||Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe|
The ABCs of Democracy
Section 3: Communism and Postcommunism
A widely accepted truism in the early 1990s was that the Cold War ended and a new era of international co-operation had begun. Later on, however, this was considered too simplistic in the light of the lack of stability in the former USSR, ongoing conflicts there, and the projection of Russian interests far outside Russian territory, documented not only in statements, but also in military and economic actions. In this context, it seems worthwhile to relate the Cold War and its supposed end, as regarded from a perspective of the history of political ideas and perceptions, to the current East Central European political and economic transformation.
The expression "Cold War" has been widely used since the late 40s to describe the antagonism between the USSR and the United States that manifested itself in military preparations, in spreading the superpowers' political influence, and in the political outlook that included a definition of who is the enemy and why. The Cold War is usually considered to begin in the 1940s when the Soviet Union strengthened its grasp on East Central Europe and to end forty years later when East Europeans intensified their efforts to get rid of communism and Soviet domination.(2)
The Cold War ended by the West's victory, according to a widely accepted opinion. But statements on the Cold War's end or beginning depend on the authors' convictions how deep an antagonism has to be in order to be called cold war. Some authors trace Cold War beginnings back to the Bolshevik Revolution,(3) some say that the Cold War did not end yet, because there are still similarities to the situations from the 1940s and 1950s when the term "Cold War" gained popularity.(4)
In the late 1980s, the Soviet leaders stressed the need of deep internal reforms and admitted that they see economic deficiencies of the Soviet system - at the time of visible U.S. advantage in most modern military technology. Of the two traditional goals of Soviet politics: expansion and coexistence,(5) Soviet politicians of the late 1980s gave preference to coexistence to the detriment of expansion. The U.S. help to anticommunist movements and insurgencies increased the cost of the Soviet support for their client states and political movements in Asia (Afghanistan), Africa (Angola), and Latin America (Nicaragua). The Soviets restrained their military presence and their wish to spread their ideology, and became even more eager than usually to accept Western help, which, they thought, might be used to fix the breaking Soviet system.
The Soviet politics, relatively restrained and aimed at gaining Western approval and support, opened possibilities for liberalization in Eastern Europe in the late 1980s. Soviet authorities became less busy with controlling every detail of East European political life and checking to what degree East European governments follow prescriptions of "building socialism." But Soviet leaders did not cease to be interested in the Soviet or Russian "sphere of interests" including East European countries. USSR, and now Russia, has been continuously "fighting for peace" and Russian politicians have stressed rather the need of ending the Cold War, that is ending the antagonism with the West, than the need of ending Russia's domination and control over the former Soviet Union and East Central Europe.
The Soviet efforts to appease the West and fix the Soviet system coincided roughly with the East European political-economic transformation that gained momentum around 1989. But coincidence does not mean that two processes are identical. Identifying the East European transformation with the Soviet efforts to end the Cold War can be misleading. Nations and states, like Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, or Czechoslovakia under communism did not conduct a war, be it cold or not: in order to do it, they should have been independent actors on the international scene, and they were not.
The governments of the Warsaw Pact countries acted as Soviet proxies
and neither they conducted their own foreign policies, nor were responsible
for their internal policies in their most important parameters. Those governments
acted as intermediaries between Soviet rulers and local populations and
they oscillated between representing Soviet and local interests.
Cold War and Political Images
The term "Cold War" gained popularity in the U.S. in the 1940s, roughly at the time when President Harry Truman launched his doctrine of military, financial, and political assistance to Turkey and Greece to contain communist and Soviet activities there. This preventive policy was advocated by George F. Kennan who opted for "a longterm, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies."(6)
Cold war entailed a change of the Western attitudes towards the Soviet Union. Since the Bolshevik revolution, the Soviet Russia has been often described in the media, by political scientists and sovietologists as a socially progressive country conducting important social experiments and taking care of its citizens. A large segment of Western opinion saw Soviet leaders as well?intentioned and peace loving, concerned about their country's interests and security, and threatened not only from the outside, but also from the inside: by continuously present hardliners. At the time of World War II, during negotiations that were to decide the East European nations' fate, the role of a hardliner was sometime ascribed to the then?Foreign Minister Viacheslav Molotov, while friendly but firm supreme leader Joseph Stalin was ready for compromises as long as they took into account legitimate Soviet interests. Independence of the East European countries would have threaten these interests, according to Soviet politicians. The Soviet Union, they said, had to defend itself by maintaining a security zone around its frontiers, consisting of states whose governments it could trust. The distinction between such a defense and an outright Soviet intervention in neighboring countries was not always easy to grasp, especially for the countries and people concerned. Western politicians by and large accepted what the Soviets called their legitimate defense interests - in Teheran (1943), Yalta (1945), and Potsdam (1945). Until now, neither Soviet/Russian ideas about defense through subordination of other countries have disappeared, nor the Western readiness to accept such ideas.
The Western images of the Soviet Union since its creation have been often asociological and abstract, tainted by Soviet propaganda and by wishful thinking of Western intellectuals.(7) Sufficient attention was rarely paid to important institutions and practices of real Soviet life, like forced labor, omnipresent terror, and the actual role of the communist party and political police. Relevant testimonies and analyses of those institutions were available before Khrushchev's 1956 "secret" speech and before Solzhenitsyn's "Gulag Archipelago." But Soviet propaganda found receptive audience and the Soviet Union was often seen simply as just another member of the international family of nations and a reliable Western ally in the war with Germany. The Soviet role in starting the World War II was later largely erased from the public's memory. The Soviet Union's admirers and sympathizers were ready to accept any pro-Soviet argumentation: for them, the Ribbentrop-Molotov August 1939 pact and the Soviet participation on the side of Germany in the war against Poland in September 1939 were examples of Soviet legitimate defense.
Not everyone was reproducing the dominant clichés referring to the Soviet Union. The American labor unions were, for instance, aware of the widespread use of slave labor in the USSR. Some sovietologists, political émigrés, and returning visitors published reports and analyses of the Soviet life that were close to reality and took into account other elements than those presented by the official Soviet propaganda. Relatively early examples of an insightful sovietology were Merle Fainsod's works based on documents from the Soviet archives taken by Germans during World War II and later transported to the U.S.(8)
When the Soviet Union was strengthening its rule in Eastern Europe in 1944-1948,9 the U.S. political circles and mass media started to transform their perception of the Soviet behavior and intentions. The very expression "Cold War" made clear that sides have changed, and the Soviet Union was no longer an ally. The term "Cold War" had a mobilizing effect: a war, even if "cold," demanded an activity on the Western side, efforts to contain Soviet influence, especially in the countries where the Soviets did not establish a subordinated government yet. Western politicians and commentators showed then a broader understanding for the existence of nations, peoples, and countries under Soviet and communist domination, for their interests and aspirations, ranging from the need of information, largely understood in the West, to the need of self-determination, largely forgotten towards the end of World War II, though stressed by President Wilson during World War I.
The Cold War temperature changed. Tensions, confrontations, and local wars were followed by, or coincided with, détente. After conflicts, or even during, both sides talked and agreements were reached. Thus, the two superpowers kept their Cold War sufficiently cold, careful to avoid their simultaneous involvement in a military confrontation. Prudence was shown even during such vivid conflicts as the 1948-1949 Berlin blockade, the 1950-1953 Korean war, the 1956 Hungarian revolution, or the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. Later, disarmament treaties expressed the superpowers willingness to limit the probability of global war and their reluctance to spend too much for the arms race and to go too far in their antagonism.10 What was too far was decided case by case.
The Conference on (since 1995-Organization for) Security and Cooperation in Europe, in its Helsinki Final Act of 1975, considered the implementation of human rights a matter of international concern, vital for security considerations. This stress on human rights was encouraged by the realistic, "coldwar" vision of the Soviet Union as an oppressive country and was - rightly - perceived by the Soviet officialdom as anti-Soviet and anti-communist. It was not evident for everybody from the very beginning, but communism and Soviet power proved to be incompatible with freedom and implementation of human rights. The abandon of communism wherever it was possible proved the rule: no coercion, no communism.
Flattering portraits of the communist countries were, however, continuously
painted in the West during the 1970s and 1980s. The "Cold War," "hawkish"
vision stressed oppressive and anti-democratic character of communism.
But an "anti-Cold War," "dovish," revisionist opinion stated that communist
countries are perhaps differently democratic and practice freedom in their
own way, but they are democratic anyhow, or even have a better, socially
oriented, kind of freedom and democracy. According to the "Cold War" interpretation,
a deep-rooted change was needed if the communist countries were to become
free and similar to democratic nations.
The "Cold War" approach to the Soviet system and perceiving international relations in terms of Cold War were less angelic and more adequate, as is now clear, than the vision of the Soviet Union as a peaceful and harmless country similar to any other. But the "Cold War" perception entailed also disadvantages if one wasn't careful enough to make clear distinctions. In modern wars, people often see moral differences between parties at war. In a democracy, a cause that is considered just may easier win approval. In many cases, however, people consider that opposite sides at war have, at least in some respects, an equivalent standing.
