COVER

JADED LIBERTY

BLISS GIVES WAY TO DISILLUSION A YEAR AFTER THE PEOPLE'S REVOLUTIONS SWEPT ACROSS EASTERN EUROPE

JOHN BIERMAN November 26 1990
COVER

JADED LIBERTY

BLISS GIVES WAY TO DISILLUSION A YEAR AFTER THE PEOPLE'S REVOLUTIONS SWEPT ACROSS EASTERN EUROPE

JOHN BIERMAN November 26 1990

JADED LIBERTY

BLISS GIVES WAY TO DISILLUSION A YEAR AFTER THE PEOPLE'S REVOLUTIONS SWEPT ACROSS EASTERN EUROPE

COVER

ESSAY

It was a brief honeymoon. In the year since the walls fell and the people of Eastern and Central Europe rushed to embrace a bride called Liberty, bliss has given way to disillusion. None of the newly freed nations has turned away from democracy or proposed a return to communism. But while citizens savor the joy of freedom, they are also experiencing its darker side: high inflation, unemployment and crime rates, increasing drug use and the spread of pornography, abuses from which communism sheltered them for at least 40 years. And they are in-

creasingly drawn to forms of extreme nationalism that could give birth to a new generation of right-wing dictators. Wrote Adam Michnik, a leading activist in Poland’s Solidarity movement: “For a nascent democracy, the trap is nationalism. Nationalism is a deformed reaction to the need for

independence because it rests on contempt for other cultures.” On Sunday, Lech Walesa, the original leader of Solidarity, which was instrumental in breaking the region’s Communist bonds, will challenge his former associate, Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki, in presidential elections (page 34). The campaign’s most pressing issue has been Mazowiecki’s drastic attempts to revive Poland’s economy, muting nationalistic themes. But throughout the former Soviet empire, the voices of ethnic grievance have been strident (page 38). In Romania, members of

the Hungarian minority say that they are in physical danger. In Czechoslovakia, Slovaks are demanding independence from the Czechs. Tension is growing between Christians and Moslems in Bulgaria, and in Yugoslavia, still nominally a Communist country but not part of the

former Soviet Bloc, Serbs and Croats have revived old animosities (page 40). Meanwhile, many residents of the region say that German reunification may lead Berlin to attempt again to dominate Europe. And the nationalist movements reawaken old fears in those who have suffered most from them in the past—the gypsies and the remaining Jews. The resurgence might be stifled if economic recovery seemed more

likely. But so far, prosperity remains a distant prospect. Even the people of formerly Communist eastern Germany, who are receiving huge amounts of aid from their western countrymen, will likely have to strive for years to become competitive. As western Berliner Heinrich Zimmermann, 66, put it last week, “The gap between us and them will take a generation to close.” Pollution: For the rest of the area, the transition from a totalitarian to a market economy will clearly range from extremely difficult to almost impossible. In fact, the output of some countries has fallen below that of a year ago. In Bulgaria, officials estimate that industrial production will have declined by 18 per cent by the

end of the year. Only in Poland is a bold economic program beginning to take effect, stabilizing the currency and slashing inflation—but causing 7.5-per-cent unemployment. Many economists say that four decades of communism have simply stifled the entrepreneurial spirit. And industrial pollution has helped to

discourage foreign investment. It will cost billions of dollars to bring the environment of Eastern Europe up to the standards of the West. As well, the area’s once-flourishing trade with the Soviet Union is withering. The Kremlin, facing its own severe economic problems, has slashed imports from the region. And the former satellites’ once-abundant supply of cheap Soviet oil is drying up: from Jan. 1, the Soviets will accept only

hard currency for it. Meanwhile, the Persian Gulf crisis has forced up the price of oil from other sources. Apathy: Political disillusion is also widespread, even though free speech is flourishing, travel is permitted, and every country has held free elections. In Romania and Bulgaria, former Communists who have changed their political affiliation are again in power. One young Romanian, who was wounded in last year’s uprising, declared: “We lived a lie under [dictator Nicolae] Ceau§escu and we’re living a lie again now.” In Hungary, where the transition to democracy was peaceful, apathy is so widespread that less than 30 per cent of those eligible voted in recent municipal elections. Clearly,

Eastern and Central Europeans have learned that it is often easier to overthrow a repressive system than to create functioning and prosperous democracies.

JOHN BIERMAN