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  • Eastern Europe's "Terrible Twos"
  • Joshua Muravchik (bio)

For those of us who think of ourselves as belonging to what Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once called "the freedom party"—those who see the struggle of democracy against totalitarianism as being at the heart of contemporary history the birth of democracy in Eastern Europe two years ago was an occasion of unparalleled joy and hope. We beamed as we heard this infant speak its first words, redolent of Jeffersonian principles, and as we watched it take its first steps toward free elections and free markets.

More recently, however, our glow has given way to gnashing of teeth. The infant democracy has reached a stage that all parents recognize—what the baby books call the "terrible twos." It is a time of testing limits. The Czechs and Slovaks are consumed with sibling rivalry. The same syndrome, raised to a pathological pitch of murderous intensity, is tragically evident among the Serbs and Croats. The Bulgarians and Poles, meanwhile, are playing at breaking things: Bulgaria's democratic opposition, which lost to the communists in the 1990 election, decided to prepare for the 1991 election by splitting into five factions. In Poland, the democratic movement, Solidarity, broke into more pieces than anyone has been able to count, and the polity as a whole has acted as if the sheer number of parties is the best index of democracy. In this fall's election, 120 parties were registered, 67 managed to get on the ballot (which was so complex that it came with a table of contents), and 29 won seats in the parliament.

My favorite party came in tenth, garnering 16 seats in the new parliament. It is called the Beer-Lovers' Party. Beer-Lovers' parties have [End Page 65] also emerged in at least two other East European countries; is it too much to hope that we may soon witness the founding of the Beer-Lovers' International? (Socialists and Christian Democrats have their own internationals; why shouldn't Beer-Lovers?) One may laugh, but the Beer-Lovers were one of only four parties with enough guts and vision to support Poland's economic "shock therapy" without equivocation, and they campaigned on the eminently sound platform that what Poland needs are the ingredients for producing good beer: plentiful grain, pure water, and free enterprise. My teetotaling wife, alas, does not share my party preference, but the Polish election has also produced a party for her. It is called the Women's Alliance Against the Difficulties of Life, and it too scored well enough to win seats in the new parliament.

In reality, of course, nascent East European democracy was never quite the blemish-free babe that it appeared to be in our first adoring gaze. But neither is it necessarily headed for juvenile delinquency, as we now sometimes fear. Some of today's troubles may prove to be little more than normal growing pains. Ironically, this seems most likely to be the case in those countries that were most firmly under Soviet domination: Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, and East Germany all seem likely to make successful passages to democracy. In contrast, the European communist states that remained most aloof from the Soviet orbit—Romania, Albania, and Yugoslavia—seem (Slovenia excepted) to have much grimmer prospects.

There is a common pattern to the democratic revolutions in Eastern Europe. First came the formation of an anticommunist united front, usually liberal or nationalist in character. In the first free elections in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary (in this case a referendum on putting parliamentary elections before presidential), and most of the Yugoslav republics, these fronts bested the communists.1 In Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, Serbia, and Montenegro, however, the communists were able to win early elections by virtue of their vast organizational advantages and mastery of dirty tricks, including intimidation, fraud, abuse of office, and monopoly control of the media. In Serbia, for example, the communists are believed to have printed, without legal authority, two billion dollars' worth of currency to spread around in connection with their campaign.

In Bulgaria, the communists' victory was short-lived. They were on the defensive at the hands of an aroused opposition almost from the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3214
Print ISSN
1045-5736
Pages
pp. 65-72
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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