The Cold War started and continued exactly because there were important differences between the two superpowers in their international conduct and internal policies. Some Western politicians, called "conservatives," were, nevertheless, attacked for seeing morally important differences between the two superpowers.(11) The accusations were raised, for instance, against President Reagan, for his description of the USSR as the "evil empire." Political writers suggested instead an equivalence between Soviet and U.S. spheres of influence or between persecution of political enemies in both countries. An equivalence was suggested between Soviet and American Cold War propaganda or between public opinion in both countries that allegedly had influence on respective governments. The authors of such parallels omitted quite important details and differences, and made gross understatements on the one side and overstatements on the other.
For many participants, the 1989-1995 events in Eastern Europe have been aimed at gaining internal freedom and independence from Soviet control. Changes in Soviet policy facilitated these events, but Soviet - and later Russian - side was less eager to lose control that many East Europeans wished. In Russian official political pronouncements one has heard often how important the end of the Cold War is, and not so often that the end of communism and of Soviet/Russian domination is important. The reference to the "end of Cold War" in Russian official language happens to be used as a polite and diplomatic way of transmitting responsibility, acquitting the Soviet Union and the communist movement, and implying an equivalence of "both sides at war." Out of Cold War and Out of Communism
Soviet domination in Eastern Europe manifested itself in the security, military, and economic submission of Warsaw Pact countries to the Soviet Union. Communism was an abstract and volatile idea, but it was also a real system of party?state dominated organizations with a social structure based primarily on participation in power, that depended in turn on co-optation and promotion according to political subordination.
Referring to the Cold War, people referred to more than only military preparations: to interpretations and convictions, involving attitudes of politicians not trusting the other side - a mistrust that is often quite reasonable. Declaring that the Cold War is over does not mean that the military ceased to prepare contingency plans for their armies - such preparations are their duty. Saying that the Cold War ended would rather mean that political attitudes changed, the image of the former enemy is now different, and trust prevails. Such a declaration refers to perceptions and feelings, and may easier go unchallenged than a saying that the Soviet or Russian domination and communism ended. If they ended, more would have to be changed than perceptions and attitudes.
While Russian politicians were stressing their interest in the end of the Cold War, many East Europeans were interested in something that is easier to notice when happens but more difficult to achieve: in getting rid of the remnants of the Soviet/Russian domination and communism, and in the move towards national independence, democracy, and free market.(12)
Repetitive use of Marxist phraseology under communism hindered people in postcommunist countries from applying the word "capitalism" to describe their political aims. The word being considered derogatory, many politicians prefer to speak instead about free market, as if free market could be established without private companies, capital, and legal freedoms of capitalism.
East Central European and former Soviet Union countries are getting rid of communism and Soviet-Russian domination. The Czech Republic is more successful in achieving these aims than Belarus, and many countries are somewhere in between. Democracy, capitalism, and national independence are in general incomplete, often crippled, and endangered. Foreign investments arrive and laws are changed, but everywhere capitalism is built with a shortage of capital; democracy - without sufficient democratic institutions and democratic culture; and independence -without adequate resources and personnel. Funds, equipment, qualifications and skills, training and education are needed in every country. Democracy, capitalism, and national independence are built amidst numerous obstacles, such as traces of communism in people's mentality and qualifications, and the legacy of communist institutions, including law, state property, and state economy. In many countries, communist and Soviet trained personnel plays a considerable role in the military and security establishments.
Dismantling the institutions inherited from communism is harmful for many. The occupational structure is changing, but in every postcommunist country a developed state sector has been inherited from the past. Job security and social protection assured by the state are in demand and they have to be financed by high taxes, often detrimental to economic development. Political movements are taking advantage of disillusions and of social costs of transformation, sustained, especially, by state employees and farmers. Political freedoms and democratic procedures may be then exploited to hamper transition to capitalism and national independence, as has been shown in former Soviet republics, and - to a lesser degree - in East European countries which democratically elect former communist politicians (presenting themselves as social?democrats or nationalists) as their leaders.
The Cold War has been interpreted as an outcome of the Soviet-Russian infringement on the European balance of power.(13) Russia started the Cold War, so it was up to her to end it. Choosing leaders as symbols of superpowers' policies, an American commentator remarked: "It was Gorbachev and none other who canceled the Cold War. It was Reagan who generated the pressures that led Gorbachev to do it."(14)
The foreign and military policy of the Russian empire shows that territorial
expansion in the area between the Baltic and Black Sea and weakening East
Central Europe have been among Russian aims for centuries: the partitions
of Poland were an outcome of this tendency. Even Russia may change, but
an updated and adequate image of this country may help to conduct foreign
policy in Eastern Europe and elsewhere. That is why it is worthwhile to
be aware of the misleading aspects of both "angelic" and "Cold War" vision
of the Soviet Union and Russia (in the case of the Cold War vision, the
assumption of moral equivalence between two sides was misleading).
Russian politicians often say that they are worried of NATO expansion that constitutes a threat to Russia and would lead to its isolation. From the East European perspective this is an Orwellian newspeak, which is not so new, moreover, and in which words receive reversed meanings. The Soviet Union was a continuous threat to East Central Europe, the threat that manifested itself in 1939/1940, in 1944-1945, and later in Hungary in 1956 and in Czechoslovakia in 1968, while NATO was one of the principal factors of the European post-war peace and stability. The argument which in the communist times referred to Soviet "hardliners" who should not be provoked by bold Western policies - refers now to Russian "ultra-nationalist forces" that would take advantage of NATO expansion.
The frontiers of the Soviet/Russian sphere of control changed already when the European Union and NATO moved east after the unification of Germany. Now, the interested countries will decide how far east the frontiers of the West will move, what countries will be left over and possibly included in the Russian sphere of control. For many countries, like the Baltic states or Romania, it is important to regard NATO expansion as a gradual, multi-stage process. The countries that will probably be admitted first (Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and possibly Slovenia) have also an interest in such a gradual NATO enlargement.
The NATO enlargement will of course depend on the political situation in the countries looking for admission, including civil?military relation there.(15) It will not be in NATO's interest to admit countries with Mafia-like political, military, and economic structures and with too much links still preserved to the former Warsaw Pact center of command.
The preservation of Russia's special rights in the former Soviet Bloc countries contradicts the widely accepted aims of the 1989-1995 transformation in East Central Europe. The efforts to rebuild a post-Soviet/Russian sphere of influence contradict the supposed independence of the countries concerned.
The West's Cold War policies and attitudes were instrumental in achieving the East European transformation. The conviction, spread after World War II, that the Cold War was going on, and the term "Cold War" itself helped the West to contain the Soviet influence. A more adequate perception of the Soviet Union gained popularity, a perception that was often inconsistent with the Soviet official propaganda.
The declarations that the Cold War began or ended are, however, largely arbitrary, the term "Cold War" being often misleading, among others, because of the suggested equivalence of both sides "at war."
Strictly speaking, Eastern Europe was not at war, it was under Soviet domination. The East European countries were not independent enough to declare and fight a war, even a metaphoric and "cold" war.
Russian politicians are still careful to preserve Russia's sphere of interest and influence. But even if we assume that perceptions and attitudes of politicians changed to that extent that the Cold War is over, the East European transformation towards national independence, capitalism, and democracy is not over. The outcome of this transformation depends on the great power politics, but also on the decisiveness of East European nations and their political leaders.
1. Based on a presentation at the conference: "The New European
Security Architecture and Democratization of the Armies from an Educational
Point of View," organized by the Atlantic Treaty Organization, Atlantic
Education Committee, and the Polish Atlantic Club, Nowy Sacz, Poland, 27
Most countries of Eastern and Central Europe are now governed by those who, in communist times, made up the opposition. How did this come about, what have been its consequences, and what does it mean for politics in this region?(1)
Opposition to communism took various forms and was conducted within various social groups. Private enterprise carried on despite repressive measures (in particular, in the Polish countryside), university teaching free of ideology in disciplines subject to ideological pressure, cultural and religious expression unfettered by the dictates of the state?these were some of the forms opposition assumed; the degree to which such activities were restricted by state control varied from country to country.
One form of opposition was-as the West called it-the dissident movement. This movement consisted of overt expressions of discontent by people who took pains to ensure that their names and their public stances were known to the authorities and to the public at home and abroad. In the latter stages of communism, oppositionists whose names were recognized in the West enjoyed a measure of protection from police repression, and were thus better able to continue their opposition activities. If two people were engaged in the same activity, the one who was unknown was more vulnerable to repression than the one who was more famous.
In the Soviet Union and in many countries in Eastern and Central Europe,
dissidents created a peculiar sort of community, bound together by a network
of contacts partially hidden from the police. The combination of hidden
and overt activities was very characteristic of the dissident movement.
Well-known dissidents would sign declarations critical of the government,
while others in the opposition clandestinely typed out texts and mimeographed
or (later) printed them, and still others, shunning publicity for themselves,
kept track of human and civil rights violations. Publicly visible activities
brought fame at home and abroad, while the secret work of creating the
technical basis for dissident activities and for disseminating information
brought no such rewards.
