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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Red Menace Turning Into Pink Nuisance

LONDON - A specter is haunting Europe: the specter of Communists, repainted as leftist democrats, in government.


Lithuania set the trend a year ago in elections that ousted the Sajudis movement, responsible for the country's return to independence, and brought back the Democratic Labor Party of the former Communist leader, Algirdas Brazauskas.


Poland followed suit last month when voters turned against the offspring parties of the Solidarity movement and handed victory to former Communists grouped in the Democratic Left Alliance.


In Hungary, where elections are due early next year, a recent opinion poll put the ruling center-right Hungarian Democratic Forum at only 9 percent, less than half the 21 percent scored by ex-Communists in the Hungarian Socialist Party. Former Communists may also do well in next year's elections in what used to be East Germany.


In other countries, Communists did not really leave the scene, though they proved adept at dressing themselves in new nationalist clothes. Among the former 15 Soviet republics, only Armenia, Belarus, Estonia, Kyrgyzstan and Latvia have presidents who lack Communist backgrounds.


In Romania, much the same bunch of former Communists has held power ever since the December 1989 revolution. Emulating the tactics of ruling cliques between the two world wars, the Communists have frequently changed names to obscure their origins: First they were the National Salvation Front, then the Democratic National Salvation Front, and now the Party of Social Democracy of Romania.


None of this means that Soviet-style communism of the Brezhnev era, let alone the Stalin era, is on the way back. The one-party state, the controls on the media, the prisons for free-thinkers, the dictatorships of the proletariat and the five-year plans are all gone. So, too, are most of the bad old leaders, give or take a Slobodan Milosevic and a Central Asian satrap.


The retention of power, or the return to office, of self-styled reformed Communists is hardly cause for celebration, but it need not be a disaster for the region's new political and economic freedoms.


Still, the Communist-derived parties stand for little except negative protest, often mixed with unsubtle appeals to witless chauvinism.


They promise the impossible: full shops and low prices, high wages and no unemployment. "Let us not have capitalism with an inhuman face", they bleat. Naturally, they do not draw attention to the fact that many former Communists have done well out of the changes, by retaining or moving into powerful jobs in state bureaucracies and the private business community.


One cannot blame voters for falling for these tricks. After four years of economic hardship, Eastern Europe's democrats must expect a certain turn of the tide against them.


In the Czech Republic, where unemployment is only 2. 6 percent and inflation is low, former Communists are in disarray and have little chance of regaining power. But elsewhere the democrats must remember that the return of civil liberties and national sovereignty does not in itself guarantee them reelection by voters who still suffer from relative political immaturity. They have to explain their message better and keep up people's hopes of future prosperity. Otherwise red-turned-pink flags will soon be flying over a lot more of the East.