Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Spuneti, Domnule Cheney, Spuneti!

"And no one can justify actions that undermine the territorial integrity of a neighbor...."
- Vice President Dick Cheney, May 4, 2006

This direct reference to Moldova's Transnistria problem (as well as a similar situation in Georgia) in Vice President Dick Cheney's recent speech in Latvia highlights one of many disagreements the U.S. has with Russia. Cheney has been criticized for his speech, and other politicians have tried to soften his tone in hindsight (Senator John McCain has backed up Cheney, and probably not just because of his calculated political moves to court Bush supporters as the 2008 election appoaches). I'm happy to say that, for once, I can agree with something the Bush administration has said.

Russia is politically dangerous to its neighbors. It backs Russian-friendly political groups throughout its former empire, most notably in Ukraine and Belarus. Its pro-Putin media floods nations of the Commonwealth of Independent States, so much so that Russian state television, complete with its nationalistic news, is often the most-watched channels in Moldovan homes. Because most CIS countries remain economically dependent on Russia, Russia is able to impose absurd trade restrictions on them, such as in the current confrontation over Moldovan and Georgian wine, which financially punish smaller nations because their politics are too European for Russia's liking.

When I was in middle school and high school, I had a faint inkling that the Soviet Union had been a bad thing. When I was in college, I held the view?similar to that of many American college students?that communism was good on paper, but too many things went wrong in Moscow to make it work in the Soviet Union. After six months of living in Moldova, I firmly despised the Soviet past.

Now, after nearly a year of living in Moldova, I see not only how the Soviet empire shackled Moldova for generations, but how Russia's political behavior continues to harm economic, social and political development in the CIS. I hate Russia as a political entity and immediately distrust anyone who advocates for Russia.

I want to emphasize that my hatred for Russia is based only on political terms. Russians and ethnic Russian speakers in Moldova are people just like everyone else and I evaluate them on an individual basis. Russian people are not the problem; their authoritarian political system is.

In regard to Russia, my Peace Corps experience is very different from that of Latin American, African or Asian volunteers. The major difference is in Eastern Europeans' perception of Americans, compared to in other regions of the world. In Latin America, there is a long history of Monroe Doctrine interventionism, especially in the 20th century; Americans can often be viewed there as a political enemy.

In Moldova, middle-aged people sometimes talk about how important Reagan was for their country, and by "their country," they don't mean the U.S.S.R. In Moldova, America is viewed enthusiastically because in contrast to Russia, Turkey and, some would argue, Romania, America has never invaded Moldova. Moldovans are often ready to challenge their own assumptions about America after Pravda and other propaganda demonized the U.S. for 40 years. Unlike in Latin America, the U.S. is not Enemy Number One. The U.S. is more like Boo Radley; Moldovans had heard bad things about us for so long, and then found a friend and guardian angel when they finally met us.

Although I don't know, I feel this may be similar to the situation in south-east Asia, except in place of Russia, there are the behemoth powers of China and Japan. Thailand and Nepal, for instance, are much more affected by China than by the U.S. As for the situation in Africa, I have to claim ignorance; maybe they still hate the colonial powers, but I think internal conflicts ravage most of the continent much more than outside forces, and Americans are viewed in a positive light.

I would love to hear more about this from any readers from these areas. My e-mail box and comments fields are always open.

And as if he needed encouragement, I want to tell Mr. Cheney to keep talking. Words are much more effective than bird-shot.


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