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New Left Review I/182, July-August 1990


Peter Gowan

Western Economic Diplomacy and the New Eastern Europe

Hobbes once remarked that if you are forced at gunpoint to go through a door, you are still free to go through it: you can be forced and be free. For most of us today this is a perversity that smacks of Stalinism. But what if someone throws walls around you on three sides and then leaves you to decide for yourself what to do? Are you still free to determine your future, assuming that the wall builder has at least as much right to build the walls as you do? Issues of this sort come to mind from a study of current Western economic policy towards the new regimes in Eastern Europe. But unfortunately most conventional discussion of the topic either fails to spot the walls or assumes that they are natural structures deriving from the very substance of market economics, rather than the work of political hands. As a result, conventional wisdom does not for a moment doubt that the peoples of Eastern Europe have at last entered the realm of freedom and self-determination. The following survey of West–East economic diplomacy suggests that while the people of Eastern Europe may have rid themselves of Hobbes’s freedom, the world they are entering is not adequately captured by such notions as political sovereignty and self-determination; markets as free spaces liberated from politics; and Western diplomacy as the spirit of liberalism abroad. [1] This article will examine only the policy towards Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and, briefly, the ussr, and will exclude Yugoslavia, Albania and the gdr.

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