Egon Krenz, the man who unwittingly abolished East Germany, was sentenced last month to six-and-a-half years for his role in the Berlin Wall killings. The former security chief and (briefly) general secretary is appealing against "victors' justice" from behind bars. Two former Politburo colleagues were also given prison sentences, but remain at liberty pending appeals.
Krenz looks set to become the vanguard of the porridge-eating proletariat. Following him is an army of apparatchiks, secret policemen and border guards who escaped punishment because they could say they had only been following orders. Now the jailing of the second most powerful East German is expected to open the floodgates to the prosecution of smaller fry.
Similar fates await some leading lights of the ancien regime in Bulgaria and Romania. With anti-communists now in government, life for their erstwhile oppressors is getting less cosy.
One might have expected that their more enlightened comrades in Poland and Hungary would fare better. There, reformist Communists - the "cuddly left" - played key roles in the destruction of the totalitarian system and were rewarded by the electorate.
Hungary's re-christened "Socialists" resumed their leading role in 1994 after winning 54 per cent of parliamentary seats in free elections. In Poland, President Lech Walesa lost in 1995 to the post-communist Aleksander Kwasniewski, a Communist official of old. Dire warnings were sounded, but so far neither government has shown an inclination to stray from the capitalist path. Business in Budapest and Warsaw is booming and democracy appears stable.
And yet the ghosts refuse to fade away. Last week they returned to haunt both Mr Kwasniewski and Hungary's Prime Minister, Gyula Horn. On Monday the Polish president said he was suing two newspapers for alleging that he had consorted with a KGB spy. The same day Mr Horn received an ultimatum from a committee of eminent Hungarians investigating its politicians' pasts. Mr Horn now has a month to clear his desk. Unless he resigns from the government and parliament, the committee is legally bound to publish its findings.
It has long been known that after the failed uprising in 1956, Mr Horn was among a band of party thugs who travelled the country beating "sense" into striking workers. In 1994 the conservative government tried to use this to discredit him, but the move backfired. It has never been proved that Mr Horn himself beat anybody up.
Mr Horn has reacted with the astuteness of a born-again Democrat. "I never kept my past secret," he said. "I see neither moral nor legal reason to resign."
Mr Kwasniewski wants corrections, an apology and damages of pounds 800,000. Two news- papers are accused of printing a "pack of lies" about his links with Moscow's man in Warsaw. The papers alleged he had met a KGB spy, Vladimir Alganov, on holiday as recently as 1994.
The President suspects that a conspiracy lurks behind the interest in his activities. In two weeks Poles elect a new parliament. The government, dominated by ex-Communists, is neck-and-neck with the con-servatives. Reminders of murky pasts could tip the balance.Reuse content