"The more our society denies the past, the more it is influenced by it" argues Pierre Béhar in the preface to his most recent book, Vestiges d'empires (Remnants of empire, Paris: Desjonquères, 1999). Bernard Cazes therefore went to interview him about the process of collapse in Central Europe and the Balkans and, beyond that, about social trends over the very long term and impact of human decision-making, depending on whether these trends are taken into account or ignored.
The article is more about the past than the future. Pierre Béhar shares with us his thoughts on the construction and collapse of empires and states, in particular those created artificially, without regard to the past (as he stresses), at the end of the First World War - now history has reasserted itself. Basing his arguments on the history of the people of Europe across many centuries, he explains why certain frontiers remain stable, others are redrawn peaceably, while yet other states continue to tear each other apart in bloody conflicts.
Throughout the interview he emphasizes how important it is to recognize ethnic and national identities and how dangerous it is to construct artificial groupings, yet he also argues in favour of creating coherent political and strategic entities and picks out three that are vital in Europe. As might be expected, he is therefore extremely critical of the process of European unification - and even more so of the adoption of a common defence policy - which he feels is a case of "putting the cart before the horse", since agreements are sought about means before agreement has been reached about ends. Nevertheless, he recognizes the importance of having a common foreign policy vis-à-vis, in the first place, our Balkan neighbours.
A key question emerges from among the lessons of the historian for the futures studies specialist: what are the relative weights of historical determinism and of human freedom?