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Posts Tagged ‘History’

[Author’s note: I originally intended my first post of 2013 to be about a different subject(s), but I will post it later and will keep you updated. However due to the relevance of a current event I decided to write a blog about it right away.]

On Tuesday January 22nd 2013 David Cameron, the Conservative Prime Minister of the United Kingdom was suposed to deliver his speech about the future of the EU-UK relationship in the Hague in the Netherlands. 

Now, however, it will be held in London the next day on Wednesday January 23rd. Too bad, I argue. The symbolic value of the speech would have been greater was it held in an original founding member of the European project. I think the Netherlands would have been ideal.Image

Photo: ALAMY

This speech follows in the tradition of many previous speeches by British Prime Ministers on the future of UK’s relationship with Europe. It started with Winston Churchill in 1946.

This speech also comes during a critical period. The European Union is going through a major (but not existential) crisis. The single currency, the Euro, faces big challenges too and is shaking the world economy.

The UK, these days might lose its credit rating. Nobody is without trubles.

Last year the UK vetoed a proposed EU treaty and up to this day the UK is really in the EU with just one foot.  Not a member of the single currency nor a member of the Schengen Area. There are other aspects of the EU integration that the UK wanted to opt out of, such as the justice and home affairs.

Britain has always stood on the sidelines of the European continent, saving it a few times along with America from itself (World War I and II). A weird country in Europe that is closer to America with language and law. 

On the other hand however, it is closely tied with Europe too. All the nations throughout history that formed the history of Britain came from the European mainland: the Celts, the Romans, the Angles, the Saxons or the Normans.

Today, as I am writing this blog another important EU milestone took place. Germany and France have marked the 50th anniversary of their mutual relationship treaty. This relationship is now the corner-stone of the European Partnership. This treaty started the Franco-German cooperation and ended the Franco-German conflicts that caused both world wars.

Wow! Could Cameron’s timing be any better? If he had chose as the venue, Strasbourg, it would have peaked with symbolism.

I think there are two ways to explain this: either David Cameron did not wish to overshadow this historic moment for the EU and so he chose London instead of mainland Europe or his speech is not going to be that ground-breaking.

I think it is the latter. I do not expect a ground-breaking speech.

If it was really to change his UK’s stance towards the EU in a ground-breaking way he would have made sure to pick a European venue instead of London.

So, my expectation is that he will not say anything new. He will restate what he always said and that is that he wants the EU and the Euro to succeed. The UK as a trading nation will remain in the EU single market (although it is still not a real single market – more integration and liberalization is needed in my view).

Yes in British eyes the EU is interfering with too many aspects of British lives and Britain will probably ask for some concession from Brussels. David Cameron will have to defend his own taxpayers and voters. He will have to protect the interests of the city of London and its financial markets.

Whether he will announce a referendum in the UK over staying in the EU is unlikely but some referendum over the relationship  with the EU within the EU might be possible. However, I don’t claim to know whether Cameron will announce such a thing or not.

He will underscore the importance of fiscal prudence and good economic policies in order to avoid future economic crises such as the current one. The Germans and the Dutch will be glad to hear this. I also think that he will say that going backwards in integration is not the answer either. That on the other hand is something that the French and the Italians might like hearing.

He might however, twist his speech by emphasizing the “how”. Perhaps a new way to think about all these partnerships and integrations.

I am not surprised that an ordinary British citizen does not understand the EU, few people in Brussels really do. The ongoing crisis is changing the dynamism of the EU like never before as we speak.

I, in my view, claim the the UK is a plus for the EU. Without it the EU would be more boring and more bureaucratic. With the UK, the EU has more dynamism and more pragmatism. Pragmatism is something that the EU needs right now during its ongoing crisis.

British members of the European Parliament (notably Nigel Farage and Daniel Hannan) are being very outspoken against the democratic deficit of some EU institutions. That is something I happen to agree with. The importance of democratic principle is again, something that David Cameron will mention but it is nothing new.

I claim that France, Germany that happen to mark their anniversary are along with the UK the three most important members of the EU. The relationship of the first two is the building block of the EU and are also the two biggest EU and eurozone economies. The UK is the third biggest EU economy (and 7th biggest globally) and therefore important.

UK is also important because without it English would not be a working language in the EU institutions, and it is now the most spoken language in the EU, whether being a first language or not.

If the UK was not in the EU, either France or Germany would have their way at the expense of the other, which is partially happening now with the Euro and its crisis. I also claim that the EU needs the UK to save it from itself. 

