Schumer Is Criticized By Prague, Poles, Romanians

Op-Ed Is Called 'Hard to Believe'

By ROSS GOLDBERG, Special to the Sun
June 6, 2008

Senator Schumer is coming under sharp criticism from the government of the Czech Republic and from Polish-American and Romanian-American leaders in America after writing an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal suggesting that America should accommodate what he called Prime Minister Putin's "dream of eventually restoring Russian hegemony over Eastern Europe."

Diplomats and community leaders who read the Journal article in response to inquiries by The New York Sun said they were taken aback by the suggestion by the New York Democrat that America should try to gain Russia's backing for tougher sanctions on Iran by abandoning NATO plans to build missile defense sites in Poland, Romania, and the Czech Republic.

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The Czech ambassador to the United Nations, Martin Palous, objected to the idea that his country should be "offered to Russia." "We don't think that there should be a kind of bargaining chip with Russians, that Russians should be given certain concessions to get some advantages," Mr. Palous said. "We certainly would like to be considered a partner, not an object to be negotiated about."

The president of the Polish American Congress division that includes New York City, Frank Milewski, said Mr. Schumer "sounds like Churchill and Roosevelt, who at the Yalta conference in 1945 were willing to consign Eastern Europe to the Soviet sphere of influence and brought about the eventual Cold War."

"It's hard to believe that someone would be making that kind of a statement," Mr. Milewski said. Mr. Schumer's office did not respond to requests for comment.

This isn't the first time that Mr. Schumer has peeved Americans of East European origin. A source recalled a speech Mr. Schumer gave at the Polish consulate about five years ago, in which he mistakenly said that Poland was not yet a member of NATO. In fact, it had already joined the alliance in 1999.

The executive director of the Romanian-American Network and editor in chief of the Chicago-based Romanian Tribune, Steven Bonica, grew up behind the Iron Curtain in Romania and escaped to America as a political refugee in 1984. He recalled that the population felt betrayed after World War II when America "abandoned" it to the Eastern Bloc. Mr. Bonica said it was special moment when Romania hosted a NATO summit in April, nearly 20 years after the country was freed from Soviet influence.

"Now, to go back?" he asked in response to Mr. Schumer. "Only someone who does not respect democracy or people's will would suggest that Romania and countries of eastern Europe should be left alone or pushed towards Russia."

A few community leaders took particular issue with the passage in the senator's article in which he wrote that Mr. Putin "seeks to regain the power and greatness Russia had before the fall of the Soviet Union."

"What does Schumer mean? That if we have communist Russia back, then it's ok?" asked the editor in chief of the Polish American Journal, Mark Kohan. "Schumer thinks they'll have power and leave us alone. That's ludicrous." The editor of the Polish Daily News in Manhattan, Czeslaw Karkowski, said that the antimissile site would ensure that America has a continuing interest in protecting Poland. And the president of the American Friends of the Czech Republic, Peter Rafaeli, said he believes that the shield may one day avert an actual missile attack.

"If there's an ounce of possibility that it may protect these countries from going through another devastation, then I think they deserve it," Mr. Rafaeli said. He emphasized that he was not speaking for his organization, which is apolitical. The head of the Long Island Chapter of the Polish American Congress, Richard Brzozowski, said he agreed with Mr. Schumer that the shield is more trouble than it's worth.

"The Polish people should not be subjected to having those sites there because Russia is strongly against it and Russia and Poland have never been on great terms," Mr. Brzozowski said.

Several of those interviewed questioned why Mr. Schumer felt the need to write the proposal in the first place, especially one on such a sensitive issue.

"I don't think there's another senator who has more to say on any given day than Schumer," said the president of the Congress of Romanian Americans, Armand Scala. "He's more political than he needs to be out there in the media."

Octobr 17, 2008 - President Bush Discusses the Visa Waiver Program
Office of the Press Secretary/ White House News

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. (Applause.) Please be seated, thank you. Welcome to the White House. I'm pleased to stand with the representatives of seven countries -- the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, and South Korea -- that have met the requirements to be admitted to the United States Visa Waiver Program. Soon the citizens of these nations will be able to travel to the United States for business or tourism without a visa. I congratulate these close friends and allies on this achievement, and I thank you for joining us here.

I also thank Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of the Homeland -- Department of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff for working hard to make sure this day has finally arrived. Appreciate other members of the administration here and members of the Diplomatic Corps.

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