Like the Jews who prayed incessantly to Elohim/Jehovah for freedom during their Babylonian exile, the nations of Central and Eastern Europe looked at the United States of America throughout the four and a half decades long military occupation by the Soviet Union as their shining liberator. While politically miserable, economically backward, and morally schizophrenic, they held to the dream that sometime in the distant future their children and grandchildren will live in democracy and prosperity. When in 1990 the Soviet Union collapsed and with it the pro-Moscow regimes disappeared across Central and Eastern Europe, opposition figures, academics, literati, and even former communists unhappy with the Kremlin’s heavy handed control, have gone down to the business of politically, economically, and morally empowering the peoples. Today, democracy is in a crisis in Central and Eastern Europe, because political power
has been captured by the new elites who never have intended to allow the peoples to rule over them. Similarly, prosperity has fallen victim to the greed of the new aristocrats who shamelessly have stolen and embezzled the wealth of their respective countries. In these shameful processes, Hungary has turned to Russia as a model for despotism and corruption. In spite of its obvious economic weakness and relative isolation, because of the sanction imposed upon it, Vladimir Putin has managed to entice Viktor Orban to become his tool in spreading division within the European Union and NATO. For these reasons, the West cannot afford ignoring what have transpired in the last three decades inside this region.
The United States of America has been a relative newcomer to the region. In 1918, during the Paris peace conferences President Woodrow Wilson succumbed to the theoretically attractive but practically deceptive notion of self-determination. Having had no clue about the complex and discombobulated history of the region, he fell to France’s desire to eliminate German influence in Central and Eastern Europe. Between the two World Wars, the United States of America only paid scant attention to the region. After World War II, the so-called Cold War dominated the minds of statesmen and strategic thinkers in Washington, DC. The policy of differentiation between
individual socialist countries only started to take practical roots in 1987, when on June 12th President Ronald Reagan challenged Mikhail Gorbachev in his Berlin speech to “tear down this wall!” What followed was the declaration by Gorbachev on December 7, 1988, at the UN General Assembly that the Soviet Union henceforth will not interfere militarily in Central and Eastern Europe. The February 2, 1989, withdrawal of the Soviet troops from Afghanistan, the subsequent demolition of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, the ultimate dissolution of the Warsaw Pact in July of 1991, and the official declaration of the dismemberment of the Soviet Union on December 26, 1991, put an end to the Cold War between the two nuclear powers.
The gradual enlargements of the European Union based on the Copenhagen Criteria of June 1993, and NATO based on Article 10 of the North Atlantic Treaty have brought the membership of the former to twenty eight and the latter to twenty nine. The short term objective of the enlargements has been to prevent the formerly socialist countries from returning to their dictatorial regimes and to block any attempt by Russia to regain control over its former vassal states. In the long run, the ultimate goal has been to fully integrate these states into the family of free and democratic countries that guarantee
democracy, respect human rights and human dignity, including equality of minorities, enable the existence of a functioning market economy, and the rule of law.
As it so often happens, good intentions and the realities on the ground can create unexpected results. As a starter, the artificial unions established in 1918 in Czechoslovakia and in Yugoslavia did not hold. While the Czechs and the Slovaks parted company peacefully, Yugoslavia sank into a bloody civil war. Also, the newly minted Central and Eastern European member states have felt that the brunt of the burdens of transformation have been placed disproportionately on their peoples. This has led them to the conclusion that the United States of America and the older member states of the European Union are evading their responsibilities to provide all the necessary financial assistance that their impoverished economies absolutely need for an accelerated integration. Moreover, they have convinced themselves that the lack of total support is also morally unacceptable. Finally, having considered themselves historically an integral part of the civilized West, they have argued that no argument can justify the ever widening prosperity gap between the two parts of the continent.
Thus having shifted both responsibility and blame on the western part of Europe and the United States of America, they have begun to wallow in their new role as the martyrs of their rich partners. To wit, the thought that they should have developed domestic policies with clear directions has failed to take root in their political vocabulary. Thus, domestic policies of these Central and Eastern European countries have been based from the beginning of their newly gained independence on the political demands of the moment rather than on any firm principles. In this manner, while paying sanctimonious lip service to the founding principles of the European Union and NATO, they gradually have reverted to their defunct policies of the past.
