Tallinn, 8 August 1997 (RFE/RL) - Ever since the European
Commission suggested including Estonia in the next round of European
Union expansion talks, many in the West have been asking questions
that reflect Soviet era categories rather than current realities.
Instead of asking whether the Republic of Estonia now meets EU
standards -- an entirely reasonable query and one easy to answer in
the affirmative -- some Western officials and analysts instead have
asked why Estonia was invited but not her Baltic neighbors Latvia and
Lithuania. Or they have asked how a "former Soviet republic" could
possibly be included in this process before some of the other
countries of Eastern Europe were taken in.
As so often is the case, the way such people pose these questions
says far more about them than any conceivable answer could about
Estonia. Such questions reflect a kind of conceptual inertia in which
terms developed during Soviet times continue to be employed today,
long after the Soviet Union disappeared from the face of the Earth.
More than that, they reflect an unwillingness to recognize that the
independent countries are becoming ever more dissimilar, and
these questions reflect unstated reluctance to encourage such
developments lest they anger Moscow or complicate Western analysis
Sometimes, asking the wrong question may in fact not matter all that
much. Indeed, in the case of the Estonia-EU discussions this may be
Latvia and Lithuania are currently working hard to meet EU
requirements and may be invited to start accession talks in the
not too distant future, thus ending this "Baltic Question."
But on other occasions, asking the wrong question because it is framed in
terms that are no longer relevant may have serious, even disastrous
consequences for the countries involved and for others as well.
For example, constant references to the Former Soviet Union or to
its derivative term, the Newly Independent States, not only blind
many to the actual situation on the ground in these countries, but
sends some very disturbing messages.
Repeated use of these terms implies that some in the West think about these countries only as a collectivity rather than as a set of individuals. This usage suggests
that some in the West now view these countries as less than fully
equal to other states around the world.
More than that, this conceptual confusion may have serious policy
consequences. Talking in these terms has the effect, undoubtedly
unintentional, of encouraging rather than restraining those in Moscow
who would like to see Moscow's influence across the region return to
its former scope. And this use undermines the ability of leaders in
many of these states to break out of the communist past which weighs
so heavily upon them
In short, if Western leaders and analysts continue to formulate
their questions in terms drawn from a past that no longer exists,
they may not only get the wrong answers but also contribute to the
emergence of a future very different from the one they and the
countries of this region now say they want.