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International Relations History

Dear Santa: A Letter to Obama

Letter packed with lists to pass along to Santa, photo: Scott / flickr
Letter packed with lists to pass along to Santa, photo: Scott / flickr

If you could write an open letter to US President Barack Obama, what would you write? The question almost makes you think of something like a wish list to a Santa, who will do his best to fulfill your desires.

The open letter written by 22 Central and Eastern European intellectuals and former leaders made me think about this Christmas tradition. A letter intended for the US president, in which Eastern European children make a wish list and, in order to be convincing, explain how good they have been in the past.

During the last months the media has seen innumerable open letters to Obama. And this is yet another one. It is a doleful and angst-ridden letter, one whose main argument is that the Obama administration is not taking the necessary measures for rebuking “revisionist Russia.”

I first had a reflective look at the senders’ list. Václav Havel and Lech Wałęsa are there, symbols of the people who led the revolutions of 1989. However, beyond all emotions, I realized the word ‘former’ is too prominent on the senders’ list. Valdas Adamkus, former president of the Republic of Lithuania; Martin Butora, former ambassador of the Slovak Republic to the US. The list goes on.

‘Former’ refers to something or someone belonging to a prior time. Even the letter reads ‘former’ to me, with arguments that in the current international context have acquired their dustiness.

The letter’s nostalgia-conjured past does not truly reflect historical realities. “Our nations are deeply indebted to the United States,” the letter argues. “Many of us know firsthand how important your support for our freedom and independence was during the dark Cold War years.”

These words make me think of my Romanian grandfather and how he told me that years after the end of World War II he was looking at the sky, asking himself when would the Americans come. And the Americans never came. So what is Central and Eastern Europe so indebted for? Apart from listening to Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, there was not much of an important support to be felt in the region during the Cold War.

Times have now changed. And change wasn’t brought by Obama only. The authors of the open letter complain that 20 years after the end of the Cold War, Central and Eastern European countries are no longer at the heart of American foreign policy. But why should this be different?

The international security structures have changed and so have the foci of foreign policy everywhere. Radio Free Europe is no longer a prominent voice in Central and Eastern Europe. During the past years it has stopped broadcasting to Eastern Europe and has launched new broadcasts to the Balkans, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and the North Caucasus. This correctly reflects the current US areas of concentration in foreign policy.

Here’s what I have to say to the children of Central and Eastern Europe. You should live up to your promise when they say you “welcome the ‘reset’ of the American-Russian relations.” You have grown up now and the big US Santa-like protector will not look at your wish list anymore. You are not at the political crossroads today as you were at the beginning of the 1990s. The “growing sense of nervousness” and the impact of the global economic crisis is not something that only applies to you.

Stop looking nostalgically to the past and start assuming responsibility within the European Union, of which you are member states.

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