Foreign Policy

Mitteleuropa's Generation '89 Fires a Warning Shot Across Obama's Bow

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Here's a fascinating, old-school-style "open letter" to Barack Obama from a gaggle of Central European anti-communist luminaries, including Vaclav Havel, Lech Walesa, and Mart Laar. The primary concern of the wide-ranging document (which has Havel written all over it) is re-invigorating NATO and the transatlantic relationship. But it's also an expression of deep anxiety about Russia and energy security, a broadside against foreign policy "realism," and a lament not only for the waning domestic influence of Generation '89, but for two decades of American leaders for whom a Central Europe mindset was a basic orientation. Some excerpts:

America's popularity and influence have fallen in many of our countries as well. Public opinions polls, including the German Marshall Fund's own Transatlantic Trends survey, show that our region has not been immune to the wave of criticism and anti-Americanism that has swept Europe in recent years and which led to a collapse in sympathy and support for the United States during the Bush years. Some leaders in the region have paid a political price for their support of the unpopular war in Iraq. In the future they may be more careful in taking political risks to support the United States. We believe that the onset of a new Administration has created a new opening to reverse this trend but it will take time and work on both sides to make up for what we have lost. […]

However, there is a danger that instead of being a pro-Atlantic voice in the EU, support for a more global partnership with Washington in the region might wane over time. The region does not have the tradition of assuming a more global role. Some items on the transatlantic agenda, such as climate change, do not resonate in the Central and Eastern European publics to the same extent as they do in Western Europe. […] 

Against realism

And then there is the issue of how to deal with Russia. Our hopes that relations with Russia would improve and that Moscow would finally fully accept our complete sovereignty and independence after joining NATO and the EU have not been fulfilled. Instead, Russia is back as a revisionist power pursuing a 19th-century agenda with 21st-century tactics and methods. At a global level, Russia has become, on most issues, a status-quo power. But at a regional level and vis-a-vis our nations, it increasingly acts as a revisionist one. It challenges our claims to our own historical experiences. It asserts a privileged position in determining our security choices. It uses overt and covert means of economic warfare, ranging from energy blockades and politically motivated investments to bribery and media manipulation in order to advance its interests and to challenge the transatlantic orientation of Central and Eastern Europe.

We welcome the "reset" of the American-Russian relations. As the countries living closest to Russia, obviously nobody has a greater interest in the development of the democracy in Russia and better relations between Moscow and the West than we do. But there is also nervousness in our capitals. We want to ensure that too narrow an understanding of Western interests does not lead to the wrong concessions to Russia. […]

[W]e must not neglect the human factor. Our next generations need to get to know each other, too. We have to cherish and protect the multitude of educational, professional, and other networks and friendships that underpin our friendship and alliance. The U.S. visa regime remains an obstacle in this regard. It is absurd that Poland and Romania—arguably the two biggest and most pro-American states in the CEE region, which are making substantial contributions in Iraq and Afghanistan—have not yet been brought into the visa waiver program. It is incomprehensible that a critic like the French anti-globalization activist Jose Bove does not require a visa for the United States but former Solidarity activist and Nobel Peace prizewinner Lech Walesa does. This issue will be resolved only if it is made a political priority by the President of the United States.

Whole thing here; link via Jonah Goldberg. I wrote about Havel for the magazine back in 2003. Contributing Editor Cathy Young's most recent assessments of the U.S.-Russia relationship can be found here, here, and here.

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  1. I can see their plight, but as someone who grew up actually concerned about the possibility of nuclear warfare between us and the Russians, I simply don’t want to see our government f*cking with the Russians in matters European.

  2. Russia is still a sore spot in Slovakia, with the population divided roughly into half – rusophobes and rusophiles. It’s difficult to find a more divisive topic. This letter created quite a stir, with the first Slovak president signing it, while the current one denouncing it (hardly surprising – the current president allowed the Chinese secret service to participate in beating up of human rights protesters during a recent visit of the Chinese president). The Czechs are much more anti-Russian, but they also have a very long memory and tend not to trust those who violated their trust in the past (the French and British, back in 1938), so all they have left is the US.

    The US could probably ignore Central Europe without serious ramifications to anyone but the Central European countries, though.

  3. I don’t consider building missile defense systems in Europe as fucking with Russia. If they feel like it is, then fuck them.

  4. Jozef — What’s Kovac up to these days? I found the large number of Slovak signatories to be pretty interesting.

  5. The US could probably ignore Central Europe without serious ramifications to anyone but the Central European countries, though.

    For now?

  6. Matt: Former Slovak presidents are very much forgotten. Unlike their counterparts in other countries, neither Kovac nor Schuster perform any public activities anymore, whether it’s guest speaking or charity work. Truth to be told, though, we have yet to have a president who’s not so morally bankrupt that someone would actually like to associate with them…

    As for the other signatories, their political lives are pretty much over, which is why I guess they weren’t afraid to sign the letter. Not even the right of center parties, who try to differentiate themselves from the leftist, pro-Russian government, would risk alienating half the electorate by having some of their members sign the letter. Which is pretty sad, as Slovakia still has a relatively large group of morally untarnished (to an extent) conservatives.

  7. I don’t consider building missile defense systems in Europe as fucking with Russia.

    Me neither. I don’t see how such systems pose any threat to Russia. They do, however, mitigate Russia’s ability to make threats (as well as that of Russia’s ally, Iran).

  8. Have any of these countries developed a pro-liberty, pro-free market movement, think-tank, or student group? Libertarians need to export our philosophy so challenges to the State can be made by its own citizens.

  9. Have any of these countries developed a pro-liberty, pro-free market movement, think-tank, or student group?

    I heard that six students were seen waving a copy of the Pocket Constitution. Give it time. They’ll be as powerful and influential as the libertarians in this country are.

  10. I can see their plight, but as someone who grew up actually concerned about the possibility of nuclear trench warfare between us and the Russians Germans, I simply don’t want to see our government f*cking with the Russians Germans, in matters European Czechoslovakian.

  11. My thoughts almost exactly, but I’d replace the word trench with total.

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