Salami Tactics

After opening a branch office in Budapest the FBI is doing now the same in Bucharest; Romania hopes to come one step closer to becoming a part of NATO

Half a century ago, in order to assume and consolidate power, the Communist Party in Hungary, led by the ultra-Stalinist Matyas Rakosi, adopted a strategy known as "salami tactics". This entailed a gradual process of threats and alliances as a means of overcoming opposition. Consequently, the communists were able to exert their influence and eventually dominate the political landscape -- slice by slice.

It's ironic that five decades later the same tactics are being used, this time not by a Moscow trained communist elite, but by a capitalist elite based in Washington. What the KGB succeeded in doing in Hungary and the rest of Central and Eastern Europe at the end of the Second World War the FBI has now been doing in the post Cold War period.

Earlier this year, the FBI officially opened a branch office in Budapest (FBI to open an office in Hungary). The official reason given was to assist the Hungarian authorities in their fight against the Russian mafia. This would entail not only intelligence gathering activities, but would also mean the establishment of an informer network.

Now, half a year later, the same has happened elsewhere, this time in Romania. The reason behind the FBI opening a Bucharest branch office is more of the same: together with the Romanian authorities, they will concentrate their efforts on combatting economic crimes, the trafficking of migrants, child pornography, and organised crime.

The official line in Romania for the establishment of the office is that it will facilitate the co-ordination of activities and sharing of information between the FBI and the Romanian secret service. However, it's also no secret that by allowing American police forces to operate within the country, Romania hopes to come one step closer to becoming a part of NATO.

This, unfortunately, is a tempting carrot that has been dangled in front of all governments within the region in one way or another. Promises of admittance to the EU and NATO are often used as a means to extract political and economic concessions. In the end, many Central and European countries end up with broken dreams (as with NATO and the war in Yugoslavia) and unfulfilled promises (uncertain and delayed entrance to the EU).

What is worrying about all this is the extent to which the US has filled the power vacuum left by the former Soviet Union. Indeed, in many respects the influence of American power is much greater. In the case of Romania, Soviet troops had left the country in 1958; it appears only a matter of time before American forces will establish their own base, as they did in Taszar, south Hungary.

Although FBI agents working in Romania are supposedly there to help in the fight against organised crime, there is no doubt that their presence is part of the new economic order. With the increased importance of a network economy as the backbone to globalisation, it is of strategic interest to the US to be able to enforce the "rule of law" wherever and whenever it pleases. The recent arrest in California of a 24-year old, whose bogus email had prompted a sell-off of a company's shares on Wall Street, merely highlights such concerns.

While Romania is presently behind other countries in Central and Eastern Europe in terms of economic development, it's almost certain that they, along with other countries like Bulgaria, will play an important role in the near future for global capitalism. As wages and living standards slowly begin to rise in the relatively more affluent areas within the region (e.g., Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland), companies will be inclined to move further east to where labour costs are lower and environmental laws are lax. This, together with the knowledge that there is a global cop in the neighbourhood, is an ideal setting for business in the 21st century. (John Horvath)