By Jessica Perry
In 1949, a Hungarian infant was soothed with drugs to stop him from crying. Communist-run searchlights struck around him. He floated down the Danube River next to his family on rubber rafts.
At six months old, George Friedman and his family escaped Hungary and eventually arrived to the United States. He is now known as a top geopolitical scientist. At his Jan. 28 appearance at Politics & Prose to discuss his new book, the best-selling author focused on the softer side of his inextricable ties to Europe.
“My life and my parents’ lives are bound up in the geopolitics of Europe,” he said. “Our leaving was a matter of life and death.”
These high stakes motivated him to write his newest book, Flashpoints: The Emerging Crisis in Europe. The book scrutinizes current European relations and economic issues. His narrative added another dimension to the book, which was published this month.
“I’ve always had this tension between myself as American and as a Hungarian,” he said.
The air in the room seemed to stiffen with his honesty. Diverse visitors wandered in, and Politics & Prose opened up to hear Friedman.
By looking back through a lens of internal discord, Friedman identified the broken Europe he grew up with to the current state of Europe. History seemed to repeat itself, as he also explored in his previous book, The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century.
“What you see happening in Europe now is a rise of parties like in the 1920s and 1930s, extreme right and left-wing parties all united in the idea that Europe was a bad idea,” he said. “What they are saying is that we cannot live in this Europe.”
‘This Europe’, to Friedman, is one plagued by habitual debt, war, and unemployment. He emphasized that the Europe was never “The United States of Europe”; each country’s sovereign decisions brought Europe to the depression-laden state it is in today. Some places, such as Germany, played a larger economic role than others.
However, Friedman said the root of these effects is simpler. He argued that the problem is the European Union’s inherently separate structure, sparked by the catalyst of a lack of prosperity. With that comes pressure at the borders.
“[There was a] fragmentation of Europe at its soul,” he said. “There is the Greek experience, the French experience…distinctions came out. There is no European experience anymore.”
He also described the gap between mainland Europe and peninsular Europe as the main rift.
To Friedman, the lack of coherence evidences a complex paradox at play.
“[Europe] conquered the world, transformed man’s relationship to each other…Europeans created the singular concept of humanity,” he said. “At the same time, it never conquered itself. War after war, they could never come together completely.”
Regardless of being a historical nexus, Friedman admitted that Europe continuously fights itself into weakness. The solutions seem just as inconclusive as Friedman’s search for self. He expressed a grim outlook for the future of Europe based on a tumultuous history.
“The things you thought were gone, the ghosts, could come back to life,” he said. “Everything appears settled, but nothing is permanently.”