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Ex-Communists, Back in Power, Give E. Europe a Shade of Pink

Poverty, nostalgia create support for reconstituted apparatchiks

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WHEN the democratic revolutions of 1989 put European communism in the ash heap of history, Communist Party faithful behind the fallen Iron Curtain were suddenly born again, adopting new names and swearing allegiance to free-market principles.

But observers in recent weeks have begun to see tinges of communism resurface among Eastern European politicians, fueling doubts over their commitment to capitalism.

When voters -- struggling with the hardship and poverty that accompanied reform -- started voting former communists back into power in fair elections, Westerners watched nervously. But after regaining power in Lithuania in 1992, Poland in 1993, and Hungary in 1994, the ex-communists didn't immediately move to slow reform.

Now many observers are having to reassess the actions of reconstituted communists.

In Poland and Hungary, both in the vanguard of market transition, new-age but left-leaning governments are now hesitating to press on with deregulation. The responsibility of governing has brought internal disputes over reform strategies -- and deadlock.

''These parties [with former communists] prevailed due to the campaign promises that they gave, which were very populist,'' says Piotr Nowina-Konopka, a leader of Poland's main opposition Freedom Union party. ''They are finding out their promises are unkeepable.''

Former communists are now back in power in all but a few Central European states, the Czech Republic being the most notable exception. In several countries -- Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Romania -- the Party apparatchiks never fully lost control after 1989.

In Slovakia's case, former Party boss Vladimir Meciar slammed the brakes on privatization soon after he assumed the premiership in December. State-run Slovak television has also moved to limit free expression on the airwaves, removing three shows specializing in political satire.


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