From Sarajevo to Sarajevo

Charles Gati. Foreign Affairs. Volume 71, Issue 4. Fall 1992.

From Gdansk on the Baltic to Dubrovnik on the Adriatic, from Prague in the heart of the old continent to Sofia near Europe’s eastern periphery, freedom has come to east-central Europe: freedom of assembly, freedom of the press and freedom of religion. Throughout the region elected governments are in place.

Unfortunately, if understandably, what attracts more attention is the ugly underside of the transition to democracy: war, political fragmentation and economic despair. Instead of dialogue and debate, there is demagoguery. Instead of consensus, there is contention and confrontation. Instead of new governments adopting a forgive-but-do-not-forget policy toward the communist past in order to deal with the tasks ahead, mysterious sources leak politically inspired, doctored lists of former agents, informers and collaborators. Especially in countries where the communist regimes were relatively mild, as in Poland and in Hungary, there are even signs of nostalgia now for the authoritarian order of recent years.

The main questions remain as they have been since 1989: Will the fragile democracies of east-central Europe take hold and last? Will they become stable enough to join the west European political and economic order? The war tearing Yugoslavia apart now overshadows these questions and exacerbates the problems of transition to democracy. The related but more pressing questions today are the war’s international repercussions and implications: Does it portend the beginning of the Balkanization of Europe, east and possibly west? If so, do American and west European interests call for more timely and active Western engagement aimed not only at preventing the proliferation of small wars but moderating the region’s growing instability as well?

The horrors of Sarajevo 1992 bear scant resemblance to the events that followed Sarajevo 1914, but the collapse of communism has rekindled ancient political feuds as antagonistic and passionate as ever. They spring from the suddenly freed stresses and strains of the communist era itself, from the memory of destruction and dislocations during and after World War II and from real and perceived injustices imposed by the post-World War I territorial settlements. Countering if not canceling the region’s democratic impulse, these passions—the enduring historical legacy of the twentieth century—delimit the pace and define the substance of postcommunist transformation.

II

Mainly because of the powerful lasting impact of communist political culture, the road to democracy in east-central Europe is paved not only with bumps but with long detours that could lead to dead ends. Making it so are unrealistically high popular expectations of prosperity and, in general, the widespread identification of democracy with economic well-being. Few people in the area understand, and even fewer accept, the proposition that democracy is but a means to electoral choice; that democracies, unlike communist systems, base their claim to legitimacy more on respect for proper constitutional procedures than on economic performance.

For those raised in a communist political culture the distinction between delivering the goods and upholding the sanctity of the process is often lost if not altogether meaningless. Thus if they blame democracy and not only their current governments for economic pain, the Weimar syndrome may recur, meaning that people will turn from freedom altogether and embrace authoritarian rule, transforming their disillusionment with performance into a rejection of democracy itself. Another possibility—that which is happening in Poland already—is a recurrence of the Italian way, meaning that people will continue to opt for democracy but will produce constantly changing, unstable governments and thus experience protracted political crises. The most likely result, however, is somewhere between the Weimar and Italian models: the proliferation of semi-authoritarian regimes masquerading in democratic disguise (as in Romania today).

Among those who may fish in troubled waters in the years ahead will be former communist party members. In countries where they present themselves as social democrats, as many of them have become, they are now quiescent, even accommodating—but numerous. About a quarter of the region’s present adult population belonged to a communist party at some time since 1945. The early recruits may have joined out of idealism; those who followed them were often opportunists in search of power and privilege. Today former party members, believers and opportunists alike, are suspect. Few have lost their jobs but many expect to do so, assuming that in the present political climate their careers will soon come to an end. Only those with marketable skills in the private sector get ahead, earning more money than ever before but missing the status and prestige conferred on members of the old political and economic elite.

Except for Serbia, Croatia, Romania and Slovakia, where communists parading as nationalists are in power, former party members everywhere else hold mid-level positions in the press and in the state bureaucracies, including the potentially critical ministries of defense and internal affairs. These officials and professionals constitute a large section of the region’s frustrated, disaffected and often disoriented middle class. They cast a long shadow over the processes of democratic transformation, not because of what they are presently doing but because it is unclear what they could or would do in a moment of systemic crisis born of major domestic confrontations, intra-regional conflicts or outbursts of large-scale violence in the former Soviet Union.

