Issue No. 227 - June 19, 2001
Contents:

1. Russia: PUTIN GETS TAKES THE CIS INTO HAND
           By Arkady Dubnov

2. Belarus: THE CANDIDATES GET ON THEIR MARKS
          By Paulyuk Bykowski

3. Estonia: WILL COMMUNISM BE CONDEMNED LIKE NAZISM WAS?
         By Valeri Kalabugin
 
4. Special addition: NEW AT TOL
 
 


Russia: PUTIN GETS TAKES THE CIS INTO HAND
    By Arkady Dubnov
  At the beginning of president Vladimir Putin's second year in
office (the anniversary of his inauguration was May 7), notable
changes took place on the post-Soviet landscape.  The president of
Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, paid an official visit to Moscow that
was marked with the highest state ceremony, to emphasize the high
level of relations between Moscow and Tashkent.
This is a crucial point because Uzbekistan is not now one of
Russia's closest allies.  It is not a member of the CIS Collective
Security System (CSS-Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan,
Russia and Tajikistan) or the Customs Union, made up of the same
states, except Armenia, which became part of the Eurasian Economic
Community (EurAsEC) in May.  A paradoxical situation has arisen
where the level of personal trust between Putin and Karimov is
substantially higher than between Putin and the presidents of the
Central Asians states that belong to the CSS and EurAsEC, i.e.,
Nursultan Nazarbaev of Kazakhstan, Askarev of Kyrgyzstan and
Emomali Rakhmonov of Tajikistan.  Putin sees Karimov as a
similar type of politician-a pragmatist who plays by well-defined
and fairly predictable rules.  This has resulted in firm and reliable
relations between Moscow and Tashkent, even though the
Uzbekistani leader has stated categorically that there  will never
be a permanent Russian military presence in his country.
During the last visit Karimov did admit, however, that Russia
"may have its own interests in Central Asia," which he "hailed."
    That was seen as a serious shift in position by Tashkent and
as an indication that Tashkent is counting on Russian technical
and military cooperation.  The Uzbekistani army, outfitted with all
Soviet or Russian equipment, is in need of modernization, especially
since the army is on constant alert in expectation of further
incursions by Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) rebels.  The
IMU  have made several armed incursions from Tajikistan into
Kyrgyzstan  and Uzbekistan in the last two years.
    On May 25, three weeks after Karimov's visit to Moscow, a
summit meeting of CSS member states took place in Yerevan, the
capital of Armenia.  At the meeting the Collective Fast Reaction
Forces (CFRF) in Central Asia were set up.  Four countries -
Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan - are each to
contribute a battalion that will have its permanent base on the
territory of its own country. The CFRF will be made up of 1600
troops altogether.  These battalions are to form a single military
strike force in the event that the national security of one of the
countries is endangered and the country asks its allies for military
assistance.  The headquarters of the CFRF is to be in Bishkek, the
capital of Kyrgyzstan, and it will be small, with about ten officers
from the four countries combined.  Russia will be represented in
the CFRF by a unit of its 201st Division, which is stationed in
Tajikistan.  Moscow is taking pains to emphasize that
Russia is not enlarging its military presence in the region, but
rather responding to the needs of its allies who may request
military assistance.
    In principle, the truth is something like that.  In Moscow, they
will be very careful with the possibility of military actions beyond
