Nothing Quiet on the Eastern Front—Post-Communist Europe and the New Historical Era
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 1 Apr 1993, p. 263-271
Kulcsar, His Excellency, Dr. Kalman, Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
The collapse of communism in Europe in 1989 and the end of the Cold War promised a new era for Eastern Europe. An examination of what has happened to that promise and the current situation in Eastern Europe. Reasons for the current situation: the legacy of communism, the ignorance about the prerequisites of a well-functioning developed society, unrealistic expectations, and more. Possible consequences of the disillusionment with the new age of democracy and the market economy. Historical roots of the situation, with examples from recent history. Promising and well functioning present-day models. What minorities want and how it may be facilitated. An all-European code of conduct. Conferences on the human dimension. Goals of government.
Date of Original
1 Apr 1993
Language of Item
Copyright Statement
The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.

Views and Opinions Expressed Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the speakers or panelists are those of the speakers or panelists and do not necessarily reflect or represent the official views and opinions, policy or position held by The Empire Club of Canada.
Empire Club of Canada
Agency street/mail address:

Fairmont Royal York Hotel

100 Front Street West, Floor H

Toronto, ON, M5J 1E3

Full Text
His Excellency, Dr. Kalman Kulcsar, Hungarian Ambassador to Canada
Chairman: Robert L. Brooks
President, The Empire Club of Canada


People don't like change, generally, (with today being the exception of course). It is a simple fact. Change confronts us with uncertainty and demands courage in return. We usually prefer to avoid it, but those who face change head on are often those who most succeed.

Today, Hungary is a free country because it faced the challenges of change without flinching. Hungary's drive towards democracy was not easy. It began in 1956 and was a long time coming to fruition. Yet, compared with the chaos which surrounded it, Hungary's transition to freedom has been remarkable for its peace. Hungary found freedom without violence, without bloodshed. Even now as we watch parts of Eastern Europe in the throes of civil war, Hungary remains a stable democracy.

It is the New Hungary that His Excellency, Dr. Kalman Kulcsar, is here today to speak about. Born in Hungary in 1928, he studied law at the Faculty of Law and Political Sciences at the University of Budapest. He received his doctorate in 1968, following which he pursued a distinguished academic career focussing on the field of sociology of law, constitutional law, and political science. To date, he has published 18 books.

Following the free elections of 1990, he was named the Ambassador to Canada of an independent and democratic Hungary. The great lawyer and politician, William Jennings Bryan, once said: "Destiny is not a matter of chance, it is a matter of choice; it is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved."

Today His Excellency will be speaking to us about Hungary and the New Europe and how his country is coping with the destiny it has chosen. Please join me in welcoming our distinguished ambassador as the speaker today.

Kalman Kulcsar

From Annus Mirabilis to Annus Miserabilis

The year 1989 was indeed annus mirabilis, the year of miracles, when communism collapsed in Europe. But the last year was indeed annus miserabilis, a miserable horrible year, not only for Queen Elizabeth II, who made this bitter remark watching the fire at Windsor Castle, but much more so for millions of men and women in Bosnia and in many other parts of the former communist world.

The fall of communism and the end of the Cold War brought about the promise of a new era for Eastern Europe, for the lands that were derailed from their natural historical development, from going along the lines of mainstream European civilization, by one of the most tragic social experiments of history.

The almost simultaneous collapse of the authoritarian party-states all over the area, however, gave way to problems of greater complexity than was initially presumed in the phase of general euphoria.

The events of the last three years clearly show that the end of the age characterized by threats posed by communism caught the victors of the Cold War unprepared for the task of post-war reconstruction. In striking contrast, their predecessors in two World Wars made extensive preparations for peace, for the utilization of victory.

At the end of 1989, when the post-Second World War period came to an end and a new era commenced, apart from a few cautious commentators, most Western politicians, and even more the general public, were rather optimistic in taking for granted the easy passage of the eastern half of the European continent into the long coveted Eden of democracy, human rights and market economy.

But by 1993 euphoria gave way to double disappointment: the West is questioning the ability of the peoples of Eastern Europe to make good use of freedom, while Eastern Europeans are voicing their doubts about the seriousness of Western helpfulness. There is also a widespread fear of new risks that threaten not only the former communist countries but the whole Eurasian continent.

The legacy of communism turned out to be much graver than most people had thought. In addition to redundant industries, inefficient management and terrible pollution, all symbolized by the spectre of Chernobyl, the psychological damage was almost crippling.