Initiation into the dissident movement demanded an act of courage: the courage to take a public stand and suffer the consequences-arrest, police interrogation, imprisonment, deprivation of employment, and many other forms of abuse. These were tests of fortitude, and some did better on them than others.
The later stages of the dissident movement produced a number of groups and institutions whose membership was made public, such as editorial boards of independent journals and committees to defend the persecuted. But even after such organizations came into being, opposition activity continued to be dominated by informal networks. Authority was personal - it stemmed neither from formal position nor from elections, and was not even tied to membership in a particular opposition group.
The dissident movement had its internal hierarchy, and, as is often the case with complex activities, there was not much room for equality. Some individuals had more influence than others, and their opinions carried more weight the principle of "one man, one vote" did not apply. Access to information and to the means of taking action, including funds (mainly from the West), and the opportunity to select the information and ideas to be disseminated, were privileges enjoyed by some more than others. This inequality provoked complaints of cliques and accusations of elitism, while those who were the targets of such remarks replied that whoever was not with them was marginal and unworthy of public attention.
There were deliberations over who could or could not be trusted, over who was or was not "one of us." The distinction dissident leaders drew between "one of us" and "not one of us" made them targets of accusations of elitism and isolation.
What was important in the dissident movement was publicity; one's formal position in independent organizations counted less. The dissident-organizer needed the skills of an impresario: he had to gain the trust of public figures, particularly artists and writers, and convince them to lend their names in support of a given dissident cause.
In drafting public declarations, one had to choose a cause decide what should be criticized or defended at the given moment. The selection of causes from among a plethora of possibilities was the responsibility of the movement's informal leaders; it was also they who defined who was "one of us" and who was not. If a group refused to submit to this hierarchy and selected a cause without prior consultation with the informal leaders, it could be accused of disrupting the opposition's unity.
In selecting causes for support or targets of criticism, dissidents were engaging in politics of a sort. At the same time, they proclaimed themselves to be against (or above) politics, denying that they were politicians and claiming merely to be reacting to evil and defending higher values. The problem, however, is that there are many higher values, and defending some might infringe upon others. When one's possibilities of action are limited, one has to choose, and the choice of a cause to defend or an evil to attack is often far from obvious.
Good dissident politics required one to choose causes that were morally unambiguous so as to attract the support necessary to bring a given cause to the attention of the public. But it was also thought that dissident appeals should be "realistic" and not excessively "provocative." For this reason, demands for national independence or for the withdrawal of Soviet forces were sometimes considered inappropriate and premature.
Attempts were made to reconcile morality and realism - a difficult task. The habit of moral certainty, the conviction that one's own actions and decisions are right, resulted in difficulties when the communists were no longer the enemy, and when the moral superiority of the former dissidents ceased to be taken for granted.
It was important in the dissident movement to tell the truth: to call a spade a spade. This flouted the conventions of public discourse, but it was hardly a discovery. The intellectuals' desire to lend depth and complexity to the picture of the world was absent from the dissidents' declarations. The dissidents' role was more political, the intellectuals' more inquiring. But many people forgot this and assumed that dissidents and nonconformist intellectuals were one and the same. They weren't, though from time to time they came together to sign appeals and protests.
The dissident movement played an important role in smoothing the path
to democracy. It contributed to the growth of pluralism and was a part
of civil society under communism. But there are few activities whose consequences
are exclusively and unambiguously beneficial, and the dissident culture,
in its role as harbinger of democracy, was no exception. Modern democracies
see to it that rules of action are formally codified and regulated by law.
The informality of the dissident movement, its loose networks of contacts,
and its informal leadership were not the best preparation for democracy,
especially democracy on the scale of a state.
Democracy is usually understood to be a system that tolerates pluralism. The emphasis the dissident movement placed on unity, and its tendency to indulge in black-and-white moral rhetoric, were inimical to the expression and clarification of differences. Thus, to some extent, unity and uncompromising moral stances have hindered the attainment of democracy.
Dissident protests did not concede that the other side might be partly right, as is usually the case in political life. It was simple: dissidents were in the right, and it was often assumed that whoever was not "one of us" was morally in the wrong.
In 1980-81 in Poland, and later in other countries, opposition movements were formed under the banner of solidarity and unity. Many oppositionists argued that the struggle against a totalitarian regime demanded unity in one's own ranks, and that differences and pluralism had to be subordinated to this need. It was claimed that political parties no longer had a constructive role to play.
If, however, people less closely connected with the established dissident movement attempted to create a broad movement of their own, they were accused of populism (a word with decidedly negative connotations in Eastern Europe). In particular, calls for national unity were deemed populist when they were made without being cleared by the important dissidents.
The dismantling of communism was acknowledged to be a difficult task, and it seemed profitable in the meantime to try to reform or at least soften the system so as to bring it closer to the threshold of democracy. The opposition's public declarations, while often close to anti-communism, sometimes mentioned only the need for a better standard of living. Some simply wanted the system to be less awful; others, like Marxist revisionists, claimed that it was basically sound, although in need of some adjustments.
In many countries the opposition held talks, to varying degrees official or secret, with representatives of the government. These talks, at which both sides made concessions, laid the groundwork for the transition to democracy; later, the rapidity of this transition exceeded even the participants' expectations. The segment of the opposition that participated in the talks tended to be less anti?communist than the rest of the opposition. Furthermore, these people were less anti-communist at the talks than they otherwise were. The rhetoric of the now former dissidents started to be more strongly marked by realism; the uncompromising moralists of the past suddenly became conciliatory politicians, negotiating with the devil they had until recently condemned.
The negotiations, when they came to light or were rumored to be taking place, prompted accusations of betrayal. Outsiders assumed that the self-appointed representatives of the opposition were entering into secret agreements on behalf of the entire opposition. This, if true, was difficult to reconcile with the opposition's previous moralizing rhetoric, and led to further recriminations. One could, of course, use moral arguments both to defend and attack negotiations and agreements with the communists. Supporters of the talks emphasized the need to compromise, thereby contradicting their previous hostile stance to collaboration and reconciliation. The talks with the government benefited their participants, and other less-fortunate members of the opposition resented this. And, while the differences between the dissident negotiators and the communists gradually became blurred, the diverging trends within the opposition became more pronounced.
Some members of the former opposition presented themselves as noble and tolerant partners in the negotiations with the communists; others reaffirmed their anti-communism, and in so doing attacked not only the communists in power, but other members of the opposition on account of their communist pasts. The chivalrous and tolerant stance towards communists, taken by some former dissidents, was not accompanied by tolerance towards the diverging groups within the opposition.
Some members of the communist nomenklatura were losing their access
to official positions and their hold on the mass media; economic perks
and easy credit were becoming harder to obtain. These privileges were later
passing to some of the former dissidents, who were finding it easier to
get along with their communist partners in negotiations than with other
If the dissidents had acted alone, the government might have succeeded in isolating them; insofar as they contributed to the transition to democracy, they did so with the backing of a mass movement - sometimes, as in Poland in 1980-81, a well-organized mass movement that was beginning to create its own internal democratic structures.
Later, however, this movement's internal democracy collapsed, partly because of the need for secrecy under martial law. Open, democratic institutions were replaced by underground, conspiratorial structures. When the repression of martial law abated, the dissident policy of public declarations and negotiations was readopted; in time, these types of action completely supplanted underground activity. People felt - and not only in Poland - that the revolution, or the mass movement, had been stolen from them. Tensions arose between Solidarity-the mass movement, whose leaders had been elected-and the dissidents who were the movement's self-appointed leaders, experts, and advisors.
While the dissidents tried to reconcile politics with morality, some perceived a close link between the opposition and the church. In many communist countries religion was a way of escaping from communism: the church spoke a different language from the party - state authorities, and in important matters its actions were not subject to the control of the communist regime. In Poland after 1956, the Catholic Church was the only major institution largely independent from the communist authorities: it had its own highly formalized hierarchy, devoted followers, and its own communication and education network, enabling it to influence almost all of the society.
From 1980 onwards, representatives of the church hierarchy in Poland
were present at negotiations between the government and the opposition
and took part in them as mediators, moderators, witnesses, and underwriters
(which role took precedence was not always clear). And the church did more
than merely assist the negotiations: it was also a party to them.
In some cases of the transition to democracy, the first free democratic elections were a good opportunity for creating and strengthening political parties. In Hungary, the opposition demanded that parliamentary elections precede the election of the president. In Poland, the first free parliamentary elections of the post-communist period weren't held until 1991; the composition of the parliament installed in 1989 was determined by the "round-table compromise" between communist-led and dissident-led coalitions. The parliament elected at that time hardly constituted a fair representation of the electorate.
One of the groups within the former opposition demanded that the president be elected by universal ballot and not by an unrepresentative parliament. But the campaign for the presidency was conducted before well-developed political parties had emerged, and this further reinforced the personal character of Polish politics, to the detriment of the institutional dimension of democracy.