Russia's borders.  But the geopolitical aspect is also very
important.  The Kremlin can regain influence in one of its
traditional zones of interest and at the request of its partners,
not at its own initiative.  That is one of the payoffs of the
pragmatic style of Putin's leadership that would have been highly
unlikely under Yeltsin.
    Military experts are skeptical of the real chances of the CFRF
deflecting an Islamic threat.  There are many reasons for this
negative assessment, but three of them stand out.
    The first reason is the extremely low levels of trust between
the allies, such as between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan or
Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.  Kyrgyzstani officials publicly accuse
Tajikistan of being unable to take control of its mountainous
regions, where the Islamic rebel bases are located and from which
they commit their aggressions.
    Second, a key country in the region, Uzbekistan, is not taking
part in the CFRF.  Tashkent withdrew from the CSS two years ago,
disgruntled with its inability to regulate conflicts on the territory of the
CIS.  Unless they can coordinate their efforts with Uzbekistan, the
chief target of Islamic attacks, the CFRF will not be able to react
effectively.
    The third reason is the social situation inside Kyrgyzstan and
Uzbekistan, where the IMU leaders' rallying cry, "Islamic
justice," is hugely popular.  The populace of those countries is
poor, the authorities are corrupt, unemployment is widespread, and
devout Muslims are persecuted.  All of these conditions make for
internal opposition to the government, against which the CFRF is
probably powerless.
    A week after the summit in Yerevan, the "big" CIS summit was
held in Minsk, the capital of Belarus.  The presidents of 11 of the
CIS countries took part.  Only Saparmurat Niyazov, president of
neutral Turkmenistan, was absent.  He made it clear that the
agenda of the summit did not concern his country.  The most
meaningful problem addressed in Minsk was military-the final
details of the establishment of the CIS Antiterrorist Center (ATC).
In spite of the fact that the fundamental focus of the ATC is once
again the Islamic rebels in Central Asia (the headquarters of the
ATC, like those of the CFRF, will be in Bishkek), that danger does
not extend to Turkmenistan.  Niyazov, also known as Turkmenbashi,
"father of the Turkmens," is confident that he has his country
under absolute control.
    The foundation of the ATC, half the financing for which Russia
has committed to paying, also serves Moscow's interests.  The idea
behind the ATC is to facilitate closely coordinated activities
with the Russian Special Services and those of its allies.
Uzbekistan has shown interest in the ATC.
    On June 15, the fifth summit of the so-called "Shanghai Five"
took place in Shanghai.  The Five are Russia, China, Kazakhstan,
Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.  The group has a long history, having
emerged from border negotiations carried on in the mid-1980s
between China and the USSR.  After the disintegration of the USSR,
four new states appeared on the Chinese border.  These solved
their border issues in the 1990s, and the Shanghai Five was
transformed into a regional security system.  Pakistan has
expressed its desire to join the group.  However, the first
enlargement of the membership embraced Uzbekistan, which became a
cofounder along with the Five of the Shanghai Cooperation
Organization on June 15. The inclusion of Tashkent in the Shanghai
alliance is also in Moscow's interests.  They are counting on it
as a way to strengthen cooperative ties with its complicated
partner.

