THEY used to be dismissed as "puppet states," countries with no
mind of their own. Now, in a great irony of history, it is the
puppeteer that has exited the world stage, while the ex-Soviet
"puppets" of Central and Eastern Europe struggle toward democracy
and the promised prosperity of free-market economies.
So far, their road hasn't been an easy one. To varying degrees,
all the remaining ex-East Bloc nations have been troubled by
nagging political instability. Much of the region remains troubled
by high unemployment and paralyzed industrial production.
The region's high hopes of 1989 and '90 have faded. "It will
take a full generation before even the Central European nations can
be considered secure, stable democracies," predicted J. Brian
Atwood, head of the National Democratic Institute for International
Affairs, in a recent speech.
Yet general dissatisfaction with the state of affairs hasn't
translated into any nostalgia for the old days of communism.
Public-opinion polls show multiparty politics and market economies
still have strong support.
By large margins, the people of Eastern Europe "express their
overwhelming desire to move forward," said Mr. Atwood.
That doesn't mean they're enjoying the transition. Poland, where
political reform began earliest and prices were unfrozen two years
ago, is an example.
Voters are apathetic in the country many credit with having
sparked the collapse of communism in all its neighbors. Only 42
percent of those eligible cast ballots in last fall's general
The Polish parliament is a fractured body of many small parties.
With stable coalitions all but impossible, power has been flowing
inevitably to the executive - President Lech Walesa.
Even as he feuds with his latest nominee for prime minister, Jan
Olszewski, Mr. Walesa is pressing for constitutional changes that
would, in effect, allow him to go over a prime minister's head,
pick a cabinet himself, and let it rule by decree. In a time of
troubles Poland needs decisive government to stick with reforms, he
"Poland may well be an indicator of what may happen in other
countries," says Wolfgang Reinicke, a Brookings Institution
Bulgaria, for instance, has progressed toward democracy faster
than many Western analysts predicted it would. Yet the Bulgarian
parliament is largely split between the old Communists, reborn as
the Socialist Party, and Union of Democratic Forces reformers. …