THE old year departs on a somber note. On the world scene, 1990 was a time of partially fulfilled hopes. Eastern Europe's lunge toward democracy, the Soviet Union's rapid liberalization, South Africa's swerve from apartheid - such events seemed remarkable turning points. But, oh, how hard to make the full turn. Upbeat beginnings became mired in the complexities of building new alliances and breaking old habits. In 1991, this process of leaving the old for the new will continue. It hasn't been halted. Most people in the evolving societies of the world remain convinced that the road toward democratic politics, an economic system that allows for individual initiative, and a world order that emphasizes peaceful solutions to conflict is the right one.
In 1991, we hope to see some landmarks along that road:
A wider realization in Eastern Europe that the deprivations of the current transition from communism will be worth it. People can travel who used to be prisoners in their own homelands. They're free, generally, to speak their minds and worship as they please. Even the closing of old, outmoded factories isn't all negative. Jobs will be lost, but newly created jobs will have firmer economic foundations.
The Soviet Union's release from the clutches of its own ``empire.'' The yearning for tight central control over submissive republics looks to a past of inefficiency, backwardness, and repression. Mikhail Gorbachev surely perceives this, despite his recent rightward leanings. The loss of a few independence-bound republics shouldn't cause him to abandon his whole reformist thrust. The real business of Soviet leadership should be the fostering of private business and of an order built on economic reality, not bankrupt ideology.
South Africa's fuller emergence into the post-apartheid era, impelled by the majority of blacks and whites who want a society where individuals can pursue happiness and live in peace. A minority, impatient to restore the past or summon the future, will agitate for upheaval. The government can help defuse that agitation by discarding all racial laws and providing such crucial services as better education and impartial police protection.