- Historic Sites
Connecting With Eastern Europe
Americans have always sympathized with the Eastern European countries in their struggles for democracy, but for two centuries we haven’t been able to help much. Do we have a chance now? A distinguished expatriate looks at the odds.
November 1990 | Volume 41, Issue 7
The most valuable asset that a knowledge of American institutions and of the American constitutional tradition may offer to Eastern Europeans is precisely a knowledge of those guarantees of American freedoms that the Constitution of the United States established and protected against the dangers of the tyranny of popular or populist majorities. This is particularly applicable to those Eastern European states where the liberties and the lives of certain national minorities may be even more endangered now than during the wretched uniformities of their Communist governments. It is an open question, too, whether multiparty parliamentary systems—reminiscent of the nineteenthcentury European tradition—will be able to achieve a more or less stable political order in societies whose structure is entirely different from that of a century before. In this respect the American political tradition of two large and ideologically not altogether antithetical political parties; the separation of legislative, administrative, and judicial powers; and the frequent resorting to political coalitions and to legitimate compromises have some things to offer to responsible people in Eastern Europe.
History suggests that a power vacuum opening up in Eastern Europe may be filled by Germany.
At the same time, it behooves Americans to respect and to learn some things from the recent, and often inspiring, history of certain Eastern European nations. The fact that great revolutions may occur without savage violence and bloodshed, the fact that the dangers of revolutionary Communist ideology have been vastly exaggerated, and the fact that the present leader of Russia, alone in the history of continental European empires, has deemed it proper to withdraw peacefully the domination of his empire from a large portion of Europe that Russia conquered but a generation ago—in a war that had been unleashed on it by Germany—should command not only American relief but also respect. A very new chapter has now opened in the relations of the United States with the nations of Eastern Europe—with plenty of potentialities, with promises as well as with problems, both of which may mature faster than we are accustomed to think.