Thursday, July 23, 2009

Open Letter to Obama from Central and Eastern Europe with Open Blog Quiz

My Hungarian blogger pal emailed me a link to to the July 16 open letter to Barack Obama in the Warsaw Gazette from Central and Eastern European 'statesmen.'

Well, I stopped at that point and realized I only knew two of these folks. I didn't know if they were all statesmen, or men even. So I looked them up. And linked them all and gave you a very brief idea of who they are. The labels hardly tell the story. For those of you as ignorant as I of Eastern European politics, I'd urge you to at least look at the links of any two of your choice. It's pathetic that many of us Americans know more about each of Sarah Palin's children than we know about the people on this list.

Rough Overview of the letter

Basically, the letter is a call for the US to not forget Central and Eastern Europe because of other more pressing matters like Iraq and Afghanistan. Things in CE Europe are changing and the democratic governments should not be taken for granted. New leaders don't remember how the US helped us gain our freedom. As the economy goes bad, many are becoming nationalistic. Russia is not as respectful of our new sovereignty as we would like. We write in the interest of the US as well as our own. And here are six steps we think would help.

I've got a few excerpts after the list of signers of the letter. This exercise also reminded me that an hour or so of googling can turn on some dim lights in an area that had been pretty much dark in my brain. While it may seem that there is too much to learn, so why bother, I know that we can be aware of much, much more than we are. Without that much work.

Do read through the names and brief descriptions slowly and attentively. Turn on some mental lights of your own. At least slow enough to be able, afterward, (yes a quiz) to write down:
  • how many women are on the list? (most probably won't be able to tell from the names alone and will have to check links - there are pictures in all I believe)

  • what are the countries represented?
And if you don't know where they are, here is a map of Central and Eastern Europe.
  • Which countries are not represented?
The Signers
  1. Valdas Adamkus [President of the Republic of Lithuania],
  2. Martin Butora [Slovak sociologist, politician and former ambassador to US],
  3. Emil Constantinescu [President of Romania from 1996 to 2000],
  4. Pavol Demes [Director for Central and Eastern Europe of the German Marshall Fund of the United States since January 2000 and former Slovak Minister of Foreign Affairs],
  5. Lubos Dobrovsky [Journalist, former Czech ambassador to Moscow,
  6. Matyas Eorsi [Hungarian lawyer, politician, and candidate for Secretary General of the Council of Europe],
  7. Istvan Gyarmati [currently President and CEO, International Centre for Democratic Transition in Budapest],
  8. Vaclav Havel [Writer and Dramatist; One of the first Spokesmen for Charter 77; Leading Figure of the Velvet Revolution of 1989; Last President of Czechoslovakia; and First President of the Czech Republic],
  9. Rastislav Kacer [lobbyist?, former Slovak ambassador to US],
  10. Sandra Kalniete [Latvian member of the European Parliament],
  11. Karel Schwarzenberg [Czech Minister - link goes to one of the only non-official sites here and gives more than the official image],
  12. Michal Kovac [ first President of the Slovak Republic],
  13. Ivan Krastev [Director, Center for Liberal Strategies, Sofia, Bulgaria],
  14. Alexander Kwasniewski [former two term president of Poland, now faculty Georgetown University],
  15. Mart Laar [former Prime Minister of Estonia],
  16. Kadri Liik [Estonian journalist?, Director of the International Centre for Defence Studies],
  17. Janos Martonyi[former Foreign Minister of Hungry].
  18. Janusz Onyszkiewicz [Polish mathematician, alpinist, politician and a vice-president of the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee (since January 2007)],
  19. Adam Rotfeld [polish diplomat and researcher],
  20. Vaira Vike-Freiberga [Professor Emeritus Montreal University and former President of Latvia],
  21. Alexandr Vondra [Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs of the Czech Republic],
  22. Lech Walesa [Polish co-founder of Solidarity, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and former President.]

