Com­mu­nism still haunts new­est Euro­pean Union mem­bers

The Washington Times Weekly - - World - By Andrew Borowiec

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Demons of the past haunt much of Cen­tral and East­ern Europe, where the residue of 45 years of com­mu­nist rule has yet to yield to con­struc­tive demo­cratic forces.

Na­tion­al­ist witch hunts, pop­ulist dem­a­goguery, fre­quent gov­ern­ment changes, high un­em­ploy­ment and the flight of skilled la­bor ham­per ef­forts to in­te­grate the vast area of more than 100 mil­lion in­hab­i­tants added to the Euro­pean Union’s mem­ber­ship nearly three years ago.

At that time “Euroskep­tics” feared that ex­pand­ing the bloc to 25 mem­bers would ham­per its frag­ile co­he­sion and de­ci­sion-mak­ing abil­ity. Last Jan­uary two more East Euro­pean coun­tries — Bul­garia and Ro­ma­nia — joined the club, fur­ther strain­ing its fab­ric and its cof­fers. ‘Old’ ver­sus ‘new’ mem­bers

Since then, the gap be­tween “old” and “new” mem­bers has grown, rather than di­min­ished. Sur­veys in the cen­tral and east­ern parts of the con­ti­nent show in­creas­ing skep­ti­cism about Euro­pean unity, de­spite de­vel­op­ment funds lav­ished on some coun­tries by the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion in Brus­sels.

Im­pres­sive new con­struc­tion in War­saw, Prague and Bu­dapest has changed their sky­lines, but the po­lit­i­cal life of the re­gion has fallen into dis­ar­ray. Some West­ern an­a­lysts de­scribe the sit­u­a­tion as po­lit­i­cal tur­moil.

“Shaky coali­tions form shaky gov­ern­ments that re­flect pop­u­lar skep­ti­cism about democ­racy, cap­i­tal­ism, the EU and the U.S.A.,” said Heather Con­ley, for­mer U.S. deputy as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of state for Cen­tral and East­ern Europe.

Last month’s 50th an­niver­sary of the 1957 Treaty of Rome, founder of the six-mem­ber Euro­pean Eco­nomic Com­mu­nity that even­tu­ally evolved into the union of 27 coun­tries, was marked by warn­ings that damp­ened of­fi­cial op­ti­mism. Char­ter loss a blow

At the an­niver­sary fes­tiv­i­ties in Ber­lin, the Euro­pean Union praised its de­vel­op­ment “into a highly func­tional eco­nomic and so­cial union, spread­ing demo­cratic val­ues and eco­nomic re­sources across the con­ti­nent.”

Mar­got Wall­strom, vice pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion for In­sti­tu­tional Re­la­tions, said: “For many Euro­peans, the Union has meant hope and op­por­tu­nity.” At the same time, though, she con­ceded that the 2005 de­feat of the pro­posed Euro­pean con­sti­tu­tion by France and the Nether­lands was a ma­jor blow, and a new ef­fort to cre­ate one is not on the hori­zon.

“If we fail again, the Union will lose its soul, its frag­ile iden­tity,” Mrs. Wall­strom added. “The Euro­pean mo­tor hasn’t bro­ken down, but it isn’t cer­tainly work­ing at full throt­tle.” The lack of a con­sti­tu­tion and the union’s in­abil­ity to speak with one voice seem po­ten­tially dis­as­trous to many. Open de­bate ‘lack­ing’

Jac­ques Delors, for­mer pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion, the Euro­pean Union’s ex­ec­u­tive branch, warned that the bloc “could un­ravel in 20 years un­less it re­forms its in­sti­tu­tions to stream­line de­ci­sion mak­ing. Our sys­tem of pre­par­ing de­ci­sions is not fit for the fact that we are now 27 coun­tries, nor for the re­al­i­ties of to­day’s world.”

“Demo­cratic de­bate is lack­ing,” said Va­clav Klaus, pres­i­dent of the Czech Repub­lic.

The sim­mer­ing dis­tress in most Cen­tral Euro­pean coun­tries is per­haps the best il­lus­tra­tion of what some con­sider to be a desta­bi­liz­ing fac­tor over­shad­ow­ing eco­nomic suc­cesses.

