Thursday, December 02, 2004

Bitter Lemons

Timothy Garton Ash in a "Guardian" column takes aim at the many Western Europeans who seem to be sullen about the prospect of a people-power revolution saving Ukraine. He cites a range of reactions that are "feeble, back-handed or downright hostile."

For 25 years, I have heard these same old arguments against supporting the democratic oppositions in eastern Europe. Those oppositions, we are told, threaten European "stability". Behind or beside them are nasty nationalists and/or the CIA. We must respect the legitimate security interests of Moscow (an argument originally used to justify the continued existence of the Berlin Wall). A ghastly Pandora's box will be opened by ....... (fill this space with: Poland's Solidarnosc, Charter 77, the Leipzig demonstrators - sorry, mob - in 1989, anti-Milosevic students in Belgrade, Georgian rose revolutionaries, or now Ukrainians).

He attempts to address the issue in terms of European in-house politics. But it's certainly telling that, of the "six questions to the Reluctant West European" that conclude the article, four are not so much about Ukraine or Europe, but about America.


3. Are you reluctant to support the orange movement just because the Americans do?

Put thus starkly, most people would say no. But some of the west European unease undoubtedly comes from the fact that American pro-democracy organisations have actively supported the Ukrainian opposition, and Washington does have a geostrategic agenda involving the expansion of Nato, military bases across central Asia etc. Yet the knee-jerk leftist or Euro-Gaullist reaction - "if the Americans are for it there must be something wrong with it" - is silly. Please consider the Ukrainian case on its own merits, not through an American or anti-American prism.

... and ...

5. Would you rather have George Bush or Vladimir Putin?

Preferably neither. Given the choice between Bush and Putin, I choose Marilyn Monroe. But it's incredible that so many west Europeans, including Chancellor Schröder of Germany, seem to prefer as their partner an ex-KGB officer currently reimposing authoritarian rule in Russia over a man who, for all his faults, has just been re-elected in a free and fair election in one of the world's great democracies.

The fact that a columnist has to take time out of his busy day to remind left-leaning Europeans about these basics is a sign of how far we've deteriorated.