Whether the speech will be historic or not is not up to debate. Of course it will. It is supposed to be a historic speech. But, whether the speech will be some historic turning point in the UK’s relationship with the EU is difficult to tell and I don’t think we will be able to tell it right away. 

I think that whether  this speech will be a historic turning point in Britain’s relationship with the EU will be clear in a few years after the UK and the EU took some concrete steps in either direction. The real historic value of this speech will maybe be really clear only after a decade or a few.

But I do not expect to hear anything extraordinary, new or “super-historic”. 

Good Luck to David Cameron.

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Edward Lucas, the Central and Eastern European correspondent of The Economist recently narrated a video on The Economist‘s website, in its multimedia library. (I posted the video earlier click here to view it)
Lucas explained how in his opinion the concept of “Eastern Europe” which is used to describe all of ex-communist Europe is a messy concept that doesn’t make sense and should not be used any more.

This narrated video follows a TED Talk that Lucas gave at the TEDx event in Krakow. (To watch it on YouTube click here) During the talk he explained why calling the whole ex-communist region of Europe as one entity by using the name “Eastern Europe” is wrong, confusing and far from the truth. It is a messy concept that does not make sense. I shared this video via Twitter and other social media websites.

Lucas gave that TED Talk back in December 2011 and now months later he narrated a video with the same message. I noticed it and think that Edward Lucas is trying to make a serious point so I decided to make a post about it in my Blog.

It also concerns me since I’m originally from Slovakia, a country which gets caught in this messy concept as well with many other countries.

Edward Lucas is perfectly right. This concept does not even make sense geographically. If the Czech Republic is in Eastern Europe then why should Austria not be in there too. I know, for example, that French geography tex books divide Europe exactly like that and include Greece in “Western Europe”. That is close to insane.

In the two videos Edward Lucas proposes two new concepts: “Baltic Europe” and “Danube Europe”. These two make perfect sense geographically and culturally.

A term that I believe should be used more often from a geographical point of view is “Central Europe”. Not that there is anything wrong in being from the East or being Eastern European, but calling half the continent Eastern Europe is not correct.

“Central Europe” is ideal to describe Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Austria and perhaps even Germany, Switzerland, Slovenia and Lichtenstein.  However, I do not think that the term “Eastern Europe” should be abandoned completely. I think it is ideal to use it to describe the countries that constitute the territory of the former Soviet Union: Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova and maybe the 3 Baltic States. The 3 Baltic states, however, would rather be included in “Northern Europe” among countries such as Finland and Sweden or they should be part of what Lucas calls “Baltic Europe”.  Sometimes according to some classifications the Baltic States along with Romania and Croatia also fall into “Central Europe”. To see the various ways of how “Central Europe” is classified view this Wikipedia entry here.

The term “Central Europe” should be used more often in international media. For example we commonly use  “Central European Time” or “CET” to describe the time zone that runs from Spain through most of Europe all the way to the Baltic States, Romania and the former USSR. That concept is also untidy and the time zone itself is confusing, but that is a different topic. I’m not going to get into that.

The ex-communist countries of Europe are far from being homogenous. Yes, they were all communist during almost half of the last century but that is all. Most of them are Slavic, but not all of them. In only some of them is the Eastern Orthodox Cristinatiy the dominant religion . The others are mostly Roman Catholic. ( Not to mention that two of them: Czech Republic and Estonia are among the most atheist countries in the world.) A common misconception abroad is that they all use the Cyrillic alphabet. Most of them actually use the Latin alphabet.

If you watch these two videos (it will not take a lot of your time) you will find out more about this part of Europe and what the countries of this region are like. Most of them are integrating deeper and deeper into the European Union and are also becoming important on the world stage. The recent EURO 2012 tournament for example was held in Poland and Ukraine.

Edward Lucas deserves thanks and  a lot of credit. The website of The Economist where his video is posted is visited daily by millions of people all over the world. Thanks to his video everyone who sees it will hopefully stop using the old concept of “Eastern Europe” and will recognize the ex-communist countries of Europe for what they really are.

Thank You Mr. Lucas

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It won’t come as a surprise to anyone today that Europe or more specifically the European Union (EU) is in trouble. Everyday new events linked to this crisis are being reported in the media from all over the world. In this post I would like to express my opinion about what is going on and maybe clarify the whole issue a bit.

What the EU is starting to resemble more and more these days is actually a loose Confederation of Nation-States rather than a real European Federation that speaks with a unified voice as it was supposed to after the Lisbon Treaty that passed in December 2009. Only 4 months after the treaty was passed and 18 months after the start of the Global Financial & Economic Crisis began, this whole European economic mess started. It all started in the same place where the current European Civilization did very long ago, in Greece.

