No. 3 - Jun. 1992
Vol. 40 - pp. 7-13
THE EASTERN FRONT
Dr. Géza Jeszenszky,
Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Hungary
Hungary has played a major role in the failure of
the communist utopia - in 1956 by overthrowing it and exposing its real
nature, then in 1989 by negotiating the peaceful winding up of the regime
and so pushing over all the dominoes. Today, we can safely say that although
the new era in world history began in 1989, the post-Second World War
period only finally came to an end with the collapse of the Moscow coup
last August. Thus, after 1918-1920 and 1945-1947, 1989-1991 was this century's
third historic turning point, bringing about both a vertical and a horizontaldisintegration
of the communist regimes, which broke up not only politically but also
territorially, mostly along thelines of ethnic divisions.
The erosion of the system invented by Lenin and
completed by Stalin ended in the swan-song of Gorbachev and in the take-over
by the modern equivalents of Alexander the Great's successors, the diadochi
- Yeltsin, Kravchuk, Nazarbayev and the others. All this was at first
admired and welcomed in the West, but bliss soon gave way to doubts and
fears or occasionally even to the ringing of alarm bells about the coming
of Domesday: nationalist tensions and hunger revolts leading to local
wars and nuclear proliferation among unstable and unreliable countries.
As one of the Central and Eastern European intellectuals who were thrown
into politics by their own conscience and by the need to fill a vacuum,
let me share some of my reflections on these developments.
It is instructive to read again the appeal that
the Hungarian Democratic Forum, then in opposition and now the leading
government party, made at Christmas 1989 to the new democratic parties
and movements of Central and Eastern Europe. With my political friends,
I said in that manifestum democraticum: "Now in our hands, we
have a greatopportunity to put an end to the conflicts that traditionally
turned the peoples of this region against each other. Today, in Eastern
Europe all swear by freedom of conscience, civil liberties, democracy,
a free economy, the observance of human rights and self-determination...
One of the cardinal pre-requisites of democracy is tolerance for those
whose political beliefs, religion or language differs - for the various
minorities. The practical realization of this principle is through the
recognition of these groups' organization and autonomy in order to facilitate
their free development. It is our hope that in the future, social integration
in the new democracies will go side by side with respect for regional,
national and ethnic distinctions, and that representative democracy will
be based upon local self-government".
Having stated then that the various peoples living
in the Eastern half of Europe were standing on the same side, on the side
of democracy, self-determination and human rights for the first time in
centuries, with a shared intention to join the European structures, should
we today feel disappointed? Do the countless new instances of national
intolerance (of which the wars in former Yugoslavia and in Nagorno-Karabakh
are clearly the worst examples) refute our earlier belief that the newly
independent peoples could seize the unique chance offered by history and,
setting aside the memory of past conflicts, focus their attention on creating
a better future? Has freedom unleashed uncontrollable, dark forces in
the former communist countries?. I think it is only some ghosts of Stalinism
which haunt the homes of their former victims.
Shared traditional values
No one can deny that there are serious and well-founded
fears about the unfolding dangers such as national conflicts and civil wars
leading to the use of armed forces which lack any proper legal and political
control. But I think it must be established that no matter how serious are
the problems which face the old, the reborn and the newborn democracies
in the wake of the collapse of the communist system, the world has become
a far safer place than it was during the Cold War. Not only has conflict
between nuclear superpowers become highly unlikely, but political terror
and persecution have stopped, and the police state has disappeared on a
huge territory stretching from the Western frontier of the former East Germany
throughout Russia all the way to the Pacific. After a short enforced detour
of Marxist-Leninist ideology, we in Central Europe have returned to our
shared traditional Judaeo-Christian values and our common Western political
ideas going back to the Enlightenment and the great democratic revolutions.
In the economic field, an unreasonable and increasingly
unmanageable system has given way to a commitment to the principles of
the market. The outbursts of intolerance and violence may be widespread
and may threaten many innocent people, but mankind must still feel greatly
relieved because its survival is no longer so much at risk. It is an unacceptable
tragedy that violence in some former communist countries has already claimed
thousands of lives. But who has counted the victims killed and tormented
by communism, who measured the unreported damage and suffering which was
going on until the collapse of the system?
