Friday, July 19, 2002

The Other Europe

I noticed that the visit of Poland’s president to the US hasn’t received much attention in the West European media. That’s not surprising since the state of relations between the US and many Eastern European governments is something many in the rest of Europe would rather not talk about.

If you go to the site of the euobserver you’ll find some stories about polls taken on the views of Latvians and Romanians concerning entry to the EU, but not much on US-East European relations. Perhaps that’s because, on many issues, including the US and the Middle East, East Europe is out of step with the EU and the western political elite.

As the current visit of President Kwasniewska shows, Poland remains one of the US’s strongest allies in Europe, even supporting the American decision to abandon the ABM Treaty earlier this year – a move opposed by West European governments and the EU.

And back in February, while visiting Israel, Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman expressed support for the Israeli stance against terror, referring to Western Europe’s own pre-World War II appeasement policy that left the Czechs to the mercy of Hitler.

Oddly enough, we rarely hear about the differences between eastern and western Europe. To a large extent West Europe and the EU take a not surprisingly paternalistic view towards East Europe. Among East Europeans there’s some resentment over the matter. While many in the East still support joining the EU, there’s also quite a bit of suspicion of the West’s intentions.

To make matters worse, many countries, such as Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic are angry that their acceptance to the EU has been so long delayed. While NATO accepted the three fairly rapidly, the EU has been slow to expand. Some are starting to suggest that East Europe forget about the EU and instead increase trade with Asia and the US, perhaps entering into a free trade agreement with the countries comprising the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Politically, East Europe still remembers that the Cold War was won largely through American determination. Many still harbor ill will toward West Europeans who preferred co-existence to confronting the “evil empire.” The memory of the disasters of the twentieth century that weighed so heavily on East Europeans are still there, and there are quite a few in the other Europe who are unhappy about surrendering their sovereignty to Brussels so soon after having regained it from Moscow.

On the other hand, the East Europeans might equally serve as a Trojan horse in the EU inner sanctum, tempering anti-American sentiment in Brussels. The EU folk must be aware of this possibility and find themselves in something of an uncomfortable spot. While they certainly want to increase the EU domain, they may just find themselves with some new subjects not particularly amenable to EU dogma.

It tends to be the case that standing up for the freedom of people living under a tyrant can earn a country respect. The US won the respect of East Europeans. I wonder if that might work in Iraq, in Iran, in Palestine. Maybe that’s what scares the Eurocrowd the most.

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