EDITORIAL: Vanishing Europe?

Shortly after the historic enlargement of the EU to the East in 2004, published simultaneously in Poland and Germany, a book prophetically entitled “Vanishing Europe” came out. It was a joint work of fifteen European writers who had decided to tell the readers about places that most of us have never heard of and probably will never see them.

Some have not been seen even by the authors of the texts. Ada-Kaleh was an island on the Danube, flooded in the 1960s during the construction of a giant Romanian dam. Another remarkable site is an Austrian military training ground the size of Luxembourg, created in several municipalities, the population of which was evicted on the orders of Hitler (this was the Führer’s way of rubbing out discrediting traces of the past—in one of the local villages his father was born as an illegitimate child). In the book you will also find a story about a Russian town whose existence was a topmost secret of the Soviet state, for it was inhabited by specialists operating nuclear warheads aimed at the United States during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. It also contains a story of a mammoth railway station in the Lithuanian Virbalis on the old border between Germany and Russia—the only relic of it is a tub in which Tsar Nicholas II reportedly took a bath. We also have a story about the so-called Block, that is the former government district of Tirana, once inhabited by the Albanian nomenclature and now the seat of U.S. banks, luxury shops and restaurants.

Never since have I read a book so strongly charged with positive emotions towards the Old Continent as this anthology of texts about crumbling parts of Europe, doomed to oblivion and sometimes deliberately destroyed. Fifteen prominent writers, people with as varying fates and as different experiences as possible, were on the same wavelength here, so to speak. Reading their wonderful texts, I can confidently repeat the words to which today we can only react with hollow laughter when we hear them from the mouths of politicians: “Yes, I am a European.”

Aleksander Kaczorowski

Aleksander Kaczorowski is an editor-in-chief of Aspen Review Central Europe, a Polish bohemist, journalist and author. His recent books include biographies of Václav Havel, Bohumil Hrabal, Ota Pavel and Isaac Babel. He won the Václav Burian Prize for cultural contribution to the Central European dialogue (2016).

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