What Price Europe?

WARSAW: Russia’s crisis has mesmerized and monopolized European affairs recently. Too much so, as other issues facing Eastern Europe, particularly the inertia in securing Nato expansion, are being permitted to drift. That neglect may be dangerous, considering the stroppy nationalism espoused by Russia’s new premier, Yevgeny Primakov.

Soon, Poland will become a member of Nato. Talks to join the European Union are getting started. Two other postcommunist countries -- Hungary and the Czech Republic -- are in like positions.

Displays of doubt, fear, and ambivalence about Europe are, perhaps, not very strange. Afer all, "Euroscepticism" is a watchword in established EU members like Denmark and Britain. But the ways in which these doubts are voiced here in the east are often astonishing and unexpected, and tell us a lot about our politics.

Resentments seem particularly strange when measured against public opinion as a whole. In Poland, 92% of the population "wait for it " and 85% of Roman Catholic priests support the country’s "return" to Europe. At the same time different political and social groups strongly, sometimes virulently, oppose EU membership, and seek to impose conditions on joining the Union that are likely to scuttle membership talks. These conditions are put forward in the full knowledge that they are intolerable to our European "partners."