Politics in Europe today is marked by a divide between right and left,
as in France or Great Britain. The left is more sensitive to the needs
of the disadvantaged and underprivileged, and tends to favor state control
of major industries together with the expansion of the state bureaucracy.
The right is more interested in encouraging private enterprise; as one
British minister put it, the right believes that "the government of business
is not the business of government."
That aversion to the words "socialism" and "the left" diminished with time. If parties that espouse socialist ideas have a place on the legitimate political spectrum in Western Europe, then they also have a role to play in Europe's eastern parts. Especially if they are democratic, which implies anti-communist.
* * *
1. This is an extended version of a paper presented at a conference on government and opposition in post-communist societies, which was held March 25-27, 1991, in Timisoara, Romania. The text has been published in Uncaptive Minds 1992, no 2 (20).
The year 1989 is said to be the year of the East European revolution. Ralph Dahrendorf wrote even about a revolution in Europe.2 That European or East European revolution spread to the Soviet Union in 1990 and 1991. New states gained independence and were officially recognized from Lithuania to Kazakhstan. The Soviet Union officially ceased to exist. So, if the revolution began, it certainly did not end in 1989.
According to historian François Furet, the French revolution lasted 110 years. (One of his books is titled: The Revolution 1770-1880.) Perhaps at the end of the twentieth century we live at a faster pace and less time than a century will be needed to complete the postcommunist transformation-be it a revolution or not.
The events of 1989 were called revolution on the wave of initial enthusiasm and, perhaps, as an expression of Western sympathy. But was it really a revolution? The economic situation was disastrous, there was popular pressure, people demonstrated on the streets, and strikes were being organized, but the decision of some communist rulers to share power was evident already, especially in Hungary and Poland. Therefore, it was a special case of revolution: one conducted with the rulers' consent and participation. Agreements were reached on the conditions of the transfer-or partial transfer-of power. The communists prepared a soft, velvet transition, and practically everywhere they succeeded-in the sense that many of them are still in power and control economic resources.
Toward the end of the 1980s, some segments of the communist nomenklatura attempted to exchange its monopoly of power for economic advantages. They decided to get rid of some of the power they had held collectively and to replace it with individual financial gains. New laws on corporations were passed by communist parliaments and new corporations were created by members of the nomenklatura. People who were in the communist apparatus had access to important information, and when they decided to become capitalists it was easier for them to obtain credits and licenses. Members of the communist apparatus were, for a long time, in control of the state's finances, foreign trade, police and army, and often still are. The starting point was not the same for everyone and deals were made from an unfair position. As a former Polish prime minister put it, the invisible hand of the market was playing dirty games.
While there are many new private companies and small businesses, the state-owned sector of the economy is still predominant, especially in heavy industry. Privatization of large enterprises is slow. In the privatization of smaller enterprises, the former members of the apparatus took advantage of their positions and got more privileges.
The catastrophic economic situation in the last years of communist rule turned out to be worse than the pessimists predicted. National product per capita in the most developed East European countries is five to ten times less than in Western Europe. In the best scenario, the East will reach present Western levels only well into the next century.
In social structure, the communist nomenklatura, which used to be a rigid and complicated bureaucratic organization, became more loosely organized and more involved in new capitalist economic life. But it is often a Mafia-like capitalism, taking advantage of loopholes in the law or breaking it outright. The second or parallel economy, which proliferated in some communist countries, did not cease to exist. On the contrary, it developed in the most colorful ways on an international scale.
Large segments of the population are hostile towards liberal - market oriented - economic policies adopted by governments. People paid by the state budget are impoverished and often go on strike against the state as employer. Peasants request protective tariffs on agricultural goods. Industrial workers and miners object to the use of purely economic criteria to determine the preservation or bankruptcy of enterprises they work in. Unemployment is growing, although, while officially registered, its rate is difficult to verify and often approximated.
The legal system has also been inherited from communism. Changing this system can not be achieved in one legal act and changing it piecemeal takes time. Therefore, the popular catch phrase "the rule of law" has acquired a perverse meaning. The rule of law has often been interpreted as a demand for implementing even the most absurd laws promulgated under communism, many of which are still valid. The communists' own crimes from the Stalinist period were not prosecuted at the time they were committed and to do so now is, in some countries, proscribed. The rule of law is, here, not a revolutionary postulate.
The judiciary was also inherited from communism. Personnel changes in courts and prosecutors' offices have been conducted on a small scale. For some judges and prosecutors it has been difficult to change their habits. The communist past of many judges does not secure either the courts' independence or respectability. Although verdicts may not be rendered on a political basis, prosecutors' offices, as government agencies, can still serve as a weapon to charge members of a current political opposition with corruption or mismanagement while formerly in power.
In all Eastern European countries, the constitutions were rewritten or amended, but the new constitutional provisions are themselves far from ideal and have been changed far too often. The prerogatives of different branches of government are established through political struggles and by trail and error. A presidential system was a popular constitutional solution in many countries, but it was adopted without the sufficient checks and balances found in the US - with strong legislative and judicial branches of government. In advocating the presidential system, people were arguing for a strong and charismatic leader who would solve the country's problems. But whenever a president attempted to act strongly, even followers were disappointed, like many Lech Walesa supporters in Poland.
The actual balance of power is reflected in the changing constitutional regulations. The new legal or constitutional order does not seem to be intended for a longer period. Rather, because of political expediency, informal networks act in a constitutional vacuum, while cosmetic or deliberately unclear changes are made. Such fragmentary mending of the constitutions in postcommunist states is less than revolutionary.
The agencies responsible for law and order are often weak and under
financed. Public security is decreasing. Violent crimes are widely reported
in many countries as going up. New forms of organized crime are widespread.
The role of the police is changing, but the new governments have fewer
resources for controlling crime than the communists had for controlling
The euphoria of the revolutionary politics of 1989-90 has faded. Poverty is an important factor. Promises for a better life after communism are not coming true for many. While poverty is inherited from communism, people now complain that some make fortunes with ease and that starting points for making money differ considerably. Such sentiment is fertile ground for appeals to egalitarianism, which are usually exploited by leftist political parties. including the neo-communist ones.
Popular participation in elections is not high. Electoral campaigns do not mobilize people to vote in high numbers. The new political parties lack experience and are hardly grass roots movements. The general public does not know much specific about the manifold parties and the parties themselves are not quite sure of their identity. The system of proportional representation, instead of majority-seat constituencies, allows for the election of many people unknown to the electorate. The organization of the political parties is poor and their finances are sparse. Trust in the parties is not high. Financial scandals are sometimes revealed, especially of politicians who are in opposition being accused of wrongdoing.
Of course, members of the new political elites are learning. Political maneuvering to establish coalitions are being handled better. Politicians have become adept at reaching compromise through the practice of give and take. But in Yeltsin's Russia, Walesa's Poland and some other countries, an important part of politics has been the struggle between branches of government. That required political gamesmanship and political willfulness. The president fought with the parliament, the government fought with the president - in the absence of clear constitutional provisions. Those fights over institutional prerogatives were not always elegant. Polemics were often ad hominem and made into fundamental questions of morality. In such fights, formerly charismatic leaders lose their charisma.
The political map of Eastern European countries has been becoming clear only slowly. Left-wing and right-wing political movements found in Western Europe were initially not strong in the postcommunist East. The socialist or social democratic identification was not popular then---because those were the identifications of communists who have renamed themselves (although later the former communists gained popularity). Christian democratic parties, which in another post-totalitarian transformation in Germany and Italy played an important role, are weak in Eastern Europe. In the highly Catholic Poland, several Christian democratic parties are unable to coalesce. Liberal or liberal-conservative parties are not very strong either. Because of the inheritance of the omni-present postcommunist state structure, liberal policies are carried out by illiberal means, through state intervention.
Postcommunist populism and nationalism are quite widespread, especially in countries gaining their independence. Even former communists proclaim themselves guardians of the interests, independence and integrity of the nation. National problems are real, and nationalist propaganda is politically effective. Nationalism is often used as a weapon in political struggles, but accusations of nationalism and xenophobia are also used successfully in those struggles to help compromise political enemies.
Religion, like nationalism, serves as a political instrument and weapon. In Poland, almost all political parties enter into a contest to determine who will be closer to the letter and spirit of the Catholic Church's doctrine, and thus which one will receive the Church's blessing. Members of the 1991-1993 parliament have adopted several laws with the intention of avoiding conflicts between the state's laws and the expectations of the Catholic hierarchy. Religious and national topics are used in a symbolic politics, where references to national and religious values and symbols take precedence over trying to make more worldly changes.
In the mass media, it has taken time to break from past habits and practices in postcommunist countries. While the yellow press and erotic magazines were able to enter the market with relative ease, it has been far more difficult to create an independent press that attempts to deliver political information in an impartial way. Postcommunist governments are still interested in controlling their image through use of state-owned television. Political preferences often take precedence over market considerations in the privatization of the media, and in this way new press empires were created, with post-communist and some former opposition circles dominant in press markets. Because the press lacks political independence and different political tendencies do not have equal access to the media, defamation campaigns against political opponents are still effective.
