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East European Perspectives: November 3, 1999

3 November 1999, Volume 1, Number 1

Part I: Radical Politics In Post Communist East Central Europe

By Michael Shafir

'Reds,' 'Pinks,' 'Blacks,' and 'Blues'

The scholarly literature on post-communist political formations suspected of antagonism to the "democratic game" has suffered from three main deficiencies. First, it has either dealt with the "extreme left" or with the "extreme right" of the political spectrum but never (to the best knowledge of this author) with both of them jointly. Although the applicability of the Left-Right continuum to the post-communist states has been questioned by most scholars, the continuum was implicitly re-introduced via the back door by dwelling on either "successor parties" (Evans and Whitefield, 1995; Ishiyama, 1995 and 1996; Mahr and Nagle, 1995; Waller, 1995) or on parties that were alternatively labeled "right wing" and "right" (Held, 1993; Hockenos, 1993), "far right" (Cheles, Ferguson, and Vaughan, 1995), "extreme right" (Cox, 1992; Braun and Scheinberg, 1997; Hainsworth, 1999) or "radical right" (Ramet, 1999). One pair of authors, Merkl and Weinberg, once employed "radical right" (1993) and once "right-wing extremism" (1997) to address one and the same phenomenon. The second deficiency, as it should transpire from the above, is one that is both conceptual and taxonomic. Finally, the third deficiency, stems from the failure of every single one of the above-mentioned authors to provide that "systemic" perspective that Karen Dawisha and Bruce Parrot (1997, p. 377) were asking contributors to their three edited volumes to come up with. In other words, what has been most acutely lacking is an analysis of the impact and influence (both actual and potential) of these political formations on the emerging "transitional" political system.

This study is an attempt to fill this gap. It will be published in several (not necessarily consecutive) issues of "RFE/RL's East European Perspectives." Part I, published here, (a) attempts to explain why a taxonomy of emerging political parties must converge some communist successor parties with some political formations usually perceived to belong to the right in some of the newly-emerged political systems. It also provides such a taxonomy, differentiating between "radical continuity" and "radical return." It will be followed by Parts II-V, where I shall (b) briefly discuss the reasons for my preference for the term "radical." I shall then (c) scrutinize the newly-emerging "radical minds" in Central and Eastern Europe, concentrating on similarities with, and differences from, their interwar predecessors. Then, (d) I shall exemplify the applicability of the above-mentioned taxonomy and, finally, (e) engage in the attempt to place this taxonomic proposal in "systemic" perspective.

On 17 October 1989, Erich Honecker, leader of the East German Socialist Unity Party (SED) was submitting his resignation on alleged health grounds, and on 9 November that year the Berlin Wall was collapsing. Ten years on, the German Party of Democratic Socialism, the SED's inheritor, was celebrating impressive electoral successes in ballots for the local parliaments in several Laender, going as far as to displace the ruling Socialist Party (at the federal level) as the second-strongest formation represented in the local parliament in two of these legislatures. In the neighboring Czech Republic, the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM), the main successor of the Czechoslovak Communist Party, had displaced the ruling Social Democratic Party as the second formation in electoral preferences a few months earlier, and in October 1999 it climbed to first place, displacing the Civic Democratic Party from that position (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 1999). A fortnight earlier, in Usti nad Labem, a town in northern Bohemia, the tenth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall was "marked" by the erection of another wall, aimed at fencing off the Romany population on one of the town's streets.

These were not singular developments. Despite its recent success in having the country invited to accession talks with the EU, Slovakia's democratic coalition headed by Mikulas Dzurinda was rapidly losing popularity, and polls indicated that maverick Movement for a Democratic Slovakia leader Vladimir Meciar was still the country's most popular leader (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 October 1999). The polls were also indicating that Meciar's opposition to the recently-passed law on minority-language use in contacts with the authorities was backed by large segments of the Slovak ethnic majority. For nearly one year, polls have been obstinately predicting the return to power of the unreformed Party of Social Democracy in Romania, and an utterly artificial nationalist campaign was being waged once more in Transylvania. The leader of the chauvinistic and anti-Semitic Greater Romania Party, Corneliu Vadim Tudor, was running third in electoral preferences ahead of the elections, which are scheduled for 2000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September 1999). And then, of course, there is Serbia. And Croatia.

