient.

Genia Chef, “The Great Game,” oil on canvas, 2013 (fragment)
Pho­to cred­it: Michael Led­er­er | Pho­to of Genia Chef’s “The Great Game,” oil on can­vas, 2013 (frag­ment)

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Michael Led­er­er is an Amer­i­can writer who lives in Berlin, Dubrovnik, and Cadaqués. His first nov­el, Cadaqués, was pub­lished in Feb­ru­ary 2014. He has just writ­ten his sec­ond nov­el, Don Quixote Sav­ing Amer­i­ca.