February 06, 2003

Comments

yeah that's a lil bit retarded. not that i know nothin about no politics cuz i sure as shit don't but i do remember during my drunken three years in prague... i do remember hazily, between the blackouts, that the czechs kept yammering on and on and on about when the fudge were they ever ever finally gonna be allowed into NATO. it was, like, the biggest deal ever, especially for Havel, i think(?). to suggest that Czechs were goaded/flattered into joining is the most heinous kind of paternal condescension. These people are not idiots, you know.

as a czech, i am offended.

ok, i'm not a czech, but i'm still offended.

but you know, matt, who cares what some dumbass says.

Posted by: kate at February 6, 2003 10:35 PM

Yeah, Kate, you're right -- shouldn't care too much about the dumbasses. Just that I hate to see what little history I actually know anything about be mangled & re-written in an influential and large daily newspaper I used to subscribe to. Plus, as you mention, it's some wack-ass condescending bullshit, and I'd kinda like to see this dude say that to the face of, say, Jan Bubenik.

Posted by: Matt Welch at February 6, 2003 11:55 PM

When Jonathan Steel writes,

"After all, eastern Europe's elites had spent 40 years accommodating themselves to superior power. Neither the reform movement in Czechoslovakia in 1968 nor Solidarity in Poland in 1981 challenged their countries' links with Moscow. It was only when Mikhail Gorbachev told them in 1987 that they need not follow the Soviet lead that they began to break loose."

I don't whether to laugh at the absurdity or cry at the stupidity/naivete. Are you telling me that Communism was a) invited b) enjoyed
c) happily borne by the Eastern Europeans?

Wow. Neither the events of '56 in Hungary nor the 'Blood in the Water' water-polo game meant anything?! (My uncle, as a young man, was jailed/tortured for two years for writing some crap poetry that amounted to:

/I love Hungary/She is great/Russians go home/Hungary is for the Hungarians/ etc etc

And in Wenceslas Square, Jan Palach probably did what he did for shits and giggles!

Mr. Sullivan hits the proverbial nail right on the fuckin' head with,

"And maybe - just maybe - the Eastern Europeans have a better appreciation of what tyranny is and therefore a deeper loathing for Saddam than, say, columnists for the Guardian"

My father participated in the '56 (sadly crushed) Hungarian revolution and had to flee. It is those among us, that have lived/suffered terrible tyranny, that can truly understand (pardon my cliche choice of words here) evil.

There are many reason why the US must disarm Iraq. Economic, national security and moral issues all come into consideration --- sadly, the anti-war crowd is really doing the greatest of disservices to the oppressed peoples of Iraq and N. Korea.

feeling ultra-misanthropic,
vlad

Posted by: vlad at February 7, 2003 12:22 AM

Pribik, you want to take a swing?

Posted by: Matt Welch at February 7, 2003 12:26 AM


Is there a danger of the US having too much influence in the new democracies of Central Europe? The short answer is yes, but on the other hand, it's notoriously difficult to get Poles to do something they don't want to do (and I imagine the other countries are no picnic in this regard).

I also think the democracies of Central Europe could play an important role in rebuilding a post-Saddam Iraq. The US has a pretty poor record in this regard and every country in Central Europe does have hard-won experience in learning how to rebuild (especially amidst chaos).

Posted by: Michael Farris at February 7, 2003 01:04 AM

1) I don't know if I would call Germany & Japan a 'pretty poor record'.

2) The Eastern/Central Europeans definitely have some perspective, but are still in the process of re-building themselves.

Posted by: vlad at February 7, 2003 01:29 AM

"I don't know if I would call Germany & Japan a 'pretty poor record'."

Germany and Japan are mixed achievements, in that they had gone most of the distance themselves. Even before WWII, both were evolving industrialized civil societies. They both took drastically wrong turns and "reconstruction" was mostly getting them back on a sounder track toward the future. A big achievement, yes, but not really nation-building as such.

I'm thinking more in terms of Afghanistan (remember them?) or Latin America which are much closer to Iraq in terms of the whole social integration thing.