I named this blog post the Holy Roman Empire of the European Nation(s), because the EU today is starting to look more and more like the very old state called Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation which existed between 962 to 1806. (To find out more than just the Wikipedia page, you can also click here.)

The EU is not a federation because it doesn’t speak with one voice. Nobody can really figure out who (if anyone, really) is in charge of the EU. Is it the European President Hernan Van Rompuy, Head of the EU Commission José Manuel Barrosso or the French-German duo “Merkozy”? Nobody really knew who was in charge of the Holy Roman Empire either.

I remember that during one history lesson our teacher told us that the position of the Holy Roman Emperor, (the ruler  who was formally in charge of that Empire) was just a representative figure and somebody who would not hold any real power, but only a prestigious post. She then went on to mention that it was a position best compared today to the office of the Head of the European Commission (José Manuel Barrosso). She said it before the Lisbon Treaty was passed and before Hernan Van Rompuy became the EU President. Today I’m sure she would say that one of the two men ressembles the Holy Roman Emperor the most.

The Holy Roman Empire was, in reality, a loose confederation of smaller German States, where each had a good degree of independence. The German Princes were interested in exactly that. Today, the EU is becoming more loose and loose. Until 2008/2009 it seemed that Europe was moving more and more towards an eventually unified entity. That was the trend. These days the trend is opposite. Previous national and regional agendas and tendencies are becoming more obvious. The biggest problem of the EU today is the Eurozone Crisis, but the fact is that not all the EU members actually use the common, Euro, currency. The EU has within itself a free travel area called the Shengen Area. This allows European citizens to travel freely and easily within Europe without a need for Passport. However, not all the EU members are a members of this group either.

The European Union can thus be divided into the countries that have the common currency (Eurozone) and those that don’t and into countries that are members of the Shengen Area and those that aren’t. Some countries aren’t members of either (UK, Romania, Bulgaria, the last two are supposed to join eventually). The latest British decision to VETO another EU Treaty meant that UK will be out of future EU agreements. Some countries such as Poland and Czech Republic announced that they aren’t interested in joining the Eurozone in the foreseeable future.

The EU, thus, looks more confusing and loose and non-united than ever. But, this does not mean that before it was more united or that it is less united today. It is just no longer moving towards unification as it was until 2009. The EU is just as united as it was in 2009. New problems and challenges, however showed differences which were always here but were not apparent. The Eurozone Problems are being solved by Germany & France, while other problems such as the question of Democracy in Hungary is solved on the EU level from Bruxelles by the Commission. This shows again a duality of leadership. Some things are decided on the nation-level, some still on the EU level and some countries (i. e. UK) remain more or less independent.

But, today there is still a talk of a common European identity or at least of an EU-Identity. So, since Europe still is unified through the EU but loose within it into nation-states and other groups it can really be considered a unified confederation but which is loose and whose members are rather independent. Exactly a kind of a Holy Roman Empire of European Nations. Or for those who strongly believe in a European Identity, of a European Nation.

Concerning the Eurozone Economic Crisis and the Greek Economic problem, based on my economic knowledge and common-sense, I think that Greece will eventually default. In the end, I do remain cautiously optimistic about the EU’s and the Eurozone’s Future. The Euro will survive 2012 and the future in tact. It will however be different.

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For those who are interested in the coverage of these issues, a very good source is The Economist’s Website on Europe News and its Charlemagne Blog.

Another good source and a way to see Canadian Perspective on these issues is the Broken Europe Section at The Globe and Mail.

I wrote 2 previous posts that do touch the EU issue. One about Poland and the other about Slovakia.

Finally I thought I would add some Cartoons showing this European Crisis.

Enjoy!

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If you went to Brussels these days, besides French and Dutch which are the official languages spoken in Belgium you would also hear a lot of English since Brussels is a very international city and is much visited by tourists. Another language, however, that you would hear quite frequently these days is Polish.

That would be for one simple reason. Poland is currently holding the rotating EU Presidency which it took on July 1st 2011. Every six months a different EU member state holds the rotating presidency with a different agenda. Every Presidency also has a website. The Polish Presidency’s website can be seen here.

Some expert analysis reacted to this event rather positively, such as a post at the GMF Blog, while others, such as The Economist’s Charlemagne made the point that Poland should be rather cautious.

It’s true that the rotating EU Presidency by one country is not as prestigious or important as it was before the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty, but it is still a great opportunity for Poland to prove itself. However, Poland will have a tough time leading the way in resolving the biggest current crisis in the EU which is the Eurozone debt crisis, since it is not a member of the Eurozone and still holds its own currency the Polish Zloty (PLN).

