WASHINGTON – U.S. policy has become less popular in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe,experts said Wednesday during a hearing about the situation before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
The main reason is that the U.S. is not as active and involved in the region as it used to be in the early 1990s during the collapse of the Soviet influence,said three experts on that region who were invited to testify during the hearing.
They said that,although the majority of governments of these countries are still loyal to the U.S.,Washington should pay more attention to the problems of local communities and begin to change its attitude if it wants to succeed in promoting long-term American interests.
They said the U.S. should work more intensively with the governments of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe – including Poland,the Czech Republic and Hungary – to help them solve their new problems,such as energy dependence on Russian oil and gas.
One of the experts,Charles Gati,senior adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University,referred to a recent BBC poll that shows the positive view of U.S. influence among Polish people dropped from 62 percent to 38 percent in the last year. He said it has recently caused problems for the Polish government when it agreed to have the U.S. missile defense on its territory and the Polish opposition and a part of civil society were against this program.
“In the long run,you can't play those games. These are democracies – Poland is a democracy – and the public will not accept a government decision that it does not favor,” Gati said in an interview.
Rep. Tom Lantos,D-Calif.,the committee chairman,said the government needs “to revitalize the trans-Atlantic alliance” to improve the image of U.S. politics in the region.
“Western European leaders and U.S. diplomats,working together,should remind the people of Central and Eastern Europe that they have never had it so good,that there is no need to latch onto divisive and dangerous rhetoric,” Lantos said.
Central and Eastern Europe includes 13 countries that had Communists regimes. They all were part of the Warsaw Pact that spurred the existence of NATO. After the collapse of the Soviet regimes in these countries,the U.S. became one of the main supporters of their economic and political development. Recently,with American political support,some of them joined NATO and the European Union.
Russia has tried to regain the political influence on the region that the Soviet Union once had,the experts said during the hearing. One of them,Zeyno Baran,a senior fellow and director of the Hudson Institute,said the Russian government uses gas and oil to make Central and Eastern Europe dependant on its policy.
Seven of the countries get about 90 percent of their oil from Russia,and five depend solely on Russia as a source of natural gas,Baran said.
She advised the U.S. government to be more involved in supporting these countries with alternative sources of oil and gas from Central Asia and the Caspian region.
“More high-ranking officials should work on these issues,” Baran said.
Another expert,Martin Sletzinger,a director of the East European program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars,said Russia's oil and gas aren't enough to preserve its influence in the long term. He said the U.S. can succeed in promoting its interests.
“The image of the United States has changed considerably,and it is not only because of Iraq,but because of many other factors. And it's the fault not only of this administration but of the previous one,too,” Sletzinger said.
He said for the countries of that part of Europe,the U.S. seems to be a “dressed up warrior of peace” that doesn't care about the particular positions of each of these communities.
“We should look into our society and government and try to understand what mistakes we make,” Sletzinger said.