"Eastern/Central Europeans definitely have some perspective, but are still in the process of re-building themselves."

The fact that reconstruction here is at least partly a work in progress is a point in Central Europe's favor. They're less likely to be afflicted with America's typical short-attention span (remember Afghanistan and all the promises that were made and how few of them are actually being carried out?)

Posted by: Michael Farris at February 7, 2003 02:45 AM

I wrote him a letter this morning (Prague time); I see you guys have brought up many of the same points:

Mr. Steele:
Your article shows a remarkably shallow understanding of Warsaw Pact history. As you put it "Neither the reform movement in Czechoslovakia in 1968 nor Solidarity in Poland in 1981 challenged their countries' links with Moscow," precisely because they remembered the bloody Soviet repression of both the Polish worker's strikes and the Hungarian revolution. Nagy Imre's promise to take Hungary out of the Warsaw Pact was the declared reason for Soviet intervention.

A key difference that you've failed to identify in your article is that American tanks are not rolling through the streets of Budapest to enforce NATO membership. Nor is Vaclav Havel, the former dissident and president of this country, "proof that the survival instinct usually trumps vision or principle." His principled support of human rights and bravery in the face of tyranny is a clear example of moral leadership in this region.

Many people in the Czech Republic are intimately familiar with the wages of appeasement and they support the United States' position on principle. They envision the world as a freer place when Sadaam Hussein is disarmed and removed from power, and when the Iraqi people are as free to criticise their government as you are sitting there safely in London. As Chris Hitchens said, "we are at war with the forces of reaction." It is a sign of the moral bankruptcy of some in the British Left that they would align themselves so clearly with fascists simply to poke the eye of the United States.

Christopher Walker
Prague, Czech Republic

Posted by: Christopher Walker at February 7, 2003 09:04 AM

#8 Christopher Walker

"Many people in the Czech Republic are intimately familiar with the wages of appeasement"

I'll say ... you do realize that that's a little ambiguous, don't you?

"and they support the United States' position on principle. They envision the world as a freer place when Sadaam Hussein is disarmed and removed from power, and when the Iraqi people are as free to criticise their government"

Well I don't know about the Czech Republic, but in Poland there is no broad-based support for a US invasion of Iraq. The only poll I've seen was in early Jan. and was about 50 % against any invasion about 35 % in favor if the UN goes along less than 10 % in favor and the rest undecided and I can't honestly say I think more people are in favor now.

Posted by: Michael Farris at February 7, 2003 09:22 AM

Yes, I don't intend to be hyperbolic -- Sadaam can never command the power that Hitler did. But those bioweapons can do some nasty things, and I do think that Schroeder and Chirac are essentially appeasers on (what they see as) the little issue of Iraq, in combination with some weird utopian vision of Europe as a single culture standing in opposition to America. Talk about herding cats!

In the Czech Republic, there is about 50-50 support as well. That's according to Czech TV, not according to that silly article in the Prague Post a week ago. But a lot of their concern is how much money they're spending to keep the anti-biochem weapon unit in the field, what with the flood damage and all. Like the Turks, they justifiably want to make sure that they don't get screwed when it's all over and America forgets about it.

Posted by: Christopher Walker at February 7, 2003 09:37 AM

God this article pissed me off. Like Vlad, my Dad escaped Hungary in 1956, when Soviet ta;pacbell.net">Eric Pobirs at February 9, 2003 03:34 AM


"The rest of Latin America should be so lucky as to have us conquer them and impose some stability for a while."

You're not helping here ...

Posted by: Michael Farris at February 9, 2003 12:52 PM

Eric,

Extremely well put. I concur 110%.

BTW Also liked the 'Marxist nutball' bit. Sorta reminiscent of the 'soft-core commie' I accused Chirac and Schröder of being in a comment somewhere on this blog. LOL.

vlad

Posted by: vlad at February 9, 2003 12:54 PM

Sorry Matt but I suspect you have misread Jonathan Steele's (no relation) point here.

I think what he is saying is that the likes of Horn (nowadays Megyessy) are politicians who spent decades taking orders from big powers and toeing the line on international issues - and so we shouldn't be surprised they are doing the same now.

I think that is what he refers to when he talks about the "survival instinct" of these politicians. Is he really so far off the mark?

Remember it wasn't just Soviet tanks in Czechoslovakia in 1968 - the Magyars invaded too -because they were told to and the likes of Kadar, Horn and co didn't have the guts to say no.

Of course there is no comparison between the Soviet invasion of 68 and the upcoming US invasion of Iraq.

But if you are talking about the behaviour of the opportunist politicians who turned from communist yes-men to capitalist yes-men overnight then I think the point is valid.

I mean are the ex-communist politicians really motivated by a desire to free the Iraqi people from tyrany?

Give me a break. They just know on what side there bread is buttered.

Posted by: harry at February 9, 2003 01:07 PM

Hi Michael,

Just noticed your comment.

Quick meta-comment ---

You can really see who is the Kantian and who is the Hobbesian here.

Anyhow, what are you studying and/or teaching in Poland?

vlad

Posted by: vlad at February 9, 2003 01:08 PM

Hi Harry,

I'll agree in spirit with,

"But if you are talking about the behaviour of the opportunist politicians who turned from communist yes-men to capitalist yes-men overnight then I think the point is valid."

but (below) is a bit off-base.

"Remember it wasn't just Soviet tanks in Czechoslovakia in 1968 - the Magyars invaded too -because they were told to and the likes of Kadar, Horn and co didn't have the guts to say no."

Kadar, while painted as a moderate, was still a true commie. Invading Poland alongside of the USSR probably didn't bother his conscience that much anyhow. i.e. didn't reflect the true will of the Hun. people.

Harry, you seem quite informed as to Central/Eastern European history. I would love to see your thoughts on Orban vs. Medgyessy.

vlad

Posted by: vlad at February 9, 2003 01:20 PM


Eric:
Civil order cannot be created or imposed from on high. It's there or it's not. Pre-WWII Germany and Japan had something like civil order and the most important (and laudable) part of US reconstruction was redirecting it towards more constructive goals.
Afghanistan does not now have civil order (or has it ever as far as I know, which is very little) and I doubt if the conditions in which it could be created, whatever those are, are being fostered.
It's far too soon to say much of anything about the results of US intervention there. But history isn't on our side: no outside force has ever been very good at telling Afghans what to do.

vlad:
I'm a linguist and work in the institute of linguistics at poznan's university at various times I teach Enlgish, communication, translation, some stuff about culture and some other stuff (I used to teach Polish Sign Languge, but no longer do). One of my main current research interests are Vietnamese immigrants (both legal and illegal) to Poland.

everybody:
Any honest assessment of the communist period in Central Europe leads into subtle shades of gray and not black or white pronouncements.
Central Europeans are very good at pursuing pursuing their own self-interest while not offending powerful neighbors (and everybody's a neighbor in the global village).

Posted by: Michael Farris at February 9, 2003 10:34 PM

It is shades of gray, but I disagree that the Central Europeans are doing this because they "know on which side their bread is buttered." Germany is their natural economic partner and dominant trading partner, so their is a certain cost to them for their current stance.

As far as Hungary participating in crushing the Prague Spring, what's your point? That the Hungarian people supported it? That they're morally culpable?

Don't forget, Kadar was the one who ran off to Debrecen and called for Soviet intervention in 1956. I think it's erroneous to claim that any action by him in 1968 reflected Hungarian sympathies.

Posted by: Christopher Walker at February 10, 2003 03:18 AM

Afterthought:

Guts to say no would mean tanks rolling through Budapest again and an end to the gulyas communism deal that Kadar made in the mid-60's. That's not guts, it's just pissing into the wind.

Posted by: Christopher Walker at February 10, 2003 03:20 AM

Didn't Hungarians invade Ukraine in '39 at the Fascists' behest? You can pin all sorts of nasty things, unprovoked aggression and so on, onto modern day Hungary, but it isn't fair, anymore than it would be to say that contemporary Germany opposes the US at the United Nations because it lost the second world war - that doesn't make any sense either. One might as well dwell upon 50's Guatemala or 60's Dominican Republic or 80's Nicaragua, etc.

