It is seventy-three years since the Second World War ended but its after-effects still ripple across the continent today.
European cities have been in existence since forever. The Greek cities existed long before the Current Era and at that time, when Brits were painting themselves blue and existing in a permanent warlike funk, the Greeks were building the Acropolis and carving the Caryatids.
But it is recent history which casts the longest shadow and whose scars have yet to totally heal. The sense now is different from that of the 1960s and 1970s rather than a right wrong situation as it was then, there is more a sense of change and a settling of perspective.
The end of communism
One of the main factors which affected Europe as a whole was the fall of communism in the East. After the war, the USSR as one of the liberating powers was able to take control of lots of Eastern European countries. Soviet influence extended over the governments in Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, East Germany, Poland, Romania and Yugoslavia. The Baltic countries—Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania—were made into republics. Even Finland was partly controlled by the Soviets. The Communist Party was also strong in Italy and France.
By 1989 there were cracks in the Soviet hold. Poland was the first to hiccup with the rebellion in Gdansk. No one needed much of an incentive and quickly Hungary, East Germany, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and Romania follow. The writing was in the wall literally in East Germany where an unprecedented series of mass public rallies leads to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
By then it was only a matter of time. The USSR was a concept of the past. In 1991 that Boris Yeltsin outlawed the communist party and the Russian Federation came about. Russia is still a major power, that status has not changed, but it is no longer communist and with the collapse of the ideology things began to change across all the eastern bloc countries.
A continent of at least two halves
Issues facing the governments of Europe vary geographically with those in the East working to establish democratic governments while those in the west deal with issues that are long established like the effects of colonialism and immigration.
The concept of a unified Europe is a distant pipe dream except that it is not. It may be that counties see themselves as a national identity first, but they do see themselves as European second.
France, Germany, Italy and Spain contribute a huge power bloc which many smaller countries have realized is a route to protection and stability. Against this backdrop, it is at least curious that the United Kingdom decided to press forward with Brexit.
This perhaps was the biggest travesty. There was no plan because no one expected it to happen. The margin between votes establishes no clear mandate and in retrospect, there should have been a required margin.