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  • Politics After CommunismA Horizon of Hope and Fear
  • Bronislaw Geremek (bio)

Samuel P. Huntington begins his somber book on the resurgence of democracy over the last two decades as follows: "The third wave of democratization in the modem world began, implausibly and unwittingly, at 25 minutes after midnight, Thursday, April 25, 1974, in Lisbon, Portugal, when a radio station played the song 'Grandola Vila Morena,'" thus signaling the start of the military coup that would overthrow Portugal's 50-year-old authoritarian regime and, after 18 months of turmoil and uncertainty, pave the way for democratic stability.1 The disintegration of communism in Europe could be similarly narrated: it started on a sunny August day in 1980, when in the Lenin Shipyard at Gdansk, Poland, an accord was signed between the Communists, who ruled Poland as a self-appointed "workers' party," and a bold group of real workers who knew not only how to rebel but also how to organize themselves as they struggled for bread and freedom. In the end, it took only a decade or so for the courage, persistence, and determination of oppressed peoples to get the better of totalitarianism and smash a multinational communist system that was, like Nazism, the shame of our century. [End Page 100]

Amazingly, the feat was accomplished virtually without violence. The change of systems took place with no resort to the classic arsenal of revolutionary means; except in the special case of Romania, there was almost no bloodshed. Timothy Garton Ash, the distinguished British historian of Solidarity, has written that in 1989, "No bastilles were stormed, no guillotines erected. Lamp posts were used only for street lighting."2 This is extremely important, for such peaceableness is not in the tradition of Polish history, nor that of Central Europe as a whole. Yet we knew at the time that we really had no choice but to act without violence, without the bloodletting typically associated with revolutions. In our time, paradoxically, the sweeping change of systems and transformation of societies seem to require not a revolution but a process of adjustment that dispenses with head-on clashes. Perhaps Eduard Bernstein has won a posthumous triumph over his orthodox-Marxist adversaries. One is even tempted to say that violence, Marx's dictum to the contrary notwithstanding, is not the "midwife of history." As our century winds to a close, the Polish experience may be considered as a sign of hope regarding the transformation of authoritarian systems. Yet we are also witnessing the bloody violence generated by nationalism, political and religious fundamentalism, and cruel notions of ethnic purity. To note these contradictory developments is not only to cast a backward glance at the triumphs and tragedies of the dying twentieth century, but also to scan ahead toward the horizon of hope and fear that the twenty-first century holds in store for us.

The hope discernible on this horizon springs first and foremost from the widening realization that democracy, despite all its obvious failings, so far has no rival among the political systems evolved by mankind throughout history. The experience of fledgling postcommunist democracies shows how illusory it is to see democracy as a "natural" solution that can simply be taken as a given by societies striving to escape a fossilized and inhumane system such as communism. On the contrary, democracy gives rise to constant uncertainty, and time and again demands the making of difficult choices. Yet history suggests that democratic countries, whatever their other faults, do not launch wars. This is crucial, for it means that in order to build a new and more peaceful international order, we must support democratic development, for democracy is the only basis on which such an order can be grounded. Considerations of political realism and international stability that once prompted tolerance of and even support for nondemocratic systems have now proven shortsighted. Today, it is clear that support for democracy is an imperative dictated not only by ethical concerns but by political pragmatism as well.

In contemporary politics, one observes that attention tends to focus [End Page 101] on economic matters: protectionism versus free trade, state interventionism versus the unhindered play of market forces, stable currency versus...


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pp. 100-105
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