On Thursday, December 9, 2010, Ambassador April Foley discussed "Central Europe: Cutting Loose from the Soviet Legacy." The lecture was a part of IWP's Center for Culture and Security's Ambassadors Forum.
Amb. Foley, who served as U.S. Ambassador to Hungary from 2006 to 2009, began by explaining that disentangling the region from Russian control is difficult, particularly considering Russian efforts at economic expansionism. Russia is trying to create spheres of influence through control of strategic resources such as oil.
Countries such as Hungary -- which receives 85% of its gas from Russia through Ukraine -- have lost some of their sovereignty, she asserted. These nations do not want to make decisions that will upset Russia and possibly lead to to the shutoff of the energy pipelines from Russia. As a result, Amb. Foley said, Central Europe is trying to disentangle itself from Russia's influence by making efforts to diversify its sources of energy.
Amb. Foley also noted that Russia is also trying to gain influence in Western Europe by making deals with energy giants in these countries so that these companies' interests are tied to those of Russia.
Turning to the effect of corruption in Central Europe, Amb. Foley explained that the business culture in this region largely revolves around corruption and 'crony capitalism.' She suggested that Central Europe needs to move towards a more Western-style economy which is based on competition and the rule of law, though this process will be slow and difficult.
Finally, she discussed the importance of the NATO alliance in Central Europe, which helps provide protection of the sovereignty of these nations, although Russia is working to minimize the spread of NATO's influence.
Amb. Foley explained that, despite the many challenges involved, Central Europe remains extremely committed to becoming a permanent part of the West.
Questions included inquiries about to what extent the Cold War is really over, whether there is any possibility for the return of the Soviet Empire, how many people in Central Europe still speak Russian, whether Hungarians are pro-free market and/or pro-American, how effective the Voice of America has been in Central Europe, and the role of Christianity in the region.