THE historic liberation of Eastern Europe in 1989 seems on
shakier ground today. But British politician Shirley Williams
doesn't plan to stand around and watch it fall apart.
Throughout an extraordinary political career that began at age
16, Mrs. Williams has embodied the philosophy of European Christian
socialism, which as she notes, is that "the rich have a
responsibility - and it isn't to get richer."
Williams left office in 1983, and recently took a position
heading up Project Liberty, a privately financed East European
exchange program at Harvard University's Kennedy School. (Her
husband, United States presidential scholar Richard Neustadt, is a
Widely regarded as a dynamic and expansive thinker, Williams
recently lived up to her reputation at a recent meeting with Monitor
editors. Below, some excerpts:
Project Liberty, which you are heading up at Harvard, is aimed at
younger elected East European politicians. How did it develop?
It grew out of a strong sense that while in the West,
specifically in the United States, there is a perception of the
importance of economic transition in East Europe - of moving toward
free market - there is nothing like an adequate parallel
understanding of the importance of strengthening the process of
Trying to establish a free market if you have a society which has
no sense of what contract is about, no sense of what relationships
within a civic society is about, no sense of what law and free
organizations are - is not to introduce a free market. You haven't
got any of the internal sanctions, the relationships of trust, that
we in the West - although they sometimes break down - at least
What has been the effect?
First, a recreation of many of the old, dangerous microbes in
Eastern Europe: nationalism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-Gypsy
feelings. What you're looking at is a population that does not think
that things are going to get better. Seventy-four percent of
Hungarians in a recent poll said they thought things were going to
This is the most fortunate, most likely winner of all the East
European countries. Hungarians tend to be rather gloomy, but still a
poll saying we don't think we're going to get anywhere, in a country
which has the largest private sector, the most rapidly developing
banking sector - is not good news.
Second: If you try to privatize without having built up any kind
of capital market locally, and without having converted the
currency, which in all cases except Poland is true, what happens is
that the only people who can raise indigenous money fast are the
people who were the ruling managers of the old system - and they've
made huge windfall profits.
That profit, in some cases, is being plowed into what is called
"spontaneous privatization." This is not what Americans would regard
as good news; it's rather bad news.
The managers of the old enterprise have raised enough money for a
leveraged buy-out. And so you're beginning to get an intense
disillusion as people see the managers of the bright, new, private
free-market society look terribly like the managers of the old,
It sounds as though the euphoria of 1989 is over in East Europe.
In country after country, (there's) a perception that the great
effort to get democracy is running into the ground. If we don't
begin to create a civic society in the sense of what civic morality
is about, with a sense of what accountability is about, with a sense
about consensus creation, the spectrum of parties, different
interests being represented through parties, I think this experiment
could go badly awry. It's at the moment not doing well.
Nobody should sit back and say, "It's likely that there will be
flourishing democracies in Eastern Europe. …