Indeed, post-communist Europe looks a very sick
man in need of intensive treatment. This is what the doctors gathering
for many consultations are trying to provide. Poverty and social indifference
were the childhood diseases of capitalism. The former communist countries
are now entering or re-entering capitalism, and they show many of the
symptoms England developed after the industrial revolution and Friedrich
Engels so eloquently described. But we have almost two hundred years of
experience behind us to learn from, and an object lesson, Yugoslavia,
to remind us what may happen if passions are let loose without any police
force to stop the unruly elements.
The Day After has turned out not to be
a world destroyed and no longer habitable; what we see is rather A
Landscape After Battle, to borrow the title of a movie by the Polish
director Andrzej Wajda. Indeed, there are no visible ruins (with the exception
of homes, hospitals, churches and monuments destroyed in Croatia and now
also in Bosnia and Karabakh) but the actual damage is very serious nonetheless.
It is invisible, largely psychological, but it may lead to paralysis.
At the end of the Second World War, it was clear
for everyone all over Europe that the ruins had to be cleared and everything
had to be rebuilt, and that this work had to be done by the survivors
of the deluge. But there were people then well versed in political pluralism
and in enterprise management, the pre-requisites of the market had been
left largely intact, and eventually substantial outside help became available,
at least for Western Europe. There was also a very real military and political
threat coming from Stalin's empire which brought home to many countries
the need for internal and international reconciliation.
What is most needed today in the former communist
countries is a mental framework which has long characterized most societies
in the West: a conviction that by hard work, by the acquisition of knowledge
and by a capacity for compromise one is bound to be able to overcome most
problems and build a decent life. Our peoples should build up their self-confidence
and realize that only they can bring themselves salvation. They also need
a plan of action, a reasonable amount of national consensus, capital with
low interest rates as well as advisers and experts who are ready to face
harsh local conditions. In the international context, it is imperative
for them to be ready to put aside old grievances, national rivalries and
suspicions, and be determined to use only dialogue, rational arguments
and democratic methods for settling any conflict. In short, peace, common
sense, hard work and also outside help are needed so that the victims
of communism can climb out of the abyss.
Post communist nationalism
In the last few months, the whole world has learned
a lot about national conflicts but have we understood the real nature of
post-communist nationalism? It is not nationalism in the proper sense of
the word, i.e. dedication to a nation's traditions and basic interests,
which is to blame for the current political tensions. Neither can we blame
the demands of national minorities, those ethnic groups whose mother tongues
differ from that of the majority. In fact, whatever conflict may emerge,
it is and will be caused by insufficient democracy, by being unwilling to
grant legitimate demands, by a fear of meeting the justified aspirations
of various national groups which, so far, have been unable to assert their
inalienable right for self-determination, for becoming responsible for themselves,
for running their own affairs.
In Central and Eastern Europe, the genuine democrats
know that human rights are indivisible, that self-determination cannot
be applied selectively, that the use of force, particularly military force,
is unacceptable for settling political and national differences. Unfortunately,
among people who, for several generations, have lived under dictatorships
of various colours and who have not been exposed to the enlightened political
atmosphere in the Western democracies, it is quite natural to find many
who eagerly repeat the new catchwords of democracy and that of the CSCE
(Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe) process, but who want
democracy at best only for their kin and cannot bring themselves to apply
it to those whose political beliefs, religion, language and national consciousness
are different from their own. Just as no single political party and doctrine,
so no single national identity may be used as a foundation for the newborn
multi-ethnic democracies in Central and Eastern Europe.
Ironically, in the later phase of communism, the
party bosses often turned to extreme nationalism. Their purpose was to
win some measure of popular support and to prolong their control over
the people. I see no greater danger for the new Europe, for the former
communist countries, than the combination of the philosophy and strategy
of communist dictatorship with intolerant nationalism. There, we face
a contemporary version of national socialism.
