Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

After Looking for Miracles, Voters Slump into Apathy

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

After Looking for Miracles, Voters Slump into Apathy

Article excerpt

THESE are historic anniversary days in Eastern Europe. But reading the newspapers there you'd hardly notice it.

Few flags have been raised to celebrate the first year of democratic rule, which replaced communist regimes a year ago.

Instead, striking workers have lately been out with banners, protesting the new austerities that are unavoidable in a realistic switch to market economics. Some governments are also beset with revival of old nationalisms - at home and across borders - which were kept under wraps during communist rule.

Each of the governments faces diminishing credibility. Disenchantment, or at least disappointment, is apparent from Poland (front-runner in the return to democracy) to Bulgaria and Romania (where communists retain much of the power, under new names and reformist labels).

The fact is that East Europeans, as the first round of Poland's presidential election underscored, are looking for miracles. But as it dawns on them that there are no simple solutions to complex problems, euphoria about liberation is giving way to apathy.

In Czechoslovakia and Hungary, political coalitions that rode high at their first free parliamentary elections have since fallen from grace, with low voter turnouts - and reverses - at subsequent local government polls.

Some observers say this means the communists are holding on at the grass roots. Maybe. What it really shows is a loss of trust and patience with political parties and with governments generally.

Nowhere has this been more strikingly exemplified than in the Polish presidential elections, in which a prime minister gamely trying to carry out the most unequivocal reform in the old East bloc was eliminated by an unknown challenger - 20 years absent from Poland - whose highly populist slogan of "a democracy of money" caught an astonishing 23 percent of the vote.

There is something of Polish tragedy here. For more than a year, Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki piloted reforms, with considerable success, of a boldness no one has yet ventured to emulate. …

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