In my opinion Poland IS the new EU power and it has a lot of  potential to improve the EU and its problems. For starters Poland is the most populous of the post-communis members of the EU with a population of 40 million and is the 6th biggest country in the EU by area. It has the potential to become the newest big EU Power with a similar stature as France, Germany, UK or Italy. Poland is no longer a battlefield or an issue over which other powers play or fight, but is a new player and a power itself. It could become  a sort of a “leader” of Central and Eastern European countries that are members of the EU.

Poland however does face a dilemma. Is it the “Newest of the Big” or the “Biggest of the New” amongst the EU members, just like the Charlemagne article mentioned. In my opinion it shouldn’t try be both since it is impossible and might cause problems and make its presidency look bad and useless and boring as many previous ones were. Instead it should really try to be the “Newest of the Big” in order to finally make the distinction in the EU, into “New” and “Old” members, finally disappear. This distinction is doing nothing but destroying the fragile unity within the EU.

Poland doesn’t have to try to be the “biggest of the new” since it always has been and always will be exactly that. Being able to gather behind itself the other EU states of Central and Eastern Europe will also help it to be more influential and it can become a responsible leader which could try to defend those countries’ interests. This, however, should not happen at the expense of other EU member states. Poland should try to become a New EU Power naturally, as it most probably will, and not by trying too hard.

Nevertheless Poland has its own problems just like any other EU country does. Like many post-communist countries it has problems with corruption. It still has a long way to in improving its infrastructure. Poland like many other Central and Eastern European countries has to get rid of its reputation as a Russophobe and being “too pro-atlantic” and “too pro-american”. The anti-missile defence plan that was supposed to be based in Poland made these matters more critical.

This finally brings me to the subject of the title of this post. The history and the nature of Polish-American relations.

In the early summer of 2011 Poland was one of the centers of attention in the world. On May 27th Barrack Obama visited Poland. Afterwards, just a little over a month later on July 1st Poland took the over the rotating presidency of the EU. Lots of things happened to Poland, this summer, that made it stood out and become more and more important. Besides Barrack Obama’s visit and the start of the Polish EU Presidency, a prominent think-tank, The German Marshall Fund which has offices in Washington DC, Brussels and all over Europe opened an office in Warsaw. The opening happened on the same day as the US President Barrack Obama visited Poland. No coincidence. Another interesting article to read about these events and Poland’s role is in the Economist by Edward Lucas.

The US-Polish Relations go back further than the Anti-Missile Defence Plan in Europe. (A plan that was abandoned by Obama and made relations with Russia more complicated) The history of US-Polish ties and, in this case also, alliance is just as long as the history of US-French Alliance.  We all know the heroes of the American War of Independence, such as of course George Washington, the great general who became the first US President. Many know the general who led the French troops that supported the American Revolutionaries, Lafayette.

Many don’t know (I didn’t myself, not so long ago) that there is also another hero of  the American revolution who was an important general and helped the American Troops win lots of battles. He was a European too and he was Polish. His name is Tadeusz Kosciuszko. In the USA he is a hero. Naturally he is also a national hero in Poland, since he also led a Polish Uprising against the Russians back in the 18th century.

In Washington DC next to the White House, at the LaFayette Square there is a statue of Kosciuszko (see photo further below). A Chair of studies at a graduate school in Washington DC, The Institute of World Politics, is named after him. The Kosciuszko Chair of Polish Studies. A Polish based think-tank is also named after him. The Kosciuszko Institute (I included the link to this think-tank in “Think-Tanks and other NGOs” Link Category on my Blog).

Yes, Tadeusz Kosciuszko’s name is difficult to spell  and difficult to pronounce. In Europe you hear of him rarely outside of Poland, Lithuania or Russia, but in American history books he is quite famous.

This proves that US-Polish relations go back very far in the past. Poland after it was partitioned for the third time between Prussia (later Germany), Austria and Russia in 18th century was not forgotten by the newly born United States. The US President Woodrow Wilson was very much in favour of an independent Poland after WW1. After WW2 Poland was a crucial subject during the negotiations between he war-time allies, UK, USA and USSR. During the communism, the Polish resistance and finally the pro-democracy Solidarity movement was supported by the United States. Finally when Poland regained freedom in 1989 US was the biggest provider of help.

And don’t forget the big Polish immigration into the United States and how the Polish-American community and diaspora helped to build great American Cities such as New York, Pittsburgh or Chicago.

