German influence in Eastern Europe

OXFORD | | tschechische-republikslowakische-republik

OXFORD Germany played an important role in splitting Czechoslovakia and breaking up Yugoslavia in the Nineties. This is shown in a speech that was given by Miroslav Polreich, a former Czechoslovak OSCE-ambassador, in the year 2000 in Oxford. As Polreich explains, the German government also argued against a possible peaceful settlement of the then "ethnic" conflicts in Kosovo.

The European Union and German influence in Eastern Europe

By Dr. Miroslav Polreich

Thank you very much. I am glad to be here in this nice, historical city, especially among people with an economic and intellectual awareness, and people who are so active democratically.

Well you know, I have studied American foreign policy all of my life, but if there is one thing I do not understand, it is American foreign policy, because it's unpredictable. Being a Czech, and my grandfather was German - my name is Polreich, which indicates my German origins - and being from Europe, and I would say, not only from Eastern Europe, I have to follow German policy. I am not a good student of German policy, but I understand it very well.

Well, being from Czechoslovakia, and from the Czech Republic now, I give you a very short glimpse of the country. You know, Czechoslovakia was considered as a more Western type country, because we had democracy between the wars. You know, Pilsudzki Poland, Horthy Hungary, not to mention Germany, were the fascist regimes, all surrounding Czechoslovakia. Then came Munich [the notorious Munich agreement between Britain, France, Italy and Germany, in 1938, when the Sudeten territories were given to Germany]. So historically we were always content to belong to the West.

As you know the country has now split - into Slovakia and the Czech Republic - 5 million Slovaks and 10 million Czechs. In Slovakia there are 600,000 Hungarians in the southern part, and about 400,000 gypsies, which you should know about (many have sought asylum in the UK - ed). The split was very peaceful. It was not necessary to do it, because if there had been a referendum, everybody says that 70 percent of Slovaks would say "We want to stay in Czechoslovakia", and 70 of Czechs would say "We want to stay in Czechoslovakia". So why did they split? It's because of the power of the media, and much of which even at that time - I'm speaking about late 1992 - was already in the hands of Germans. In my country there is only one leading paper which could be described as independent. All the others are controlled by German interests, either by ownership, which is about 90%, or by the power of advertisement. Remember that newspapers live by advertisements and massive areas of our economy are controlled by foreign corporations. So, there were some articles saying that we should split otherwise there might be war - newspaper sales thrive on sensationalism! But at that time, the Czech Prime Minister Klaus, and the Slovak leadership negotiated in many meetings and they decided the country should divide. There was no crisis - Slovaks wanted to be free, have their own president, ok, they have it, and Czechs said, after all, well, Slovakia is a poor part of our country, we will be better off, anyway, so let them go, and be free. We cooperated, there's no problem, we are friendly.

I know Yugoslavia - we know that Serbs and Croats, they don't like each other, and so on. But human beings as such don't hate each other by nature, but nationality can be very easily misused by politicians. Let's say 20% of Croats and Serbs married each other. They didn't even think about what they were - that my wife or grandfather is Croat or Serb. They didn't care. But then they started to care, because it served a purpose. Those communist leaders, let’s say moderate communist leaders, because Yugoslavia was different from other eastern, Russian-controlled countries. So, they exploited national differences to incite hatred. You know my diplomatic career stopped when I was at the Security Council protesting the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, and one interesting point is that Yugoslavia was afraid that the Russians would continue and attack Yugoslavia as well. So, besides the federal army, they created local, national army units. And those units have been used recently to fight the federal army but those units had been established in order to resist the Russians in '68.

Well, then after the Russian invasion I was not able to travel, I was not able to do my job, I was unemployable because I was considered to be a traitor - my children understand what it means to be children of a traitor. But Czechoslovakia is now under a transition, economic transition, which means privatization. We Czechs - we don't have any money. So, privatization means that somebody else has to come from abroad to buy almost everything the State used to own. Well, our richest and closest neighbour is naturally Germany. So, our companies are owned by Germany, our media are owned by Germany, which almost seems to be the norm - but it is not what we thought a sovereign nation was going to be. Well, I will finish with the case of the Czech Republic.

