The Economist earlier last month did an update on America’s relationship in Central Europe, the area earlier hailed by Sec. of Defense Donald Rumsfeld as part of the “New Europe.” While I applaud his speech as brillent tactical manuverings (Reminding France/Germany that they’re other Europeans beside themselves), it seems like besides building military bases little is changing to reach out the the people themselves:
“America tends to underestimate the political cost of this. One post-communist minister recalls trying vainly to convince his American counterparts that staying in Iraq was rather unpopular at home. American military aid to the new democracies has been stingy. And the cost and hassle of America’s visa policies grate harshly. “Estonians don’t understand why their sons are dying in Iraq for democracy and freedom, and yet their families can’t get visas for the United States,” says Toomas Hendrik Ilves, a former foreign minister.
So far, only Slovenia’s 1.9m people have visa-free travel to America. Poland and the Czech Republic have lobbied hard; so did Mrs Vike-Freiberga on her recent trip. But there is little sign of change. In most post-communist countries, each visa application costs a non-refundable $100—a week’s wages. In Romania, even the appointment costs $11, for seven minutes of telephone time.” (Empahsis Mine)
To be fair to the Bush Administration, the US has lobbied hard for the “Big Bang” approach that has led many of “New Europe” states to be accepted into the EU and has given Central Europe some voice in the world stage through branding them as part of a “New Europe”.
However, the US must follow though on building a relationship with these states. While sending troops to Iraq has bought countries like Estonia closer ties to the US, simple things like visa-restriction fail to show what clear benefit such sacrifices provide back.
Just like at home, the Bush Administration should pursue a campaign to show the people – of Estonia, Poland etc – the benefits of closer ties with the US. Currently, we’re not doing that (or enough) and worse than that we’re losing our chance to prove these people right the next time around.
Additionally, while countries like Bulgaria and Slovenia are small, they represent members of a growing bloc – the European Union – and a post-nation-state identify of “Europeanness”. The US must reach out – both at government and public level – to those who are receptive to the US.
Indeed, reaching out to the Central Europe region (where in Hungary there is a statue in honor of Ronald Reagan in remembrance of the Cold War), can act as a balance to the German and French states, while the US could also provide security against the fear of a possibly reassertive and aggressive Russia (as long as the EU remains anemic in security terms).
Let’s hope that the Post-Bush Administration, whatever that maybe – will take things into the positive direction, if the current Administration cannot.