East-central Europe to Barack Obama: an open letter

Published on openDemocracy, as open letter, July 22, 2009.

A group of politicians and scholars from Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia expresses concern to the United States president about the consequences of Washington’s inattention to a vital region, and makes six proposals for a new era …

… We must also recognise that America’s popularity and influence have fallen in many of our countries as well. Public-opinion polls, including the German Marshall Fund’s own Transatlantic Trends survey,
show that our region has not been immune to the wave of criticism and anti-Americanism that has swept Europe in recent years and which led to a collapse in sympathy and support for the United States during the George W Bush years. 

Some leaders in the region have paid a political price for their support of the unpopular war in Iraq. In the future they may be more careful in taking political risks to support the United States. We believe that the onset of a new administration has created a new opening to reverse this trend; but it will take time and work on both sides to make up for what we have lost.

A period of transition:

In many ways the European Union has become the major factor and institution in our lives. To many people it seems more relevant and important today than the link to the United States. To some degree it is a logical outcome of the integration of central and eastern Europe into the EU. Our leaders and officials spend much more time in EU meetings than in consultations with Washington, where they often struggle to attract attention or make our voices heard. The region’s deeper integration in the EU is of course welcome and should not necessarily lead to a weakening of the transatlantic relationship. The hope was that integration of central and eastern Europe into the EU would actually strengthen the strategic cooperation between Europe and America …

… The key to success

In conclusion, the onset of a new administration in the United States has raised great hopes in our countries for a transatlantic renewal. It is an opportunity we dare not miss. We, the authors of this letter, know firsthand how important the relationship with the United States has been. In the 1990s, a large part of getting Europe right was about getting central and eastern Europe right. The engagement of the United States was critical to locking in peace and stability from the Baltic states to the Black Sea. Today the goal must be to keep central and eastern Europe right as a stable, activist, and Atlanticist part of our broader community.

That is the key to our success in bringing about the renaissance in the alliance your administration has committed itself to work for and which we support. That will require both sides recommitting to and investing in this relationship. But if we do it right, the pay off down the road can be very real. By taking the right steps now, we can put it on new and solid footing for the future.

Signed by: … (full long text).

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