Posted by: gregor at February 10, 2003 06:12 AM


"I disagree that the Central Europeans are doing this because they "know on which side their bread is buttered.""

You make it sound so cheap. I don't think knowing where their self-interest lies and pursuing that is wrong, within certain ethical, moral boundaries of course. I'd say all things considered they're doing a good job of it mostly without slipping into morally questionable grounds.

"Germany is their natural economic partner and dominant trading partner, so their is a certain cost to them for their current stance."

Not necessarily. What I think the new democracies of Central Europe want to avoid is being _anybody's_ client states. This requires a certain amount of playing sides against each other and if they can pull it off, more power to them.
The strategy includes:
1. Expand economic ties with Germany, the biggest economy in Europe and a neighbor, but be just a little cool to German culture and language (while not letting local knowledge of both slip too much).
2. Be generally warm to and supportive of the big military superpower which is (conveniently) sitting on another continent, too far away to be too threataning. Join it's military club, it just might come in handy and the chances of it being used against you are very, very small.
3. Don't go out of your way to kick Russia while it's down but don't let your own guard down either.
4. Join a European Union that seems like it wants to help your economy develop (and which has a fairly good record of helping new member states). If the EU gets too restrictive then bolt, if you got out of the USSR's orbit, Brussels aing't gonna scare you much.

What is wrong with any of the above?

Posted by: Michael Farris at February 10, 2003 06:44 AM

Good points, Michael! I think strategically, what you're describing makes good sense.

I also think there is an element of sincerity in the letter put forth by most European leaders in support the United States' position in the Security Council. These countries want to see a robust UN that enforces its agreements for strategic reasons. They also support removing Sadaam Hussein from power because he's evil.

I don't think they're enitrely Wilsonian in their worldview, but the late cold war focus on human rights was a major factor in the development of opposition policies. The people in power today were either dissidents or came to accept the truth of dissident opinion re: human rights. So in a sense, the Central European leadership is responding to moral leadership. That's precisely the opposite of the point that Mr. Steele was making in his article.

I'm also supporting Matt's point that there is a difference between strategy under the threat of Soviet intervention and strategy under freely elected, democratic leadership.

Posted by: Christopher Walker at February 10, 2003 08:25 AM

A couple of points:

1. Germany is not Hungary's main trading partner.

2. My comments in no way referred to the Hungarian people but to the (ex-communist) political elite. The Hungarian PM, former communist Peter Megyessy, signed the declaration of the Euro Eight without consultation with the people or parliament. There is no consensus in Hungary in favour of a US war on Iraq. In fact the polls show a majority against. (But hey, that doesn't seem to bother the Spanish, Italian or British PM's so why should the Hungies or the Czechs be any different?)

My main point is that it is simply daft for people like Andrew Sullivan et al to say this letter shows that 'New Europe' has a greater understanding of Saddam's oppression because they lived under oppression.

The people like Megyessy signing the letter and supporting the war WERE THE VERY ONES DOING THE OPPRESSION!

I hope my point is clearer now!

H

Posted by: Harry at February 10, 2003 08:52 AM

On the question of whether the U.S. is rounding up a gang of sycophants, I offer this outrageous example of EU bullying...from today's RFE/RL Newswire (Feb. 10, 2003)

EUROPEAN OFFICIALS SUGGEST STANCES ON IRAQ MIGHT AFFECT ACCESSION.

The European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, Elmar
Brok, on 7 February said the speed with which some candidate
countries recently rallied to the U.S. position in the Iraqi crisis
and disregarded EU positions might ultimately endanger those
candidates' accession, TASR reported. Brok said the atmosphere in the
EU toward those invitees -- including Slovakia, whose premier,
Mikulas Dzurinda, belatedly joined the "appeal of the eight" earlier
this month -- has become "very nervous" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31
January 2003). Former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, who
chairs the EU Convention on the future of Europe, warned that the
Maastricht treaty calls for EU member countries to support without
reservation the EU's joint foreign policy and to refrain from steps
that might diminish its effectiveness. European Parliament speaker
Patrick Cox meanwhile called for a special EU summit to work out a
joint position for members and candidate countries toward the Iraqi
crisis. MS

***

I especially like the bit about the EU charter requiring joint positions. Funny that NATO requires a joint defense policy too, but that hasn't stopped the French and Germans from refusing to defend Turkey...

