Even his friends do not claim that President Bronisław Komorowski is sparkling company. He speaks no foreign languages and has never lived abroad. He has no expertise in world affairs, no close friendships with foreign leaders. He is not Donald Tusk or Radek Sikorski. But he is a sensible man representing a country that matters. He will find no difficulty in gaining meetings and audiences.
Quizzical, erudite and clear-sighted, Tony Judt never let matters rest. He worried at his own beliefs—Zionist, Francophile, socialist and Euro-federalist—until they fell apart and reformed under the pressure of his restless, meticulous intellect. Few people in the Anglo-Saxon world can call themselves “intellectuals”, continental-style, without feeling (and sounding) a little odd. But in Mr Judt’s case the word deserved a capital “I”.
In the communist era, the countries of eastern and central Europe were run by tightly knit clans. Connections, particularly those of your parents, mattered more than ability. The same kind of people held the top jobs in the ruling party, in government, in media and in commerce and industry. One of the most potent fuels for the revolutions of 1989 was public discontent with this closed system and the unfairness and incompetence that went along with it.
The grit shown by Estonian politicians and the public in shrinking spending, raising taxes and cutting wages has been exemplary. Punishing Estonia, which obeyed the rules, while bailing out Greece, which has breached them flagrantly, would do little for the euro’s credibility with governments and investors alike.
For anyone from the ex-communist world with a medium-term memory, the frantic efforts under way to save Greece (and the other wobbly southern members of the euro zone) are rather puzzling. For a start, what is so bad about default and restructuring?
Punishing Estonia which obeyed the rules, while bailing out Greece which has breached them flagrantly, would do little for the euro’s credibility with governments and investors alike.
What have the following places got in common?
America, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Britain, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, France, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, the Philippines, Portugal, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Vietnam.
Averting a meltdown in Greece, at least temporarily, is good news for that country’s fragile ex-communist neighbours. Their big worry is Greek-owned banks, which account for as much as a quarter of banking assets in Bulgaria, some 15% in Romania and a tenth in Serbia. These institutions have been facing potential runs by depositors, as worries have grown over Greece’s solvency and thus over the Greek banks.
Following last month’s joint Polish-Russian memorials to commemorate the Katyń massacre, and the outpouring of Russian sympathy since the plane crash that killed Polish President Lech Kaczyński and 95 others, CEPA Senior Fellow Edward Lucas offers a penetrating look at the politics of historical reconciliation in Central Europe.
It is never a waste of time to visit the capital of Galicia, which in Latin is called Leopolis (literally, Lion City). But you can waste a lot of time rowing about the name. In the Austro-Hungarian empire the city’s name was Lemberg. It was commonly known as that in the English-speaking world too (it is named thus in a Baedeker travel guide, belonging to your diarist’s great-aunt, who travelled in those parts more than a century ago).
In pre-war Poland it became Lwów (pronounced Ler-voof) and to this day many Poles still use that name. Indeed, they can get quite cross if you call it anything else. Even after the historical reconciliation with Lithuania and Ukraine in recent years, the loss, in 1945, of Poland’s eastern provinces, and particularly the great cities of Wilno (now Vilnius) and Lwów, still rankles…