The de facto cre­ation of a “twospeed Europe,” di­vided into “old and rich” and the “new and poor,” mem­bers has in­creased “Euroskep­ti­cism” and given rise to some­times ex­treme na­tion­al­ism in Poland, Slo­vakia, Hun­gary, Ro­ma­nia and Bul­garia. ‘Dirty side’ pre­vails

In­tol­er­ance was fa­cil­i­tated by po­lit­i­cal paral­y­sis dur­ing the com­mu­nist era, warped his­tory books and the per­son­al­ity cults of lead­ers. Now, 17 years af­ter the fall of the Ber­lin Wall and the vic­tory of the Sol­i­dar­ity la­bor move­ments in Poland, for­mer com­mu­nists are of­fer­ing suc­cor to those em­bit­tered by the in­ad­e­qua­cies of economies in tran­si­tion.

In such an at­mos­phere, the demo­cratic “Euro­pean world” has yet to as­sert its val­ues in the east­ern part of the con­ti­nent. Ac­cord­ing to one Czech anal­y­sis of the mood in Cen­tral Europe, “the ro­man­tic pe­riod is over. Now pol­i­tics is more pro­fes­sional, and that means cor­rup­tion and the dirty side of pol­i­tics.”

The Euro­pean Union’s two “in­ner blocs” dis­agree about the union’s trans-At­lantic re­la­tions, its plans for a Euro­pean de­fense force rather than reliance on NATO, and par­tic­u­larly on the idea of a U.S. bal­lis­tic de­fense shield on Pol­ish and Czech ter­ri­to­ries. Ap­proval of U.S. dips

De­spite the po­lit­i­cal quar­rels and dis­in­ter­est in for­eign af­fairs of some Cen­tral Euro­pean cap­i­tals, most of the re­gion’s gov­ern­ments feel that in­volve­ment with the United States of­fers a bet­ter se­cu­rity guar­an­tee than reliance on Europe’s self-de­fense ca­pa­bil­ity in years to come.

How­ever, the pop­u­lar­ity of the United States, hailed not so long ago as Cen­tral Europe’s best ally, is fall­ing. A re­cent opin­ion poll in Poland showed that pop­u­lar ap­proval there of U.S. poli­cies fell from 62 per­cent to 38 per­cent in one year.

Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel, who cur­rently holds the EU pres­i­dency, has sought a com­mon po­si­tion on the anti-mis­sile shield, which many Euro­peans be­lieve would ex­pose the con­ti­nent to at­tack while spar­ing the United States.

Poland and the Czech Repub­lic are pre­pared to ac­cept part of the planned de­ploy­ment, but other coun­tries want more spe­cific rea­sons to buy in­ter­cep­tors and a track­ing sys­tem that has not yet been tested. Arms race feared

Rus­sia’s Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin has de­nounced the plan as lead­ing to a new arms race. Some EU coun­tries ask who will have launch author­ity, and how will such a sys­tem af­fect the union’s re­la­tions with Rus­sia.

Of­fi­cially, the sys­tem is not aimed at Rus­sia but is a de­fense against “rogue states,” such as Iran.

An­other prob­lem di­vid­ing EU mem­bers is im­mi­gra­tion, now that Bri­tain, Ire­land and Swe­den have lifted all bar­ri­ers to skilled Cen­tral Euro­pean la­bor.

Over the past two years, an es­ti­mated 1.2. mil­lion Poles — more than 3 per­cent of Poland’s pop­u­la­tion — have left to es­cape un­em­ploy­ment or seek higher wages. Most have set­tled — not nec­es­sar­ily per­ma­nently — in Shake­speare’s “scepter’d isle [. . . ] this fortress built by na­ture for her­self against in­fec­tion and the hand of war.” Poland ‘a barom­e­ter’

Af­ter the Poles fol­low Czechs, Slo­vaks, Hun­gar­i­ans and cit­i­zens of the Baltic states.

When Ro­ma­nia and Bul­garia joined the Euro­pean Union, some West Euro­pean gov­ern­ments im­posed a de­lay on im­mi­grants from the two coun­tries, while oth­ers set se­lec­tive quo­tas, caus­ing protests and ac­cu­sa­tion by Bucharest and Sofia of “sec­ond-class” treat­ment.

