• 2005-05-04
By and large, not much has changed in the year since the Baltic states became members of the European Union. Nor should it. The three capitals are astir with economic activity, rural areas wilt and wither, and the demographic predicament continues to worsen. The most troubling aspect, at least in the short-term, has been Russia's campaign to disparage the countries in the eyes of the international community. It is incessant and steadily worsening.

Sadly, however, there is a rising perception that European leaders have grown callous to these verbal attacks on the Baltics. These things are nearly impossible to measure, but there is chilling anecdotal evidence. Toomas Hendrik Ilves, an Estonian member of Europarliament, cited a recent example of how a Baltic diplomat, inquiring about the content of a high-level meeting between France, Germany and Russia that discussed the Baltics, was told to look up the information on the homepage.

Ilves says that the Russians are attempting to paint the Baltics with a black brush, and in doing so show EU leaders that the three miniscule countries on the eastern periphery are unstable partners and a sorry reflection of European human rights. In his estimation, they are succeeding.

Whether this is actually true could be irrelevant; it is the perception that will count and have tremendous foreign policy implications. The less the Baltics feel support in Brussels, the more they will turn to Washington. From this standpoint the visit of George W. Bush is seminal, since the American president is likely to say what many European leaders have neglected so far: namely, the end of World War II for many countries marked the beginning of another dark phase 's totalitarian communism 's and those who fail to acknowledge it are history's antagonists.

To be sure, there have been numerous gestures of support for the Baltics in the face on the Kremlin onslaught. Gunter Verheugen, Tarja Halonen and Tony Blair have all spoken out in the months past. Verheugen was particularly poignant: "We have to show that the end of the second world war, when fascism was defeated, and that was a day of victory, but not for all," said the European Commission vice president.

But this fundamental riddle 's will it be Europe or the United States that extends the most support to the Baltic states? 's is certain to shape future policy. At an event last weekend devoted to the one-year anniversary of EU accession, Latvia's Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks said, "The people of Latvia during the year have gradually lost fear of EU membership, but from now on our task will be to see that Europe's fear of us is diminished." Russia is playing on that fear, and it remains to be seen whether it indeed succeeds.