East Central Europe between Paris and Washington
May 28, 2003

Staff-prepared summary of the East European Studies discussion with Vladimir Tismaneanu, Professor of Political Science, University of Maryland

For some observers of international politics, Poland’s emergence as a leading partner in the US-lead campaign to rebuild Iraq has come as quite a surprise. To those who mourned the end of the Cold War for the predictability of that period’s foreign policy behavior, Poland’s new prominence is indicative of the inherent chaos of a multi-polar international system. To those who have been following the progress of Poland and the other European Union candidate countries as they struggle through the lengthy process of integration, the unwavering support given to the Bush administration by East Europe must seem like a shocking about-face. Regardless of the source of confusion, Vladimir Tismaneanu offers a historical/cultural explanation for this puzzling new world order.

Tismaneanu began his explanation of the seemingly incongruous East European stance by noting that East Europeans have a long memory. Their clear and painful memory of the Cold War era offers three good reasons for them to support NATO rather than EU’s foreign and security policy. First, for the countries that have spent centuries tied to the fates of and dominated by Russia and Germany, NATO is still the most important international structure because it can offer these new democracies real security and independence. Second, whether real or perceived, NATO membership is seen as directly linked with democratic consolidation. Third and most importantly, the guarantee of an American presence in Europe through NATO is seen as the only means of containing ethno-centric populism in the region, and curbing the possible resurgence of old powers in Europe.

East Europeans also remember that West Europeans were powerless or unwilling to intervene when the Soviet army invaded Hungary and Czecholsovakia. This touches upon another point of contention between East and West Europe: East Europeans do not support West European anti-Americanism because they feel that they have been victims of it. East Europeans see West European pacifism as serving the dictators of the world, and will always prefer US intervention where human rights and individual liberties are threatened.

Tismaneanu stopped short of taking sides in the “old versus new Europe” debate on Iraq. By presenting the historical context for the current foreign policy path taken by East Europe and the region’s continuting efforts to balance the conflicting demands of the US-led NATO and the EU, Tismaneanu provided a better understanding of East European values and concerns, without which we will never find our footing in this new world order.