Eastern Europe to Obama: Don't forget us

An open letter to President Obama from a number of Eastern European former heads of state and intellecutals was published yesterday in the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza. The signatories include former presidents Vaclav Havel and Lech Walesa and the editor of Foreign Policy's Bulgarian edition, Ivan Krastev. An exceprt:

 We welcome the "reset" of the American-Russian relations. As the countries living closest to Russia, obviously nobody has a greater interest in the development of the democracy in Russia and better relations between Moscow and the West than we do. But there is also nervousness in our capitals. We want to ensure that too narrow an understanding of Western interests does not lead to the wrong concessions to Russia. Today the concern is, for example, that the United States and the major European powers might embrace the Medvedev plan for a "Concert of Powers" to replace the continent's existing, value-based security structure. The danger is that Russia's creeping intimidation and influence-peddling in the region could over time lead to a de facto neutralization of the region. There are differing views within the region when it comes to Moscow's new policies. But there is a shared view that the full engagement of the United States is needed.

Many in the region are looking with hope to the Obama Administration to restore the Atlantic relationship as a moral compass for their domestic as well as foreign policies. A strong commitment to common liberal democratic values is essential to our countries. We know from our own historical experience the difference between when the United States stood up for its liberal democratic values and when it did not. Our region suffered when the United States succumbed to "realism" at Yalta. And it benefited when the United States used its power to fight for principle. That was critical during the Cold War and in opening the doors of NATO. Had a "realist" view prevailed in the early 1990s, we would not be in NATO today and the idea of a Europe whole, free, and at peace would be a distant dream.

We understand the heavy demands on your Administration and on U.S. foreign policy. It is not our intent to add to the list of problems you face. Rather, we want to help by being strong Atlanticist allies in a U.S.-European partnership that is a powerful force for good around the world. But we are not certain where our region will be in five or ten years time given the domestic and foreign policy uncertainties we face. We need to take the right steps now to ensure the strong relationship between the United States and Central and Eastern Europe over the past twenty years will endure.

You can read the whole thing at Radio Free Europe.


Religion in the age of swine flu

Things aren't looking good for religious worship.

Official Iranian news agency Fars has reported that two pilgrims recently returned from the Hajj have contracted swine flu. Mecca plays host to about two million Muslims every year including nearly 12,000 from the United States and 25,000 from the United Kingdom, both of whom top the World Health Organization's table of reported swine flu cases. Fears about the rapid spread of the pandemic during the Hajj have prompted swift action from countries across the Middle East, which have as yet reported relatively few cases. Saudi Arabia has already put in place facilities at its major airports to quarantine pilgrims suspected of carrying the H1N1 virus.

Meanwhile in England, the Bishop of Chelmsford has advised that churches remove holy water which, when exposed in stoups, can easily become a source of infection. Revered John Gladwin recommended that parishioners exhibiting flu-like symptoms should stay at home where possible, and priests who must make pastoral visits "wear sterile gloves, an apron and a face mask." He also said those taking holy communion should not drink wine from the chalice if ill, and would still receive the full communion by taking the wafer of bread alone.

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