French political scientist and commentator Jacques Rupnik is one of the most knowledgeable interpreters of postcommunist transitions. In this essay he scrutinizes the cultural and moral dilemmas linked to the treatment of the former Leninist elites, the ambiguities of decommunization, and the daunting efforts to institutionalize democratic values and procedures. He identifies the split over continuity and change as being at the very heart of the main post-communist contradiction between decommunization and constitutionalism. Rupnik's discussion of the rise of staunch anticommunist fundamentalism that calls for revenge and retribution reveals the complexity of political choices and conflicts in these societies, His contribution is intimately related to Polish writer Adam Michnik's discussion of the ethical ambivalence of the “velvet restoration” included in this volume.
Particularly significant are Rupnik's considerations on the nature of the new political communities (presidential, semipresidential, parliamentary) as well as his forecasts about the future. Taking into account political, cultural, and economic conditions in different countries, he envisions Central Europe (Poland, Hungary, Slovenia and the Czech Republic) as democratically consolidated. In the Balkans and the former USSR, on the other hand, an incomplete and tottering transition is creating hybrid nationalist-populist regimes. In 1998 he appears to be right regarding Albania, Belarus, or the former Yugoslavia, but recent democratic changes in Romania and Bulgaria show the limits of such predictions given the extremely fluid realities of postcommunist politics.
* * *
The post-totalitarian blues are haunting the countries of the “other Europe.” The euphoria that accompanied the fall of communism has given way to disappointment, social anomie, and the emergence of new dangers. The unity of the great mass rallies for democracy has shattered, and wide-ranging economic hardship has overshadowed political gain for most citizens. Instead of civil societies, one sees a splintered landscape teeming with corporatisms and resurgent communal loyalties. Václav