There is today a new ideology. Our President Havel, who embraces this new ideology, has said "Well, we don't have to speak about nationhood, about nations, or sovereignty. That's the idea of the last century. Now we are in the modern world. We have the right of the individual, the right of the people as such. That has nothing to do with nationality." Now we in the Czech Republic have a social democratic government, which unlike communism should allow differences. But somehow, because social democrats are also in power in Germany and of course they all embrace internationalism, they said "Well, we have to follow the German line, this is the right way. Be close to the Germans. Well, no nation is important, no sovereignty is important, after all, we have to give up sovereignty partly to NATO, partly to the European Union. So what?"

But there was one thing new that was introduced, in all Eastern European countries - regionalism - which means the unimportance of the nation states. Prague or Warsaw are not important. I mentioned Warsaw, because now, for the Germans Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic - none are of importance. For them, there is one big problem - that's Poland. That's 42 million people. So it is through the ideology of regionalism, I think you will see it soon, that's the way we'll see the final division of Poland. I think it's the fifth division in history, because Warsaw power is not important. It is different regions, which are important - and that means that Polish nationhood has to be much easier to control. This is the situation as I see it in Eastern Europe. Already we see that those regions within nations want to have direct representation at the EU with less connection with their respective capitals.

There were very important changes in 1990. Well, practically it started in 1985, when Gorbachev came to power - the changes started in Moscow. If there had been no changes in Moscow, you could have had no changes in Eastern Europe. We tried, as Czechs in 1968. You know the result - occupation. But, then the Russians started to change. We can argue why, but anyway, there was perestroika, glasnost, and new thinking.

But what happened when the bi-polar world - communist East and capitalist West - disappeared? There was time for cooperation and trust in the whole Europe, in the whole world. You know, disarmament. The Soviet Union had more than 5 million men under arms. Now they have a little bit more than 1 million. And Americans closed their bases abroad, at home, so this was a huge disarmament, the greatest in history. Just consider the veto at the United Nations - in the Security Council. It was used for decades by both sides, mostly by the Russians but then in the 1990s - no veto. For several years, there was absolutely no veto in the Security Council. Everything was done by consensus. Americans used the veto in some minor matters but generally there was a situation of cooperation. There was a deal in the 1993 signing, in Oslo, of the treaty between Israel and the Palestinians. You know - both guys got the Nobel prize for that. But it reflects the atmosphere of the beginning of the '90s. There was a war in the Gulf, agreed by the United Nations, of a kind which had not been possible before- an action against a sovereign state. And there was so-called "preventative diplomacy". And, there was a transformation of NATO on the table, which means, especially from an American point of view, universal security. If you are not secure, I can't be secure. That's why Americans supported at the time the Partnership for Peace, which meant every European nation, including Russia participating with consultation, some military training, or working together. So, this was the European scene, at the beginning of the '90s. I was signing for it. At that time I was working in Vienna, in my post in the OSCE. But, what happened then?

The Germans came, with the theory of a security vacuum. In a bi-polar world, there had been two sides. Now they had disappeared, so which way would everything go? And in our press, it was published every day, that we were not secure. We were looking for a new enemy. Surprisingly, looking eastward again. "Russia is unpredictable. What are you going to do? 30 million Russians will move through Europe, because they live poorly and will want to move where there is wealth" and so on. If you opposed these theories, which I did, they tried to make fun of you, and you know there are more Slovaks in America as immigrants, than Russians. There are some Ukrainians in Canada. Only at Harvard does every other name end in 'ov.' But, in general there were no mass movements of Russians. So, there was just this German theory.

