A Cold-War Reality Check: Didn't Communism Die?? Dictatorship Is Passe in Old Soviet Bloc, but Communist Parties See Resurgence

By George Moffett, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, December 6, 1995 | Go to article overview
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A Cold-War Reality Check: Didn't Communism Die?? Dictatorship Is Passe in Old Soviet Bloc, but Communist Parties See Resurgence


George Moffett, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


TWO things have been amply demonstrated in the six years that have elapsed since the collapse of the Berlin Wall: that communism is dead - and that it isn't. It is a measure of the halting nature of the revolution that swept communist regimes from the face of Europe that, to a degree, both conclusions are valid. "If you define communism as dictatorship, censorship, and sealed borders, then communism is dead as a doornail," says John Micgiel, director of the Institute on East Central Europe at Columbia University, in New York. "But if you're talking about a closed system in which an economic oligarchy dominates in an undemocratic fashion, then communism is not dead." The ambiguities were underscored most recently in Polish elections, held last month. The balloting ended the presidency of Lech Walesa, who, as head of the Solidarity trade-union movement, led the rebellion that ended communist rule in Poland six years ago. But diplomatic analysts say the return to power of old communists - like Mr. Walesa's rival and now president-elect, Alexander Kwasniewski - does not presage the return of the old communism epitomized by Lenin and Stalin. "Even if communism comes back there will never be the same type of dictatorial rule," says Veljko Vujacic, of Harvard University's Center for International Affairs. "What is possible is not totalitarianism but other types of authoritarianism, with at least limited freedom of press and elements of democracy." Freedom House, which annually ranks nations according to their polity, listed only five nations as "communist one-party states" at the beginning of the year: China, North Korea, Laos, Vietnam, and Cuba. There were 18 just before the Berlin Wall fell. Except for Yugoslavia and Belarus, all the former Soviet bloc and newly independent states of Central Europe are ranked as "formal democracies" by the New York-based human rights group, even though several - including Poland, Lithuania, and Hungary - have elected parliamentary majorities of former communists. Experts say the communist legacy in Europe is a political culture that is hostile to the excesses that have come with sudden market reforms and that is generally supportive of strong central government that redistributes national wealth. "There are ingrained ways of thinking that survive," says Adrian Karatnycky, president of Freedom House. In practice, communism in its post-cold-war incarnation varies widely. In countries like Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia, neo-communists who favor a welfare state, private property, and democracy are barely distinguishable from the social democrats of Western Europe or from the so-called "new democrats" in their own countries. Leaders like Poland's Mr. Kwasniewski, who was once a Cabinet minister in a communist government, are even eager to join the NATO military alliance - an alliance conceived half a century ago to contain communism and the armies of Soviet bloc nations including Poland. In Russia and Serbia, on the other hand, communist politicians have acquired a mixed ideology that reminds some experts of the fascism of Germany and Italy during the 1930s: a belief in continued state ownership of some industries, a cartellized bureaucratic system, and a messianic strain of nationalism. Mr. Karatnycky notes another coincidence that dramatically distinguishes the new communists from the old: In Russia and Serbia, the nationalism of communist politicians is linked to alliance with religious groups. One example: Russia's resurgent Communist Party, headed by Gennadi Zyuganov, stresses a kinship with Ukraine and Belarus, some of whose Orthodox churches are under the Moscow patriarchate.

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A Cold-War Reality Check: Didn't Communism Die?? Dictatorship Is Passe in Old Soviet Bloc, but Communist Parties See Resurgence
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