A House Divided; the Orange Revolution Is Carving New Fault Lines between Old and New Europe That Have Nothing to Do with War in Iraq

Newsweek International, January 24, 2005 | Go to article overview

A House Divided; the Orange Revolution Is Carving New Fault Lines between Old and New Europe That Have Nothing to Do with War in Iraq


Byline: Steven Paulikas

At one time, they had a Union of their own. When the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth met its demise in 1795, its territory included not only those two countries but the entire western half of Ukraine.

In Eastern Europe, history remains a powerful guide to its leaders--a fact some in the West apparently do not fully appreciate. Angered at the initiative taken by Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and his Lithuanian counterpart, Valdas Adamkus, in helping to defuse Ukraine's political crisis, European Parliament President Josep Borrell likened the pair to a "Trojan horse" for the United States. Borrell has since insisted his off-the-cuff remarks, made at a private forum in Madrid on Jan. 4, were misinterpreted. But the intended message was clear: new EU members should leave the tough foreign-policy decisions to their bigger, older brothers.

Borrell's slip of the tongue underscores how far the Union has to go toward unity. The EU's response to the crisis in Ukraine has miffed politicians from both halves of the continent. Bigwigs from Europe's traditional powerhouses are unused to taking a back seat to Europe's upstarts from the east. For their part, representatives newly arrived in Brussels from countries in Ukraine's backyard have been left to wonder why a Spaniard like Borrell is commenting on their policy toward an unstable neighbor. Poland immediately loosed an angry protest. "It's not his role to evaluate other countries--his job is to unite, not divide," says Polish EU parliamentarian Janusz Wojciechowski. Tart as the rhetoric may be, it's but a prelude of more to come.

"Old" versus "New" Europe? If ever that divide applied, it's over Ukraine. For several years, Poland and Lithuania have sought to build on their centuries of shared history and assist their neighbor in its recovery from the communist past. "President Kwasniewski and I have consistently been the only advocates of Ukraine to the Western world," says Adamkus. When outgoing Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma made a state visit to Lithuania in 2002, Adamkus took him bowling at Vilnius's first major shopping mall.

Because of that unique degree of friendship, Adamkus says, it was natural for him to pick up the phone and call his old bowling buddy as the situation in Ukraine turned critical. "When I asked what we could do to help, Kuchma said the friends of the Ukrainian people should drop whatever they were doing and come to Kiev immediately." A frantic night of communication between the Lithuanian and Polish foreign ministries and EU foreign-policy experts ensued. The next day, Adamkus, Kwasniewski and EU external-relations chief Javier Solana were sitting at round-table discussions with Viktor Yushchenko and Viktor Yanukovich, the feuding candidates in Ukraine's presidential elections.

The EU's diplomatic intervention in Ukraine's political fate could have been cause for celebration. Not only did the talks result in a fresh round of fairer elections, but the Brussels establishment had joined with the Union's newcomers to tackle their first shared foreign-policy crisis since last May's enlargement. Instead the crisis has exposed fault lines already raw from the tumult over the war in Iraq. Borrell's "Trojan horse" crack echoed French President Jacques Chirac's suggestion two years ago that Eastern Europe had missed an opportunity to "shut up" when countries in the region supported the U.S. invasion. Viewed as hopelessly pro-American, nations like Poland and Lithuania have long been accused of obstructing attempts to construct a single foreign-relations platform for the entire EU. …

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A House Divided; the Orange Revolution Is Carving New Fault Lines between Old and New Europe That Have Nothing to Do with War in Iraq
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