                          * * *

Belarus: THE CANDIDATES GET ON THEIR MARKS
     By Paulyuk Bykowski
   The House of Representatives has given the go ahead to the
presidential election campaigns.  This week is the beginning and
end of the application period for citizens' initiative groups to
file with the Central Elections Committee for candidates for
president of the Republic of Belarus.
    On June 7, the members of the House finally passed a
resolution to set the elections for September 9.  With 75 "aye"
votes, and 12 "nay," the resolution "On Scheduling the Election of
the President of the Republic of Belarus and on Organizational
Steps to Ensure Its Holding" was approved.  On June 8, it was
officially published and came into force, which means that presidential
campaigning can be considered officially started.
    In the election calendar, a lot depends on the day the
elections are set for, but that is not everything.  As in a
short-distance run, it is important not to miss the start because
it will never be possible to catch up after that.  This is an
issue in the formation of electoral commissions and
the registration of initiative groups, the first and most
important steps, for which only one week has been allotted.
    Already by 8:00 a.m. on June 8, workers' collectives had
gathered at various places to present representatives for
territorial electoral commissions.  In Zhodino, for example,
Vyacheslav Sivchik, deputy chairman of the Belarussian
People's Front (BPF) party told STINA that, an hour after the
newspapers with the official publication of the election
resolution hit the stands, representatives of the district BPF
council handed in the papers to send their candidate to the electoral
commission, only to find to their amazement that he was already
14th on the list.
    The formation of territorial commissions for the presidential
election should be completed by June 20.  The deadline to hand in
documents to the agencies in charge of forming those commissions is
"no later than three days before the deadline for the formation of
the corresponding commission."  It would seem that the date in
question was June 17 but, judging from local activities, it may be
earlier.  It is not impossible that the territorial commissions
can be formed by June 11-12-the requisite three days would have
passed.
    Sivchik remains optimistic, however.  The Inter-Party Center
to Place Representatives on Electoral Commissions, which unites 10
of the 18 registered parties and which Sivchik was instrumental
in founding, is prepared to advance candidates in all 160
territorial commissions.  Sivchik hopes that party representatives
will be able to participate in the counting of the votes.
    Deputy chairman of the Unified Civic Party, Alexander
Dobrovolsky, assesses the situation differently.  He told STINA,
"We will try and do all we can so that representatives of parties
and candidates' staffs sit on electoral commissions, but we have
little hope for that.  We will work with those citizens who are
placed on the electoral commissions."
    That issue is important not only because of vote counting, but
also for receiving opportunities to campaign.  On June 8,
consultations were held between the campaign staffs of "the five"
potential presidential candidates, who have coordinated efforts in
the petition drive.  When those politicians compared the petitions
assembled by their initiative groups, several of them were
surprised to find out that the same names appear on all of their
lists.  Voters can sign for all the presidential candidates if
they want to, but it looks a little feeble somehow.
    It is no easy matter to establish an initiative group.  To
register a citizen as a presidential candidate, his supporters
have to have experience in gathering signatures correctly, know
the voting legislation, and collect the signatures of no fewer than
100,000 voters between June 21 and July 20.   A good signature
collector will get between 20 and 30 people to sign in a day.  It
follows from those figures that most initiative groups will
consist of 2000 to 3000 members.
    The fall parliamentary elections showed that having a large
number of members on the initiative group can also be detrimental
to the candidate.  One of them may show up somewhere claiming,
for whatever reason, that he had no idea that he was in that group or
that he was forced to participate in it.  To prevent such
occurrences from happening again, almost all initiative groups ask
their members to make a written statement in the presence of
witnesses attesting to their desire to work in the group.
    Statements and petitions from initiative groups are to be
turned in to the Central Elections Commission no later than June
15.  There is an appeals procedure in place in case the commission
finds grounds to refuse to register an initiative group.  That is
good, of course, but here too the size of the initiative groups
may be a hindrance, because the appeal must be presented to the
court with the signatures of half the members of the group.  The
time limit of three days at every level of jurisdiction may lead
to the gathering of huge crowds of supporters of the person whose
initiative group was rejected. Law enforcement, in turn, could
then pin a charge of holding an unauthorized public meeting on
them.
    That is exactly what happened in Kazakhstan when a meeting,
held by the initiative group of former prime minister Akezhan
Kazhegeldin in the open air due to their inability to find
suitable indoor premises, was declared an
unauthorized meeting.  The candidate was then found guilty of
committing an administrative crime in connection with that
meeting, which disqualified him from registration under
Kazakhstani law.
    If all the above-mentioned obstacles are overcome or avoided,
it is still necessary to collect the prescribed number of
signatures and avoid accusations of early electioneering.  Then the
registration of the candidates runs from July 20 to August 9.  A
candidate has the right to begin campaigning the moment he is
registered.
    Officially, a candidate has the right only to use state funds
worth 2300 minimum wages (about $10,000) on campaign materials.
That is obviously inadequate to inform 7.5 million voters about
oneself.  All candidates will look for ways around that
limitation.  Violations of campaign finance rules, therefore, are
likely to be a common reason to cancel candidates' registration.
    Preliminary information indicates that between 13 and 15
candidates intend to run.  This week will show how many of them
succeed in registering their initiative groups, the first step on
the way to a September victory.

