What the New Democracies Need to Survive

December 07, 1993|By JEANE KIRKPATRICK

Washington. -- Once it was clear that Soviet force would not be used to maintain communist governments in power throughout Central and Eastern Europe, those governments fell like dominoes and were quickly replaced by new, democratic governments.

Without significant disagreement or resistance (save in Romania), country by country reorganized itself democratically, declared itself in favor of a free-market economy, and in general affirmed its determination to ''rejoin'' the Western World from which it had been forcibly disconnected.

Optimism reigned throughout the region, astonishing foreign critics who remembered the age-old hostilities that had rent the region for centuries.

Leaders like Lech Walesa and Vaclav Havel predicted with confidence that a new Europe would transcend and overcome nationalism and ethnic xenophobia with pluralism and broader ''European'' identifications. As Mr. Havel put it, ''Europe would replace the state.''

He was not alone in believing that the fall of communism created a unique opportunity for Europe to unite on the basis of the deepest values of European civilization and overcome nationalism, ethnocentrism, intolerance and war.

But Mr. Havel is no longer confident in his optimism.

It is ever clearer that the triumph of democracy, pluralism and peace over tyranny, ethnic cleansing and war will not be automatic. It will require consolidating new institutions and finding ways to reinforce them. It will require closer association with other democracies.

Zbigniew Brzezinski agrees. He writes in the current National Interest that it is now obvious that in the period following the unexpected collapse of communism in Europe ''expectations on both sides -- in the old communist states and in the West -- were much too high and rather naive.'' All aspects of the transformation to free markets and democracy turned out to be more complicated than anticipated.

I agree with both and would emphasize even more than Mr. Brzezinski the dangers associated with resurgent anti-Semitism, nationalism and ethnic hostilities.

In fact, it is widely reported today that intolerance and discrimination of all kinds are once again on the rise in Central and Eastern Europe.

Muslims, Gypsies, Hungarians and, as always, Jews are targets in this area where states are new, borders are unstable and traditions of anti-Semitism are deep. In this area, every people and every country has been invaded, plundered and conquered. Such a history breeds distrust.

Small wonder then that hatred and force tend to reappear in the politics of this region.

Serbian aggression against Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo is the most dramatic example of what happens when nationalism and xenophobia are reinforced by an appetite for power and a taste for violence. In central and Eastern Europe ethnicity and intolerance have repeatedly become a cause for violence and conquest.

All that is required for this to happen is the appearance of a persuasive leader and a supply of arms. Neither is hard to come by.

To emphasize that ethnic identification, rivalry and separatism do not necessarily lead to war or to the persecution of one group by another, we have the example of Czechoslovakia, which peacefully separated when a majority of Slovaks voted to separate. Regretting the Slovak decision, the Czechoslovakian leadership nonetheless respected it. Czechoslovakia is one model of how to resolve painful ethnic disagreement by democratic means.

Yugoslavia is a different matter. Democratic means are precisely what Serbia refuses to follow in the cases of Slovenia, Croatia and, most tragically, Bosnia-Herzegovina. These states can survive only if they can accept diversity and develop habits of mutual tolerance associated with pluralism.

There is no more urgent need in Eastern Europe than pluralism. These are not ''ethnically pure'' countries. Their borders have been too often altered, too arbitrarily drawn. There is no guarantee of peace or tolerance except democracy.

Given time and freedom, I do not doubt that the countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union can find their independent way to economic prosperity and democracy. But no one knows how much time and freedom they will have before impatient authoritarians cut short their democratic efforts.

What can we do?

We can open our markets to the products of the new market systems. (Otherwise, how can market incentives function?)

If the European Community is unwilling to open its markets to Eastern products, the U.S. president could propose an ''Initiative for New Democracies'' similar to the initiative for the Americas proposed by George Bush.

That is not all. Inclusive alliances can help prevent the re-emergence of old competitive blocs, rivalries and conflicts. Inclusive alliances can prevent the revival of balance-of-power politics.

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