Accessibility links

Breaking News

World: Forum 2000 Looks At East-West Relations

Bronislaw Geremek Politicians and thinkers from around the world are meeting in Prague today to discuss pressing global issues. They are in the Czech capital at the invitation of former Czech President Vaclav Havel, who began the annual Forum 2000 meetings nine years ago. The idea is to bring together leaders and intellectuals -- in a relaxed setting -- to discuss potential solutions to some of the world's problems. This year's roster is diverse and includes former Polish Foreign Minister and Solidarity leader Bronislaw Geremek, French philosopher Andre Glucksmann, and former CIA Director James Woolsey. They spoke to RFE/RL about Europe's changing identity, the eastward spread of democracy, and Russia's role in the post-Soviet space.

Prague, 10 October 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Meeting in the heart of Europe, in a city that has frequently felt the tides of history wash over it, participants in this year's Forum 2000 agreed that the Continent finds itself at yet another historical crossroads.

The European Union recently expanded to take in much of Central and Eastern Europe. But instead of euphoria there is angst. Angst about the loss of jobs, immigration, identity. The Cold War has been over for more than 15 years, but instead of blossoming ties between Russia and the West, suspicion and mistrust has returned on both sides. What does the future hold?

To French political scientist Dominique Moisi, this year's rejection by French and Dutch voters of a draft European Constitution signals deep unease among voters about the pace of European integration. Coupled with worries about economic performance, especially in Western Europe, it has led to what one could call an existential crisis.

Europeans, especially Western Europeans, are unsure about how far Eastern Europe should extend. They are worried about the famed European social model, which seems to be collapsing. They are asking many questions and finding few answers.

"I think we are at a turning point after May 29 and the French "no" in referendum and June 1st, the Dutch "no." Europeans are asking themselves questions about their essence," Moisi says. "The 'Who Are We' question is now a very big one. And this question is reinforced by a sense of self-doubt about the performance of Europe."

Former Polish Foreign Minister and current European parliament member Bronislaw Geremek agrees. But he sees this European "crisis" as more psychological than reality-based.

"Europe is in a situation of angst. I would emphasize the collective psychology over the economy and politics," Geremek says. "The European economy is not doing badly. We have a kind of stagnation in the big European countries' economies. But I think this is a short-term problem."

Both say European politicians have so far done a poor job of explaining to voters where Europe is headed and why eastward enlargement will strengthen Europe's identity and economy -- not dilute it.

French philosopher Andre Glucksmann says semantics plays a role in the public's mistrust. Instead of "enlargement," he says Europe's leaders should speak of "reunification," of redressing a historical injustice. He believes that would make the whole process much clearer and more acceptable to average Western Europeans.

"If in 1946, Soviet troops had not occupied Poland, Czechoslovakia and other countries, Poland and Czechoslovakia would have been among the founding members of the European Union," Glucksmanns says. "So there is no 'enlargement.' There is simply a re-finding, a reunification."
French philosopher Glucksmann says that instead of "enlargement," Europe's leaders should speak of "reunification."

While Europeans -- East and West -- debate their identity and how to make the marriage work, relations with Russia also present a problem. And here, leading European intellectuals at the conference spoke from the same page as the former director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), James Woolsey. They harshly condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin's administration for its growing authoritarianism and attempts to block democratization in the region.

Woolsey puts it most succinctly:

"The great Russian people had two chances in the 19th century and two chances in the 20th century to have leaders that would move toward democracy," Woolsey says. "And it looks as if they've been betrayed each time. They had the Decembrists in 1815, they had the era under Aleksandr II -- when the serfs were freed -- they had the Menshevik revolution, which the Bolsheviks took over. And then they had the end of the Cold War and Yeltsin, which Putin has now taken over. So four times now they have seen a movement toward essentially dictatorship, betraying the Russian people. And I think it's a great shame."

Speaking in the same vein, Glucksmann praised the Russian nation and its great cultural tradition. But he put the blame on Soviet communism for destroying this legacy.

"If there had been no World War I, Russia would be the cultural capital of Europe. It had the best painters, the best scientists, the best cinematographers, the best novelists at the start of the 20th century," Glucksmann said.

Glucksmann, like Woolsey, condemned current Russian government policies in the strongest possible terms.

"I have spent the past 10 years of my life appealing to the West and Westerners, to the democrats, to exert pressure on Putin to make him stop the worst war that is currently devastating the planet. This is the war in Chechnya," Glucksmann said. "You know, it is not often that an army razes a city of 400,000 inhabitants, like Grozny. The last time this happened, for a European army -- and I think it was the last time for the world -- was in Warsaw, in 1944, which was razed to the ground by Hitler. And well, the Russian Army, in 2000, razed Grozny."

As for the so-called "colored" revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan, Woolsey said it was inevitable that there would be disappointments in their aftermath. But he said he believes the long-term prospects for democracy in the region are good. He assailed Russian accusations that Western intelligence services, using nongovernmental organizations, had engineered the uprisings.

"This is a typical kind of paranoid 'blame the outside world' approach that the Russian security services now are lapsing back into. We had a period of time in the early 90s, when we were working rather cooperatively with the Russian security services. But now, apparently, they've decided to try to blame the security services in the West for their own movement toward fascism. And it's a real shame. And it's unfortunately a historic pattern."

Geremek, for his part, called on Western governments to support NGOs, independent media, and especially students in Belarus -- through stipends and grants -- and to make it clear at every opportunity that "the community of democracies doesn't respect dictatorships."

See also:

Click here for RFE/RL interviews with Forum 2000 participants