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Letter: Peace in the East depends on the West

Sir: Alone among the British papers, you rightly highlighted in your leading article (16 September) the importance of the newly concluded Hungarian- Romanian treaty: the potential settlement of one of Europe's most thorny security issues, affecting large numbers of ethnic Hungarians, is a matter which deserves careful attention.

You are also correct in pointing out that respect for the provisions of this treaty is more important than the symbolic act of its signature. Nevertheless, your assessment of the current situation remains unnecessarily gloomy.

Minority problems do not have a "solution" as such; handling them with care while limiting the potential for violence is usually the only choice, as the British, Spanish and French - to name but a few Europeans - have discovered.

One of the biggest problems which all former Communist countries face is that neither the majorities nor the affected ethnic minorities know the limits of their actions: governments are loath to accept even minor compromises, fearing that these may lead to more demands, while ethnic groups advance fantastic claims, in the hope that they may at least achieve something.

There is little doubt that elements within the current Romanian government had a vested interest in baiting their Hungarian minority in the past. But it is equally plain that some ethnic Hungarians did the same by demanding various autonomy schemes that often amounted to barely disguised secessionist claims.

The current Hungarian-Romanian treaty contains many ill-defined clauses. But, at least for the moment, this is fairly irrelevant, for the treaty's greatest achievement is in breaking the cycle of claims and counter-claims, thereby laying the foundations of future co-operation.The fact that Romanian and Hungarian extreme nationalists have denounced the treaty in almost identical terms is probably the most encouraging sign currently discernible.

Yet these extreme nationalists will only be permanently silenced if Western institutions - and particularly Nato - seize upon this opportunity. The idea that Hungary can join the Western alliance soon while Romania is still kept in the cold is, to my mind, the surest recipe for disaster: safe under Nato's umbrella, Hungary would be able to advance whatever claims it wants, while Romania will have no incentive to comply as long as it is sidelined.

Western pressure played an important role in the conclusion of the current Hungarian-Romanian deal. Only a continued and equal Western attention to both countries can now ensure the treaty's application.


Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies

London SW1

Over the hill

Sir: You quote Billy Bragg, a singer, as complaining that new Labour is failing to "excite" young people ("Parties vie for the support of young voters", 13 September). Mr Bragg is 38. How would he know?



West Yorkshire