The average citizen of the former communist countries does not understand what happened to the authoritarian world in which he or she grew up and learned the harsh rules of survival, acquired a distorted idea about right and wrong, and was not taught about sin.

Ignorance about the prerequisites of a well-functioning developed society created unrealistic expectations, a consumerism which leads people to do almost anything in order to obtain the goods which suddenly appear around them in the shops, but which are earned in Western countries only by hard work.

All this makes people frustrated and despondent, and they only too readily put the blame for their present problems on those who try to cure them--on the new, democratically elected leaders and on their foreign supporters.

Today there are some well-founded and very specific fears about Eastern Europe: Internal instability may lead to chaos, anarchy and civil war (perhaps fought with nuclear weapons), poverty and famine may generate mass exodus towards Western Europe, and ethnic strife might develop into nationalist conflicts spilling over the frontiers.

Perhaps the most serious risk is that people in the eastern half of Europe, disappointed in their expectations and feeling that with today's high prices and insecure jobs they are worse off than they were yesterday, could be very easily misled by false prophets who conjure up dangerous old ghosts.

More precisely: Disillusionment with the new age of democracy and the market economy may lead, in these countries, to a desire to go back to the modest safety of the last phase of communism and to accept a return to authoritarian politics. This mood can lead to the rise of aggressive internal and external policies.

Before one cries out in exasperation, it is right to point out that the world has, nevertheless, become a far safer place than it was prior to 1989, that a nuclear world war has become unlikely and that hundreds of millions no longer live in brutal dictatorships. But as Aristotle said, it is easier to be a slave than to be free.

Lenin wrote that the last stage of capitalism was imperialism. In fact, imperialism rather turned out to be the last stage of communism. First Stalin, then in the later phase of communism, the other party bosses, 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.

Today, I am not going to talk extensively about all the new risks, about the terrible legacy of communism, about the mistakes made by the G-7 countries in responding to events since 1989, about the urgency of dealing with the economic and mental crisis in the CIS countries, but only about one specific problem--the causes of the nationalist conflicts and the way to handle them.

If one looks at an ethnic map of Central and Eastern Europe, showing the exact composition of the population, including that of the towns, one sees not only a colourful ethnic mosaic, but also a hopeless mix. More than 25 million Russians are to be found outside the Russian Federation, many living with Ukrainians, Kazakhs, Estonians, Latvians, Georgians, etc.

Nations overlap like the Romanians and the Hungarians, with ancient ethnic islands like the Szekelys in Transylvania. Far from being unique, the jigsaw puzzle in Bosnia has replicas throughout the former Soviet Union, only they are more recent creations. Many towns are inhabited by more than one ethnic group, indeed practically all the countries are multinational, having a substantial number of people whose language and culture differs from that of the majority. Arnold Toynbee was absolutely right when in 1915 he said that every country has its Ireland and every Ireland has its Ulster.

The roots of this situation are to be found in ancient history, in wars, migrations and the introduction of settlers, and in the industrialization and urbanization pattern of communism. There is a considerable difference between indigenous, historic minorities in Central and Eastern Europe and the recent immigrants to be found in Western Europe and the United States.

In the eastern half of Europe most of the national minorities have a strong sense of collective identity, they are either parts of a nation and have a "mother country" like the Hungarians or are small nations in themselves, like the Tartars and many others in Russia.

The problem is caused not so much by the multi-ethnic nature of the population but by a custom dating back to the 19th Century, when governments started to identify themselves, and the state, increasingly with the dominant ethnic group.

At the end of the First World War, the Habsburg, the Russian and the Ottoman empires broke (some would say were broken) into supposedly uni-national states, though in practice most of the new states had national minorities making up one-fourth to one-third of the population.

The ill-treatment of these minorities contributed to the outbreak of the Second World War, was the cause of numerous frontier changes between 1938 and 1947 and pitted many nations of the region against each other. The savage ethnic fighting in the Balkans has a lot to do with the present tragedies.

Despite its pledges, communism failed to do away with the problem of nationalism, it only declared its "solution." Internationalism became increasingly devoid of any real meaning, and communism became increasingly nationalistic, to the detriment of the minorities.

The dissolution of the federal states that failed to win the loyalty of the constituent nations--Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia--was the outcome of the end of dictatorship and was based upon self-determination as the legal background. Though this principle cannot be applied selectively, it is not bound to lead to further disintegration and fragmentation, as it is often feared, in Russia.