Culture under communism was financed by the state. Like sports, culture was supposed to provide legitimacy to communist regimes. Soviet athletes, chess players and ballet dancers were used to advertise the superiority of the communist system, both within the country and abroad. Oddly, despite the calls for engagement of artists in the cause of socialism, the state often supported less reality-based cultural endeavors. Although cultural policy advocated "socialist realism," it also sponsored a socialist abstractionism. Artists were supported for keeping a distance from what was happening around them.
After communism's economic collapse, artists faced a radical reduction in state subsidies and the evolution of a cultural market. As censorship was abolished, private publishing houses mushroomed and popular cultural products flooded the market to satisfy the public's demands. Many intellectuals feel uneasy about these developments, since they are no longer the object of public attention and they have lost the popularity and privileged position they had under the communist regime?even if that position came from being not the regime's supporters but from being its tolerated abstractionists or, in the final stages of communism, its oppositionists.
In international politics, East European countries most commonly express a desire to "return to Europe" and to join the European Union. But the new candidates for membership are not well prepared. The goods produced in Eastern Europe are often below West European standards. Banks lack experience in foreign operations and their management and staff lack training. The inherited communist legal system, which did not protect private property, has only a rudimentary law of torts. The law on economic matters was expressly made flexible, with nothing sure, so as to conform to the command state economy. The legal systems are now changing slowly and still give insufficient protection to individuals and corporations engaging in economic transactions, especially if they are from abroad.
To join Europe in the economic sense would mean allowing the free flow of goods, services, capital and people from the economies of other countries to the economy of one's own. At present, however, the free flow of goods and services would damage East European industry and agriculture, making local production unprofitable and provoking greater worker and peasant protests. The free flow of people would result in mass emigration of the qualified work force to more developed countries?which would damage local industry, too. Thus, there has been a proposal to introduce integration on a limited scale between the "Visegrad Four" (the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia). But even here, tensions between nations, like that between Slovaks and Hungarians, created obstacles, while some politicians, for example in the Czech Republic, displayed no enthusiasm for integration.
In addition to the expressed desire for economic and political integration,
there has been a desire to join NATO and become part of the Western defense
system. An important obstacle to that was the persistence of Soviet/Russian
connections throughout East Europe's armed forces.
Dahrendorf, who in the late 1970s and early 1980s was the director of the London School of Economics, in his book supports the liberal views of Karl Popper and Friedrich von Hayek, both of whom had taught at the LSE. Popper, in the 1940s, strongly defended the open society, a society that is not planned but shaped by individual decisions and activities. The open society, like freedom, is best described by what it is not. It is not a society realizing a premeditated aim in a predictable manner. It is neither an object, nor the result of, utopian social engineering.
Dahrendorf argues against "systems." An open society, he writes, cannot be subsumed under any definition or description of a social or political system. Perhaps, he wants to stress so strongly the openness of such a society that he endows the word "system" with a special, narrow meaning for the sake of argumentation. For him, capitalism is not a system; and what people in Eastern Europe need is an open society and not a new system. He may be correct if he understands the word "system" as a rigid, planned or strictly organized form of social life. His attacks against systems would seem to advise to Eastern Europeans the following: do not be too rigid in your vision of capitalism; allow reality, tradition, and people's own needs to modify your liberal?democratic and capitalist policies.
Dahrendorf argues also against the possibility of a "third way," the idea that something between capitalism and socialism can be built, mixing a planned and directed economy with a free market. That also poses a partially linguistic problem, since in social, political and economic matters there are usually more "ways" than two or even three. As Peter L. Berger has written, every system is "mixed;" the question is whether it is primarily organized along capitalist or along socialist lines. But for Dahrendorf, the free market does not exclude a role for the state in economic or even social matters. Dahrendorf reminds readers of Ludwig Erhard's and Alfred Müller-Armack's social market economy (die soziale Marktwirtschaft). That economy entails a free market, with free prices and genuine competition, but with a large role for trade unions and developed social welfare benefits. The social market economy was not introduced in Germany by a socialist government, but it was inspired by the German trade union tradition, and also to some extent by the Roman Catholic Church's social doctrine, expressed in papal encyclicals on labor and work that were certainly known by CDU/CSU leaders.
An open society, if it is to be a society, has to be organized according to certain principles and have a constitution, although not necessarily written or rigid. Dahrendorf refers to the idea of a "constitution of liberty," elaborated in detail by Friedrich von Hayek. Following a long tradition, Hayek justified the role of the state as a guardian of property, contracts and liberties. A task of the state is to fight the development of monopolies. The state's authority to guard and protect liberties is a prerequisite for the free market.
Liberalism doesn't mean anarchy. Thus, Dahrendorf sees a large role for lawyers in Eastern Europe in writing new constitutions that define the internal functioning of the state and its role as a guardian of contracts and the liberties indispensable for the free market.
Certain of Dahrendorf's predictions - perhaps they were not fully serious - were built around the symbolic, apocalyptic number six: he wrote in April 1990 that at least six months were needed for constitutional reform in Eastern Europe; six years for the society to feel the effects of economic reform; and even sixty years may not be sufficient to make the changes in Eastern Europe durable and immune to adverse conditions.
Dahrendorf excluded the possibility of a return to the old regime. He argued that the changes in Eastern Europe were irreversible. But many things may happen and his remote deadline for Eastern European stability admits the fragility of the reforms.
Dahrendorf, like some Eastern European intellectuals, wrote about the current danger of fascism. But old labels do not help much, and this is another point requiring a special definition to sustain it. It is true that before World War II there were many similarities between communism and national socialism or fascism. It is therefore not strange for some commentators now to subsume communism or neocommunism under the concept of fascism. But if by fascism one means what it meant historically, it would not seem to be a primary danger in Eastern Europe. What is more tangible today are the dangers of a populist-style neocommunism, whose ideology and politics could take advantage of people's disenchantment, lack of security, and fear of liberal, market-oriented reforms.
The former communist parties in Eastern Europe have new names but they are old with experience. In most countries, these parties are active and strong. On the 1993 political map of Europe there was a neocommunist belt extending from Lithuania to Serbia, with strongholds in Romania and Bulgaria. In the majority of postcommunist countries, the former communist parties gained the first or second highest number of votes in elections and in some of the countries they were the dominant force in government.
Of course, one can reasonably predict that there will not be a return to communism as it was before in Eastern Europe. But predictions concerning the completion of the postcommunist transformation in terms of months or years can only be symbolic, as Dahrendorf proposed them. An advocate of an open society may strive to build it but he cannot be sure of the outcome of his efforts.
The revolution in Eastern Europe, if we agree that there was one, is not completed. What we have witnessed since 1989 has been the fading of revolutionary expectations, problems associated with carrying out reforms, and a strong resistance to both revolutionary solutions and evolutionary market-oriented, liberal-democratic change.
1. Adapted from a lecture that the author gave at Charles University
in Prague in April 1993. The text has been published in Uncaptive Minds
1993, no. 2 (23).
Since 1989, many efforts have been made in Poland to impose an official seal of silence on the question of former collaborators with the political police. Despite some official and semi-official leaks, the attempts to smother the problem were highly successful until May-June 1992, when the Polish parliament and the government of Jan Olszewski took up the issue, which led to the collapse of the government and to the annulment of the resolution parliament had voted on this matter. Former police agents were not publicly and officially unmasked, but a number of fundamental problems were brought out into the light of day, and debate began on issues of practical importance. There was probably more clamor and confusion than serious debate, but it is nevertheless possible to attempt a description and discussion of what is at stake.
The belated discussion on former police agents is connected to the debate about people's-particularly politicians'-responsibility for their own pasts. This debate touches on matters discussed by philosophers: man and time, the existence of the past and its role in the present.
There is an extreme view which holds that man is constantly changing, and exists as a complete and distinct individual at every moment of the present, as if he were constantly being born anew. The past therefore plays no role in what man really is, for he is a different person at every moment of the present.
If this view were correct, there would be no need to keep agreements, for the person living at present and the person who made the agreement would be two different people. The agreement was made in the past, and it would be meaningless to claim that it continues to be valid and to bind the person in the present. The paper on which the agreement was written may exist, but since there is no continuity between a person in the past and in the present, there is no responsibility for past actions. The present cannot extend into the future.
In this view, only the present exists; the past has no real existence. Individuals exist in fragments of time; they have no continuity. Their identity is entirely in the present.
There is a certain beauty to this view. It conceives man as free and
creative in all things. Nor is it completely abstract: an impression of
existing only in the present and of an absence of continuity between consecutive
moments may apparently be obtained through the use of certain drugs.
Culture is the result of amassed information and collective learning; it contains an encoded past that goes beyond the particular pasts of individual people. In culture, the past lives; the claim that the past does not matter is anti-cultural. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting.
Certainly, people change. They are free and creative. But different social roles come with different requirements concerning the continuity of individuals in those roles and their relation to their pasts.