The communist past also reveals itself in the intemperate personal attacks voiced in the region’s legislatures and published in the press. Those who make the charges are not veteran anticommunist democrats of long standing, nor—with some exceptions—are leading communist officials the usual targets. Instead the most preposterous accusations and nasty insinuations are being advanced by populist demagogues of questionable background who were not known for their oppositional political views or activities during the communist era. Compensating for their acquiescence in the old order, these McCarthyites of east-central Europe are presently ransacking their current political rivals’ past in search of evidence of collaboration with the communists.

Thus Lech Walesa, the heart and soul of the Solidarity movement that toppled the Polish communist regime, has been publicly accused of ties to the old secret police and then promptly disavowed even by his fellow rebels at the labor union’s last congress. Thus Vaclav Havel, hero of Czechoslovakia’s “velvet revolution,” has been the subject of persistent rumors about his past. The prevailing atmosphere of recklessness has left leaders of the pre-1989 democratic opposition disheartened and disgusted; some have withdrawn from the political arena, others have failed to get reelected. As always the revolution is devouring its children.

The lies and insinuations that have surfaced may resemble charges made during heated, hard-fought election campaigns in many Western countries. The difference is that in east-central Europe practically everyone but the very young is politically scarred and thus vulnerable; few have impeccable credentials. Could it not be said that the chief accountant of a much-hated collective farm, who performed his job conscientiously, “supported” communism? Did not the museum director, who accepted a state award for his devoted service from a communist minister of culture, “serve” the system? What about the scholar who reported to the so-called international department of the academy of science on his foreign trips, and thus kept the police informed, in order to assure future professional association with Western colleagues—did he not “aid and abet” the regime and compromise his integrity?

The fact is that, Poland aside, no more than a few hundred people in all of east-central Europe actively confronted tyranny in the years prior to 1989. Those staying on the sideline may have been apathetic, fatalistic, cautious, timid, calculating or fearful, but for the most part they were decent. In a memorable passage, the Polish writer Kazimierz Brandys summed up the chilling dilemma faced by those unfortunate enough to have lived under communism: “Two intellectuals—a scientist and a film director—were once asked to sign a protest,” Brandys relates. “One refused: ‘I can’t. I have a son.’ The other one unscrewed the cap of his pen: ‘I have to sign, because I have a son’.” Havel explained the consequences this way: “We have all become used to the totalitarian system…. None of us is just a victim; we are all responsible for it.”

As the psychological legacy of communism is thus an environment contaminated with guilt and suspicion, and as the political arena is already overcharged with ambition, the sine qua non of democracy—tolerance—is all but absent. This is why the region’s legislatures should adopt a new approach, forgive-but-do-not-forget, which would heal old wounds and thereby ease the problems of transition. For the same reason the populist guardians of probity should overcome the Manichean political mentality that communism has bequeathed—a mentality they profess to spurn but in practice, ironically, exhibit—and start treating their rivals as opponents rather than as enemies.

III

Obstructing the processes of transition in more tangible ways are the consequences of World War II and especially World War I. Yugoslavia’s civil war is the obvious case in point; but the painful, if so far peaceful, separation of Czechs and Slovaks reminds us that the Yugoslav experience is hardly unique. While international borders have not changed, there is growing interest in revising them so that they correspond more closely to ethnic and linguistic characteristics. Romania has already proposed a “treaty of fraternity and integration” with Moldova, now a war-torn sovereign republic with a Romanian-speaking majority, which turned the offer down. Albanians dream of Greater Albania of the World War II era that would include the now-Serbian province of Kosovo with a 90 percent Albanian and only 10 percent Serbian and Montenegrin population. Raising a seemingly subtle if potentially ominous point, the Hungarian prime minister has noted that the territories his country lost to Yugoslavia following the Paris peace conference of 1919-20 were ceded to a state that no longer exists.

The issues that divide stem from the collapse of four empires—Ottoman, Russian, German and Austro-Hungarian—at the end of World War I, and from subsequent territorial settlements that created the two new nation-states of Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, revised the boundaries of several others and restored Poland’s sovereignty. The principles that concerned the peacemakers, notably President Wilson, were ethnic justice for the peoples of east-central Europe and, to a lesser extent, the curtailment of German and Russian (Soviet) potential for war. Pressure for ethnic justice and self-determination followed a century of nationalism in Europe, accelerating during World War I especially in the Balkans. That the new nation-states, like the empires they would supplant, also included a number of antagonistic minorities, and that the new states would be too weak to resist either Germany or Russia later on, were seen as serious problems but were left unresolved. The main task for the peacemakers was to deal with the burning issues of the past and present rather than anticipate those that might arise in the future.