This may be a pessimistic perspective--focusing on the "half-empty" glass ten years after the cup of "democratization" was euphorically emptied by those raising a toast to "the end of history" (Fukuyama, 1992). One year before the Japanese-American historian was liquidating Hegel's intellectual legacy, an Israeli political scientist (whose student I had the honor to be) was making precisely the opposite statement: not only was history not about to end but, quite the contrary, it was about to "return" with a vengeance (Avineri, 1991).

Caught between Fukuyama and Avineri, political scientists, who had so blatantly failed to predict the demise of communism, were back to their old selves. With one notable exception (Jowitt, 1992), they were busy with (among other irrelevant endeavors) analyzing the emergence of the new party systems in the former communist countries while largely ignoring Jowitt's observation that "the civic/ethnic identity issue is a defining one for all of the Soviet empire's successor states" and that, as such, this cleavage was bound to strongly impact the emerging political systems. They were searching for cross-system comparative tools but ignoring the core of the system's nature. Only a few (Schoepflin, 1993; Offe, 1994; Kitschelt, 1995; Tismaneanu, 1999) were (explicitly or implicitly) paying attention to Jowitt's analytical insights of the long-standing "Leninist legacy" and to his warning that "if, under Leninist rule, kto-kovo? asked whether or not the party was dominant, the question today in the nations of the extinct Soviet bloc is whether civic or ethnic forces dominate their political life: 1989 was the year of the civis; 1990 saw the forceful reemergence of ethnic political forces...The boundaries between those representing one or the other identity--civic or ethnic--tends to be stark, and the psychological, cultural, and political confrontation intense. Far from being complementary, these groups, programs, and orientations are competing for the dominance and threaten to divide their societies and destabilize their governments" (Jowitt, 1992, pp. 320-21).

As a result, one should not be surprised that Dawisha, at a roundtable discussion on "Lessons of the First Post-Communist Decade," concluded that by using the "minimalist or procedural definitions of democracy (as a polity in which the formal and actual leaders are chosen through regular elections based on multiple candidacies and secret balloting, with the right of all adult citizens to vote)," political scientists had "overemphasized" and "oversold" the "capability to build democracy" (Dawisha, 1999, p. 256).

The re-emergence and electoral successes of former communist parties (or their success to remain in, or return to, power under a different name) has, of course, not passed unobserved by scholars. The obvious questions were asked: do the "successor parties" really belong to the same category? Are their leaders united in political outlook? Croatia's Franjo Tudjman, Hungary's Gyula Horn, Lithuania's Algirdas Brazauskas, Macedonia's Kiro Gligorov, Moldova's Petru Lucinschi, Romania's Ion Iliescu, Slovakia's Meciar, and Serbia's Milosevic are not cast in the same mold, though all are former communist officials. To describe them as "cynical pragmatists, chameleon-like survivors, ready to espouse any creed with lightening speed...if it only upholds their stay in power," as Vladimir Tismaneanu does in his otherwise admirable recent book (Tismaneanu, 1999, p. 52) is to generalize from Iliescu to Horn, from Milosevic to Poland's Aleksander Kwasniewski and to thus compare apples with pears, or rather with crab apples. After all, in 1993 Kwasniewski said that, should anyone propose to restore the command economy, he would have to be expelled from the party--not for being a communist, but for being "an idiot" (Braun, 1997, p. 147). That statement could hardly have come from Iliescu or, for that matter, from KSCM leader Miroslav Grebenicek, who on 16 September 1999 commented that he would be "happy" if upon returning to power the KSCM would inherit an economy in as good a state as that left by the defunct Czechoslovak Communist Party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September 1999).

Scholarly literature would not be "scholarly" if there was agreement from wall to wall--or from wall to [Michael] Waller. The British scholar emphasizes that "organizational continuity" has played a key role in the capability of successor parties in Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia to leave power "on tiptoe" and don (with the Czech exception) the Social-Democratic mantle. Re-baptism, however, was "accompanied by organizational and programmatic changes." How genuine those changes were was for time to tell (Waller, 1995, pp. 476-77). And it did. While the Bulgarian Socialist Party would soon return to former leader Todor Zhivkov's manipulation of nationalism in its quest to re-establish political primacy, the Slovak Party of the Democratic Left would join "civic minded" (to employ Jowitt's terminology) coalitions in 1994 and 1998 and the Hungarian and Polish parties would have no use of nationalism in their attempts to appeal to their respective electorates.

