Europe Since 1989

Europe Since 1989

A History

Philipp Ther

Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 2016, 440 pages

Book Review published on: June 30, 2017

Author Philipp Ther is a distinguished author, scholar, and renowned professor of Central European history at the University of Exeter. In Europe Since 1989: A History, he asserts that the systematic collapse of the Soviet/Eastern European Bloc reformed the Eastern European Bloc nations to be more like their Western European neighbors. According to Ther, not only did the collapse reform them but also it dramatically influenced the economic and geopolitical direction taken by the Western European countries as they struggled to absorb their Eastern European neighbors back into the European community. What makes this body of work intriguing and valuable is that Ther approaches the subject from an Eastern European perspective rather than the expected Western standpoint.

He begins his investigation describing the macro social, political, and economic events affecting the downfall of Eastern Bloc socialism (e.g., suppression of religious freedom, poor social welfare services, political elitism, and shortages of jobs and the basic staples of life that people need). He notes the 1989 collapse of the Berlin Wall as a pinnacle event for change. He cleverly articulates through firsthand stories how the collapse of these socialist governments took place. He asserts their demise was country specific; yet, all were led by bottom-up social and economic actions of the people, as circumstances lent themselves to change.

The author details how western neoliberalism with its emphasis on deregulation of commerce and trade, and the privatization of state-run businesses, had a catastrophic effect on the conversion of Eastern Bloc states. Economies had to be gutted due to chronic inefficiencies, a general shortage of commercial and consumer product demand, and a gross lack of inherent market competitiveness. This led to large migration flows of people from East to West, straining Western European economies by overloading their infrastructure. With so many more people needing services, social welfare programs and fiscal budgets were quickly depleted. He notes that the European Union’s liberal policy for membership extended to Eastern European countries, resulting in sizeable economic investments in these countries by partner states. Membership ultimately brought about a reversal of East to West migration and the reindustrialization of Eastern Europe. This phenomenon eventually displaced industrial sectors from locations such as France and Western Germany to Eastern Germany, Poland, and Slovakia. The result was higher employment numbers and per capita income in the east of Europe at the expense of the west of Europe. However, the south bore the brunt of the movement. Ther details how this megatrend has left nations such as Italy and Greece with huge macroeconomic and budgetary challenges that are reaching critical mass. Absent resolution, such issues may leave the European Union and its euro currency at risk of dilution.

Another of the many thoroughly covered facets the author tackles is the ramifications of incorporating former Eastern Bloc nations into NATO. The inclusiveness of NATO has antagonized Russia, leaving its leaders feeling threatened and isolated. Russia has responded in provocative ways, such as seizing the South Ossetia regions of Georgia, annexing Crimea, and attacking Eastern Ukraine. This has led to the international condemnation of Russia for its actions. Economic sanctions were swiftly imposed by most European nations along with the United States, Canada, and Australia. Russia’s actions also resulted in a number of these same nations reorienting their militaries to counterbalance the Russian threat and to protect against future Russian incursions. Finally, Ther gives insightful discussions regarding the consequences of the “Great Recession” of 2008 and 2009, the current financial crisis that is stagnating Europe, and the growth of nationalist movements within European Union countries (e.g., Britain’s Brexit) over immigration and other sovereignty-related issues.

This book is a uniquely comprehensive and fascinating chronology of European history since 1989. It is superbly researched—supported by noteworthy sources, figures, diagrams, tables, and charts, with the reader in mind. Ther has masterfully nested everything from politics and economics to international relations and basic human interests—right down to their fundamental forms—altogether in a uniquely descriptive way. Its scope and scale are unmatched by anything written to date and are unlikely to be matched in the future.

Scholars, professionals, and general readers interested in the recent history and situational dynamics playing out in Europe will find this book an important and exciting read. It is particularly well suited for academics and practitioners in the fields of international relations, political science, business and economics, public affairs, and military operational and strategic planning.

Book Review written by: David A. Anderson, PhD, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas