Sunday, August 14, 2016

Europe's Lost Chance (Aug. 6)

In the early eighties, during its evolution from 28 warring countries to an economic union that would keep the peace, the Europeans, ever suspicious of one another, rejected the idea of a federation that would have given them a common political system.  Instead, they settled for a common currency, which has been revealed as impotent without a common government The only common government Europe has is the one they were given one by the United States: it’s called NATO, and instead of ‘protecting’ Europe, it too is destroying it.

It all started with the Yalta Conference at which Joseph Stalin and Franklin Roosevelt agreed  to share influence across the European peninsula. Stalin had serious reasons for wanting oversight of the Eastern lands, through which his country had been repeatedly invaded, starting with the Teutonic Knights in the thirteenth century, followed by Napoleon, World War I, the Western war against the Bolshevik government, and World War II. Russia had been invaded from the East as well, by Ghengis Kahn’s Golden Horde, that ruled for four centuries, but in the twentieth century, it was the countries of Eastern Europe that Stalin worried about: for four centuries they had been under Turkish Ottoman domination, and as a result, they lagged behind their Western neighbors in both economic and political development: only Czechoslovakia had known democracy; the other countries were still semi-feudal and hence under right-wing governments, most of which eventually collaborated with Hitler. After the war, under socialist parties that had existed underground since the Russian revolution, and now governed, they were brought into the twentieth century. Feudal holdings were turned into cooperative farms and industrialization was given a boost, along with education and health care.

For its part, the United States set up the Marshall Plan to help rebuild Western Europe -  a project that was good for American business, and soon led to the creation, as early as 1950, of NATO.  It was not until 1955, that the Soviet Union responded with the Warsaw Pact, a defensive alliance known as 'The Treaty of Friendship, Co-operation and Mutual Assistance’.  Decades later the Soviet Union dissolved itself, and the Warsaw Pact was scrapped after the US assured Russia it would not move beyond the borders of a now reunited Germany.
While Russia was busy tending the home fires, however, NATO gradually moved eastward toward Russia’s border with Europe.  Here is the breakdown of that process:

German reunification 12 March 1999, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland join NATO in 2004, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania Romania, Slovenia, Albania, Croatia in 2009.  Currently, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina have Membership Action Plans, and together with Georgia, were named NATO "aspirant countries" at the North Atlantic Council meeting on 7 December 2011. Following the 2014 anti-Russian coup in Ukraine, that country has aspired to join both the EU and NATO.

By July, 2016, things had reached the point where American tv host ‘Smerconish’, interviewing Professor Emeritus of Russian studies at NYU and Princeton, Stephen Cohen, stated as fact that Russia wants to take back the Baltics, and suggested that Trump could provide Putin with “unfettered, undeterred access to the Baltic states --whose independence he resents.”

Where did this notion come from?  Why would Putin ‘resent’ the independence of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania?  Clearly, Smerconish, like most American journalists, ignores the fact that Russia, stretching from the borders of Eastern Europe to the Pacific, is deeply involved in building the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Eurasian Economic Union with China, among other joint initiatives.  I haven’t heard the slightest hint of an explanation as to what Russia would do with the real estate of three tiny counties that, like Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania, yearn to be part of a Europe which, on its own initiative, would never threaten Russia.

In fact, Europe is liquefying before our eyes, as a predictable yet unforeseen result of NATO’s forays into the Middle East: desperate refugees from Iraq, Syria and Libya are flowing into the world’s biggest welfare state, a predictable result of war, had its leaders stopped to think about it.  What was less predictable is that the refugees have created a new “wall” between East and West. The former Soviet ‘satellites’ have not had enough time to become sufficiently Westernized to embrace multiculturalism:they refuse categorically to see their ‘Christianity’ (sic) sullied by Muslims, just as they had been unwilling to tolerate Jews.

Returning now to the history, after Hitler’s defeat, Europe greeted America’s Lend Lease Program with relief, but soon it was being warned of the need to protect itself as it had not done when Hitler was on the rise - this time from the Soviet Union.  While for decades, the United States accused Russia of ‘occupying’ Eastern Europe, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) still maintains a sprinkling of bases in Western Europe, as it opens new bases in Poland and the Baltics.

Having abdicated much of their sovereignty to Washington, partly via the European Union bureaucracy in Brussels, partly via NATO, Europeans can hardly believe that their beautiful project — broadly recognized as the highest level of civilization ever achieved — has been turned into its opposite: a neo-liberal stronghold ruled by ‘the market’ which forces national governments to impose crippling austerity upon their citizens.  

In 2009, the Greek financial crisis could have served as a warning to the other countries of Europe that they too would fall to the rapacious financial sector, but the Greeks had a reputation for laxity, so the rest of Europe tut-tutted and went on its merry way.  Currently, even as the West tries to cope with the arrival of more than a million refugees in 2015, ‘the market’ forced France’s so-called socialist government to adopt new labor laws that eliminated long-enshrined worker protections in favor of the needs of globalization. 

Meanwhile NATO stands triumphantly on Russia’s doorstep.

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