Historical legacies played an important part in the way the successor parties transformed themselves--or failed to do so (Ishiyama, 1995, pp. 158-59). Paradoxically, it was the lack of the Polish and Hungarian parties' domestic legitimacy that would lead to a greater willingness on their part "to engage in economic and political reform to 'legitimize' party rule," well in advance of the crumbling of the Berlin Wall. To be sure, the process was a difficult one, but resulted in the emergence of "a historical tradition of tolerance for some measure of intraparty pluralism and moderate reform," which explains the two Communist parties' later "willingness to accept the movement toward democratic reform." In contrast, "in Czechoslovakia and the Balkan states [the ruling parties] faced no real imperatives to reform themselves." The Czechoslovak party, unlike its Polish and Hungarian "sisters," had "a long tradition as a 'home-grown' Communist movement," whereas the "Albanian and Romanian and, to a lesser extent, the Bulgarian parties, had cultivated an image as 'national-communist' parties, independent of Moscow's direction." Consequently, "in these parties no tradition of internal pluralism and political tolerance emerged, nor in turn did a strong party constituency for democratic reform develop, as it did in Poland and Hungary."

Ishiyama's insights are probably best read in combination with those of Andrew Janos. Analyzing the strategies pursued by post-communist elites, Janos distinguishes between three traditions that have influenced their "strategic choices": the liberal/civic tradition, the technocratic tradition, and the neo-populist one. Successor parties are placed in the category of technocratic tradition. Upon their emergence or soon thereafter these parties had to make a choice between what Janos, in Weberian terminology, calls "the idiom of universalism and particularism." There is no difference between that choice and Jowitt's insistence on the primacy of the civic/ethnic cleavage. Some successor parties, among which Janos wrongly counts the Czech alongside the Polish, the Slovenian, and "perhaps more ambiguously" the Hungarian, opted for the universal choice. Others, however (and they are said to be the majority) "have thrown themselves headlong into the murky waters of ethnic politics either by embracing national issues or by allying themselves with populist and radical nationalist parties" (Janos, 1994, p. 21).

The distinction Janos makes between "leftist" and "rightist" technocrats is a useful one. It is not, however, the communist past of such "rightist" technocrats as Meciar, Iliescu, Tudjman, and Milosevic that is the determining factor here, but rather their option. My main point is that this option has been one of "continuity."

It has become somewhat of a cliche to state that the year 1989 has launched the "return to history." Avineri was no less wrong than Fukuyama. Communist East Central Europe had never absented from history, and certainly not from that part of history that Avineri has in mind--nationalism. Stalin's "socialism in one country" was the first ideologically-formulated justification of what would eventually become known as "national communism." Walter Laqueur (1997, pp. 179-80) points out that the "mission" of Russian fascists descending from the Black Hundred and forced into emigration was "made more difficult" by "Stalin, whose policy in crucial respects resembled that of the fascist leaders," having "reintroduced nationalism through the back door and made 'cosmopolitanism' a deadly sin." Beyond those emigre fascists, he says, "lay a new ideology of national Bolshevism." One must not necessarily be a Trotsky fan to agree with Lev Davidovich. Stalin's "socialism in one country" amounted to "national messianism" (McNeal, 1977, p. 31) which, in turn, had more in common with fascism than with a doctrine that claimed to be internationalist. Against this background, the demonstrations in Moscow where participants carry the Vozhd's portraits marching side by side with the descendants of the Black Hundred make, as it will eventually be discussed, more sense than first meets the eye of the bewildered social "scientist."