                          *  *  *

 
Estonia: WILL COMMUNISM BE CONDEMNED LIKE NAZISM WAS?
     By Valeri Kalabugin
     In the West Soviet repressive institutions and organizations
such as NKVD, NKGB and KGB (Russian analogues of Gestapo) are
mostly known from historical books. People in Central and East
Europe, however, remember those organisations from their own
experience during Soviet domination, a dark period in their
history.
    Thus it is easy to understand why, for the first time, a
document condemning communist crimes was proposed in the
parliament of an East European country formerly annexed by the
Soviet Union.
    The declaration "On Crimes Committed in Estonia by the
Communist Regime of the Soviet Union," moved on June 13 in the
Estonian parliament but was postponed because of a fierce dispute, has
a long history. The document itself is simple and short. Presented by the
Pro Patria Union, the leading party in the ruling coalition, it
declared as criminal the Soviet Communist regime and its
repressive institutions, accusing them of crimes against humanity
and war crimes committed on the territory of Estonia during the
Russian occupation. Organizations such as special tribunals
(troikas), destruction battalions and people's defence battalions
were also mentioned in the declaration.
    The declaration was timed to coincide with the anniversary of the first
mass deportation of Estonians to Siberia in cattle trains on June 16-17,
1940. It said that during the occupation, the Soviet Union
destroyed civil society and its institutions, committed war
crimes and crimes against humanity, and carried out genocide
aiming to exterminate the Estonian nation. The document stops
short of declaring communism, itself, as criminal, and it sounds rather
a condemnation of the no longer existing Soviet Union. Still, the
emphasis was put not on the country itself but on its communist
regime.
    The principal author of the declaration was Mart Nutt from the
Pro Patria Union. After completing university Nutt enlisted in the communist
party and remained its member for some years to be able to conduct
post-graduate research studies. When the policy of
glasnost (that is, freedom of speech) was introduced by Mikhail
Gorbachev in a desperate effort to reform the communist regime,
Nutt started to publically support centre-right views. In 1989,
he founded the association Res Publica, a non-party organisation
that did much to support the conservative part of the Estonian
political spectrum and to build up the Pro Patria Union.
    By 54 votes to 39, the Estonian parliament postponed the draft
for further amendments, with the next hearing to be held this
autumn.
    This move was just another step in a long row of attempts to
condemn communism as an inhuman ideology. All such efforts have
failed.
    The first attempt was made even before the Soviet regime fell.
On August 18, 1990, the Congress of Estonia and the Congress of
Latvia - 'dissident' representative bodies elected by citizens of
the then occupied countries - jointly issued "The Appeal to Peoples
Oppressed by Communist Terror." The document accused the Communist
Party of committing large-scale crimes against humanity. It
compared the Soviet totalitarian system to that of Nazi Germany,
the Communist Party of the USSR to the Nazi Party, and the Soviet
internal security police (KGB) to the Gestapo. The main element in the
appeal was the proposal to prosecute Communism in the courts by
holding an international court called "The Nuremberg 2."  In
December 1990, this appeal was endorsed by the anti-communist
Coordination Centre 'Warsaw 90' and signed by 16 organizations who
represented Bulgaria, Crimean Tatars, Estonia, Kazakhstan, Latvia,
Lithuania, Moldova, Poland, Romania and Ukraine.
    This appeal, however, remained largely ignored. At the time,
western democracies were concentrated on supporting Gorbachev. A year
later, the world changed in a flash. In the turmoil following the collapse
 of the USSR, the fall of the Berlin wall and the resulting rapid political
changes on a global scale, anti-communist initiatives fell into oblivion.
They were not forgotten, however, in the countries of East and Central
Europe, who suffered most under the communist terror.
    Time and again, the idea of holding a "Nuremberg 2" emerges at
minor international conferences, meetings, and consultations. At
the official level it tends to be ignored and its proponents are
treated like undisciplined children. Little is spoken about the
victims of communism. An example: at the same time when the
Estonian parliament discussed the declaration "On Crimes Committed
in Estonia by the Communist Regime of the Soviet Union," a
propagandist exhibition was arranged in the Estonian capital by
the Chinese embassy. It showed photos of joyful Tibetans enjoying
"happy life" after the occupation and "voluntary" annexation of
Tibet in 1951 by communist China.
    Why such a lack of harmony between morality and political
correctness when it comes to the crimes of communism, unlike those
of Nazism?  Francoise Thom, a French sovietologist who predicted
the fall of the Soviet empire, suggested an explanation. Three
years ago, in a speech at the conference on the anniversary of the
Estonian National Independence Party, she said:
    "The [...] egalitarian passion explains why the crimes of the
communist are still viewed in the West with much more indulgence.
It makes people find more excuses for those who exterminate
bourgeois and kulaks than for those who annihilated so-called
inferior races. [...] In that contempt of natural justice lies the
amazing immunity enjoyed by communism. President Mitterrand has
interpreted the East European revolutions of 1989 as a
continuation of the French revolution, emphasising the egalitarian
aspect of the East European upheaval and refusing to see that
Soviet-dominated peoples had also risen against socialism."
    Nevertheless, attempts to condemn the communist ideology -
whose victims outnumber those of the Nazi Holocaust - still
continue. Ultimately, political correctness as well as all other
sort of double standards and hypocrisy cannot win.

                     *  *  *
 

 Special addition: NEW AT TOL                 June 18, 2001
    --------------------------------------------------------------------
    --- WEEK IN REVIEW ---
    Kostov Versus the King
    Former Bulgarian king on the verge of winning back his people,
minus the monarchy.
    by Konstantin Vulkov
    http://www.tol.cz/week.html
 
    Grave Accusations
    Two Belarusian officials say the security forces used a death
squad for killing political opponents
    by Alex Znatkevich
    http://www.tol.cz/week.html

    Enlargement Concerns
    In the candidate countries, reaction to the Irish "no" vote
were mixed: frustration at the potential delay but encouragement
that small nations still have a voice.
    by TOL correspondents
    http://www.tol.cz/week.html