Then, another question, a major question - NATO was to expand eastwards. So, President Havel and President Walesa at the time, were for it. Madeleine Albright, who speaks Czech as well as I do, because she was born in Prague, and educated there and later in Belgrade too - they all started to support the expansion of NATO, which was a German idea although Americans were strongly against it. And I will give you the proof. This is from an American study, I think from Brown University, that's from Rhode Island, when they were evaluating NATO enlargement The study concluded that "President Havel, of the Czech Republic has even charged that the United States is again betraying the countries of east central Europe, much as Czechoslovakia was betrayed at Munich in '38, and at Yalta in '45." So, Americans were traitors because they didn't want enlargement. But then Polish nationalists, and some others pressed the American government to change their position. So NATO was enlarged. Then there is the much more important question - the case of Yugoslavia.

Well, if there were to be changes in the Balkans, or Yugoslavia should split, it had to be done peacefully by negotiations. Well, we negotiated over and over again. Americans surprisingly - let's remember those days - were supporting a unified Yugoslavia, in any case. You don't split the country, even if you fight. That meant the Serbs were not very willing to negotiate, because they had the support of their powerful ally, Milosevic's ally, the United States. At that time Yugoslavia had a president who was an American citizen and had just returned to his native Yugoslavia. Russia was not involved. So then came the Germans recognizing those two countries - Croatia and Slovenia. As in the 1930s the Vatican followed, and President Havel was the third. You know the relationship between the Czechs and Yugoslavs is a special relationship. Czechoslovakia was founded in 1918 by President Masaryk. President Masaryk had been travelling in the United States, fighting for the foundation of his country, but with a Serb passport in his pocket! Of course, he was also an Austro-Hungarian citizen at that time since Austria-Hungary was the imperial power up to 1918. We always had a very close relationship with Yugoslavia.

So any action against Yugoslavia was very unpopular in the Czech republic. At first the European Union had been against recognition of Croatia and Slovenia. Then there were the negotiations on the Maastricht Treaty just on the way, so the Germans agreed to among other things an opt out for the British from the Single European Currency if the other members states approved the breakup of Yugoslavia - which you did - so did the European Union. Then, in the American case, it was a little bit more complicated. The whole media was practically on the Croat side, or against Serbs, to be more exact. (Large sums of money had been transferred to New York and London to finance pro-Croat propaganda - ed) On the occasion of opening the Museum for the Holocaust in Washington, President Havel spoke. That was his first statement on the Yugoslav crisis, and the first place where he said "bomb". By chance, I was in Washington a week after, and just watching the television, there was an interview by President Clinton, and the question was, 'President Havel said here we should bomb Yugoslavia. What do you say to this?' And you know what Clinton said? I will quote - I remember it, because I was shocked. "Well, the situation is much more complicated, because we don't have only Bosnia-Herzegovina, we have Nagorno-Karabakh, and Northern Ireland", which is not very smart, I would say even it's pretty stupid, but he said that, which means that was the real position of the Americans at that time, not to take sides. Well, and what happened after that? A bomb exploded in that market in Sarajevo, many people were killed. There was a bomb in that queue for bread and many people were killed. Everything was caused by Serbs. Well, after some time, documentation said something different, but that was later and in the meantime the whole media had been turned against the Serbs. So, American society and their government felt they had to switch their position.

Well, I would like to speak about Kosovo a little bit. We have heard a very interesting speech from Mark Littman QC, with considerable documentation, so I will be brief. I was on the first mission in 1992 in Pristina, in Kosovo. It was a mission organized by the OSCE, which was more or less a military mission. Chief of the mission was Canadian Ambassador David Peel, and we had negotiations between the Serbs and the Kosovo Albanian leader Dr. Rugova for many days and nights, and we had everything at our disposal. At that time Serbs, or Yugoslavs showed us everything we wanted to see, where we wanted to stop by helicopter. Those military men mostly from NATO countries could take pictures and everything, but we were asked by Rugova that we (Ambassador Peel and I) should stay there, immediately, on the spot, and secretly negotiate between him and the Serb side.

