A former dissident and Bulgaria's first noncommunist president, Zhelyu Zhelev examines in his essay the meaning of the former communists' return to power and why the ideological obsessions of the Stalinist era are forever defunct. Like Poland's Adam Michnik, Zhelev warns against panic-ridden outburst of indignation and calls for a realistic assessment of the political situation. In Zhelev's view, it is fundamentally wrong to think that communism, as a political, economic, and cultural system, could be restored. Recommunization, in the sense of a full-fledged return of the old regime, is a sociological and ideological impossibility. None of the former communists who returned to power in the postLeninist countries is an old-fashioned “true believer.” Unlike Michnik, however, who sees the velvet restoration as inevitable, Zhelev advocates the need to reshape the anticommunism of the 1990s into “anti-postcommunism.” This means a struggle against the reassertion of the old communists' practices and mentalities. He portrays the postcommunist situation as marred by the following ailments: an inordinately centralized state; corporatism cloaked in nationalist appeals; the persistence in power positions of the old, corrupt elites; and an intense suspicion of the West. His views are in many respects related to other former dissidents' disquieting reflections on the “postcommunist nightmare.” The main threat for them is not the resurrection of communist despotisms, but rampant cynicism, corruption, and mafia-style politics.
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In early 1990, carried away by the carnival atmosphere of the time, students and intellectuals all over Eastern Europe burned effigies and held symbolic burials of communism. I still have a souvenir of those heady days: a small can that holds “the last breath of communism.” Some of those who served as exultant pallbearers and gravediggers may be in this hall today; others, perhaps, cast their most recent votes for the parties of the ex-communists. One thing is sure: the specter whose haunting of Europe Karl Marx announced in his Communist Manifesto a century and a half ago looks less