Thus they carved out Yugoslavia from the already independent states of Serbia and Montenegro; from the formerly Austro-Hungarian Slovenia, Istria, Dalmatia, Croatia-Slavonia, Vojvodina and Bosnia-Herzegovina; and from the once Ottoman-ruled Macedonia. Fragmented by regional, economic, cultural, linguistic and religious differences that prevailed both among and within these communities, peoples of the new kingdom of Yugoslavia—whose state was no more homogeneous than the empires it replaced—nevertheless welcomed the withdrawal of imperial powers.

As for Czechoslovakia, the other newcomer and a seemingly more viable entity, it was made up of the traditional Czech lands of Bohemia and Moravia that had been under Austrian control; of Slovakia and Ruthenia that had belonged to Hungary for a thousand years; and of a small section of Silesia with a largely Polish-speaking population. From the beginning Czechoslovakia suffered from divisive ethnic strife that would eventually contribute to its dismemberment. The tragic finale to Czech-German discord in the Sudetenland, an ethnically German area in Bohemia and Moravia, was the 1938 Munich accord that assigned the Sudetenland to Germany. The same year, assisted by German and Italian diplomacy, Hungary recovered some of the heavily Hungarian-populated chunks of southern Slovakia and southern Ruthenia. In March 1939, after what was left of Slovakia declared its independence, Czechoslovakia—the pride of the Paris peacemakers—was no more.

Poland, having been repeatedly partitioned by Prussia, Austria and Russia, reemerged as the largest state in east-central Europe in 1918, though some of its frontiers were set only in 1922. With two-thirds of its population Polish and Catholic, the country’s ethnic problems with the Ukrainian-Ruthenian, Jewish, German and Belorussian minorities were serious but not quite as troubling as its preoccupation with the security of its borders. Memories of sovereignty lost and gained throughout its thousand-year history, combined with fear of German and Russian revenge, made Poland both apprehensive and vulnerable. Its fears turned into a nightmare in 1939 when, experiencing still another partition (the fourth), the country was swallowed up by the invading armies of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia.

Unlike Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, which were created in Paris, and unlike Poland whose sovereign existence was restored in the aftermath of World War I, Romania benefited from the peace conference by having its prewar territory and population enlarged. More than doubling the area under its control, Greater Romania was pieced together by Hungary giving up Transylvania, Austria relinquishing Bukovina, Russia returning Bessarabia (part of which now belongs to Moldova) and Bulgaria ceding southern Dobruja. With about two-thirds of its population composed of ethnic Romanians, the country’s integration seemed a more promising prospect, and a somewhat less complex task, than that of ethnically fragmented Yugoslavia. However, persistent Hungarian complaints about Romanian assimilationist pressures against the significant Hungarian minority in Transylvania and strong Romanian rejoinders about Hungarian interference in Romania’s internal affairs circumvented the goal of integration from the beginning. In 1940, supported by Germany and Italy, Hungary recovered and then held during the war a large part of Transylvania, which was then returned to Romania in 1945. Traditional mistrust and antagonism between the two countries have yet to subside.

The beneficiaries—Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Romania—had little reason to celebrate; their triumph, such as it was, was bittersweet. Throughout the interwar period their security was precarious, their internal peace shaky. While Austria, ready to attach itself to Germany, rather graciously adjusted to the loss of empire, Hungary and to a lesser extent Bulgaria pressed hard for a major revision of the Paris peace treaties.

Hungary justified its irredentism by claiming losses that were indeed excessive, not only in absolute terms but also compared to those of World War I’s main culprit, Germany. According to Western rather than Hungarian calculations (as the latter included the loss of Croatia-Slavonia as well), Hungary was left with only one-third of its former territory and two-fifths of its population, becoming a rump state smaller than the territories it ceded to Romania alone. More than half of the 3.5 million ethnic Hungarians who were separated from their homeland lived in areas contiguous to Hungary. By comparison Bulgaria’s losses were modest—less than ten percent of its prewar territory—but its lack of access to the Aegean Sea and the burden of heavy reparations produced considerable economic hardship and a stormy political climate. Incensed especially by the controversial transfer of part of Macedonia to Yugoslavia, various irredentist groups and parties succeeded in making that issue dominate political life in interwar Bulgaria.