Poland’s relation with the United States will continue to be just as crucial as the relations United States has with Britain, France and Germany. This relationship isn’t only important for the United States’s presence in, and relationship with, Europe but is also important both for NATO and thus the atlantic relations and for the EU. The next big country towards the east, and a potential regional power, besides Russia, is Ukraine. It is exactly the EU’s relation and partnership with Ukraine that will be one of the main topics of Poland’s EU Presidency.

For those of you who are interested in finding out more about Ukraine, I wrote a blog post about it back in July 2011. You can view it directly by clicking here. And don’t forget that next year’s Euro Football Championship, the EURO 2012, will be held in Poland and Ukraine. It’s an important event not only from a sports perspective.

Congratulations and Thank you if you made it to the end of this long blog post and read it entirely. I hope you learnt new things about Poland and its relations with the US and its role within Europe. I’m also glad if I ignited a bigger interest in Poland and Central Europe in you.  Poland is also a very nice country to visit. If you ever go there do me a favour and visit my home country of Slovakia as well. It’s right next door and is worth it.

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Last Thursday July 7th I attended a great event here in Washington D. C., organized by The Atlantic Council, the Brookings Institute and the Peterson Institute. The main topic of this event, was Ukraine, its problems of governance and the implications for its Foreign Policy.

One of the speakers was Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Advisor and author of many great books. His insight as usual was awesome and full of intelligence. When talking about the difficult relationship that Ukraine has with Russia he mentioned a very interesting fact.

Generally Russia is always considered and considers itself the “older big brother” of Ukraine. Something like Germany was to Austria-Hungary back in the 19th and the early 20th century. Well, Russia definitely is bigger and during the time of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, Russia did control Ukraine. But when one looks back in history he/she will find out that it is actually Ukraine, which is the older (not the bigger of course) brother of Russia. Russia and Ukraine share a lot of common history and culture. This relationship goes back to the 9th century AD to the times of Kievan Rus.

Kievan Rus is where the Eastern Slavic Culture finds its origin. Kiev was the first great city of Eastern Slavs and the Kievan Rus later expanded eastwards to modern day Russia where Moscow was later found. Later throughout the centuries the settlers in the East became a different nation known as Russians.

In brief, modern day Ukraine is where the Russian culture and civilization originated. Historically then, Ukraine is actually Russia’s older brother.

But politically as well. Ukraine is more western than Russia. Ukraine, even today with the administration of Yanukovych has a pretty good democratic record (but far from perfect of course). One should not think of Yanukovych as a super pro-russian president. He does do things which are in the interest of  his country. This does not mean doing stuff that Russia always likes.

Moreover, Ukraine is where the democratic Orange Revolution of 2004/2005 happened. Even Samuel P.Huntington, in his famous work “The Clash of Civilizations”, talks about Ukraine as the place where, as he describes it, the “Western” and the “Orthodox” cultures meet. Ukraine is more western and democratic than Russia, so even politically it is Russia’s older and , in this case, “more responsible” and “more democratic” brother.

Returning back to the event I was writing about in the beginning. Brzezinski also said that Poland is the country (which also happens to hold the Presidency of the Council of the EU at the moment) which can help Ukraine the most. Don’t forget that the Euro 2012 Championship will be taking place in Poland and Ukraine. Just the fact that these countries decided back in 2005 to host this championship together is a strong indication of their strong ties. Poland as a EU member might this way help Ukraine become more recognized and more accepted as a European country.

Ukraine should also consider tightening its relations with Turkey with which it does share, according to Brzezinski, some common history. These two countries also have converging interests.

Finally there is the problem of the corruption in Ukraine. Is it a home-grown Ukrainian problem in particular? It might be. But it is rather a legacy of those awful Soviet totalitarian times. It is the legacy of the post-Soviet corruption. It is the cumulative effect from fanatism to self-interest. Many other Central European countries that have problems with corruption have it, among other things, because of the fact that they used to be totalitarian regimes that make the population cynical.

One more thing to take into account. Ukraine now has had over 20 years of independence and democracy. There is a whole new generation of young people who grew up in this new free regime and they will change Ukraine’s image and nature forever. They have a strong sense of national identity which is getting stronger and more consolidated every year.

In the end, if Russia finally gives up Ukraine and decides to abandon this neo-imperialism it might at last become a westernized country that will be European. As Brzezinski puts it: “Russia with Ukraine is an neo-imperial non-european power. Russia without Ukraine is a European power”.

I hope that you all enjoyed reading this and maybe even learnt something new. Thank you for reading.

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