Nor was "national communism" confined to the former Soviet Union's borders. "Objectively speaking," (as Stalin would have put it), it became the dominant doctrine adopted against Soviet domination. Tito's "heresy," as we know from an unfortunately by now largely forgotten work of Zbigniew Brzezinski (1960), had "national communism" at its core, as did the Hungarian revolution of 1956 (at least at its early stages) and the Polish return to power in that same year of Wladislaw Gomulka (Zinner, 1956). With the exception of Czechoslovakia, no country in East Central Europe remained unaffected by "the plague," with Enver Hoxa's Albania and Ceausescu's Romania (joined in the 1970s by Bulgaria's Zhivkov in what I coined in 1989 as "xenophobic communism") reaching paroxysm in their attempts to substitute nationalist for ideological legitimacy. As one scholar recently put it, "national communism, though it may seem to be a political oxymoron, became increasingly the norm by the 1970s and certainly by the 1980s as the Marxist-Leninist regimes sought to hold on to power in the face of collapsing political legitimacy" (Braun, 1997, p. 141).

In 1989, then, East Central Europe "returned" to a place from where it had never been absent. Let us, however, recapitulate. If what Janos calls the "rightist tradition" of the technocrats (that is to say successor parties) is not a matter of "return" but one of continuity, on one hand, and if, on the other hand, this continuity must nonetheless be distinguished from what he terms as the third, or the "neo-populist" strategy pursued by contemporary East European political elites--then a classification of political parties that view the democratization process (in the civic sense) with something less than enthusiasm is required. The taxonomy must distinguish between those political formations whose main point of reference is national communism and those that appeal to the traditions of interwar extreme nationalism as their main point of reference. Although the two unavoidably share many traits (national communism in its most exacerbated form having adopted in all but name the jargon of the interwar extreme right), there remain two basic differences that call for placing them in different "taxonomic boxes." The first group enjoys what Waller (1995, pp. 481-82) called "organizational continuity" and, as such, has from the start an advantage over the second. And while both groups appeal to "historic continuity," the second rejects (in theory, but not necessarily in practice) any continuity with communism and its symbols.

It is precisely this distinction (one between parties of "radical continuity" and between formations of "radical return") that I have applied since 1992 in analyses of Romanian extremism and which I am now convinced can be applied as a whole to the Central and East European post-communist countries (as well as to Russia). Before so doing, however, I wish to first distance myself from Janos's "neo-populist" category and, second, insist on the necessity of avoiding to put all "rightist eggs" in one basket.

"Neo-populism" suffers from what Sartori calls "conceptual stretch." This does not derive as much from the "neo" as it does from a "populism" viewed by Janos to be an all-inclusive category ranging from the Russian "narodniks" to the Romanian Iron Guard between the wars (Janos, 1994, p. 23). I am not contesting Janos's presentation of the evolution of East European populism (see also Ionescu and Gellner, 1969) and its divisions into "left" and "right" streams, nor indeed the fact that Romanian, Hungarian, and other populists influenced the political thought of right-wing extremism. But there should be a point in time, as well as in conceptualization, where populism and right wing extremism become distinctive from one another. Some right wing or left-wing populists can be classified as "authoritarians," others were (or are) even close to the "totalitarian frame of mind." What they have in common is a "radical ethos" and an even more "radical telos." And yet, they do not embrace all the values of extremism, nor indeed those of democracy. They are "neither fish, nor fowl." Yet "populism," in its current usage, is seldom more than a pejorative word applied to such "phenomena" as Peronism, or the manipulation of masses into collective hysteria entrenched in hate of "the Other" in which such contemporary figures as France's Jean Marie Le Pen and Austria's Joerg Haider excel.

If one substitutes "radicalism" for "neo-populism" (as I believe one should), then, yes, Janos is absolutely correct in discerning "aggressive anti-liberalism" as "a matter of personal and political identity" among those who make up the category. He is also right when he mentions anti-Western developmental (that is to say, "globalization") postures among this category, and its cultivation of "the symbols of the victim and the weak" (Janos, 1994, pp. 24-25). But these postures are all the outcome of the radicalists' rejection of individualist (as opposed to communitarian) values and hence of democracy and of parliamentarianism (Tismaneanu, 1999, p. 78). As Aurel Braun observes, "Both the extreme left and the extreme right have rejected the liberal idea of the freedom of the individual, have been opposed to limited government and have been profoundly suspicious of the market. Both have instead created a romanticized notion of the individual, either Marx's inalienated, complete human being or the unspoiled, premodern, and racially pure individual" (Braun, 1997, p. 142).

