The other day, I was talking to a friend of mine from Romania who recently visited the United States. Beyond all the pleasantries, I was shocked when my friend casually dropped a key piece of information that led me to scramble to my computer and start doing research.
An hour or so later, I turned my gaze away from the computer and laughed.
With Friends Like These
One of the weirdest things I’ve ever discovered about Romania is the persistent belief that Russia is Romania’s enemy. Beyond what happened during World War II with the dual concessions of Bessarabia/Transnistria (today’s Republic of Moldova) and Northern Bucovina (Cernauti), there’s little evidence that Russia has ever been antagonistic towards Romania.
Indeed, during both the 1848 revolution and World War 1, Russia was Romania’s ally. At the end of World War II, “saintly” King Michael allied Romania with the Soviet Union while America did its best to destabilize the Romanian government.
The “narrative” that Ceausescu and many others created afterwards was that the Soviet Union endlessly tried to bully Romania. Yet the facts speak otherwise, as I’ve documented endlessly. Romania was barely a member of the Warsaw Pact, kicked out all Soviet troops by 1955, and sent endless delegations to America in order to cripple the Romanian economy with foolish loans. By the 1980s, any objective analysis would conclude that it was the United States, not the Soviet Union, that was causing most of the suffering inside of Romania.
Following the short-lived 1989 Revolution, it was a cadre of pro-American Communist bigwigs that took power. Russia has played such a minor role that simply doing business with a Russian firm now is often considered a scandal.
Paying the Price
Certainly, the (post-1989) Romanian leadership can do what it feels is best. If Romanians naturally feel closer to countries like Italy and France and some lingering hostility towards Russia for splintering off RM/Cernauti, then so be it. Right?
Except that this 100% pro-American policy has cost modern Romania a lot:
- The CIA black site scandal that potentially could cost Romania millions of euros in damages
- The Teo Peter scandal
- Untold millions wasted buying second-hand American military hardware
- The permanent occupation of Romania by foreign troops that incidentally contributed to the overcrowding of prisons that may cost Romania 80 million euros (or more)
- Every major leader kowtowing to the American government even when it provokes public anger
- The American embassy lobbying to give contracts to American firms at the expense of Romanian companies
- The American embassy treating Romanian employees like slaves
- A cabal of American government officials and corporate bigwigs secretly installing Victor Ponta in power
- Using riot police to crush Romanian protests against fracking at the behest of American energy companies
Need I go on?
But certainly, these are all just part of the “normal” price that any ally of America has to pay, right? And certainly all these sacrifices came with rewards.
Let’s now look at a different Eastern European country.
This Eastern European country attempted to break away from the Soviet Union in 1956 only to find Russian tanks in its capital that led to a brutal crackdown. Until the Soviet Union dissolved at the end of 1991, Soviet troops remained on this country’s soil.
Nonetheless, this country immediately established friendly relations with Russia once the Soviet Union broke up. For several years, Russia and this country had a visa free regime in which citizens of one country could travel to the other with no visa necessary. Today, you do need a visa but they’re cheap and easy to get.
This country mandated Russian language classes in its school for another decade. Today, Russian is probably the most widely understood foreign language in the country. Trade between Russia and this country has remained extremely strong, and Russia supplies much of this country’s energy.
In 2014, when the Ukraine conflict began, this country openly sided with Russia and was opposed to imposing sanctions against Russia. The same year, this country’s government signed a 17 billion dollar contract with a Russian state-owned firm to build a nuclear reactor.
Things are so good between this country that just a few months ago, Russian PM Vladimir Putin met with their prime minister and praised the excellent relations between the two countries.
Meanwhile, there has never been a secret CIA prison in this country nor has the CIA used it for their secret rendition flights. There are no American military bases in this country or soldiers permanently stationed there.
So clearly you’d think that America would be angry at this country, no? It’s super friendly with Russia, fails to accommodate the American military, and is regularly defiant of American foreign policy towards Russia.
The Squeaky Wheel Gets the Greasing
But America is not hostile towards this country, which you might have guessed by now is Hungary. On the contrary.
Hungary was allowed to join NATO in 1999 without having to pay any secret concessions like allowing torture on its territory. Hungary has also repeatedly balked at paying millions of dollars to upgrade its arsenal with American equipment and weapons.
But the real cherry on the cake came in 2008 when America included Hungary in its visa waiver program. This means that if you’re Hungarian, you can go to the United States whenever you want with no humiliating interviews with sick perverts necessary.
That’s pretty much the holy grail for any American ally, to get permission for their citizens to travel to the United States with no visa necessary. Beyond just tourism, it also opens up the possibility of both short and long-term work.
And it’s not just Hungary’s roughly 10 million residents which are eligible for this but also all of the “lost brothers” in countries like Ukraine, Slovenia, Serbia and Romania. If they can document that they’re ethnic Hungarians, presto, wizzo, they get to become Hungarian citizens.
If you look at the countries that can travel to the United States without a visa, you’ll see wealthy western European countries, English-speaking allies like Australia and New Zealand, Asian allies like Japan, Brunei and Taiwan, and just a handful of eastern European countries.
Want to take a guess what those eastern European countries have in common? I’ll give you a hint: Russian is widely spoken by a significant portion of the population.
A Dream Deferred
Meanwhile, foolish Romania has been promised visa free travel practically forever. Hell, I’ve been writing about it for five years. Poor old Mircea Geoana, the man who almost became the president of Romania in 2009, was promised both that Romania would get visa-free travel AND that he’d become the Secretary General of NATO, both of which never happened.
Is it a coincidence that Hungary gets treated so well by the United States and Romania gets treated so poorly? Or is it that the Americans are more inclined to use carrots (incentives) with a country that has ties with Russia instead of just blindly doing whatever America asks?
There’s no way to know, but from where I sit, it sure looks like Romania has gotten the short end of the stick for allowing the United States to (literally!) get away with murder instead of cultivating a more nuanced relationship with Russia. But that’s what happens when your foreign policy strategy is based entirely on nationalist pride.
The night of the fight, you may feel a slight sting. That’s pride fucking with you. Fuck pride. Pride only hurts, it never helps.
-Marsellus Wallace, Pulp Fiction