Another way of realizing that principle for the ethnic islands, for the national minorities, is self-government, autonomy. There are old models, like the German communities in the towns of Central and Eastern Europe during and after the Middle Ages. The "Saxons" in Transylvania were an especially interesting case.

But there are many promising and well functioning present-day models--Switzerland, Belgium, Spain, the South Tyrol--worth serious study in order to adapt them in the eastern half of the continent. The introduction of democracy on every level, including local self-government, is in line with the principle of subsidiarity emphasized today in the European community: Decisions should be made at the lowest possible level. That is the true spirit of democracy, as seen in the United States.

It should be clear that any trouble over the issue of the national minorities is caused not by their existence, nor their desire to ensure a future for themselves, but rather by states and governments who identify the state with only one, dominant national community.

Now this policy is being pursued often by people whose mentality was molded under communism, who have not been exposed to the tolerance that prevails in Western countries. In many cases, such a policy is a weapon of the old nomenklatura bent on preserving its power by harnessing nationalism and making the minorities scapegoats--very much like the Jews had been scapegoats in many countries in the past.

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 in the village or town. They also want the right to elect their own representatives to local and national assemblies and parliaments. Autonomy and collective rights mean neither more nor less than this.

Current policy towards national minorities in many post-communist countries is characterized by intolerance and a barely concealed intention to eliminate them by forced assimilation or immigration. In practice, they are often second-class citizens, a fact sometimes expressed even in the Constitution. Slovakia and Romania, for example, do not recognize them as state-forming (constituent) elements. (Hungary follows a different pattern in her Constitution and legislation as well as in everyday practice.)

Discrimination is clearly discernible in many former communist countries where an ambiguous legal system gives large discretionary powers to the executive branch, allowing it to act in an authoritarian way, to the detriment of the minority.

With current policies, the harassment of minorities will remain a source of tension, both internally and externally, especially when the minority has an ethnically-related state beyond the frontier, as in the case of Russians, Hungarians, Serbs, Turks and Armenians.

The creation of homogeneous nation-states would be possible only by organizing an exchange of population on a vast scale, involving tens of millions at enormous financial and psychological cost. Another method is ethnic cleansing as observed in Bosnia and in the occupied parts of Croatia.

It follows from the above that the only real solution for the 50 to 60 million who are national minorities in the states of Central and Eastern Europe is giving them the guarantees they need for a decent life based on equality and a safe future. In addition to specific rights to be included in the constitutions and in the statute-books they need international guarantees.

This is not something new. We saw some attempts during the 18th and 19th centuries and a system of international treaties for their protection was introduced in Central Europe in 1919, monitored and guaranteed by the League of Nations. Though the latter did not eliminate all discrimination it put significant constraints on intolerant practices. It was only due to Stalin's determination to eliminate all outside influence over his empire that the system was dropped following the Second World War.

An all-European code of conduct safeguarding the rights of minorities should be adopted to supplement existing conventions guaranteeing human rights. Much work has already been done toward such a charter. Elements of it can be found in the Charter of Paris of November 1990.

The CSCE conference on the human dimension, held in Copenhagen, has already broken much ground, and the conference in Moscow went a little bit further. The Council of Europe and its experts have also made serious studies and come up with some excellent ideas.

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 along the lines of Yugoslavia. That is the only way to make the former communist countries safe for democracy.

The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Bart Mindszenthy, Partner, Mindszenthy & Roberts Communications Counsel, and a Director, The Empire Club of Canada.

Powered by / Alimenté par VITA Toolkit

My favourites lets you save items you like, tag them and group them into collections for your own personal use. Viewing "My favourites" will open in a new tab. Login here or start a My favourites account.


Nothing Quiet on the Eastern Front—Post-Communist Europe and the New Historical Era

The collapse of communism in Europe in 1989 and the end of the Cold War promised a new era for Eastern Europe. An examination of what has happened to that promise and the current situation in Eastern Europe. Reasons for the current situation: the legacy of communism, the ignorance about the prerequisites of a well-functioning developed society, unrealistic expectations, and more. Possible consequences of the disillusionment with the new age of democracy and the market economy. Historical roots of the situation, with examples from recent history. Promising and well functioning present-day models. What minorities want and how it may be facilitated. An all-European code of conduct. Conferences on the human dimension. Goals of government.