Post-Ballot Box Communism Eastern European Elections Left the Adherents of Marx and Lenin Down, but Not Totally Out

Article excerpt

WITH the Bulgarian parliamentary elections having ended on June 17, Eastern Europe's season of the ballot is over. The spring of elections was expected to finish the job started by the spectacular revolutions of the previous fall. In some countries it did, while in others the post-electoral situation is still rather ambiguous. It will take some time before the experts analyze the full impact of the elections on the East European political landscape.

The region's first free elections since the end of World War II tested the strength and mass appeal of the newly emerged democratic movements as well as the resilience and adaptability to change of the old communist regimes. It also added a further wrinkle to Gorbachev's dilemma of sacrificing empire for the sake of Soviet democratization in accordance with the Marxist dictum that no nation that subjugates other nations can be itself free.

Above all, the election results have been viewed as a kind of popular referendum on the future of East European communism. Here, the verdict is somewhat mixed.

It was the East German Socialist Unity Party which suffered the most momentous defeat - not because the communists with just over 16 percent of the vote made a bad showing, but because the election results opened the floodgates of German reunification and thus paved the way for the disappearance of the Soviet-built East German party-state. It can be argued, however, that the East German vote was as much nationalist and pro-unity in its message as it was anti-communist. Still, the East German communists face a very bleak political future, indeed, in a united Germany.

The Hungarian Socialist Party, successor to the communists, suffered the most crushing electoral defeat among all the ruling communist parties in Eastern Europe. It won just 8.5 percent of the vote, in spite of its image as the region's most liberal and reform-minded communist party. In fact, the Socialists may have fallen victim to the success of their own liberalization program, although another possible explanation is that Hungarian communism never really recovered from the wrenching trauma of events of October 1956.

In Czechoslovakia, Vaclav Havel's Civic Forum not only trounced the communists at the ballot box, but the totalitarian idea for which the Communist Party has long stood was dealt its most devastating moral blow. Although winning just 13.6 percent of the vote, the Czechoslovak Communist Party - which appears to have been reduced to its post-Prague Spring hard-core - is defiantly unrepentant and threateningly waiting in the wings for another opportunity to return to power.

Although a pioneer of Eastern European reform, Poland faces an extremely complex internal situation. The Communist Party, renamed the Polish Socialist Party, still maintains its hold on important structures of state power such as the presidency, the Sejm (the powerful lower house of Parliament), the ministries of defense and the interior. Solidarity won overwhelmingly in Poland's municipal elections but appears unable to snatch all levers of power away from the former communists. For their part, the latter are patiently waiting for the radical economic reforms undertaken by the Solidarity-led government to unravel - an eventuality the renamed communists hope could revive their plummeting political fortunes. …

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