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. …