The role of the artist in the modern sense involves creativity and recommends unpredictability; it is thus well-suited to the view of man as born anew at every moment. This is the non-classical view of art and artists, a view which accepts that artists need not obey rules and that art is primarily expressive. The role of the politician, however, differs from that of the modernist artist. In political life, one does not live for the moment; one makes agreements and one needs to take account of the influence of the past on the present and the future.
While works of art, considered from the purely aesthetic point of view, are unconnected with the reality which surrounds them, the activities of politicians can not be so easily separated from reality. A politician's actions make sense only insofar as they are connected with other people and done for other people. The role of a politician, especially in a democratic society, is to care for others and to preserve their faith in him by trying not to break his promises.
For a politician, the present extents into the future; there is a continuity which may, and indeed should, be investigated. A politician, like an actor, plays to the public; unlike an actor, however, a politician is expected to refrain from taking on contradictory roles too often. Sudden personality changes do occur, as in the case of Saint Paul. It is possible to distance oneself, or even cut oneself off completely, from the past and from the contradictions between one's roles. This may be done by concealing unpleasant facts or, more rarely by revealing them-even if selectively-to those who are important to us and upon whom we depend. In this way, possibilities for blackmail can be limited. A politician hoping to win trust sometimes argues that his past is irrelevant because it concerns a different person who has no connection to the present.
The task of the politician is to look to the best interests of the community, and the community often outlives its members. This task is difficult to reconcile with the concept of a momentary and irresponsible existence. A good politician must take account of the fact that institutions, such as the state, are long-lasting; for this reason, the continuity or discontinuity of his life, and his changing and possibly contradictory roles, play an important part in our assessment of him.
Some people tend to the view that everything in social life is unstable, that there are no permanent elements. People come together and separate again, as in a big-city crowd. This view leaves no room for the existence of institutions, which are durable structures aiming towards certain goals, nor can it acknowledge the existence of power, which makes people dependent on others, sometimes through the application, or the threat, of force.
It was precisely under communism that power and institutions played an essential role. Institutions underpinned and supported the system and shaped its way of functioning. The political police were an institution that helped preserve the system and made sure that the external dependence of the country was not undermined.
Moral evil is generally a quality ascribed to acts. But there are certain social conditions, organizations and institutions that foster evil so strongly that they may themselves be described as morally evil.
Accusations of collaboration with the communist police generally evoke
strong moral outrage, the propaganda trivializing such collaboration and
dismissing it as irrelevant notwithstanding. This outrage shows that collaboration
with the communist political police is considered by most as base and seriously
harmful behavior. Whoever expresses his outrage at such accusations shows
that he considers the matter to be serious. There are those, however, who
seem to think that revealing the names of collaborators is a greater evil
than the act of collaboration itself.
Agreeing to collaborate with the communist political police was not a private matter. One was making a pact with an institution an institution that supported the system and helped to preserve the external dependence of the country. The extent to which the person who agreed to collaborate was himself responsible for the growth of evil varied from one case to another. Some collaborators were lazy and reluctant, carrying out the tasks imposed on them with distaste or even revulsion.
Within the Catholic church, the principle was held (though not necessarily practiced) that contacts with the communist authorities were to be reported to one's superiors. Within groups kept together by mutual trust, the sort of groups that made up the opposition, a similar principle was in force: contacts with the police were to be revealed to one's friends and colleagues. People thus had to choose between loyalty to the police and loyalty to their friends. Some tried to practice a double loyalty.
Potential agents were often blackmailed by the police, and some agreed to collaborate under the threat. Blackmail was one of the fundamental means by which the system functioned, and the police were not alone in resorting to it. Many were blackmailed, but not all succumbed. When one is a politician responsible for affairs of state, the extent to which one is vulnerable to blackmail is important.
In theology and philosophy, evil is tied to annihilation and destruction. Even when communism was weak, destruction was always one of its strong points. It was a system geared to the destruction of all social ties and personal relations that were not officially sanctioned. The political police played a large role in this: its secret collaborators wore tools for destroying contacts and agreements not subordinate to the authorities. In destroying them, the collaborator destroyed himself as well. He destroyed his dignity and his independence, and he deprived himself of the possibility of independent action, for his actions were dependent on the police, although it was possible to oppose that institution and refuse to give in to its demands.
The archives of the Polish Ministry of Internal Affairs were systematically destroyed before Olszewski took office, and the files on many politicians of undoubted interest to the police are empty. It is therefore difficult to draw up a complete list of secret police collaborators among currently active politicians.
In implementing parliament's resolution, Minister of Internal Affairs Antoni Macierewicz acted quickly to provide the information requested, and he made mistakes. But he limited the possibility of error by providing information on what was in the files without hazarding a judgment about which agents were really dangerous and which were of only minor importance. In addition, he tried to mitigate the consequences of his possible mistakes by classifying the information provided, to protect it under the state secrets act.
As the minister of internal affairs stressed, the Presidium of Parliament did not obtain a list of only those whose collaboration with the police caused serious harm to their fellow citizens. The minister provided no information about the extent of named individuals' guilt, only about the material found in the ministry archives. As agents were recruited, the police entered their names on lists, and it was those lists that Macierewicz made available. Sometimes, although not always, the files still contained details about agents' work.
It was up to parliament to decide what to do with the information it had obtained, and whether, and how, to rank the people whose names were on the list according to the extent and seriousness of their collaboration. A commission to look into the implementation of the parliamentary resolution was to be formed by Adam Strzembosz, President of the Supreme Court, or by parliament itself.
A doctor looking at an X-ray may content himself with saying simply that he sees a spot, or he may go on to deduce that there is a hole in the lung. The minister of internal affairs contented himself with providing information on the location of the spots and left the deductions to parliament. Parliament could then consider its resolution of May 28 as the starting point of a longer investigation of what actually took place, of whether and to what extent a given person currently in office as a state functionary or a member of parliament had in the past collaborated with the communist political police, and of the past and present consequences of that collaboration. But parliament did not vote another resolution or law on lustration, nor did it proceed to form a commission to investigate individual cases. Instead, on a motion from the president, it hastened to remove the government. A commission was indeed formed, but its task was to investigate the actions of the minister of internal affairs rather than those of the individuals on the list provided by him.
In some post-communist countries, it was decided that collaboration with the communist political police would disqualify people from holding responsible state functions. Such disqualifying circumstances were sometimes enshrined in law. In Poland, for instance, the electoral law decreed that anyone who had lived abroad during the five years preceding the elections was automatically barred from standing for parliament. No provision was made for exceptions to this rule, nor were any rules laid down about how to establish the seriousness of an offense. Unlike the electoral law, the parliamentary resolution of 28 May made no mention of any disqualifying circumstances. Parliament demanded only information.
President Walesa, apprised on June 4 of the names on the list, announced that the information provided by the ministry was unreliable. Ten days later, however, he invoked information from the police files to bolster the claim that he hew about the agent code-named "Zapalniczka" ("Lighter"), thereby showing that he considered the matter of agents to be serious and, at the same time, tacitly acknowledging the reliability of the ministry's files in this case.
The president accused the minister of internal affairs of omitting some
names on the list provided to the parliament. The minister was no doubt
anxious to avoid such accusations. When he handed over the list to the
presidium of the parliament, he did not omit names of people who were indeed
listed in the files as collaborators, but providing details on the extent
of their collaboration would require further archival work. And since many
files were missing, it was difficult to establish with precision the limit
beyond which collaboration was to be considered dangerous. In addition,
the minister was not authorized by parliament to establish such a limit.
If he had attempted to distinguish between dangerous and less dangerous
collaborators, he could have been accused of selectivity in drawing up
his list. The extent to which currently active politicians had collaborated
with the police, and the consequences of their collaboration, could, if
parliament so wished, be established by an appropriate investigative commission.
But no such commission was formed. Instead, public retractions were issued
about specific individuals on the list, claiming that they had been included
by mistake or that their collaboration with the police had been minimal
or only planned by the security services.
1 Published in Uncaptive Minds 1992, no. 3 (21).
Communism and Its Remnants
Under communism, the differentiation, expression, and representation of interests, including national interests - a process that is so crucial for democracy - was repressed. National, ethnic, and social conflicts existed and manifested themselves in periodic outbursts. Poland, in the form of the Solidarity labor union in 1980-81, had a legally registered and functioning institution that allowed conflict resolution by means of negotiations, but this was an exception and was crushed soon enough. Now, in many countries the frozen conflicts have reappeared from under a post-communist thaw, with a scarcity of the institutions and rudimentary skills required for conflict resolution.
The communist authorities, as the supreme planners and builders of the new order, tended to monopolize social initiative. Every organization had to have the authorities' permission to exist, and its activities were carefully controlled. That monopolistic tendency limited, or even abolished, civil society, the web of organizations independent from the state and essential to the everyday functioning of democracy. In some countries, the opposition was trying to break the monopoly of the party-state and to reconstruct civil society. But, as became evident later, the opposition's accomplishments were far from sufficient.
