Times columnist Cohen to speak on European disunion



New York Times columnist Roger Cohen calls the European Union “the dullest miracle on earth.” The question it faces today, he said, is can it be preserved?

In his first visit to Chautauqua Institution, Cohen kicks off Week Seven, “Redefining Europe,” at 10:45 a.m. today in the Amphitheater with his lecture, “A Combustible Europe: Nationalism, Religious Passions and Disunion.”

For the first time in its history, the 28-member European Union faces fracturing rather than further integration, Cohen said.

“Rising nationalism, economic stagnation, the crisis of the euro, deep structural flaws and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression on its eastern flank have all contributed to a moment of deep uncertainty and anxiety in Europe,” he said. “The brew is combustible: marginalized Muslim communities, nervous Jews, seeping Middle Eastern poison, high unemployment and rising rightist parties.”

At stake  is “something of enormous value: A near-borderless Europe at peace constitutes the great achievement of the second half of the 20th century,” he said.

Cohen began his career in 1983 at The Wall Street Journal, and went on to work as a foreign correspondent in 15 different countries during his more than 30-year career as a journalist. He joined The New York Times in 1990. He worked as the European economic correspondent from 1992 to 1994 until he became the Balkan bureau chief, where he covered the Bosnian War and the ensuing genocide. He continued to work throughout Europe before returning to New York in the aftermath of 9/11.

He is the author of five books, most recently The Girl from Human Street: Ghosts of Memory in a Jewish Family, which was published in last January.   

In the aftermath of World War II, the Cold War made Europe a hotbed of competing ideas and strategic concerns. German reunification, the dissolution of the Soviet Union and 9/11 all contributed to a diversion of attention from Europe. But Putin’s incursions in Ukraine should serve as a reminder than Europe needs to be nurtured, not neglected, Cohen said.

“I think Americans in general are drawn to Europe but tend to regard it as a place of pleasant recreational distractions rather than of excitement — not quite a museum but scarcely the land of the future,” Cohen said. “They are not wrong.”

The zenith of European power has passed, he said, and “it will not return.”

“Yet European integration remains an issue of enormous importance for world stability, and the European social model is of interest to many Americans troubled by the urban decay, collapsing infrastructure, under-funded schools, and ever-more extreme inequality of life in the United States,” Cohen said. “They wonder: Can the much-derided European welfare state teach us anything?”