Wednesday

22nd Sep 2021

Analysis

Eastern Europe wakes up with Trump hangover

  • Romanian president Klaus Iohannis receives a Make America Great Again cap from Donald Trump (Photo: Facebook/Klaus Iohannis)

Four years of Donald Trump have not passed without a mark on eastern Europe and the western Balkans.

From the funny to the serious, the former US president made headlines multiple times in dealing with a region often battered by local enmities and expedient political interests.

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  • Joe Biden and pictured with the then prime minister of Moldova, Vlad Filat (Photo: Facebook/Vlad Filat)

For all of its confusing and changing politics, eastern and central Europe have since the fall of communism been constantly committed to keeping the US close, regardless of who was in the White House.

Thus, historically eastern and central Europe have looked favourably towards Washington as the superpower able to fend off a possible Russian incursion, a factor deeply ingrained in the public mindset.

"Suspicions about Russia's meddling in the 2016 presidential election to favour Trump sent chills throughout the foreign policy and security establishment in Warsaw, Vilnius, Riga and Bucharest", Armand Gosu, a specialist in the ex-Soviet region, told EUobserver.

Western Europe, on the other hand, showed scepticism towards American politics both during Trump and George W. Bush's presidencies, with both polling badly, as a Pew Research Center study shows.

"In essence, Trump has continued Washington's policy toward eastern Europe. If he quarrelled, he did so with Germany and France, and expressed his preference - for ideological reasons - for Poland and Hungary", said Gosu.

In Serbia, a Democrat US president for some is still associated with the Nato bombing of Serbia in 1999, when Bill Clinton was in the White House.

The perception is that the Democratic Party and the American establishment, now personified by Joe Biden, are not sympathetic to Serbia or its interests.

Trump's legacy in the region is mostly linked to the bilateral accords signed with Kosovo and Serbia on normalising economic relations between the two countries.

During the signing of the Washington Agreement, Trump allegedly pressured the Serbian president into agreeing to move Serbia's embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

'Trump Lake'

But another outcome of that agreement was that a disputed lake, between Serbia and Kosovo, will now be named Trump Lake to put an end to the dispute.

One of the biggest Trump supporters in the former Yugoslav countries was the Slovenian prime minister Janez Jansa who declared Trump the winner of the elections, even before the votes were counted.

Slovenia is also the birthplace of former first lady Melania Trump, where in the city of Novo Mesto she is being honoured with a bronze statue.

Another outcome of the Trump presidency in the region is the rise of far-right figures across eastern Europe. Recently, after the storming of US Capitol by Trump supporters, some far-right public figures there and in the Balkans welcomed the events.

The pro-Russia head of Montenegro's Movement for Changes, Nebojsa Medojevic MP, took to Twitter to describe Trump as "the first US president since Kennedy to oppose the deep state and the rulers from the shadows."

Serbian nationalist Nikola Sandulovic posted on Twitter a photograph of a Trump supporter inside the US Capitol.

Strongmen in Poland, Hungary and Slovenia have all regarded Trump as a powerful ally whose actions have been used to justify their own stance on immigration, rule of law, Russia and democracy standards.

While the countries of western Europe were cheering Biden's victory, president Andrej Duda of Poland and prime minister Viktor Orban of Hungary are likely to become more isolated.

Biden and eastern Europe

There is hope that with the Biden administration, in countries like Poland and Hungary where democratic norms are being threatened, a separation of powers and pluralism will be once again be encouraged by a US president.

Also, the region hopes Biden will focus more on regional security in the face of Russian threat, as well as back EU integration in the western Balkans.

"The new US administration will pressure the illiberal governments in Budapest and Warsaw to fall in line", Gosu told EUobserver.

A more consistent and predictable US foreign policy in the region will mean that eastern Europe can deal better with internal and external attacks on its sovereignty and democracy.

Author bio

Cristian Gherasim is a freelance journalist contributing to EUobserver, Euronews, EU Reporter, Katoikos, Von Mises Institute, and bne IntelliNews, with a particular focus on European and regional affairs.

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