As expressed by one of Hungary's great poets, a
patriot defends rights, whereas a nationalist violates rights. The nations
emerging from communism are inevitably strongly patriotic, since both
national independence and democratic freedoms were denied to them, and
now they have to restore their citizens' self-esteem and dedication to
serve the renewal of their nations. But those who try to direct the energies
of a nation towards new conquests, towards asserting its rule over people
who are different in culture and who do not want to be directed by alien
masters, those intolerant people are violating rights, and they represent
the greatest danger for their own country as well as for the whole of
Europe. This is the security dimension of the mistreatment of national
Silenced under Communism
As a result of wars, migrations and the introduction
of new settlers, there are no ethnically homogeneous states in Central and
Eastern Europe. The simmering problems of national minorities had not been
evident before the democratic earthquake in Europe took place, because in
the communist countries everybody except the ruling elite was politically
suppressed. At the same time, those who did not belong to the dominant national
community of the state suffered from dictatorship twice: once as every citizen
did, but in addition, as members of the ethnic community whose identity
was seriously threatened, who were powerless to prevent large numbers of
newly arriving colonists to settle among them (as happened all over Eastern
Europe), and whose language was steadily removed from the schools and from
administration, from public life, even from the streets.
Their superiors, those holding leading positions
in local communities, were increasingly drawn from the dominant national
group, and who usually could not speak the language of the local majority.
The slogan to cover up the oppression was internationalism, a new supranational
identity, which was best described by the term Soviet Man. That,
and more recently the term homogenization, meant assimilation:
the dominance of one group, the wiping out of the language and culture
of the minority. The oppression of whole nations and small ethnic minorities
proceeded almost unnoticed by the outside world. They could not speak
out, could not demonstrate. The nation-killers reduced them to silence.
Now, with communist dictatorship discredited and
overthrown, the oppressed nations and minorities all want to assert themselves,
and take their fate into their own hands. In the case of ethnically more
or less homogeneous and/or historically definable entities, especially
those which used to have an independent state existence, the aim is independence
and national sovereignty, as has happened throughout the former Soviet
Union. In the case of national groups which cannot claim independence
because of their smaller size orbecause they live intermingled with another,
larger national community, the demand is not independence but autonomy
and/or collective rights. They are the national minorities. Not long ago,
few people knew about them, they were seldom mentioned in the media, and
certainly nothing was taught about them in the schools.
In Central and Eastern Europe these national minorities
are not newcomers. They are not immigrants seeking jobs. They have centuries
of tradition behind them in their native lands. Very often they became
minorities only in the course of history, when wars and the subsequent
reduction of their number were followed by the arrival of new peoples,
settlers speaking different languages and having a different culture.
Then, later, the frontiers changed and some groups became cut off from
their own compatriots (that is the case with the 3.5 million Hungarians
who live in the states around Hungary.)
What the Central and East European minorities want
is not separation or a change in borders, but the right to keep their
language and culture, to have their children educated in the language
of their ancestors, to have local officials from mayors to policemen from
their own ranks, who speak and think like everybody in the village or
the town, and they want also the right to elect their own representatives
to local and national assemblies and parliaments. Autonomy and collective
rights mean neither more nor less.
The issue of national minorities underlies the
problem in the Balkan region. The Serbs made up 36 per cent of the population
of the former Yugoslavia with one third of them living outside the Serbian
Republic. In Croatia, their number is about 600,000, in Bosnia-Herzegovina,
close to 1.5 million. That is one of the major reasons why Serbia did
not want to accept the secession of these republics. On the other hand,
Serbia has full control over two formerly autonomous provinces, Vojvodina
and Kosovo. In the latter, about 90 per cent of the inhabitants are ethnic
Albanians, while in the former there is a 400,000-strong Hungarian minority,
but also 150,000 Croats as well as a sizeable number of Slovaks and Rusyns.
In fact, in all the Southern Slav republics there are ethnic enclaves
and/or ethnically mixed areas.
The same pattern can be seen in the former Soviet
Union. There are millions of non-Russians living in it. In the new independent
states hardly anywhere can one find an ethnically homogeneous population.
With the drive towards separation and independence, many claims and counter-claims
can be made for changes in the existing frontiers, and all the national
minorities may face attempts to curtail their meagre linguistic rights
and educational facilities.
Code of conduct
Before one raises one's hands in exasperation, it must
be pointed out that autonomy in the form of local and regional self-government
(functioning extremely well in the Swiss cantons) along the lines I have
mentioned, offers a solution to all problems relating to the existence of
national and ethnic minorities. Democracy prevails if all central and local
authorities show bona fide respect for human rights in general
and for the rights of ethnic communities in particular.
