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Eastern Europe: Analysis From Washington: Enlarging Eastern Europe

  • Paul Goble

Washington, 22 May 1997 (RFE/RL) - Growing links between Poland and Ukraine are only the latest evidence of a trend that expands Eastern Europe, reduces the likelihood of conflicts among countries there, and increases the likelihood that these countries will gradually be absorbed into Western institutions.

In Kyiv on Wednesday, Polish President Aleksandr Kwasniewski and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma signed a joint declaration intended to overcome the often difficult past relationships of their two peoples and to lay the foundation for the development of closer economic, political and security ties.

The product of serious diplomatic efforts on both sides, this agreement is part of a series of agreements between Poland and other traditionally East European states, on the one hand, and the Baltic countries and former Soviet republics, on the other.

Among the most significant of these are the recent rapprochement between Poland and Lithuania and the upcoming agreement between Ukraine and Romania defining the border between them.

Speaking prior to the signing of the Polish-Ukrainian declaration, Kwasniewski said that he and his fellow leaders in the area "also want these relations to have an effect on the region and on Europe as a whole."

The Polish president's hopes are likely to be justified. Indeed, accords of precisely the kind he and Kuchma have just signed may come to play a larger role in the transformation of both Europe and international relations than even the NATO-Russia founding act that has attracted so much media attention in recent weeks.

There are three reasons for this.

First, agreements across what was the border between Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union have the effect of further reducing the importance of that line in the thinking of leaders on both sides of that line and in the calculations of leaders in countries further afield.

On the one hand, Ukrainian, Moldovan and Baltic leaders increasingly see themselves as part of Eastern Europe, thus expanding the boundaries of that concept. And on the other, both they and others increasingly view themselves in that way thus reducing the relevance of the boundaries of the former USSR for any current or future purpose regardless of what some Russian nationalists may say.

Second, agreements among these countries also reduce the possibility of new conflicts between countries and peoples that have frequently been at odds in the past. Poles and Ukrainians, for instance, have often been locked in conflict; their leaders have now pledged that they never will be again.

And such pledges, to the extent that they are in fact followed, not only integrate Eastern Europe as an entity in its own right but even more transform the meaning of that region for Europe as a whole and the rest of the world as well.

That is because for many people in Western Europe and even further afield, Eastern Europe has been almost a synonym for internal divisions and conflict -- except when it has been occupied or dominated by some outside power.

With accords like the one signed yesterday between Kwasniewski and Kuchma, East Europeans are demonstrating that such conceptions are wrong and that they are ready to take their place in a truly united Europe.

And third, the willingness and ability of countries such as Poland and Ukraine to cooperate sends a strong signal to NATO and the European Union that they are now able to engage in precisely the kind of integrative activities that lie at the basis of both these Western institutions. And as a result, they have become much stronger candidates for admission to these groups than they had been.

Indeed, the United States and many European countries have made such cooperation among the countries in this region a test and precondition for their inclusion in Western institutions. On occasion, Eastern Europeans have chafed at these requirements, but those leaders that have sought to meet them, as the Poles and Ukrainians now have, are likely to be the beneficiaries.