A SOMBER, sober, gray filter clouds almost any discussion today in Europe. Call the filter Sarajevo - and the other besieged cities and peoples in Bosnia.
Sitting at an outdoor cafe on Lake Wannsee in Berlin on the continent's first warm weekend, a friend says, "It's hard to believe that a little over an hour from here [by air] a major war is going on, isn't it?"
The next day, eating alone in a Brussels hotel, I strike up a conversation with the waitress. She has just come to work in Belgium from Ireland, she says, and asks where I am from. Boston, I reply. Then a lone woman at the next table speaks up, "Oh, my daughter lives on Cape Cod." The woman is an Argentinian, a composer, now living in Paris. (A major modern musical festival is taking place in Brussels right now.) She asks what I do. When I mention the Monitor she asks if it is connected with a church. Ye s, I say. "Then why can't you do something about Bosnia?" she shoots back. "You must see that what is going on there is wrong."
The tragedy of Yugoslavia had been going through my mind all day, in fact. I had just driven to Brussels from Frankfurt, stopping to see two towns I had never visited - Aachen, in Germany, and Liege, in Belgium. In between them lies the German-Belgium border, with just the 12 gold stars of the European Community indicating the border. No different than, say, "Welcome to Indiana." Yet the highway signs in this area where four countries meet are the reminders of Europe's civil wars of this century - Ardenn es, Bastogne.
I stopped and had a lunch of Belgian waffles along the market stalls lining the Meuse River in Liege. Meuse - yet another war reminder. They were wars that tore the heart out of what was sophisticated, urbane pre-1914 Europe.
Yet out of those two tragic wars came the motivation to create a new Europe, one whose institutions would eventually match the pace of modern life. Politically it has not arrived, but economically western Europe has been tightly knit.
What lies behind the undercurrent of talk about Bosnia is not only the fear that unsettled conditions there are bound to have aftershocks that affect the whole continent. It is, I think, that western Europeans have learned how little civil wars of themselves get to the heart of the hatreds and human misunderstandings that cause those wars. They would like to think that in a country as close to them as Yugoslavia some lessons had been learned from the two European "civil wars" of this century.
What is probably closer to the fact is that each group of human beings, each cluster comprising its own political sovereignty, must basically learn its own lessons. That is the tragedy of the situation, as well as the reason one must hope that any United States involvement in Bosnia will weigh what one can hope to achieve there against the obvious desire to stop the inhumanity being practiced.
I came to Brussels after taking part in a Forum fur Deutschland symposium in Berlin. Much of the content of this year's symposium dealt with western Europe's relations with the countries to the east. The Argentinian composer asked, "Why can't you talk more about the spiritual values that should bring people together?"
My thought went back to Berlin for a moment. The only mention of spiritual values in a forum for the discussion of political and economic issues had been by the mayor of St. Petersburg. He had referred to Yugoslavia and asked why we could not learn that we are all the children of one God. It sounds so simple, and yet it remains the greatest challenge for this generation of human beings.