Eastern Europeans Know Where They Want to Go, Not How to Get There

April 04, 1991|By WILLIAM PFAFF

PARIS. — The outcome of Sunday's election in Albania, where the rural majority gave the Communist Party victory in a multiparty election, was one more bizarre episode in a bizarre year of mass demonstrations and mass flights from that country.

It demonstrates again a fundamental problem throughout the Eastern bloc. The region grievously lacks a civic culture, with popular understanding of how people cooperate as well as compete to make a free society work.

Parliamentary traditions exist, notably in Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, but the generations which have matured during the past 45 years lacked any direct acquaintance with how a free society worked until the liberating events leading up to 1989.

Take Poland, for example, which has one of the oldest parliamentary traditions in the world, and which for a decade from the late 1970s, by means of the Solidarity movement, conducted a politically sophisticated and effective popular campaign against the Communist government.

The Polish presidential election last November saw a demagogue with a program of fantasy, Stanislaw Tyminski, get 25 percent of the vote, and for a time seem even the possible winner. He said to people that he had succeeded in the West. They could be rich, too. He would tell them how they could do the same thing in Poland that he had done in Latin America and Canada. All Poland could be rich within months.

In the Balkan countries, not much of a democratic tradition ever existed. Yugoslavia's fundamental split is between Serbia, formerly under Turkish rule, and Croatia and Slovenia, which were linked in the past to Austria-Hungary, a Western constitutional monarchy with parliamentary government.

Romania and Bulgaria, which spent centuries under Byzantine and Ottoman rule, imported kings and parliaments from Western Europe in the 19th Century. Authoritarian and arbitrary rule, intrigue, the politics of clan and faction, still marked the years which followed, until the terminal political crisis of World War II.

Albania did not gain its independence from Turkey until 1913, soon lost it again, regained it in 1920, briefly, until Italy invaded in 1939. It is in fundamental respects a feudal country today. To think that democracy is going to emerge easily there would be absurd.

An important paper by George Schopflin of Radio Free Europe, issued last month by the RFE/RL Research Institute in Munich, describes the difficulties these countries face. They are passing from a system where government explicitly claimed total power and attempted to crush any autonomous political or social force, into one as in the West where law is understood to apply to the government itself, and hence in which government is self-limiting. All this is a matter of conditions of mind as much as of constitutions and law.

There is also the problem of the lack of a bourgeoisie in the hTC ex-Communist countries. The much-abused bourgeoisie has proved indispensable both to a market economy and to democracy itself.

As Mr. Schopflin writes, without this ''autonomous entrepreneurial stratum . . . there is little hope that social )R mobility, which in any case is very seriously blocked in the post-Communist world as a result of the narrowing of opportunities in politics and culture caused by communism, will become a realistic prospect for the bulk of the population. In other words, only economic mobility can offer sufficient opportunity to integrate the lower-status sections of society into the values of democracy.''

Yet intellectuals have dominated the revolutions in the East, and intellectuals historically (and inevitably?) are hostile to the bourgeoisie. They are hostile to business and money-making, which seem to them wholly self-interested occupations, hence unworthy of a respected and responsible place in society.

One presumes that intellectuals have learned a lesson from the horrors of the past half-century of totalitarian ideology, distinguished on both left and right by hostility to the bourgeoisie, since it is essential that the new governments in the East foster the emergence of an entrepreneurial class.

The elements of a bourgeoisie survive in Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland, intermingled with survivals of the Communist nomenklatura (the latter constituting the modern equivalent of that exploitative bourgeoisie so despised in the 19th Century).

The East European working class is mired in the past. It is a true proletariat, created by Marxists in the image of Marxism. (Marx's followers, Mr. Schopflin writes, ''after 1948 set up a 19th Century industry, which automatically resulted in the emergence of a 19th-Century working class.'')

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