Jonathan Steele’s article in the Guardian about the enthusiasm of the likes of Hungary and the Czech Republic for a US-led war on Iraq has caused something of a storm in some areas of Blogland.
Steele (no relation!) argues that the new democracies of central and eastern Europe are basically following past form of acquesience to big powers. He 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. It was therefore inevitable that after the USSR collapsed these countries would sense the new reality that Europe belongs to the US. The fact that ex-communist leaders such as Aleksander Kwasniewski, Gyula Horn and Ion Iliescu led the way is not a paradox so much as proof that the survival instinct usually trumps vision or principle.
This prompted an angry retort from Andrew Sullivan who claimed “This is as historically inaccurate as it is morally foul. The writer…seems to forget that the reason that Eastern European countries were vassals of the Soviets is because such subservience was enforced by tanks in the streets. No such tanks now exist. 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.”
Cowboy-hatted LA Blogmeister Matt Welch calls Steele’s view “ignorant rot” and seems to think he has some sympathy for the former communist rulers of the region.
I reckon Matt and Sullivan have both missed Steele’s point. It was not the Hungarian or Czech people who signed up to the letter of the Euro Eight. In the case of Hungary it was their ex-communist PM Peter Medgyessy – and his decision has come in for some criticism in Hungary.
Steele is right about one thing – the likes of the Hungarian government, made up of former communist aparatchiks were well-used to being yes-men to a great power, when it was the USSR. Alleged ex-spy Peter Medgyessy is merely following previous form. The majority of Hungarian public are against war on Iraq but their government wants to keep things sweet with the US for their own reasons – which are not necessarily bad ones of course.
But Sullivan’s idea that ex-communist leaders have a “better of appreciation of what tyranny is and therefore a deeper loathing for Saddam” is laughable when of course they were the ones doing the oppressing!
To use Sullivan’s logic though the Hungarian people, unlike many American newspaper columnists, have had direct experience of war and having their city bombed and then occupied – that might explain why they are reluctant for their leaders to sign them up to support war without consultation.