An all-European code of conduct safeguarding the
rights of minorities should be adopted, to supplement existing conventions
guarant eeing human rights, the rights of children, the rights of combatants,
etc. Much work has already been done for such a charter. Elements of it
can be found in the Charter of Paris of November 1990 (1).
The CSCE Conference on the human dimension, held in Copenhagen, has already
broken much ground (2), and the conference
in Moscow went a little further. The Council of Europe and its experts
have also made serious studies and come up with some excellent ideas.
There are even some historical precedents to build upon: the protection
of the minorities under the League of Nations, which was based upon special
treaties signed with countries having national minorities. Governments
should not be reluctant to work for such an arrangement and should not
be hesitant to sign it. This would be a good preventive measure and its
strict application and observance would pre-empt other crises likely to
emerge along the lines we have had to observe in Yugoslavia. That is the
only way to make the former communist countries safe for democracy.
One can only welcome the sober and responsible
attitude which the CSCE countries have gradually adopted in the course
of their deliberations about the Southern Slav crisis. While strongly
condemning the gross and clear violations of relevant commitments by the
Serbian authorities waging a war aimed at the destabilization and forcible
disintegration of Bosnia-Herzegovina, they are equally resolute at expressing
their displeasure with the Belgrade government's actions in Kosovo, which
led to "one of the worst human rights problems in Europe".
However, democracy should also have a solid psychological
foundation. In this context, I have referred to the mental damage we all
suffered from in the former communist countries. Nazism, Fascism, and
the other totalitarian and militaristic regimes of the 1930s and 1940s
did similar damage, although their impact lasted for a far shorter period.
After 1945, massive educational campaigns were very successful in making
the population of these states aware of the crimes committed by the former
dictatorships. As a result, not only did people learn the slogans of democracy,
not only did they adopt well-written constitutions, but they really endorsed
democracy. A similar campaign is badly needed now to tell the people of
these countries what happened to them, who was responsible for their present
plight, which way leads to moral renewal, to the understanding and adoption
of pluralistic democracy.
A readiness to respect both neighbours and national,
cultural and political minorities has to be developed. In addition to
this political learning process, there should also be educational programmes
concentrating on economic and social attitudes. The egalitarian ideology,
never fulfilled in reality, must give way to the acceptance of competition,
success and substantial diversity. All that must take place against the
background of poverty, heavy pollution and the proximity of wealthy, prosperous
nations, whose affluence is being brought into the homes of these unfortunate
peoples on their television screens every day. This human conversion
is an immense task, incomparably more difficult than the conversion of
military hardware and production. The armies, first and foremost their
officers and scientists, require special programmes for such a human conversion
with the aim of not only retraining them for new jobs, but also making
use of their considerable skills for peaceful purposes.
History has started a new course, but we can still
determine not only its direction but also many of the details. By taking
the right steps in the countries concerned and in the Western democracies,
the present time of troubles can be over relatively soon. The
historic moment has come when the Eastern half of the continent can follow
the path our Western European friends embarked upon more than four decades
ago, the one leading towards reconciliation among the nations, the abolition
of customs barriers and the establishment of regional integration.
In the economic field, the task appears to be
even more difficult. But let us not forget that possibilities for making
use of the immensely rich resources of the former communist countries
are very real. The whole world suffered when the Soviet Union ceased to
be part of the world market. Now its return can become a source of new
prosperity, as these people badly need all the commodities of the developed
countries which are so hard to sell to an otherwise saturated market.
Having won the Wild West, the new frontier is moving eastward. The emerging
new world order will neither be a Pax Germanica, nor a Pax Americana.
It can be a Pax Democratica, if all of us not only want it but are ready
to make some sacrifice for it. NATO has won the Cold War and thus averted
the Third World War, but it has yet to win the peace. If you in the West
fail, all of us may become losers.
(1) The Charter of Paris for a New
Europe. Text in NATO Review, No. 6, December 1990.
(2) See the Copenhagen meeting on
the human dimension of the CSCE, Uffe Elleman-Jensen, NATO Review, No.
4, August 1990, p. 9.
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