Under communism, certain types of careers were nearly off-limits for decent and honorable people, who behaved as if the country were under foreign occupation, though with a high degree of local collaboration. "One has to live with it somehow, but it is not ours" was what people thought about communism. From this perspective, the system was provisional. A decent person would not choose, and would not advise his children to choose, careers in law enforcement, politics, or the military, among others. People had an ability to distinguish between what helped them and their fellow-citizens and what helped communism, both as a system of repression and of indoctrination.
Some people did not feel at ease being a communist party member, and often thought that it required explanation. Others, when asked why they did not join the party, answer: I couldn't look my mother in the eyes. The family often transmitted values that opposed the existing system. A similar role was played by national culture (never totally uprooted), by religion (persecuted or tolerated in different periods and countries), and by informal networks of friends, who occasionally formed the germs of an opposition.
The degree of communist penetration in society depended on the length and intensity of communism's presence: the parts of the Soviet Union that became communist in 1917 were later different from those that became communist in 1939, 1940, or 1944-45.
Surviving under communism did not demand that a person performed a role obliging him to act against his fellow citizens and be engaged in repressive or destructive activities. There was a sort of de facto privatization of state?party institutions in that they were appropriated, to some extent, by some of their employees, to serve the public interest. In schools, universities, and publishing houses, some employees were trying to reassign resources to more general utility, making an effort to disregard the official ideology to the benefit of national culture or the education of students. Similar processes could be observed in some economic enterprises. Enclaves of public service were thus built inside the communist bureaucracy and economy.
The cycles of thaw and freeze under communism consisted of the authorities' tolerance of these relatively independent enclaves and small initiatives of civil society during a thaw, and harsh intolerance of them during a freeze. These cycles reflected the authorities' efforts, noticeable from Khrushchev's time on, to build communism with diminished means, particularly with less coercion. The task proved difficult, and we now know that the ultimate answer to Khrushchev's and Gorbachev's conundrum is: no coercion, no communism.
In the effort to adapt state-allocated resources for public benefit, people engaged in give-and-take games with the authorities. In the later, more decayed stages of communism, a person could be permitted to act in different respects more freely, and to be useful and profitable to a larger community. In exchange, some additional ideological subordination might be required. Joining the communist party usually facilitated a person's career, but some people claimed that they joined the party mainly (or also) to enhance the public's benefits of their work. But the law of diminishing returns applied here. Excessive subordination paid less. For the authorities, a person too easily subordinated was "cheap." And, in any case, someone wanting to benefit the public in exchange for his subservience could easily be outbid by someone willing to subordinate himself for private gain.
In evaluating their communist past, people now tend to minimize the disadvantageous effects of their subordination and to exaggerate claimed public benefits for their wrongdoing. A widespread tendency in postcommunist media is to present former participation in communism as roughly equal. "Everybody was somehow involved in building socialism," these apologists of communism claim, disregarding the vast differences in degree and character of this involvement.
Despite such efforts today to make things cloudy, social and political reality was sufficiently clear under communism to allow for moral discernment. In a communist country one could encounter a decent sports journalist, or a decent defense lawyer, but careers in journalism or the law were not to be chosen without hesitation, unlike those in medicine or engineering. Some remnants of law existed under communism, and some types of trials could be conducted impartially and with due respect to justice, and there was a place for some types of information in newspapers, but the career of a journalist or a lawyer was particularly prone to unpleasant compromise or selling out. ("Ah, they are working in the labor camp's wire broadcasting center," a Polish defense lawyer was wont to say about journalists.)
Under communism, not only were the institutions necessary in a modern society non-existent (such as a stock exchange) or fictitious (a mock-parliament and fictitious judiciary, like mock-prices, fictitious wages, and mock-work), but there were no people sufficiently trained or skilled to work in those institutions when the need arose.
Communism was provisional; people, considering it as such, refrained from linking their careers too closely to the system. However, what is temporary does not cease to exist or have serious effects. Communism's true existence could be found in the means of its continuation, especially in the satisfactory functioning of pressure and coercion and in the number of people with a stake in preserving the system (at least up to a certain time).
Postcommunism's Three Roads
In some countries, like Czechoslovakia, communism was not only a long way from capitalism to capitalism, but also from democracy to democracy (through communist dictatorship). Other countries fell to communism coming out of an authoritarian system, like Russia, or out of another totalitarianism, like East Germany. For many people, communist dictatorship was more colorful and better wrapped ideologically than any previous type, especially for the functionaries of the indoctrination apparatus (at least when they were not wholly cynical and preserved some belief in what they were saying).
Some nations, especially those belonging to the Soviet Union or the
former Yugoslavia, existed as separate political entities only for a short
period (if at all), and before communism had not had the opportunity to
establish their own state institutions, much less democracy. Often, these
countries lack the local traditions that could serve as a reference point
in building democracy.
Instead of a destruction of communism, there is communist destruction?of the environment, for example, or of a culture that encourages such behaviors and attitudes as initiative and respect for the law, which are so important for modern society. Useless "socialist enterprises" have not been shut down. People still "work" there and produce useless "goods"; there are still vested interests in preserving these enterprises and in continuing their activity, in exchange for salaries and welfare benefits. Such remnants of communism are a painful burden for nations choosing a road away from communism.
Postcommunist countries, it is said, went through a peaceful revolution, meaning no revolution at all, or through a velvet revolution, meaning a velvet evolution. Those countries are trying to build something new, only slowly getting rid of what was before.
There are obstacles to dismantling economically useless but socially useful parts of the economy, replacing personnel, abolishing old laws and establishing of new ones. Important interests are involved here; these interests are now aggregated and represented by organizations, like political parties and labor unions. The electoral strength of postcommunist parties may be considered an astonishing remnant of communism, but it results from other remnants: the fact that useless communist enterprises did not disappear after communism; that communist-trained personnel are still employed in the extended state bureaucracy; and that communist training has remained in people's attitudes and mentality. The postcommunist parties also took advantage of people's disillusionment with the new reality. Since hoped-for improvements did not come quickly, people turned away from the new and unknown - back to the old, which they consider better in retrospect.
A road from communism is not only a road to capitalism and democracy but also to national independence. For nations like Lithuania or Estonia, communism proved to be the longest way from independence to independence (with subjugation in between). Dependence is a matter of degree. East Germany was more subjugated to the Soviet Union than Poland, Lithuania more than East Germany, Kazakhstan more than Lithuania. The level of dependence was less when at least some forms of statehood existed, when local culture was stronger, or when there were more vivid traditions of a separate state.
Ten years ago, communism could still be called a new system, and for some Western intellectuals it had not ceased to instill hope. For them, what was Soviet was attractive, not necessarily for their own countries, but at least for local peoples undergoing interesting and fruitful social experiments. Now, communism is old. What it was many people have forgotten or pretend to forget. Such denial or forgetfulness serves certain interests: people prefer to forget their or their colleagues' past.
But communism did exist. It was a social system, a system of political power, of organizing the economy, and of indoctrination. This system, by its very organization and mechanisms of training and coercion deprived people of opportunities to learn and to develop their skills and careers. In postcommunism, people face the task of filling many gaps left by communism.
In its international dimension, Soviet-imposed communism was a system of subordination of smaller countries and nations to the central interests of the Soviet Union. This was done through local communist parties and governments and an apparatus of repression (the secret police and, to some extent, the army). Many considered these institutions traitorous, supporting an alien system and enforcing Soviet demands.
Postcommunism does not exist in the manner communism did. It is nothing definite or stable yet; it has not yet developed its own mechanisms of preservation and continuation. Because of its transitory and fluid character, it is difficult to say what is there to be preserved. Postcommunism has been a process rather than a system, a work in progress rather than an achievement. It is proceeding in the directions mentioned above: towards building (or rebuilding) capitalism, democracy, and national independence.
These three aspects of postcommunism are not identical: democracy in a multiethnic country may not lead to national independence but to dependence if a large ethnic group favors links with a bigger and more powerful neighbor ready to intervene on its behalf. (Aware of this danger, some ex-Soviet republics have limited access to citizenship and thus to the democratically governed polity.) In some countries, like Belarus, there is hope of building capitalism with the help of a powerful neighbor, thus strengthening links of dependence. In this case, the chosen way out from a disastrous economic situation may be in conflict with national independence.
In world history, capitalism and democracy have usually reinforced each other. Certain psychological dispositions and cultural patterns work simultaneously to the advantage of both, like the conviction that an adult person should be responsible for his actions and that others do not have the right to make important decisions for him. Totalitarianism, with its monopolistic and paternalistic tendencies, is an enemy of both democracy and capitalism. Capitalism and democracy both need freedom and guarantees provided by law.
But they may also be in conflict. Some people believe it is possible to build capitalism without democracy. For example, some believe a strong president with extraordinary powers is necessary to suppress social discontent and thus guarantee the success of capitalist transformation. (For others, a strong president is a guarantor of the welfare of the oppressed, ensuring the correction of capitalist injustice - the ambiguity of a political message makes possible for a politician to convince followers with contradictory expectations.) Democracy has also enabled interest groups - like workers from unproductive enterprises or peasants producing expensive products - to fight with capitalist rationality, and to protect their interests against the application of free market criteria.