    Unearthing The Recent Past
    Yugoslav authorities release a shocking video of a mass grave
exhumation near Belgrade.
    by Dragan Stojkovic
    http://www.tol.cz/week.html

    Protesting "Moldovanism"
    A proposal by the Communist government to revise history
sparks protests in Moldova.
    by Angela Sirbu
    http://www.tol.cz/week.html
 
    MORE WEEK IN REVIEW
    http://www.tol.cz/week.html
    Child Trafficking Threatens Romania's EU Accession

    Former UTO Commanders Take Hostages in Tajikistan

    Superpower Ice-Breaking in Sunny Slovenia

    Fighting Fires and Illegal Immigrants in Croatia

    Armenian Parliament Approves Bill on Amnesty
    .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
    --- TOL ANNOUNCEMENT ---
    Transitions Online has launched TOL Wire, a daily news service
publishing breaking news and in-depth analysis from selected
independent newsrooms across the former Soviet Union, Central and
Eastern Europe, and the Balkans. The objective is to give greater
regional and international exposure to this existing information
and expertise. TOL Wire is both a platform for and an access point
to locally generated news.
    Currently this is a pilot version of the TOL Wire:
    http://www.tol.cz/look/TOLnew/article.tpl?IdLanguage=1&IdPublication=4&NrIssue=22&NrSection=18&NrArticle=1183&ST_max=0
    A new design is coming soon and the Wire will constantly
strive to expand and bring readers a broader selection of local
media content partners.
    For further information on the TOL Wire and the process of
becoming a news partner, please contact Virginie Jouan, TOL Wire
Editor, at: jouanv@tol.cz
    .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
    --- OUR TAKE:  Enlargement For the People ---
    The EU must communicate the benefits of joining the union to
increasingly skeptical Central and Eastern Europeans.]
http://www.tol.cz/look/TOLnew/article.tpl?IdLanguage=1&IdPublication=4&NrIssue=22&NrSection=16&NrArticle=1186
    .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
    --- IN FOCUS ---
    Mapping Out Enlargement
    After the Gothenburg Summit, the big issues are still
promising to cause major rifts. The EU, though, is showing greater
flexibility--and that should benefit would-be members.
    Analysis by Dario Thuburn
    http://www.tol.cz/look/TOLnew/article.tpl?IdLanguage=1&IdPublication=4&NrIssue=22&NrSection=3&NrArticle=1169
    Nice, But Not Enough
    The Irish rejection of the Nice treaty is only the tip of the
iceberg.
    Opinion by Yordanka Nedyalkova
    http://www.tol.cz/look/TOLnew/article.tpl?IdLanguage=1&IdPublication=4&NrIssue=22&NrSection=3&NrArticle=1171
    .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
    ---FEATURES ---
    The Comeback King
    As the polls closed in Bulgaria, former king Simeon II is well
out in front of the pack.
    by Konstantin Vulkov
    http://www.tol.cz/look/TOLnew/article.tpl?IdLanguage=1&IdPublication=4&NrIssue=22&NrSection=2&NrArticle=1174
    Wading Through History
    After more than a decade of public debate, common ground
continues to be elusive for Czechs and Sudeten Germans.
    by Lubos Palata
    http://www.tol.cz/look/TOLnew/article.tpl?IdLanguage=1&IdPublication=4&NrIssue=22&NrSection=2&NrArticle=1155&ST1=body&ST_T1=letter&ST_max=1
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    .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
    --- COLUMNS ---
    Letter From Dagestan: An Easy Sell The problem with some of
Russia's regional governors is that they just won't go.
    by Nabi Abdullaev
    http://www.tol.cz/look/TOLnew/article.tpl?IdLanguage=1&IdPublication=4&NrIssue=22&NrSection=17&NrArticle=1159
    Rogues and Pawns: The Wrong Move
    Georgia should think carefully about taking an anti-Russian
stance.
    by Vicken Cheterian
    http://www.tol.cz/look/TOLnew/article.tpl?IdLanguage=1&IdPublication=4&NrIssue=22&NrSection=17&NrArticle=1158
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    - - - TOL PARTNERS - - -
    - The Network of Independent Journalists of Central and
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    .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
    --- OUR TAKE: Enlargement for the People ---
    The EU must communicate the benefits of joining the union to
increasingly skeptical Central and Eastern Europeans.