The Serbs were prepared to talk anywhere with anybody. If the other side wanted secrecy, ok. Rugova had this condition. So I asked my authorities at that time. (Minister Dienstbier was out of the ministry, and I was intending to go with him. You know, he is now the Commissioner for the United Nations on the Balkan Human Rights issue.) So I asked the authorities, and they told me 'We consulted the Germans, there was no intention of having any kind of deal over Kosovo.' So then I stopped my diplomatic activities and instead devoted myself to research. But my evaluation was, that when the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina was over there would be war in Kosovo. So I approached the authorities in Prague, offering them my mandate from Rugova, to go and negotiate. It was in '95, '96, '97. They refused. They said to me, well, it's up to Havel. But I said that no one would know so there was no risk. If we didn't succeed, nobody would know. If we succeeded, we would save many lives. They told me, it's up to Havel to decide himself. So, there were no negotiations. I insisted, I threatened, now it's out, despite the press trying to censor the truth. So this was, I think, the main responsibility of our government. Which means that we were not able to help at the time when Kosovo was out of the media headlines and both sides were amenable to an agreement and the war could have been prevented.

But I started to speak about the German position. I mentioned several reasons why German foreign policy started to differ from Western countries, from Americans, from the European Union. Somehow, they are in power in Europe - economically, financially, in the media, the press and propaganda, absolutely, number one, no comparison. That means they practically took over the situation, and using the pretext of splitting Yugoslavia the way they arranged, the war in Kosovo, where Americans practically did the job for the Germans, they now enjoy effective military power not only in eastern Europe. I think the situation of NATO is not important now. Why? I think the presence of America in Europe is not important now. They have some other spots in the world to control.

So what happened in Europe? Even when Milosevic was in power, there was no problem with Vojvodina, where there is a large Hungarian minority inside Yugoslavia. No problem with Sandzak, Muslim problems. But until recently we could read every day how Serbs were killing them, raping women. Now, immediately, when the war in Kosovo was finished, nothing happened. We have no problem in southern Slovakia, where those Hungarians are living in an absolute majority over Czechs, and this is the part of the country which never belonged to Slovaks, not even to Slavs, and Hungarians lay claim to it. No problem. Hungarian Slovaks are even in the government. Everything went smoothly, which means the Germans took over Europe as such. Germans took responsibility for their new territory, and Germans want to keep it calm. You noticed that the first aid to the Serbs (after the fall of Milosevic) or to Yugoslavia now, came from the German side. And I believe, that even Germans will try to find a good relationship with Yugoslavia, to help them, and in the near future, they have to make a major, new agreement with Russia, not to divide power but (let's call it a better name) to divide responsibility.

I don't understand very much about French policy. I never concentrate on that. I don't know much about Great Britain's policy. I know this is a special country, thanks to its close relationship with the United States, which is a little different. But our part of Europe, like it or not, is Germany's responsibility now. So if we are speaking about unifying Europe under the nice blue flag, well Europe is united already (although I don't like the flag). I have to admit that. Whether I like it or not is not very important, it is a fact.

So, and this is where I would like to end, before me now is the question how much Germans will be responsible, how we can influence that responsibility taken by Germany, and if we, as the Czechs, or as the Slovaks, or even as the Poles, could survive, as a cultural entity in the European scene. This is my problem. I would say, I studied America, I don't understand America. I lived there. And I respect Americans as such. I respect them in many ways. But they are quite naïve. You know, Genscher (the former German Foreign Minister) wrote in his memoirs about Bosnia-Herzegovina, about Yugoslavia. And you know what he said - and he is right. By the end of the war in Yugoslavia we Germans have repaired the deeds or the consequences of the first World War. What happened after the First World War which the Germans have now "repaired"? - the foundation of Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and the end of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. Today we have Otto von Habsburg seeing in the European Union a new Charlemagne empire and the Germans have moved in to Eastern and Southern Europe.

But who helped them to do that? Unfortunately it was the Americans. And I would say that Clinton, before he leaves office, should go to Arlington cemetery in Virginia, kneel down, and say, 'Boys, what you died for in the First and Second World Wars, I gave up to the Germans for nothing.'

Thank you.

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