While history has already witnessed political conversions from one extreme to the other, never before had the two "deadly enemies," the extreme left and the extreme right, overtly joined in the common struggle against their shared foe: individualism and democracy. Not even the Hitler-Stalin pact of 1939 had dared to openly acknowledge a community of not just temporary interests, but of core political values. As Sternhell, Sznajder, and Asheri (1989, p. 15) put it, fascism is a "political culture that is communitarian, anti-individualist and anti-rationalist, and is founded, first, on the refusal of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution heritage and then, on the elaboration of a total overthrowing." Marxism, on the other hand, is supposedly rationalist par excellence. Young Marx claimed to know what the anthropogenic essence of man was: a "species being," a Gattungswesen that can overcome alienation only in labor (Avineri, 1970, pp. 65-95). One can be a real individual only in communitarian terms. Overcoming alienation and finding one's "real self" only in the midst of the community, however, is what the radical right is all about as well. And it little matters that in one case the strive for finding one's "essence" is universalistic and in the other it is particularistic, as long as there is always someone else who knows better what "real essence" is all about. Someone who, lo and behold, indulges in the same endeavor of producing a Manichean "New Man."

It is on these grounds that the different "Red-Brown" alliances are not "unnatural" but make perfect sense. Individualism, parliamentarism and democracy have long been the joint enemy of the two extremes. If Marx's "Das Kapital" was comprehensible to few proletarians but many capitalists (has not the "welfare state" been born out of capitalist scare?), so Fukuyama's "end of history" made little sense to anyone not versatile in reading Hegel. The prophecies were both wrong, but the panics were similar.

Thus far I have dealt with "Reds," "Pinks," and a little with "Blacks." A taxonomy aimed at making sense of the post-communist political map must also draw the line between "Black" and "Blues." In the absence of a better color to describe what I have in mind, I am making use here of the Bulgarian post-1989 spectrum, which grouped the forces of the reformist Union of Democratic Forces under this color (Bell, 1999, p. 235). Though in Bulgaria there were "dark blues" and "light blues," they must be differentiated from the "Blacks." In other words, there is not only a formal, but a substantive difference between the "traditional right" and the "radical" or "extreme" right.

The distinction is hardly new. It has been amply used in analyzing the difference between, on one hand, the "within system" negation of egalitarian or socialist values, and, on the other hand, the "system-destructive" negation of democratic values. The latter trend, also termed "revolutionary right," served, first, the political discourse of emerging fascist ideologies and later the ideological credo of fascist or national-socialist regimes. That fascist ideologies are anti-conservative and revolutionary should no longer be disputed after Roger Griffin's seminal work (1994, p. 47-8). The traditional right advocates individualism and (unlike most shades of the radical right, it supports a quick transition to market reforms leading to capitalism. It views democracy and a civil society as a sine qua non condition of the only acceptable order of things in the polity and, consequently, it supports respect of human rights, which opponents of democracy reject and consider to be an "alien" implantation into the nation's body. While rejecting Marxism as an ideology, and while occasionally advocating the disqualification from participation in the polity's political life of individuals who had been involved in the imposition of totalitarian communist values and persecutions, the traditional right is an ideological adversary of Social-Democracy, but not its "deadly enemy;" collaboration or compromise with parties of the moderate left (or with "centrist" parties) is viewed as legitimate and, in some cases, even as warranted. In short, the traditional right fits into what Hans Rogger describes as "classical conservatism." It is "temperate, compromising, and opportunistic, dedicated to inherited [in this case, pre-communist] institutions and values, to privilege (or at least to social and economic stability), and fearful of mass politics and mass passions." (Rogger, 1966, p. 576).

If anyone insists on using a Left-Right continuum (what some prefer to call the "spatial criterion," as if we lacked confusion), then one can agree with Ignazi that "extreme right parties" and conservative parties occupy a "different spatial location," with the latter being "more to the center," belonging to "a different ideological class" and engaging in different tactics while in opposition; conservatives engage in "goal opposition" which "never endanger system legitimacy" (Ignazi, 1992, p. 13).


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