On the other side of the aisle of both NATO and the European Union hope mixed with wishful thinking have carried the day. What they all have failed to realize has been that the difference between the western and the eastern parts of Europe has been fundamental. The founding and more established member states in the west have aimed at relatively speedy integration culminating in a unified Europe. The new arrivals have been loath to give up their just acquired national independence quickly. They have reasoned that they do not want to simply change overlords, meaning replacing Moscow with
Washington, DC and Brussels. And so the insistence of the European Union on more integration has become unacceptable first to Poland and then to Hungary. Seemingly, the growing alienation, if not active hostility, has centered around the issue of migration. In reality, however, the disagreements have run deeper. At issue has been the refusal of the newly developed elites to share power and wealth with the masses. These elites have begun to treat political, economic, and intellectual opposition to their interests as a threat. Out of this mentality has grown the old/new nationalism, the familiar backpedalling to tribalism, anti-Semitism, and hatred for the new domestic oppressors and the better off foreign partners. Furthermore, only scant attention has been paid to the fact that neither side will be ready to make any substantial compromise and, even more tragically, presently any idea of a negotiated agreement would be futile.
Except for having urged compromise, the United States of America has been missing in action. Clearly, it must be more proactive. Seemingly, the realization that in this situation the American government should work out its own proposals and, if necessary, impose them on the members states of the European Union has not taken hold in the White House or in the Congress. Instead of
changing course and fast abandoning the absurdly incompetent non-policies of the Obama administration, business as usual has continued under the first year of the Trump administration in Washington, DC. Positions in the State Department have gone unfilled, new employees have not been recruited, and ambassadorial appointments have been offered to individuals whose incompetence is glaring. In this situation the obvious question arises: Can under these circumstances the United States of America be an effective leader and reconcile the seemingly irreconcilable differences between the two parts of Europe?
The answer is a conditional yes, provided that the following steps will be taken. First and foremost, persons with deep knowledge of the region’s history, peoples, and cultures must be recruited to key decision making and advisory positions. Knowledge of at least one local language must also be a basic requirement. Secondly, each ambassadorial appointment must be made on the basis of thorough understanding of the country with excellent language capability and not on the account of fundraising prowess. Ambassadorial appointments must not be purchased.
As far as the substance of policies are concerned, American policy makers must realize that the problems of the Central and Eastern European countries are mainly domestic and has very little to do with the United States of America and the western states of the European Union. Member states of NATO and the European Union must insist that societal solidarity and a strong sense of unified objectives be developed in each member state in the central and eastern region. Tensions between the nationalists and the pro-European unionists is on the rise, fed by hysterical fanning of the flames of hatred by politicians and the media to keep each society divided between the haves and the have nots. An unrelentingly rigorous campaign against the all pervasive corruption must be waged from the outside, in order to strengthen public trust in the democratic institutions.
Uncompromising fight against anti-democratic legislations that threaten to destroy the balance among the three branches of government must be countered decisively by all member states of both organizations. Hateful campaigns against the written and electronic media and the forced acquisition of privately held media outlets must also be decisively countered. Attacks by extremist elements and reckless campaigns on social media against minorities, religious organizations, and ethnic groups must not be tolerated.
In the future, the United States of America must adapt its national security strategy more quickly and successfully to the changing realities of the European continent, maintaining the necessary political and military powers to avoid serious confrontations mainly with Russia. This requirement is even more urgent because of Moscow’s increasingly aggressive posture during the last decade. Making the politicians in Central and Eastern Europe more aware of the fundamental concepts of deterrence are also fundamental.
In closing, the problems of this region cannot be healed without a regional solution. Central and Eastern Europe can easily turn into a quicksand that might swallow both organizations. Disorder, anarchy, and even new civil wars are at the doors of NATO and the European Union. The entire situation is an extremely complicated one, and there is no doubt that the United States of America cannot afford to remain idle. The President must appoint an ambassador at large to coordinate a region wide strategy. This ambassador must have the proper credentials and be directly accountable to the Secretary of State or his deputy. Only through these concerted efforts can the United States of America bring about stability in NATO
and in the European Union, and maintain lasting peace in the continent.