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Although recent political upheavals in Eastern Europe have been cause for hope in the long-stagnant region, longtime foreign correspondent John Randell said last night that he thinks the West should be doing far more to help improve the economies of East European countries.
Speaking to a crowd of approximately 150 people at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Randell, a reporter for the Washington Post, discussed a recent visit to Eastern Europe which he said left him "perplexed."
"Eastern European countries are fundamentally different than western societies," he said.
Randell has covered European politics since the mid-1950s. He said that although the effects of communism are "difficult to undo," economic improvement is essential for the survival of the newly democratic nations.
Specifically, Randell said, the West should help Eastern European countries produce higher-quality goods in order to make them more competitive in the world market. Randell cited the post-World War II Marshall Plan--which funneled millions of American dollars into a devasted Europe--as an example of how the U.S. can help faltering economies elsewhere in the world.
"The U.S. can think as creatively as we did in the past," Randell said.
Randell said that the transition to a more capitalistic society might be difficult in many parts of Eastern Europe, since "people are not used to working hard to beat the man next door. It's not America."
Distrust of Capitalism
In addition, Randell said East Europeans generally distrust capitalism.
"Communism didn't solve problems, it created new ones," Randell said. He observed that the fear in Eastern Europe seems "primarily economic" rather than political, and that people "are scared that if western capitalism comes in, it'll take over."
Randell warned Americans that the even if East Europeans are some-what hesitant about accepting capitalism, economic aid is essential if they are to survive without the traditional close ties to the Soviet Union.
Randell said that most countries in Eastern Europe currently "are so dependent on selling [products] to the Soviets" that their economies would probably suffer severely from any declines in the Soviet Union's economy.
Randell said he could not predict how the West would react to Eastern Europe's economic problems in the coming months.
But Randell did question the Bush administration's commitment to aiding the region, saying, "The American attitude is astounding."
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