Post-Communist Eastern Europe and the Middle East: The Burden of History and New Political Realities

By Kreutz, Andrej | Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ), Spring 1999 | Go to article overview

Post-Communist Eastern Europe and the Middle East: The Burden of History and New Political Realities


Kreutz, Andrej, Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)


The collapse of the communist system in Eastern Europe and the emergence of a completely new geopolitical and social reality which is strikingly different from its forerunner, probably represented the most important breakthrough in modern world history, by far exceeding the limitations of their regional boundaries and the relatively brief period of time. However, the results for almost all Third World nations were unfortunately, predominantly negative,(1) even though their direct impact on and the importance for those nations varied greatly, depending on the strength and character of their links with the post-Communist region and the available option(s) of other alliances and directions of development. For a number of reasons to be discussed later, the impact of the historic events in Eastern Europe on the situation in the Middle East-particularly in the Arab World and Israel-has been especially dramatic and important, and some of the future consequences are still difficult to predict. In discussing the relations of post-Communist Eastern Europe with the Middle East, I would like to focus on three different and yet strictly interwoven issues:

I. The role of the Soviet bloc countries in the Middle East and the importance of its collapse for the region.

II. Russia and its former Eastern European allies, and the Middle East-the burden of the past and the search for new prospects in the region.

III. The Middle Eastern policies of Yeltsin's Russia - its basic features and directions.

At the very end of this essay, I would like to take a look at Eastern European-Middle Eastern relations from the general historical and geopolitical points of view and to indicate some repeated patterns of the mutual relations between various parts of both regions which, despite all their great differences and frequent mutual hostilities, also seem to have quite a few similarities in their cultures and political history.

THE ROLE OF THE SOVIET BLOC COUNTRIES IN THE MIDDLE EAST AND THE IMPORTANCE OF ITS COLLAPSE FOR THE REGION

The collapse of the Soviet bloc might be seen as one of the greatest blows to the interests and aspirations of all Third World countries. The collapse first of all caused the disappearance of the bipolar international structures which, in spite of all their inherent risks and inadequacies, nevertheless secured a global balance of power and provided smaller and/or weaker states with a freedom to maneuver and the opportunity to defend their own interests. The more radical regimes in the developing countries have now lost their mighty protector and source of military and economic aid and assistance. In the new situation nothing now seems to be able to restrain the power of the only remaining superpower, the U.S.A. and the economic forces of the global market and the international financial institutions which are supported by it.

Because of the special geographical proximity and well established historical links between Eastern Europe and the Middle East, the impact of the changes was particularly important and noticeable in the Middle Eastern region at large from Noah Africa to the Transcaucasus and Central Asia. It is useful to be reminded here that the southern tier of the former Soviet bloc countries such as Bulgaria, Romania, Moldavia and even parts of Hungary and Ukraine had for centuries been part of the Ottoman Empire, just as the Arab World had been. The historical Ottoman, and at least the partly Muslim background of countries such as Yugoslavia and Albania which were not Soviet allies but still socialist and anti-Western, was even stronger. The northern tier of the former Soviet bloc countries such as Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and the G.D.R. had far fewer historical connections with the Middle East, but as a part of the socialist camp did not deviate greatly in their policies from those of the other members and basically followed the Soviet leadership without any challenge. …

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