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Pariahs and Favorites in East Central Europe

"How horrible, fantastic, incredible, it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing."
—Neville Chamberlain

Persons with roots in Central and Eastern Europe know that to speak with minimal competence about that part of the world requires making a distinction between East Central Europe (Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Slovakia), the Balkans (the former Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, partly Greece), and the post-Soviet states of Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine. East Central Europe is as different from the Balkans as Canada is from Argentina.

Since the times of Neville Chamberlain, not much has changed in Western consciousness regarding this region. It still consists of faraway lands of which we know nothing. Or rather, Americans know enough to blame them (as well as the Balkans) for triggering two world wars and generally making trouble for the Western world. Hence the undercurrent of sympathy toward the Russian czars and commissars whose mission has been to constrain these unruly folks between the Oder and the Dnieper rivers.

The professed ignorance about East Central Europe, which Chamberlain's statement exemplifies, is a bit duplicitous. Even such American pooh-bahs as Helmut Sonnenfeldt, who once advocated...

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