Democracy and Justice under Siege; Communism and Islamism Have Common Features
Byline: Paul Belien, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Last week, I attended a colloquium in Hungary on "Morality and expediency in politics." Our group included political scientists, historians and philosophers. Most of them were Eastern Europeans; the majority were Hungarians. One evening, while having dinner in an expensive Budapest restaurant, the Hungarians at our table noticed that one of the former communist leaders of their country had entered the restaurant.
He was a shallow octogenarian who had reserved a table for his entire family. The Hungarians told me that this man was a former printer, who had made his career in the Communist Party (CP), rising to the position of the country's senior economist, although he did not know anything about economics. The man had ruined the lives of many fellow citizens, but after the fall of communism none of the former dictators had been taken to account, and certainly not this fellow, who the media used to describe as one of the CP's "moderates." The previous week the man had been on television, declaring that he regretted nothing.
My Hungarian friends discussed how they could take revenge for the suffering this man had inflicted on others. Perhaps, someone suggested, one of us could go to the buffet, fetch a bowl of soup, pass the table of the old communist, pretend to stumble and pour the soup over him. Everyone laughed wryly at the suggestion, but none of the Hungarians was prepared to be the avenging angel. They looked at me, but I, as a non-Hungarian, argued that this affair was none of my business. Besides, I said, as a Catholic, I am convinced that the man, if guilty and unrepentant, will burn in hell anyway.
Again, there were wry laughs, but the feeling of injustice and powerlessness hung over our table while my friends told me how, after the fall of the old regime, the former tyrants had gone scot-free, their wealth and power largely intact.
This incident taught me as much about the topic of morality in politics as the previous two days, when we had been discussing texts by Sophocles, Machiavelli and Montaigne. All too often there is no morality in politics. And yet, the absence of it undermines the legitimacy of a political system and makes people revolt.
When the citizens of Eastern Europe rejected communism 18 years ago they were inspired by dissidents who told them that people have a right to "live in the truth" and that democracy equaled liberty and justice. Now, 18 years later, democracy is in crisis in Eastern Europe, where people have come to realize that they have not gained truth, freedom or justice. …