In the West the multitude of claims, counterclaims, arguments and rebuttals was received with indifference bordering on contempt. Observations that these weak and small states were but inviting targets for German and Russian penetration were rather lightly dismissed; and proposals for a confederation or a federation of east-central European countries to temper intra-regional conflicts gained no Western sponsor. In 1920 the British historian E. H. Carr expressed the unspoken consensus when he cautioned a group of Western ambassadors “not to take the new nations of Europe too seriously” because their affairs “belong to the sphere of farce.”

Now, with more than 20,000 people dead in the former Yugoslavia, and with over two million people homeless, the farce that never was must be seen as the tragedy it has always been. Indeed, with the old hatreds and ancient feuds so much in evidence, it seems as if little of significance has changed. The worlds of Sarajevo 1992 and Sarajevo 1914 suffer from the same disease.

One wonders who is unfortunate enough to be next in line on Serbia’s list of victims: the Albanians of Kosovo or the Hungarians of Vojvodina? How much additional territory will satisfy Croatia? Further north, can Czechs and Slovaks conclude their divorce without a fight? Unrestrained by Prague, will the fervently nationalist Slovaks ever learn to live in peace with their large Hungarian minority? Sad to say, the harrowing ethnic problems the past has bequeathed to the region’s fragile democracies are as intractable as they may be destructive in their consequences for European stability.

IV

Further aggravating the problems of transition are at least three economic trends and circumstances that history has passed on to the countries of east-central Europe.

First is the region’s relative developmental backwardness, especially of its southeastern parts. These areas have almost always been on Europe’s economic periphery, their condition altered but a few times under high-minded political leadership. In the 1880s and 1890s, for example, several countries of the Austro-Hungarian empire experienced a long period—a golden age—of rapid industrialization, urbanization and modernization that brought the region’s transportation and communications facilities, as well as its literacy rates and institutions of higher education, within striking distance of west European standards.

Because of irredentist fervor and the rise of fascism, combined with the consequences of the Great Depression, that hopeful trend was reversed during the interwar period. The political and economic environment generated by the region’s authoritarian or semi-authoritarian regimes was inhospitable to business and discriminatory against most foreign investors. Once again east-central Europe found itself on the periphery—but once again there was an exception. Thanks to Czechoslovakia’s democratic leadership, Bohemia and Moravia were able to defy the prevailing trend of economic decline. As late as the mid-1930s, in the shadow of Nazi Germany, they managed to keep pace with neighboring Austria and Germany.

While being stuck in Europe’s economic periphery was thus almost always a fact of life and a problem, it was never so widely recognized and so acutely felt as it is today. Tens of millions of people can now watch Western television and millions travel abroad, seeing for the first time the contrast between Western prosperity and Eastern backwardness and wondering about the discrepancy. Without denying the heavy legacy of over four decades of communist economics, they ask why the region’s economic decline has accelerated, and the gap between East and West widened, following the collapse of the communist regimes. Could it be that the new regimes they have put in power, the Czech lands excepted, are not supportive enough of private enterprise? While the recent experience of having observed Western achievements at first hand does not change the fact of economic backwardness, it may yet induce pressure for a more liberal political order that would help move the region up and away from the periphery.

The second economic circumstance—the combined consequence of fascism in the interwar years, World War II and the communist era—is the weakness of the region’s professional and entrepreneurial middle classes, which used to include large numbers of Jews and ethnic Germans. During the golden era of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries these entrepreneurs played an active and indeed critical role in bringing countries like Poland and Hungary closer to west European norms. Jews, for example, were allowed to advance and excel in business, finance, medicine, journalism and the emerging social sciences at that time.

They are not there to play that role anymore. Tens of thousands of educated or well-to-do Jews left for the West in the 1930s, with millions left behind to perish in the Holocaust. After World War II all ethnic Germans, including gifted businessmen, agricultural specialists and farmers, were accused of collaboration with the Nazis and expelled from their homelands in Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. Finally, escaping from communism, most of the Jews of east-central Europe who survived the Holocaust have since moved to the West or settled in Israel.

There is now a pressing need for a new entrepreneurial class. Western-sponsored business schools can and to some extent already do compensate for the lag. Judging by the past, however, only a calm political environment free of ethnic and religious discrimination would prompt talented people, whether they belong to a minority group or not, to stay in their homelands (rather than emigrate) and provide professional leadership to the ongoing processes of transformation.

