Events are now unfolding that will radically alter the political map of this divided continent — perhaps before the decade is over. FROM ALL indications, 1983 may well prove to be the most decisive year for Europe since World War II.
The East-West stalemate that has kept the Continent divided — but in a state of "armed peace" — for nearly four decades is on the verge of becoming "unstuck."
At the center of the crisis is the Soviet Union's growing fear over its ability to maintain a firm grip over events in Eastern Europe.
The nations of Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria together represent the Soviet Union's "security zone" against any future military threat from elsewhere in Europe.
And from where they sit, the top leaders in the Kremlin do not like what they see.
Kremlin Peace Offensive On the political and military fronts, Moscow has embarked on a full scale peace offensive. The objective: to forestall the announced aim of the NATO alliance to deploy 572 new intermediate-range ballistic and land-based cruise missiles before year's end.
The NATO plan, if implemented, would make possible, for the very first time, a nuclear counterattack upon the Soviet heartland from bases in Western Europe. The new Pershing II missiles could reach Soviet targets in only 8 minutes.
New Soviet Communist Party leader Yuri Andropov has made a series of proposals to reduce the East-West nuclear arsenals in Europe. This culminated in his call, on January 5, for a nonaggression pact between NATO and its Moscow-led Warsaw Pact counterpart.
A communique at the end of a two-day Warsaw Pact summit in Prague, Czechoslovakia, described the proposal as a "new grand peace proposal," adding that it would be circulated to all 35 nations participating in the European Security Conference at Madrid, Spain.
Western diplomats quickly remarked that the Soviet offer was "nothing new." A similar Warsaw Pact offer failed to win NATO acceptance in 1958.
Nevertheless, they were hesitant to reject the offer outright, since it was well received by the rapidly growing and politically influential peace movements in Western Europe and the United States — the principal target audience of the Soviet move.
U.S. President Ronald Reagan has been put on the defensive by this string of Soviet proposals. As a result, he felt obliged to dispatch Vice President George Bush to several Western European capitals to shore up a visibly crumbling NATO common front.
Mr. Reagan is widely perceived in peace movement circles as being largely responsible for fueling the nuclear arms race. (Those in the movement dismissed the President's zero option offer of last year — no new missiles for the removal of Soviet missiles targeted on Western Europe — as being insincere.)
Vatican Challenge The Soviet leadership also perceives a powerful threat to its status quo in Eastern Europe coming from another direction — the Vatican.
Moscow has been deeply concerned ever since the Archbishop of Krakow, Poland, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, was surprisingly elected to the highest office in the Catholic Church in the fall of 1978.
Pope John Paul II has had a galvanizing effect not only upon his native Poland but upon Roman Catholic populations throughout Eastern Europe.
Only one year after the Pope's stunningly successful homecoming visit to Poland in the summer of 1979, Poland's ill-fated independent Solidarity labor union movement was formed.
Soviet authorities quickly realized that Solidarity would challenge exclusive Communist party rulership in Poland. If successful, such a development could have spread like wildfire to the entire East Bloc, and into even the western part of the U.S.S.R., especially the Baltic and the Ukraine.
In late 1980 and early 1981 the Soviets contemplated a military move into Poland, but drew back. The Pope is reported to have threatened Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev in a private letter that he would "lay down the crown of St. Peter" and return to Poland to lead resistance to Soviet intervention.
For this or for whatever other reason, the Soviets desisted in their direct approach. They prevailed upon Poland's own military to restore order in December 1981.
First Soviet Cardinal Tass, the Soviet news agency, issued sharp personal comments on Pope John Paul II in late December 1982. It asserted that under his leadership the Vatican was involved in unwanted activities in Poland and in "anti-Communist propaganda on a broad scale."
A few days later, the growing tensions between Moscow and the Vatican reached a new height with the stunning appointment, on January 5, 1983, of the first Soviet cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church.
Soviet officials claim they had no advance notification of the elevation of Bishop Julijans Vaivods of Riga, Latvia, who becomes the first resident Soviet citizen to be created a cardinal since the Russian revolution.
At the same time, Polish Archbishop Jozef Glemp was elevated to the office of cardinal, along with East Germany's Joachim Meisner, the Archbishop of Berlin.
Thus, while the Soviet Union may have the United States on the defensive, the opposite is true with respect to its relations with the Vatican. "Catholic revival worries Moscow," headlined the January 7, 1983, Financial Times of London. The article reported that the "Soviet concern about the Catholic resurgence within Eastern Europe is becoming irrepressible."
The Pope's "Vision for Europe" Perhaps most disturbing of all to Moscow is Pope John Paul's continual calls for the "spiritual unity" of Europe.
This theme, which he stressed much on his visit to Poland in 1979, was repeated on his recent 10-day visit to Spain. The Pope culminated his trip with an address he labeled a "Declaration to Europe."
In this speech at the city of Santiago de Compostela, the Pope issued an impassioned appeal for all Europeans in both the East and West, to discover "your origins. Give life to your roots."
Of course, he was speaking of Europe's Catholic heritage. Henry Kamm of the New York Times, in his Nov. 10 column, described the activities of the final day of the Pope's Spanish tour:
"At the final destination of his 10-day pilgrimage to Spain... the pope celebrated what he called a 'European act.'...
"He said: 'I, John Paul, a son of the Polish nation that has always considered itself European by its origins, traditions, culture and vital relations; Slav among Latins and Latin among the Slavs.... I, bishop of Rome and pastor of the universal church, from Santiago issue to you, old Europe, a cry full of love: Find yourself. Be yourself. Discover your origins. Give life to your roots'" (emphasis ours).
The Pope spoke in the presence of Spain's King Juan Carlos I, representatives of European organizations and universities especially invited for the 'act' that was clearly intended as the high point of the papal tour.
"The Europe the pontiff described was equivalent to Christian Europe," continued Mr. Kamm. "He said the history of the founding of its nations 'coincides with the penetration of the gospel.' European identity, the pope declared, 'is incomprehensible without Christianity.'...
"Old Europe" between East and West Writing for The Daily Telegraph of London, Nov. 10, reporter Michael Field added the following points concerning the Pope's dramatic "European act" while on his visit to Spain:
"The Pontiff pleaded for peace in 'Old Europe.' He offered the services of the Roman Catholic Church as a mediator between East and West.
"He issued the warning that the Continent was facing a crisis of economic, spiritual and political upheaval and the threat of nuclear holocaust.
"The solution, he said, lay in an affirmation of Europe's Christian heritage. Pilgrims who had come to the Shrine of St. James in the Middle Ages had helped to make Europe a homogeneous and spiritually united Continent of Latin, Germanic, Celtic, Anglo-Saxon and Slav peoples. But now Europe was in crisis, fractured by unnatural divisions [meaning the ideological division into the capitalist West and the communist East] that had stopped its people from meeting freely."
Near the end of his speech, the Pope stressed that "Europe has still in reserve incomparable human energies capable of sustaining it in this historic work toward a continental renaissance."
This vision of a new, yet ancient, Europe, the very revival of the Roman Empire, a new Europe to transcend today's "artificial" political boundaries, is what will soon disturb Moscow more than anything else.