(Washington, DC) The United States Senate voted on April 30 to enlarge NATO to include Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic. The bi-partisan vote was an overwhelming 80 to 19. President Clinton said, “[t]his vote is a milestone on the road to an undivided, democratic and peaceful Europe.” During the debate which extended late into the evening, Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE) noted that, “NATO expansion is squarely in the national interest, it is in the Europeans’ interest, and I would argue – and history will tell – it is in the Russians’ interest.” Senator Phil Gramm (R-TX) added that if the newly independent countries of the region were excluded from NATO membership, “we would have let an arbitrary line drawn by Stalin, . . . to stand as a permanent division of Europe.”
The Hungarian American Coalition has been an outspoken and enthusiastic supporter of NATO enlargement, often voicing its opinion in cooperation with others, such as the Central and East European Coalition and the NATO Enlargement Ratification Working Group. In November 1997 the Coalition sponsored a series of conferences in Hungary, “Hungary in an Expanded NATO: Benefits and Responsibilities.” Edith Lauer, Coalition President, stated: “NATO enlargement is a tribute to the perseverance of the entire Hungarian nation, including the heroic freedom fighters of 1956, and the result of a national consensus that cuts across party lines. All Hungarians can and should claim credit for this remarkable development.” Rev. Imre Bertalan, the organization’s chairman noted that, “this step, beginning with the collapse of communism in 1989, is indeed historic and will help Hungary restore its 1,100 year integration with the West.”
“Hungary’s inclusion in NATO is a defining moment for a nation that was dismembered at the beginning of this century, caught up in the devastating destruction of the Second World War, and relegated to the status of a Soviet satellite,” noted Frank Koszorus, Jr., chairman of the Coalition’s Information Committee which spearheaded the organization’s pro-NATO activities in Washington, D.C.
The Coalition has not viewed NATO expansion in a vacuum, however. It argued that the enlargement process should not ignore the critically important issue of minority rights, particularly after the events surrounding the Hungarian-Hungarian summit and Hungary’s entry into bilateral treaties with Slovakia and Romania. An enlarged NATO or bilateral treaties cannot alone ensure ethnic peace. Ethnic tensions in the region are caused by intolerant and discriminatory practices and policies aimed at curtailing the ability of historical communities to preserve their unique identities. Only enlightened and Western-style policies, such as granting minorities the right to cultural autonomy and local self-government, will defuse such tensions. The Coalition also expressed the view that NATO must neither deviate from its core function of protecting its members from outside aggression nor treat its new aspirants differently from the current members when they joined the Alliance.