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No "New Europe"

February 1, 2003

Central Europeans reject the concept of a "new" Europe says a Czech political commentator. Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic support the U.S. position towards Iraq out of gratitude for help in ending the Cold War.

Parliament in Budapest: The U.S. Army is already training operatives for Iraq in HungaryImage: AP

Commentators have been speculating that Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic are part of a "new Europe" since their heads of state signed a joint declaration with five other European leaders on Jan. 30 pledging support for the U.S. stance towards Iraq. Central Europeans didn't intend to create a new bloc though, says Czech journalist and political commentator Jaroslav Šlonka.

The statement, which was signed by Czech President Vaclav Havel, Hungarian Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy and Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller as well as the leaders of Denmark, Italy, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom, was printed in newspapers throughout Europe on Jan. 30.

Not new but thankful

The Central European countries would reject a concept that dubs France and Germany the "old Europe," as U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld recently maintained, with the eight signatories constituting a "New Europe," Jaroslav Šlonka told DW-WORLD.

The three former communist countries were showing their thanks to the U.S. for helping them shake off 40 years of communist dictatorship more than a decade ago, Šlonka said.

"The Central European countries are paying back the Americans."

Simple logic

Šlonka explains that Czech President Havel, Hungarian Prime Minister Medgyessy and Polish Prime Minister Miller belong to the "old" generation of Central Europeans whose ideas were formed by the limited information from outside the Eastern Bloc they had access to before the 1989 revolutions in the region put an end to communist rule there.

The ideas that were most accessible and influential to them were those of U.S. President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, according to Šlonka.

"Their ideas were installed in Central European intellectuals' minds. And George W. Bush carries on the Reagan-Thatcher tradition of simple logic."

Šlonka says it will take a generation for thinking to change in the region. He also pointed out that President Havel has been under fire at home for adding his signature to the declaration.

According to the Czech news agency CTK, Prime Minister Vladimir Špidla announced that he had been asked to sign the joint declaration supporting the U.S. but had declined. Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda said that Havel was expressing his personal opinion in signing.

Voicing fears

Jaroslav Šlonka adds, "The three countries are afraid of loosing their sovereignty when they become members of the European Union in 2004." They used the declaration to voice their standpoints on the Iraq conflict even before the European Union itself managed to determine a common position.

"Besides, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and French President Jacques Chirac already departed from the concept of a common European policy as far as Central Europeans are concerned," Šlonka said referring to the two leaders demands on Jan. 22 that U.N. weapons inspectors be given more time to do their jobs in Iraq before any military action is taken.

Šlonka maintains that the Hungarian, Polish and Czech statesmen view the Iraq conflict mainly as an opportunity to be rid of another repressive leader and former friend of the communist dictators who ruled their countries until 1989. Saddam Hussein maintained close relations to the Eastern European communist regimes.

In the thick of it

Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic are already involved in U.S. preparations for an armed conflict.

On Wednesday (Jan. 29) Iraqi exiles arrived at the Taszar Air Base in Hungary for U.S. Army training in the case an American invasion of Iraq. Hungary is allowing its NATO partner to use the base to train up to 3,000 Iraqis and Arabs.

Also this week, the first Czech troops from the antichemical-, antibacteriological- and antinuclear-warfare unit departed for Kuwait to reinforce the U.S. forces stationed there, news agencies reported. Altogether around 130 Czech soldiers and 40 vehicles will be work from unit in Kuwait. The Czech parliament has approved military operations against Iraq if the U.N. Security Council passes a resolution calling for force or if Iraq employs weapons of mass destruction.

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski has announced in the Polish media that the country has sent a logistics ship and a special unit to the Persian Gulf. "If, after all the discussions and actions and the exploitation of various possibilities, it comes to stand up to fight, then we will do this," Kwasniewski was quoted by Polish television as saying in response to whether his country would support a U.S. military operation against Iraq.

Most Europeans opposed

Gallup polls have shown that the majority of Czechs, Hungarians and Poles oppose military action against Iraq without a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for force. Across the continent 80 percent of Europeans hold that opinion, the surveys reported.
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