The third circumstance, of course, is the legacy of communist economics, which has instilled patterns and expectations altogether different from those present in market economies. The list of such patterns and expectations is endless. A simplistic summary of communist economics is that the state decides everything: which factory to build and what it will produce, who will run it and how many will work there and how much they will be paid; the state sets the price of whatever it has decided the factories will make. The people, in turn, are guaranteed a job that does not pay well, and thus they have no reason to work hard, and so forth. In the end the state is unhappy because socialism is “bankrupt”; but it takes comfort in the knowledge that it controls the (nonexistent) bankruptcy court.

This caricature of communist economics is meant to suggest not only the enormity but the uniqueness of the tasks ahead. Such radical institutional, as well as social and psychological, changes as are needed lack both precedents and guides. As many have noted there are no textbooks on what steps to take to get from a communist to a market economy—on how to convert one into the other. It might be easier to erect a market economy from scratch than to build one from shambles.

The conclusion is self-evident. The pervasive condition of backwardness, the absence of a strong entrepreneurial middle class and the economic ruin that communism has left behind present formidable obstacles to economic recovery and renewal. In the absence of a more tolerant political culture, chances for economic progress are poor; without economic progress, chances for the new democracies to take hold are equally poor.

Because east-central Europe had expected the United States to do far more to assist the transition, there is immense disappointment now, a feeling of blighted hope approaching a sense of betrayal.

The change is remarkable because for so long in times past America could do no wrong. After all, it was—and was seen to be—properly sympathetic to the Hungarian war for independence in the middle of the nineteenth century, generous toward Polish immigrants seeking freedom and prosperity here at the turn of this century, supportive of ethnic justice in the Balkans after World War I, and resolute against fascism during World War II and against communism afterward. Moreover the people of east-central Europe always admired everything American, notably U.S. technological prowess. The region’s industrial workers heard that American factories were ultramodern, and peasants heard that farming was highly advanced. Scientists believed America was the world’s most inventive laboratory, the place where Nobel Prize winners made stunning discoveries. Products “Made in America,” from cars never driven to cigarettes occasionally smoked, were synonymous with high quality.

During the early phase of the Cold War especially, these views and sentiments were reinforced by America’s anticommunist stance. Which country sought the liberation of east-central Europe from Moscow’s oppressive tyranny? Which country stood up to communist aggression in Berlin and Korea? Which country defended western Europe against a potential military onslaught, and which one financed Radio Free Europe to keep hope alive in the other Europe? For most people of east-central Europe the political equation was simple: as the communists were known to be bad, Americans must be good. Perhaps only after President Kennedy’s assassination did perceptions of the United States begin to reflect some familiarity with complexities.

Now, feeling abandoned, people are more critical, their judgments less favorable about the United States. It is a measure of their current mood that populist demagogues can seek popular approbation by blaming America for some of the region’s historical misfortunes. Hinting at conspiracy revives old questions: Did President Roosevelt sell out east-central Europe to Stalin at the 1945 Yalta summit? Did Washington send word to Moscow during the 1956 Hungarian crisis saying it did not favor governments unfriendly to the Kremlin near Soviet borders? Did President Johnson convey a similar message to Moscow during the Prague Spring of 1968? But the worst may be the latest one: Is present U.S. indifference toward the region due to a Bush-Gorbachev secret pact at the 1989 Malta summit that confirmed Moscow’s sphere of influence—as decided in Yalta? From Yalta to Malta!

The conspiracy theories are false, and most people in east-central Europe know it. Yet these people have plenty of reason to feel misled. Early American rhetoric about liberation and the practice of prayers during Captive Nations Week aside, successive U.S. administrations missed few opportunities to challenge the communist dictatorships and press for change and human rights, declaring repeatedly that Europe must be “whole and free” again. The very aim of American foreign policy was to replace the “evil empire” with democratic states, on the correct assumption that democracy was the best guarantee for lasting peace. If the aim was only to create tension in the bloc and thus put Moscow on the defensive, as the communists used to charge, how could the people of east-central Europe know? Henry Kissinger put it well: “It is hardly to the credit of the West that after talking for a generation about freedom for eastern Europe, so little is done to vindicate it.”

What could the United States do, then, to meet some of the region’s expectations, fulfill some of its own moral obligations and mitigate some of the problems of transition?

