Germany and "small potatoes"

  • 2000-06-15
Former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl regarded Baltic countries as
small potatoes and did not find time to make an official visit during
an entire decade of Baltic independence. Yes, he attended the meeting
of the Baltic Sea Council in Riga in 1998, but his only interest was
to meet Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin there.

Therefore, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's visit to the Baltics is a
sign of progress. Schroeder's rhetoric, inviting Balts to the
European Union, was more impressive than his words about NATO
expansion. However, Balts should not worry about it too much.

Germany is the main player on the EU team. German opinion is the most
important in this organization. Balts should just pray that German
public opinion would become friendlier to the idea of EU expansion.
Schroeder is known as a populist, and it would be difficult for him
to make unpopular decisions.

In NATO, Germany itself is a small potato. During the history of the
20th century, Germany was faithful to the tradition of secret deals
with Russia over the future of small countries between Berlin and
Moscow. The tradition of this "realpolitik" is still popular in

The United States remains the backbone of NATO. Washington, not
Berlin, will make a final decision whether to invite the Baltic

Such an old-fashioned thing in Berlin's view as morals can still be
met in Washington; at least American leaders like to speak about it.
It should be difficult for the White House to abandon Baltic
countries that had chosen to be Western democracies. The American
electorate of Central European origin also should be taken into

William Cohen, U.S. defense secretary, said much more encouraging
words in Vilnius. He said that Russia would not influence NATO
expansion. Schroeder could not force himself to say it.

The goals of official Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn will become more
interesting to Berlin when Germany invests more money here. Baltic
impressions of German businessmen, who traveled together with
Schroeder, are rather important. At the moment, Scandinavians and, in
Lithuania's case Americans, are ahead of Germans in terms of
investment. A lot of economic niches are already occupied. Germans
lost a lot of profit-gaining opportunities in this region and can
blame only their own arrogance and ignorance toward three "small