Posted by: Chandler at February 10, 2003 11:35 AM


"On the question of whether the U.S. is rounding up a gang of sycophants, I offer this outrageous example of EU bullyingcut)EUROPEAN OFFICIALS SUGGEST STANCES ON IRAQ MIGHT AFFECT ACCESSION."

This is outrageously stupid of the EU and won't help them (France and Germany) one little bit.

"Former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, (Cut) warned that the
Maastricht treaty calls for EU member countries to support without reservation the EU's joint foreign policy and to refrain from steps
that might diminish its effectiveness."

This makes a little sense, or rather it would _IF THERE WERE A JOINT-EU POSITION!!!!!!!!_ (Sam Kinison voice off)

Posted by: Michael Farris at February 10, 2003 12:29 PM

OK, Harry -- we'll just agree to disagree on that one. I think Havel is a better example for my point than Megyessy, who I find myself uncomfortable defending as a champion of human rights.

Just to set the record straight on the side note,

U.S. Dept. of State:
"Trade with EU countries and the OECD now comprises over 75% and 85% of the total, respectively. Germany is Hungary's single-most important trading partner."
http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/2852.htm

Republic of Hungary:
Trade with Germany increased even slower than the EU average, and thus Germany's share, which is the highest in the overall foreign trade...
http://www.ekormanyzat.hu/orszaginfo?kateg=orszaginfo:1136

Cheers!

Posted by: Christopher Walker at February 10, 2003 12:40 PM

Why I'm not a journalist -- link to Hungarian government page should end with 1137, not 1136.

It's in English too:

http://www.ekormanyzat.hu/english?kateg=english:1538

Posted by: Christopher Walker at February 10, 2003 12:56 PM

OK, Christopher I stand corrected!

But I bet combined trade with combined UK-US is higher than German :)

H

Posted by: Harry at February 10, 2003 01:55 PM

"But I bet combined trade with combined UK-US is higher than German :)"

Not very likely (scroll down)

Posted by: Chris K at February 10, 2003 04:31 PM
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taing, (Cut) warned that the
Maastricht treaty calls for EU member countries to support without reservation the EU's joint foreign policy and to refrain from steps
that might diminish its effectiveness."

This makes a little sense, or rather it would _IF THERE WERE A JOINT-EU POSITION!!!!!!!!_ (Sam Kinison voice off)

Posted by: Michael Farris at February 10, 2003 12:29 PM

OK, Harry -- we'll just agree to disagree on that one. I think Havel is a better example for my point than Megyessy, who I find myself uncomfortable defending as a champion of human rights.

Just to set the record straight on the side note,

U.S. Dept. of State:
"Trade with EU countries and the OECD now comprises over 75% and 85% of the total, respectively. Germany is Hungary's single-most important trading partner."
http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/2852.htm

Republic of Hungary:
Trade with Germany increased even slower than the EU average, and thus Germany's share, which is the highest in the overall foreign trade...
http://www.ekormanyzat.hu/orszaginfo?kateg=orszaginfo:1136

Cheers!

Posted by: Christopher Walker at February 10, 2003 12:40 PM

Why I'm not a journalist -- link to Hungarian government page should end with 1137, not 1136.

It's in English too:

http://www.ekormanyzat.hu/english?kateg=english:1538

Posted by: Christopher Walker at February 10, 2003 12:56 PM

OK, Christopher I stand corrected!

But I bet combined trade with combined UK-US is higher than German :)

H

Posted by: Harry at February 10, 2003 01:55 PM

"But I bet combined trade with combined UK-US is higher than German :)"

Not very likely (scroll down)

Posted by: Chris K at February 10, 2003 04:31 PM
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