Recognize that the expected proliferation of small wars and conflicts in Europe calls for new thinking about security. At issue now is the stability of Europe, East and West. It is a problem completely different from, but potentially as serious as, the Soviet threat to western Europe, because the peace of Europe is not divisible. In the former Yugoslavia, proliferation began with the almost peaceful separation of Slovenia from the rest of that country, continued with a civil war between Croats and Serbs and turned into a bloody nightmare in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Let us hope that the hostilities end there, but it is more likely that they will spread to other parts of the region. Then, as the flood of refugees seeks food and shelter abroad, various xenophobic and populist movements in western Europe are bound to gain new strength and new supporters. Might they even succeed in undermining that most promising trend of the postwar era that the United States has so vigorously and unselfishly promoted for over four decades—the trend toward European integration and unity? Surely the most important task for U.S. foreign policy in the 1990s is to prevent the Balkanization of Europe.

Clarify what the united states will do and what it cannot do. Clearly there are, and should be, limits to what the United States can do. Aside from stimulating private investment and granting modest sums for specific purposes, it should not assume responsibility for the region’s economic reconstruction. The United States should invest most of its attention in countries with some geopolitical significance and in those with the best prospect of carrying out a successful transition to democracy. This means the central European states that lie between Russia and Germany (Poland, Hungary and the Czech lands) and possibly Slovenia. The United States should press NATO and encourage the European Community to accept these countries as full members—as soon as possible, but certainly before the end of this decade. Both NATO, thus given a new lease on life, and the EC should offer a fixed date for membership, provided their conditions for such are fully met.

Mobilize private investment in east-central Europe. Contrary to the received wisdom of the moment, a vast assistance program on the pattern of the Marshall Plan would not do much good. Privatization has not yet gone far enough for the region’s economies to absorb large amounts of foreign funds. What is needed is small-scale private investment that is less likely to be wasted. If the White House and the Department of Commerce were to hold frequent consultations with American bankers and industrialists, and advise them of profitable business deals to be made and the U.S. national interest to be served in east-central Europe, it would make a difference. If politically stable the region is a potential gold mine for small-and medium-sized American companies. There is probably no other place in the world, for example, where so many educated people are unable to make good use of their skills and talents.

Pursue preventive diplomacy before the next conflict erupts. In 1991 Washington engaged in verbal acrobatics by stating its preference for Yugoslav “unity and democracy,” a statement the Serb leadership chose to interpret as a green light to make Croatia stay within a united Yugoslav federation. It took 11 long months and tens of thousands of deaths for the United States to mobilize the international community. Even then, for reasons having to do with American domestic politics, the issue was still presented as one of “humanitarian” concern rather than a threat to European stability. If the United States had done in mid-1991 as much as it is doing in mid-1992, the Serbians in Belgrade and in Bosnia-Herzegovina might well have been deterred from proceeding as they have.

Sadly, European and U.N. warnings have gone unheeded without American-backed initiatives. Even the opening of Sarajevo airport, however temporary, was due to U.S. warships making their presence felt in the Adriatic. The lesson for American diplomacy elsewhere in east-central Europe, then, is to clarify U. S. preferences early and state them without equivocation and without worrying about charges of interference in a country’s or the region’s internal affairs. While some politicians will undoubtedly resent such interference, most will welcome it. President Arpad Goncz of Hungary has publicly challenged the West in general and the United States in particular “to give frank answers to central Europe’s agonizing questions.”

VI

Celebrating the defeat of communism while underestimating the dangers ahead, America is turning inward. Europe lacks leadership. In the midst of domestic chaos Russia faces upheavals both at home and in the other successor states of the former Soviet Union. From the United Nations to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, international organizations are engaged in defining their new role after the Cold War. Given a recessionary economic environment, too, international circumstances favoring the rise of a democratic east-central Europe and the perdurability of a stable Europe are thus less auspicious than previously assumed. Sarajevo is back to haunt the last decade of the century, as it did the generation of 1914.

The key missing ingredient is domestic pressure in the United States for a more active engagement in the region’s future. Such pressure is absent because the issue is invariably, if mistakenly, identified in terms of new expenditures, and because American political intellectuals who shape public opinion have been so strangely silent. Where are the conservatives who used to speak out on behalf of the “satellite nations”? Where are the neoconservatives who tried to make the struggle against communism part of the liberal agenda? Where is the whole liberal community with its insistence on a pro-democratic foreign policy? With due respect to some notable exceptions, the silence of American political intellectuals is deafening. Yet, in the absence of an American-led international effort, postcommunist Europe may get no further than the gates of the promised land.