- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 2, 2003

LONDON French President Jacques Chirac's tirade last month against Eastern Europe's fledgling democracies was the best news residents of the Polish village of Bidla Podlaska have had since the last Soviet tank rolled out of the nearby base nearly 10 years ago.
Hard against Poland's eastern border with Russia, about 100 miles out of Warsaw on Route 80, Bidla Podlaska is tipped to become the new U.S. military headquarters in Europe if American forces relocate from the increasingly hostile German environment.
It is equipped with a barracks for several thousand men and a hospital to treat frontline casualties, and its airfield would provide the perfect headquarters for the United States' new army in a "new Europe."
Poland believes that Mr. Chirac, in accusing new Europe of being "childish and dangerous" for supporting the United States in the Iraq crisis, has raised the likelihood of a move by several notches.
That would not create problems for the Poles. Their love affair with the United States, which endured covertly under communist rule, flourishes.
"We are proud that the United States is our strategic ally," President Aleksander Kwasniewski told Special Forces soldiers during a visit last year to Fort Bragg, N.C.
It was hardly likely that Franco-German anti-Americanism would find resonance in Poland, with its history of refusing to obey foreign masters.
Eastern Europe, or central Europe as much of it chooses to be called these days, has moved on since the anti-communist revolutions of 1989. By antagonizing Eastern Europe with his threats to their hopes for European Union membership, Mr. Chirac has done more to create a new Europe than U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ever dared hope.
The row began when Mr. Rumsfeld responded in January to a reporter's question about "European" opposition to a war against Iraq. "You're thinking of Europe as Germany and France. I don't. I think that's old Europe. If you look at the entire NATO Europe today, the center of gravity is shifting to the east."
That sparked enormous irritation, particularly in Germany, where newspapers such as the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung devoted much space to the row.
Mr. Chirac's comments, almost a month later, suggested that the Eastern Europeans had done more damage to French pride than they had realized. By now the United States was trumpeting the fact that 18 European governments were backing Washington while two backed Paris.
From the Baltic to the Black Sea, there has been a unanimity of government support and sympathy for the United States that, combined with burgeoning antagonism toward France and Germany, would have been unthinkable two weeks ago.
Judging by the reaction, Mr. Chirac's words achieved the opposite of what he intended.
There had been growing indications that public opinion in Eastern Europe was moving in the same anti-war direction as elsewhere on the continent. Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, Macedonia and Croatia are pro-American.
But opinion polls had shown widespread skepticism about the Bush administration's case. Yet that feeling may have been overtaken by the row closer to home.
Marek Nowakowski, foreign editor of Wprost, a Polish weekly news magazine, sees new Europe as something being created by the conflict between France's vision of a community of rich, stable, economically and politically connected states, and a Europe that adheres to traditional values.
Mr. Nowakowski, a former student activist in the Solidarity trade-union movement, believes that unless the European Union drops its anti-Americanism it will be overtaken by the emergence of a trans-Atlantic free-trade area integrating the developed Western countries, including the United States and Canada.
When Poles were asked in a recent Wprost opinion poll to name countries they considered friends, 50 percent put the United States first, 34 percent Germany and 25 percent France. At the same time, 50 percent considered Poland's greatest enemy to be Russia; 40 percent said it was Germany; and 7 percent, Iraq. And that was before Mr. Chirac's outburst.
"We understand that the fact that when Poland dared to express its opinion, it caused some confusion," said Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz in Warsaw. "But the fact is that France and Germany did not consult Poland when they put out their statement.
The letter from eight European leaders, including Britain's Tony Blair, backing the Bush administration's Iraq policy that was signed "was to underline the significance of the trans-Atlantic relationship.
"It was not about America and it was not about Europe. It was about America and Europe, the most important relationship of the 20th century.''
The United States is not just fashionable. Its system and, above all, its perceived values are the political ideal.
"America speaks with passion for democracy, which is something that you miss in Europe," said Linas Linkevicius, Lithuania's foreign minister. "You cannot find the passionate defense of democratic values that you get from George W. Bush and the likes of John McCain in Europe. There is a sense of welcome and understanding in America, while Europe makes clear that it cannot be bothered with smaller nations."
Eastern Europe and the Balkans, unlike their Western neighbors, have a sense of history that, because of their recent turbulence, has a relevance to the present. Eastern European admiration for the United States is firmly seated in gratitude for the covert and overt support of successive U.S. administrations for political dissent during the years of Soviet domination.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide