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From the May 2003 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 50, No. 5)

The New Europe

Caught Between America and Europe

Franko Egro, Shekulli (centrist), Tirana, Albania, March 4, 2003

It is only natural to feel flattered when the world’s sole superpower is friendly to you, telling you that you are about to become close partners. You might even blush with contentment and a little embarrassment. But once the blush fades away, reason prevails. You start thinking, raising questions, and looking for answers that are hard to come by. Emissaries of the said superpower spent not just Saint Valentine’s Day but several weeks—indeed, the whole month of February—serenading at the doors of Central and Eastern Europe’s leaders. Obviously, a new love is born, and the evidence is clear.

Any illusions, if there were any, were quickly dispelled by one of the protagonists of this new love affair. U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld clearly stated that Germany and France represented “old Europe.” He said, “If you look at the entire NATO Europe today, the center of gravity is shifting to the east.” This was a two-dimensional statement: a statement of love and frustration, which confirms that the ratio of forces in the old continent, “until now locked in place” as a result of the Cold War, is changing. The Americans are shellshocked and disillusioned by their traditional allies, Germany and France. Washington is reminding Berlin of the time 60 years ago when, thanks to intervention by the United States, Nazism was rooted out and the country’s economy and democracy were rebuilt with American money. The message the United States is sending Paris is no less cynical: If the Allies had not landed in Normandy, French would no longer be a European language.

It is in this new climate that the United States declares that the opinion of old Europe does not count. The energy and strength, according to the United States, now lie in the former communist bloc, where people “value their freedom.” The United States is giving special support to those countries that languished for decades as mere geographical notions, without any personality, trampled underfoot by the Soviets. It is in this context that these East European countries have built a special relationship with the United States. They cannot forget that the main factors in the demise of communism more than a decade ago were then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan and the economic and military might of the United States. The American presence in Europe and the courageous U.S. policy of NATO enlargement (to incorporate even those countries that were considered “untouchable strategic domains” of the Soviet Union at a time when “the Russian bear was still seething with anger”) guaranteed the independence and political stability of these countries.

The 60 long years of humiliation were good enough reason for the leaders of Central and Eastern Europe angrily to rebuke France’s “order” to hide their tongue between their teeth and to support the Franco-German policy toward Iraq. Above all, they were particularly angered by the statement of President Jacques Chirac, who called their policy “childish” and “irresponsible.” They responded in the same language. The presidents of Romania, Bulgaria, and Poland considered Chirac’s statement “antidemocratic and nonconstructive,” adding that “as independent states, they have the political and moral right to express their opinions.” These countries never had their own foreign policy. Their policy was “cooked up” in Moscow. After the split with Moscow, their obedience to the Soviet Union has been replaced with “another complex,” that of joining the European Union. Again, these new Europeans “did not know much” and had to follow the example of their more experienced partners, which they were supposed to follow blindly. How long could this go on?

As young and energetic but still uncertain in the steps they take, these countries are highly flattered by the support they are receiving from the United States. At the same time, they are highly irked by their continental brothers. The young child will always remember who came to his help when he was growing up. The West dragged its feet when the East was trying to reach out to it.

More concretely, France initially rejected the idea of an enlargement of the European Union while Germany raised obstacles to the participation of the Eastern countries in the free market. The Poles, the Czechs, and the Hungarians made their political choice. They lined up with Tony Blair and President George W. Bush. Ten other East European countries, including the Balkan countries, followed suit.

The possibility of war against Iraq shows how unstable, confused, and complex politics are on the old continent on the eve of the biggest enlargement ever of the European Union. Normally a common enemy brings countries to-gether, but this time it looks as if they are forgetting that the biggest enemy is Saddam Hussein, not the president of the world’s superpower, whose democratic and liberal values will never hinder or obstruct the progress of mankind.

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