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Western Press Review: Declining Communism In Poland; Communism's New Face In China

  • Don Hill

Prague, 22 September 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Official results aren't in yet from yesterday's Polish general elections, but based on polls and unofficial projections Western commentators are already hailing a resurgence of Solidarity. It's a change, most agree, in Polish politics but not in policies. Commentary also examines Chinese President's Jiang Zemin's success last week at his country's Communist Party Congress in tightening his grip on national leadership.

WASHINGTON POST: A revitalized Solidarity ousted Poland's former Communists

In news analysis, Christine Spolar says the strength of Solidarity's victory was unexpected. It displayed Polish antipathy toward the communist past, she says. Spolar writes: A revitalized Solidarity, an offspring of the labor movement that overturned Communist rule in the 1980s, ousted Poland's governing coalition of former Communists from power with a surprisingly strong showing in parliamentary elections."

The analysis goes on: "After Solidarity led the way in opposing Communist rule and eventually bringing it down, Poles surprised themselves in 1993 by voting former Communists of the Democratic Left back into power, and again in 1995 by picking (ex-Communist Aleksander) Kwasniewski rather than (Lech) Walesa for the presidency. Those shifts were attributed to the financial pain Poles were experiencing as a result of the economic 'shock therapy,' but this year voters appeared to be telling pollsters that they were worried about something beyond their pocketbooks."

Spolar says:: "Voters instead were registering increasing dissatisfaction with the balance of power in government and were expressing support for measures that would revisit the fears of their Communist past."

WASHINGTON POST: The major parties agree on the fundamental goals

Commentator Fred Hiatt wrote yesterday that Poles aren't seeking to reverse the policies that have brought them post-Cold War prosperity. They are united in supporting democracy and a free market, he said. Hiatt commented: "The major parties and almost all Poles agree on the fundamental goals: democracy, free-market economy and integration with Europe and the West. These may seem self-evident now, but eight years ago Poland's rapid transformation into a thriving democracy was far from certain. As Belarus, Serbia and Slovakia sadly show, it was not inevitable that every ex-Communist nation would choose this path. So what went right? Poland started with some advantages that other Communist nations, like Russia, lacked: a peasantry that had remained free and uncollectivized; an independent church; a patriotic sense of nationhood that united almost everyone; and a strong democratic movement --Solidarity-- which had already sunk deep roots."

INDEPENDENT: The election will re-order the political landscape

The election results presage major political alterations in Poland. Correspondent Ire Karacs writes: "Solidarity's return to parliament after yesterday's election will re-order the political landscape. The governing Democratic Left Alliance --the former communists-- is expected to improve slightly on its performance of four years ago, but their forecast of 25 to 30 percent share of the votes will no longer be translated into a majority." Karacs says: "The previous coalition seems doomed, but Solidarity will not be able to form a government without Freedom Union's forecast 14 percent."

Communism's New Face In China

Western commentators are in broad consensus that China's Communist Party Congress last week increased the power of President Jiang Zemin, and that the results seem to increase the likelihood of economic reform while dooming any prospects for political reform.

FINANCIAL TIMES: The congress ushered in a new era of economic reform

Ton Walker and James Harding in Beijing wrote in a news analysis: "China's President Jiang Zemin emerged pre-eminent at the end of a Communist Party Congress which sidelined his chief rival and ushered in a new era of economic reform. The congress also set the stage for the transition to a new generation of leaders by elevating younger, better-educated officials to senior positions."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The plan is a case of poacher turned gamekeeper.

Commentator Kai Strittmatter wrote that the Congress, though meaningful, also was sham. He said: "Jiang Zemin came out of the 15th Communist Party Congress well. China's head of state and Communist Party leader refuted all those who had considered him to be a weak interim figure."

He continued: "The party congress was an absurd ritual from a bygone age when party leaders lorded it over subordinate delegates. The new reality had to be couched in a language beyond plausibility: a policy of privatization is to be implemented that can not be referred to as privatization while a 'democracy' is to be promised that in reality is no such thing. (It) is to be hoped that the plan is more skillfully thought out than it was presented. If it is not, it is bound to fail, and the stakes are extremely high. (As) one Western observer summed up Jiang's plan, (it) is 'a case of poacher turned gamekeeper.' "

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: Jiang is proving to be a clone of his mentor

Kevin Platt writes: "Fresh from a victory over political and military rivals, Communist Party chief Jiang Zemin is likely to move China toward broadened capitalism, but not democracy, as he steers the country into the next century. At the close of a party congress that ended last Friday, Mr. Jiang emerged as the unquestioned head of the seven-man standing committee that will rule China until 2002."

Platt continues: "Jiang, appointed to head the party by Deng Xiaoping on the eve of the Chinese Army's 1989 Tianenmen Square crackdown, is proving to be in many ways a clone of his mentor. Like Deng, Jiang strongly supports transforming China's Soviet-model economy along the lines of a Western-style, free-market system, but opposes introducing open competition in the political realm.

The analysis concludes: "Seven months following his mentor's passing, Jiang has apparently inherited Deng's knack for winning the secretive, Darwinist power struggles that govern life at the top of the party pyramid. During closed-door meetings in Beijing several days ago, Jiang succeeded in purging Qiao Shi, the reform-minded head of China's parliament who held the No. 3 spot in the party, from the all-powerful standing committee." Platt adds: "Mr. Qiao frequently made statements about replacing the rule of man with rule by law in China, and headed a drive to make the National People's Congress the ultimate source of state power."