In its early development, capitalism favored democracy, but now democracy does not always favor capitalism, especially in underdeveloped countries. One suspects, however, that democracy without capitalism will not survive long.
On the way - or escape - from communism, nations and people encounter obstacles created by the former system in all three aspects of transformation: on their road towards capitalism, democracy, and national independence.
Another feature of capitalist society is the freedom to own property,
which generally entails a class differentiation based on whether one owns
property and the value of the property owned. In postcommunist journalism
and politics, there is very little reflection on the new developing property
relations and even a contempt for their coverage. It is argued that if
a capitalist society is to function, somebody has to be an owner, and it
doesn't matter very much who it is.
To this argument one can respond that class relations tend to be maintained and perpetuated, that children inherit their parents' wealth, and that the starting point is important for future generations and not just the current one.
The starting point here is not a subject for a historical reconstruction (as in societies with a long capitalist tradition), but rather new and real. It was in the late 1980s that members of the nomenklatura began to establish private corporations by making use of equipment and buildings of "socialist" enterprises. Privatization requires that state property change ownership; but people were told repeatedly that legally this property belonged to them collectively. They have had difficulty in understanding why what belonged to all has been appropriated by some or given to some in a covert and mysterious way.
People often think in terms of justice, and this inclination was not
eradicated under communism. Bonuses that are awarded to members of the
nomenklatura are often considered unjust. In the public's opinion, there
is no reason why functionaries and bureaucrats, unjustly privileged under
the former system, are the first in line to trade in their former privileges
for new ones.
Historians of capitalism describe the roles played by freedom of enterprise,
economic creativity, and psychological traits and cultural patterns favoring
investment and delayed gratification. Capitalism in postcommunist countries
is developing amidst legal confusion and barriers, with cultural habits
favoring immediate consumption to the detriment of long-term business planning.
In many countries, the state sector is still dominant, and the private
sector is largely in a gray sphere between legality and illegality. The
state has vast economic means and responsibilities, but is too weak and
often too corrupt to stop pilfering and tax evasion, weakening it even
Developed capitalist societies have learned to make the disadvantages of capitalism more bearable for the underprivileged. Democracy was instrumental in introducing social welfare policies as a shock-absorbing device. When voting rights are universal and votes are equal, and where interest groups are active, politicians are pressed to implement shock-absorbing social policies. According to ultra-liberal ideology (in the European sense of liberalism), free market criteria should be applied as broadly as possible, and there is no room for state intervention in welfare matters. Despite such "free market only" efforts, shock-absorbing policies have already been applied in postcommunist countries.
In many countries, particularly in the former Soviet republics, presidential systems have been established. In some, the constitution states that the president heads the executive branch; in others, he is head of state but has the power to dismiss the prime minister. The president's powers are usually large, though ambiguous, while parliamentary powers are weak, and political parties other than communist or postcommunist ones have no longtime continuity and only remote traditions. The procedures of governing are not well established and a president rules through case by case interventions, trying to ensure government posts for "his" people, or to prevent negative comments about him in the media.
In many ex-Soviet republics, the president of the Supreme Soviet became the first elected president of the country, in some cases as the only candidate. In Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Tajikistan, the head of the parliament has also functioned as the country's president, and has had, formally or informally, the decisive influence on the government. Under these conditions, separation of legislative and executive branches is a rather abstract endeavor.
In presidential elections, people cast their vote for a leader, believing that he is strong and will save the country. The presidential systems reflect often a person-centered style of politics, particularly common when political parties are weak. The unanimity of voters' opinions, as expressed in nationwide presidential elections, is sometimes astonishing. According to official results, in October 1991, Levon Ter-Petrosian got 83 percent of the vote in Armenia and Askar Akayev got 95 percent in Kyrgyzstan; in December l991, Mircea Ion Snegur got 98.2 percent in Moldova; in June 1992, Saparmurad Niyazov got 99.5 percent in Turkmenistan. According to Turkmenistan's constitution, adopted in May 1992, President Niyazov is also the chief of the government, and in January 1994 he was approved by 99.99 percent of the population to be Turkmenistan's president until the year 2002. On the axis of presidential vs. parliamentary power, Turkmenistan is ahead of other countries but many follow its lead.
Democracy may be organized on different levels, including locally and in some countries in a federal structure. Local democracy, or decentralization, delegates rights and responsibilities, and limits the powers of the central government. Local democracy did not exist under communism and is being built with difficulty afterwards. It provides an antidote to the totalitarian, anti-pluralist tendencies of the central authorities (including ones given a democratic mandate through a plebiscite or referendum).
Postcommunist democracy often means only democratic procedures on a country-wide level, with weak political parties, limited political pluralism, and an underdeveloped civil society. Postcommunist presidential systems rarely follow the American example, but instead construct presidential power with almost no checks and balances, a weak parliament, and a dependent judiciary. Towards National Independence
The expression "national independence" is ambiguous, since nations, especially in Europe, are both political and cultural-ethnic entities. "Hungarians," "Serbs," or "Russians" often mean people of Hungarian, Serb, or Russian identity and culture, and not citizens of a respective country. These citizens may have different cultural backgrounds and ethnic identities.
National independence involves the rights of a nation (sovereign rights), usually referring to a country but sometimes also to an ethnic or cultural group. The ambiguity grows and has important political consequences when frontiers of a country are not established by tradition and become disputable. It happens often. Several nations, either as countries or as ethnic groups, raise justifiable claims to the same territory. Many countries, after considering the costs of changing borders, have chosen to freeze the existing ones, however unnatural they may seem to be.
In Central and Eastern Europe, national dependence under communism usually
meant dependence on the Soviet Union (Yugoslavia and Albania being exceptions).
For non-Russian republics of the USSR, dependence was on the center, Moscow.
Obedience in matters of the economy and security was very strict, but Moscow's
will prevailed also in such domains as basic laws, personal composition
of the government, or the content of school textbooks. (In more liberal
periods and with less important issues there was probably some room for
If postcommunist states are to join NATO, they will probably need to gain more sovereignty in important matters of state: these countries will have to cut their often hidden Soviet-Russian connections, which is not an easy task.
With the creation and development of the Commonwealth of Independent
States (CIS), new forms of dependence replaced old ones in the former Soviet
republics. The CIS is now made up of all the former republics, except the
Baltic states. The frontiers of the former USSR, not including the Baltic
states, were guarded "collectively," under the common responsibility of
the CIS. Russia's dominant position in the CIS is beyond dispute, not only
because of its strength, but also because it has declared itself the legal
successor-state of the USSR. Passports of the USSR were still in use both
in Russia, and in non-Russian republics, and the ex-Soviet, now Russian,
army was still stationed in every ex-Soviet republic, except the Baltic
More than 11 million Russians live in Ukraine (out of a total population of 52 million). The percentage of Russians in four other ex-Soviet republics is even greater (Kazakhstan, Latvia, Estonia, and Kyrgyzstan). In Kazakhstan, there are more Russians than Kazakhs. Russians are usually concentrated in large cities. In Narva, an Estonian city near the Russian border, Estonians constitute only 4 percent of the inhabitants. In Kazakhstan, Ukraine, or Belarus, the local Russian population weighs on policy. Politicians have to take into account Russia's concern over the fate of the Russians outside its border.
The drive towards national independence in ex-Soviet republics has been stronger where there are vivid traditions of a separate statehood and cultural-religious traditions distinct from Russia. The pro-independence tendencies are more alive where the percentage of the Russian population is smaller and where a given country was incorporated to Russia and to the Soviet Union for a shorter period.
Russia's politicians do not spare efforts to control their "sphere of influence." That pleases some politicians in the West, who declare their preference for stability. Russia's way towards stability is sometimes dialectical. Russia strengthens the Commonwealth of Independent States and its dominant position in it, stimulates local ethnic conflicts only to appease them later, and delivers arms to belligerents. In Transnistria and Crimea, Russia has been taking advantage of local Russian separatist movements, which in the case of Transnistria has been supported openly by the Russian army.
Russia exerted strong pressure on some countries, like Azerbaijan or Georgia, to join the CIS. In both countries the decision was carried out by high-ranking ex-Soviet politicians: Gaidar Aliyev in Azerbaijan and Eduard Shevardnadze in Georgia.
In Central and Eastern Europe, Russia is trying to preserve its influence and to prevent the countries in the region from joining Western defense organizations. Russian politicians are persuading the West that it shouldn't do anything "against Russia" in the vaguely defined domain of Russia's interests in Europe. This means: do nothing without Russia's consent. While East Germany most probably managed to escape from Russian dominion, many ex-Soviet republics will have more difficulty in doing so. The fate of Central and Eastern Europe is presented as negotiable. That fate will depend on the economic strength of the respective countries, the cooperation among them, and their leaders' decisiveness.
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