Leadership change is also coming in Central and Eastern Europe. Next to those, there are fewer and fewer leaders who emerged from the revolutions of 1989 who experienced Washington's key role in securing our democratic transition and anchoring our countries in NATO and EU. A new generation of leaders is emerging who do not have these memories and follow a more "realistic" policy. At the same time, the former Communist elites, whose insistence on political and economic power significantly contributed to the crises in many CEE countries, gradually disappear from the political scene. The current political and economic turmoil and the fallout from the global economic crisis provide additional opportunities for the forces of nationalism, extremism, populism, and anti-Semitism across the continent but also in some our countries. . .
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. . .

Six steps they recommend:

Therefore, we propose the following steps: [I've just given excerpts. You can get the whole letter at the Warsaw Gazette.]

we are convinced that America needs Europe and that Europe needs the United States as much today as in the past. The United States should reaffirm its vocation as a European power and make clear that it plans to stay fully engaged on the continent even while it faces the pressing challenges in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the wider Middle East, and Asia. For our part we must work at home in our own countries and in Europe more generally to convince our leaders and societies to adopt a more global perspective and be prepared to shoulder more responsibility in partnership with the United States.

Second, we need a renaissance of NATO as the most important security link between the United States and Europe. . .

Third, the thorniest issue may well be America's planned missile-defense installations. Here too, there are different views in the region, including among our publics which are divided. . .

Fourth, we know that NATO alone is not enough. We also want and need more Europe and a better and more strategic U.S.-EU relationship as well. . .

Fifth is energy security. The threat to energy supplies can exert an immediate influence on our nations' political sovereignty also as allies contributing to common decisions in NATO. . . .

Sixth, we 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. . .

While left and right don't quite mean the same in these countries as here, I would say that a number of the people on this list would probably be seen as conservative in the US. Not sure about them all. KS, if you're checking your email at all in Hawaii, can you give us your take on what this means?

And thanks, Ropi for pointing this out. Since I unfortunately did not take your movie advice, I thought I'd better take your Central European politics advice.

And our first house guest arrived safe and sound from Beijing.


  1. Well, yes, the US is not as popular in our region as Americans would think. It is not because radicalism though. For instance the rocket bases in Czech Republic and Poland risk the sovereignty of these countries. In Hungary US may be unpopular because the events of the events of 1956 when the Us supported our revolution with words but the promised help wasn't comming (so basicly this promise was executing the protesting people). Obama or Bush, it is never mind there. However due to American movies and propaganda my peers tend to decide by movies, celebrities and whatever when they say they are in love with the US and they tend to ignore serious things. So as long as you have good-looking teenager stars, the US won't be hated.

  2. I don't know all of these people but I am quite familiar with the surrounding politicians. Especially with Slovak ones because Hungarian and Slovak politicians has been throwing mud to each other since Ján Slota's party is part of the Slovak government (2006).

  3. Ah, central and eastern Europa!

    As I meet people from various former soviet bloc European countries here in London, troubling words are voiced again and again: basically, 'our nation is best'. I'm chillingly reminded of the ethnic divides which the country I left did well to reduce.

    EU identity and integration is a long ways from realization. Renewed 17th century nationalism seems to be a first order of business. Europe, sadly, has rekindled its peculiar racism as ethnic nationalism.

    This letter isn't about that. It's a call to remember the pressures facing their region. It's a reminder that things are fragile and that's right. There are many who remember that human rights are first economic rights-market capitalism, particularly when it fails itself as brilliantly as it has this past year-is suspect.

    The leaders and intellectuals here ask for due consideration of the regional issues effecting successful transition, not as the EU, as it has no foreign policy per se, but rather as sovereign countries within that union.

    It's a fragile treaty federation. It is far from being secure from threats 'foreign and domestic'.

  4. For a US response on this thread, see VP Biden's comments from an interview on Eastern European policy, from the WSJ 23 July. I'm really surprised by the tone--not very diplomatic, to say the least. Maybe I'm used to being overseas, but this can't be taken very well by Russia to be printed in a major paper.


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