Recent decades have been decades of great change for the nations and peoples of Europe. The West has witnessed the gradual demise of interstate rivalries, the former system of wholly independent states being replaced by an increasingly close union of partner nations. Meanwhile, in the East, these same years saw nearly the whole of Europe from the Baltic to the Black Sea fall under the domination of the Soviet Union. However, with the collapse of communism in the early 1990s, these former Soviet satellites were transformed, almost overnight, into a collection of fledgling democracies. And though the nations of Eastern Europe, at least ostensibly, now share the same political values as their neighbors to the West, their transformation has not been without its problems. Years of Communist rule, has left these countries economically backward and underdeveloped. Yet each of these former Communist nations is faced with a similar dilemma - in order to succeed in today's global economy, each must somehow bring its nation up to the developmental level of its Western European and American peers. This process is not easy, and often involves much more than simply making decisions on the economy. Whether the country is Hungary, Belarus, or Ukraine, there are important political, social, cultural, and historical fact is to be considered. For although each of these three countries is a new democracy, none is a new nation. Each has a long history of special internal concerns, foreign relations goals, and socio-political aims. It is for these reasons that the decision on whether to join the European Union is a difficult one. A country is shaped by its experiences, and these three nations are no exception.
This is not to say that Hungary, Belarus, and Ukraine do not have, in a sense, a common history. Not only were each of these three states former Soviet satellites, but each one of these nations formed for a long time a component part of an alien empire. Hungary was one-half - the inferior half - of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, while Belarus and the Ukraine were long under Russian rule, first that of the tsars, and then that of the Soviets. In each case these experiences produced certain internal situations, and at the same time created a certain relationship with both Western Europe and the former Soviet Union - now the Russian Federation. In some instances, historical events bind these countries to the West, and in others to the East. While in still other cases, these same historical circumstances drive seemingly irremovable wedges between former partners. Hungary's long association with Austria links it socially and culturally with a wider world of German-speaking Central Europe, and Western Europe in general. In pre-Communist days, Budapest, the Hungarian capital, was often known as the Paris of the East. Its national life was, on the whole, adapted to the general European cultural model. On the other hand, Belarus, or as it was once known, Byelorussia, and the Ukraine were for centuries, the outlying provinces of the Russian and Soviet empires, their native cultures submerged beneath a tide of Russification. Thus, both Belarus and Ukraine have very real reasons to wish to distance themselves from the Russian Federation, and to align themselves more closely with the West.
As Hungary's association with the West was always greater than either Belarus' or Ukraine's, its movement toward the European Union was considerably easier. Diplomatic relations were opened between Hungary and the European West in August 1988. This was followed by the Europe Agreement which was signed on December 16, 1991. This gave Hungary the status of an associated state within the European Union. As a result, there began a steady flow of Western funds into the Hungarian economy. Hungary was one of the first beneficiaries of the European Union's new PHARE program, a program specifically designed to render financial assistance to countries seeking admission into the European Union. Since 1990, Hungary has received more than €1 billion under this program. Importantly, these funds do not have to be repaid, and have contributed successfully to the reinvigoration of Hungary's infrastructure: economic development and restructuring, environmental investments, research and development, public administration, human resources development, and various other tasks deems necessary to prepare estate for membership in the European Union. Furthermore, Hungary also benefits from two additional programs, the Instrument for Structural Policies for Pre-Accession, and the Special Accession Program for Agriculture and Rural Development. Under these programs, Hungary expects to receive nearly €140 million each year over the course of the next few years. This cooperation with the West has been an extremely positive experience for Hungary,
As a result of consistent economic strategies followed in the recent years, the Hungarian economy has been stabilized and conditions for a sustainable economic development have been created. Macroeconomic indicators in 1998-1999 are promising. The annual growth of GDP has been over 4%, unemployment is now below 8%, both figures are better than EU average. Competitiveness of domestic production grew by 20%, budget deficit remained under acceptable limits, inflation dropped under 10%, cumulated FDI inflow exceeded 22 Billion USD (one-third of the total foreign capital invested in East Central Europe).
Exports in the same period grew more rapidly than imports and exceeded world trade average growth. By the end of the 1990s, the share of the EU in Hungary's external trade relations reached 75% which can be regarded as a decisive level of real integration. This progress has been positively evaluated by both the annual Country Reports of the EU and reputed international research institutions which re-qualified Hungary from "emerging" to a "converging" economy.
Of course, such financial and planning assistance would be as much use to Belarus and Ukraine as it is to Hungary. However, while Hungary's eventual integration into the European Union has been generally smooth, the situation has not been quite the same for Belarus and Ukraine. Belarus, in particular, has had to fight hard against what can only be described as Western European prejudice against its Eastern brethren. As a requirement for admission into the Union, all nations must adhere to the enormous amount of regulations - some 80,000 pages of them - already promulgated by the European partnership.
In all cases, this means that nations applying for membership must, in an exceedingly brief period of time, approved legislation already accepted by member nations. Often this necessitates considerable changes in both domestic and foreign policy. As shown by the President of the Commission on European Enlargement's comments in regard to these potential new members, this means a proven record of being in line with general Western European attitudes.
Since then these countries have come a long way. The path they have taken may truly be described as revolutionary. A huge area of our continent has moved peacefully from dictatorship to stable, participatory democracy.
Their achievements are extraordinary. In the space of a decade we have seen:
The holding of dozens of free and fair national, regional and local elections;
The adoption of thousands of laws and regulations to give shape to the new democracies and incorporate the acquis communautaire into national law;
The training of tens of thousands of civil servants and magistrates to interpret and apply the new legislation;
The participation of hundreds of thousands of elected officials, specialists and members of professional organizations in EU-financed training and cooperation projects in order to learn about our policies.
For countries so long under the yolk of totalitarian Communist regimes, it is certainly an achievement to hold free elections, and to forge an entirely new civil service composed of well educated and highly trained personnel capable of running a modern post-industrial democracy. But as can be seen, these can be very difficult goals to meet, and acceptance into the Union is as much a measure of Western European attitudes, as it is of the actual progress made by those nations that aspire to membership. A country like Hungary, with reasonably strong Western associations can expect that its past "mistakes" will be overlooked, and that current European Union member nations will look kindly on its efforts to conform to the Western norm.
However, a nation such as Belarus is in an entirely different situation. Never a genuine member of the Western "club," Belarus finds itself in a much more difficult position. Its efforts toward democratic reform are closely scrutinized, and subjected to considerable criticism. The following account of Belarusian elections in 1997 is a case in point:
The human rights monitoring work done by the Belarus Helsinki Committee has shown increasing arbitrariness in the actions of civil servants and increasing violations of citizens' civil and political rights and liberties as guaranteed by the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus.
A decisive phase in the escalation of these violations was the so-called Referendum, carried out on President A.G. Lukashenka's initiative, during the period 9-24 November, 1996.The Constitutional Court and the Supreme Soviet (Parliament) ruled that the referendum results could not be binding. Nonetheless, the President issued…