    The leaders of the European Union have finally made a clear
statement on when the first group of Central and Eastern European
countries might be able to join the exclusive club. Well,
relatively clear, as far as EU standards are concerned anyway.
After much haggling, the EU leaders agreed at their summit in the
Swedish city of Gothenburg that membership negotiations could be
concluded with any candidates that were ready by the end of next
year. They also said it was the "objective" of the EU to accept
new members in 2004--just in time for the elections to the
European Parliament.
    The move was roundly greeted in the candidate countries that
are striving to get membership in the EU as a marked improvement
over last year's agreement in Nice. Whereas in Nice the EU leaders
were saying they "hoped" new members could be added in 2004, in
Gothenburg they said it was an "objective."
    On the one hand, this is good news. Setting a firm date for
accession provides assurances to the transition-weary peoples of
Central and Eastern Europe that they have something to work
toward. It also gives their politicians something concrete to show
for the difficult work of reforming their economies and bringing
thousands of laws and regulations into line with EU norms and
standards.
    But there is also a concern here. The latest round of this
seemingly endless debate over entry dates threatens to obscure an
important issue related to the enlargement of the EU and to the
future of the union itself. It is an issue that crops up
repeatedly in the low voter turn-out at elections to the European
Parliament, and that reared its head again in the recent Irish
referendum on the EU Nice Treaty. The fact that many average
Europeans living in the western part of the continent feel
alienated from the EU, don't know much about it, or don't care
much for it has been thrashed about in countless articles,
academic papers, and books.
    Seen from the vantage point of Brussels (or Nice or
Gothenburg), the populations of the EU countries can be a difficult
lot to handle. Sure, many of them are willing to say the EU is a
"good thing" in opinion polls. But they don't much care to vote in
European Parliamentary elections, they're not exactly overjoyed at
plans to expand the EU, and they can't be trusted in referendums.
One EU official was said to have noted in Gothenburg that putting
the Nice treaty to a referendum, as the Irish did, was like
"playing Russian roulette." It sometimes seems as if the people of
the EU states don't trust their EU representatives, and the EU
representatives don't trust their people.
    If this is so in Western Europe, where the EU has had years
and even decades to gain the trust of its people, what can one
expect in Eastern Europe? Certainly, it is true that for many
years after the collapse of the communist experiment in the former
Soviet bloc, most people in the region were more than willing to
place their full trust in the EU project.
    But years have gone by, and much water has flowed under the
bridge. Many people in the former communist camp of Europe have
grown restless. While the majorities are still in favor of joining
the EU, those majorities are being chipped away in many of the
countries in the region. Moreover, whether they support it or
not,  many people in the region still view the EU as some kind of
distant project over which they have little control.
    Meanwhile, in their push to get a firm date for accession and
to ram the necessary legislation through their parliaments, the
leaders of Eastern Europe have not managed to jump-start a serious
public discussion about the merits and potential downfalls of
joining the EU. Too much attention is focused on lobbying Brussels
and racing against their neighbors than informing the public. It is
almost as if both the EU and the leaders of these countries are
taking the support of the public for granted. That can be
dangerous, as the recent referendum in Ireland showed.
    Meanwhile, Euro-skeptics, Euro-realists, and Euro-negators of
all kinds--while still relatively marginal in most of Eastern
Europe--are starting to get increasingly bold in the region. The
response to such critics has been: "Yes, the EU has many flaws,
but we have no choice."
    While few would deny that the EU has flaws, surely there are
better arguments for joining than simply saying there are no
alternatives. The EU can offer its prospective new members greater
access to a huge market (even if they have to wait for a bit in
some cases), stronger protection for workers under the EU social
charter and legal system, more investment, and better
environmental standards. Even the fact alone of accepting EU
standards will have the effect of improving the legal system in
these countries--whether they end up joining the club or not. But
instead of emphasizing these benefits, leaders in Eastern Europe
tend to portray the race to "close chapters" in negotiations with
the EU as a chore or an irritating obstacle along the way toward
the eagerly awaited but vaguely defined membership.
    Both the EU and the Eastern European governments should open a
real discussion on the EU in the candidate countries. They should
not be afraid to enter a debate about the more controversial
issues related to EU expansion, such as the various "transition"
periods and the supposed loss of sovereignty involved in joining
the club.
    The EU's failure to communicate with the average citizens of
its own member-states has too often reduced the public debate in
those countries to one based on provincialism, protectionism, and
fear. In Eastern Europe the EU should not make the same mistake
twice.
    .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
    -- Transitions Online - Intelligent Eastern Europe
    Copyright: Transitions Online 2001
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