The Two Faces of Europe

A French friend said to me two years ago that there were two ways for Poland to emerge from its appalling crisis. The first would be through common sense: a miracle would happen and angels would descend to free Poland from communism. The second would be through a miracle: the Poles—including both the Communists and the opposition—would come to an understanding with one another. This miracle—something that seemed to me utterly impossible—actually occurred in my country. The prisoners and their guards sat down at a table and began to negotiate. The result is that communism has ceased to exist in Poland today. This was by no means a foregone conclusion—things could have turned out quite differently. The way was smoothed by a specifically Polish feature of the situation: the combination of President Jaruzelski, who, as the man who had imposed martial law, could ease Soviet fears; and Prime Minister Mazowiecki, who simultaneously made it clear both to the Poles and to the West that there was a strong will for change.

In the meantime, however, many people in Poland have begun to believe that we are going too slowly, and that it is time to break the agreements that were made with the old ruling power. I contend that we should think twice before disturbing this fragile equilibrium.

There are two ways to emerge from dictatorship. The first is the Spanish model. It begins with a pragmatic compromise between reformers from the government and the democratic opposition. This enables the members of the ancien régime to reconcile themselves to the new situation; they have a chance to survive and can hope to find a new place in society; they will even become defenders of democratization because they see that they can gain advantages from it. The second way was taken in Germany and France: “denazification,” or expiation of collaboration. But that way also meant revenge, the settling of accounts, retribution. And when I consider where such an approach can lead, once again I see two variants. First there is the Iranian model: one dictatorship is supplanted by another; the ideology, language, and symbols are new, but a dictatorship is ruling once again. This is the case precisely because democracy is the child of compromise and violence the child of retribution.

Second, there is the situation that gives rise to the “Kabul syndrome.” In Afghanistan a full year after the withdrawal of Soviet forces the Communists continue to rule. They have no choice because the mujaheddin have not given them a chance to adapt to the new circumstances. The Communists are defending themselves with such bitterness because only one fate awaits them if they lose. In Poland, on the other hand, the Communists can simply give up—an outcome unparalleled in history.

Communism has suffered many defeats in Poland over the years; now, however, it has capitulated. What we are seeing now is the retreat from the centers of power by people who are defending their …

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