With Britain facing a difficult few years in terms of diplomacy, we can find valuable allies among the nations of Eastern Europe.
On 25 December 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev , declaring that the nation he had led for so many years was now non-existent. This historic event was preceded, just ten months earlier, by an event just as important – the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact.
The abolition of the military agreement that had led to the violent crushing of revolutions in Hungary and Poland was mainly symbolic – it hadn’t been enforced during the Revolutions of 1989 and many countries had . However, the formal end to an arrangement that had constrained its members for decades allowed the satellite states of Eastern Europe to forge their own paths. And as it happened, their paths lead directly to the West – most importantly Britain.
When one looks at how closely the viewpoints held by the governments of Britain and the A8 nations (which include former Communist countries like Poland and Slovakia) align, it is hard to believe that just thirty years ago they were bitter adversaries, miles apart in terms of ideals and values, and both committed to the ideological destruction of one another.
Nowadays, those countries share Britain’s vehement opposition to the actions of President Putin, acting as an important counterweight to the more pro-Russian views of other European powers such as France. Our neighbours in the east, like us, were also much more wary about the effects of the refugee crisis, taking measures to stem the influx of people whilst countries like Germany threw open their doors.
However, it’s not just in terms of foreign policy that Britain and Eastern Europe have a lot in common. In the thirty odd years since perestroika began to liberate the shattered economies of the members of the Warsaw Pact, many of those nations have turned into capitalist paradises.
These nations share the British government’s vision of an economic model involving low corporation tax and high productivity. Hopefully, this means that their zeal for economic growth will extend to
Having taken all of these factors into consideration, the evidence points to only one conclusion – the nations that comprise Eastern Europe should be amongst our closest friends. However, in the last decade or so, our rhetoric on immigration has alienated our most obvious allies, implying to them that Britons dislike the peoples of Eastern Europe, not simply the detrimental effects of mass migration.
It’s no wonder they hold this view. The more sensationalist red-tops have spent years portraying Poles as benefit scroungers, while simultaneously accusing them of ‘stealing our jobs’. Meanwhile, certain tabloids have made Romanians out to be bunch of beggars and criminals – after all, outrage sells papers, so what’s wrong with fuelling xenophobia to increase circulation?
These constant deleterious portrayals have done more than just hurt the feelings of our European compatriots to the east; they have damaged long-lasting cultural ties between Britain and Eastern Europe.
During World War II, hundreds of thousands of Poles fought for the British Army, in order to defend democracy and pursue the liberation of their homeland from the twin evils of Nazism and Communism. Once the war was over, Britain treated its Polish soldiers contemptuously, with their exclusion from the London Victory Parade being described by one historian as “one of the most shameful acts of the Cold War”.
Following the Brexit vote, Poles in the UK once again found themselves targeted, albeit on a vastly lesser scale. Anti-Polish graffiti was And many of these incidents were picked up on by the Polish media, contributing to a belief prevalent in that region right now – that despite their history of fighting alongside one another, Britons still disliked Poles.
On a political level, this belief is more dangerous than it may seem at first glance – the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, is Polish and may be unwilling to support a good Brexit deal for Britain if we spend the next few years demonising his country and portraying its inhabitants as our enemies.
For this reason, alongside many others, it is incumbent upon our government to realise that the nations of of Eastern Europe can be important partners of ours and that we should treat them with the respect such valuable allies deserve. After all, we’ve relied on them before, so let’s hope that they’ll come to our aid again.