Be­cause of its size and pop­u­la­tion of 39 mil­lion, Poland is con­sid­ered to be a re­li­able barom­e­ter of change in Cen­tral Europe. And at this time, things do not look good to West­ern an­a­lysts.

The “gov­ern­ment of twins” — Poland’s Pres­i­dent Lech Kaczyn­ski and his twin brother, Prime Min­is­ter Jaroslaw Kaczyn­ski — is veer­ing in­creas­ingly to the right amid pa­tri­otic slo­gans, chau­vin­is­tic state­ments and a purge of for­mer com­mu­nists — not just from gov­ern­ment jobs but also from the news me­dia and the le­gal pro­fes­sion. ‘Witch hunt’ de­plored

Un­der the sys­tem known as “lus­tra­tion” (pu­rifi­ca­tion), about 700,000 Poles must sub­mit state­ments that they did not “se­cretly and know­ingly” co­op­er­ate with the po­lit­i­cal po­lice dur­ing the com­mu­nist era.

The re­quire­ment, which took ef­fect in March, vi­o­lates the prin­ci­ple of the “peace­ful break” with the com­mu­nist past to en­cour­age a peace­ful demo­cratic tran­si­tion.

This “Kaczyn­ski cru­sade” is seen by West­ern an­a­lysts as a witch hunt, dis­turb­ing the agreed po­lit­i­cal scene, ex­pos­ing Poland to ridicule, and ig­nor­ing the need for eco­nomic re­forms.

Con­tends Ig­na­tio Ra­monet, a Span­ish writer and ed­i­tor of the French jour­nal “Le Monde Di­plo­ma­tique,” “Th­ese anti-com­mu­nist purges and at­tempts to re-im­pose an au­thor­i­tar­ian moral or­der in Poland, and to some ex­tent in Ukraine, Lithua­nia and other coun­tries for­merly in the East­ern Bloc, con­ceal a wor­ry­ing nos­tal­gia for the pe­riod be­fore World War II, when racism was bla­tant.” Of­fi­cials pull back

Poland’s in­creas­ingly con­tro­ver­sial pol­icy has been de­plet­ing the ranks of gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial­dom and civil ser­vants. In the past 18 months, the coun­try has had two prime min­is­ters, two for­eign min­is­ters, two de­fense min­is­ters and four fi­nance min­is­ters.

In the Czech Repub­lic, much of the past year was spent in search of a gov­ern­ment. Of con­sid­er­able com­fort was the eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion: Un­em­ploy­ment is fall­ing and in­fla­tion ap­pears un­der con­trol.

In neigh­bor­ing Slo­vakia, a for­mer part­ner in the state then called Cze­choslo­vakia, the gov­ern­ment is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly pop­ulist and na­tion­al­ist fol­low­ing a coali­tion be­tween the left wing and an ul­tra­na­tion­al­ist party. Poverty and cor­rup­tion

Prime Min­is­ter Ferenc Guyre­sany, who leads Hun­gary’s So­cial­ist Party, has been ac­cused of ly­ing about the state of the econ­omy, and now is press­ing re­forms. He is helped by the fact that Fides, the na­tion­al­ist main op­po­si­tion party, is weak, di­vided and short of an ac­cept­able eco­nomic al­ter­na­tive.

The two latest ad­di­tions to the Euro­pean Union, Bul­garia and Ro­ma­nia, ar­rived with a highly con­tro­ver­sial bag­gage of poverty, na­tion­al­ism and cor­rup­tion.

Said one West­ern anal­y­sis: “The Bul­gar­ian At­tack Coali­tion and the Greater Ro­ma­nia Party are ag­gres­sively against any na­tional or re­li­gious mi­nori­ties, as well as against the Euro­pean Union and the United States.”

As­so­ci­ated Press

Slo­vakian Pres­i­dent Ivan Gas­parovic (left) vis­ited with Cypriot Pres­i­dent Tas­sos Pa­padopou­los at the pres­i­den­tial palace in Nicosia, Cyprus. Slo­vakia has en­tered a pe­riod of ex­treme na­tion­al­ism.

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