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Last Updated: Friday, 30 April, 2004, 23:19 GMT 00:19 UK
Historic day heralds fresh hopes
By Paul Reynolds
BBC News Online world affairs correspondent

Another European Union enlargement - the biggest yet - and one is running out of words to describe it.

Tending to the wounded
100 people were killed when Soviet troops moved into Prague to stop reform
"Historic" and "unprecedented" and such like are overused, true as they might be.

I prefer to use a word I used to hear in Central and Eastern Europe during the final days of communism.

People said they wanted life to be "normal."

It was the modest expression of a deeply felt ambition - that life should not be circumscribed by governments, that speech and travel should be free and that there should be no knock on the door at midnight.

Tourists, not demonstrators

So that is the word I will use to describe this enlargement. It is "normal."

It has become normal that there should be no divisions on the continent. I am looking forward myself to driving to Warsaw via Berlin as a small expression of that normality.

I would also like to go back to Wenceslas Square in Prague where tens of thousands of extremely well-behaved but determined citizens cheered and clapped as the names of a new non-communist government were read out by Vaclav Havel from a balcony at the end of 1989.

I daresay it looks pretty normal these days, which means tourists and not demonstrators.

Budapest, which rose up against its occupiers in 1956 and was crushed for a further 30 years is finally getting back to normality. The refugees who suddenly appeared in the English seaside town where I grew up are probably leading normal lives now.

And the church of St Nicholas in Leipzig where East Germans rallied in the prelude to their own peaceful revolution probably has its usual small congregations, not the 2,000 and more who used to crowd there in the heady days of 1989.

Then there is the shipyard in Gdansk where Lech Walesa led Solidarity and where I remember Margaret Thatcher being given a thunderous welcome.

Once it was called Danzig. It provided Hitler with an excuse to invade Poland. It is now so normal that even Ryanair says it is not interesting enough to fly there.

Shifting perspectives

It has become normal that countries should wish to join the EU club. That may surprise the sceptics but it is so.

It is also normal that they will join the debate about what kind of club it should be.

Gdansk shipyard
Gdansk, with its turbulent history, is too boring for Ryanair to fly there
And of course, this will not be the last enlargement. Stand by for the spread of normality.

Look at a map of Europe and see the gaps in the jigsaw.

Romania and Bulgaria are waiting their turn. The Balkans will one day be added. Slovenia is already in and Croatia will be next. But Serbia, with or without Kosovo and Bosnia and Albania will follow at some stage and the line through to Greece will be joined up.

Then there is Turkey and Belarus and Ukraine maybe.

Which brings us to Russia.

I personally doubt if Russia will join the EU. It is a continent in itself and doesn't need to.

But then who in the 1950s thought Spain and Greece, or even Britain, would join?

Britain's Prime Minister Anthony Eden once loftily dismissed the then Common Market by saying that "our horizons are wider."

The EU's horizons these days are pretty wide now, too.

Banal significance

It is the mundane which perhaps most vividly expresses the changes which have come over Europe in our lifetime.

The best of the Western writers about Europe, Timothy Garton Ash, recognised that in an article in The Guardian newspaper in which he used some old jokes to illustrate what has happened.

The best I think was a joke, as he puts it, "from a Poland plagued by food shortages."

A man goes into a butcher's shop.

"Could I have some pork please?"

"Nope, we haven't any."





"Some beef sausages?"


He leaves, downcast.

"What an idiot," says the butcher's assistant.

"Yes," replies the butcher. "But what a memory."

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