Leading article: A message of hope for all of Eastern Europe

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The Independent Online

How long Poles put their confidence in the right-wing parties remains to be seen. The present government was wrecked by scandals, but a coalition of the two newcomers would not be a marriage made in heaven. Civic Platform, led by Jan Rokita, is at heart a party of free-market liberals, pro-Europeans and strong fans of a low, flat tax. Its potential partner is more nationalistic and egalitarian. Expect, then, plenty of rows in the coming months over subsidies, tax cuts and bureaucracy.

But the main reason to be glad about this election is its sheer normality. It is only 16 years since the shadow of the Soviet Union lifted over Eastern Europe, before which any genuine choice in elections seemed like a dream. And since the Communist era ended in Eastern Europe, democracy has not been an unalloyed charm. As well as delivering the Czechs a kind of philosopher king in Vaclav Havel, it rewarded Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia, the Slovak nationalist Vladimir Meciar in Bratislava, Franjo Tudjman in Croatia and other undesirable characters. The region has, in fact, been plagued by those post-communist demons, xenophobic, hard-line nationalist parties and leaders who thrive on an atmosphere of fear and economic uncertainty.

It is to be hoped that the era of these political incendiaries is now ending in Eastern Europe and that Poland's transition to more responsible and reasonable left-right politics heralds a regional trend. As by far the biggest new member of the European Union, Poland's example matters.

The country is not yet out of the woods. One systemic problem is the failure to develop stable parties, a symptom of which is that, since 1989, not one Polish government has been re-elected. The other problem is unemployment. In Poland, as in much of Eastern Europe, the jobless rate hangs stubbornly around 20 per cent, which may be good for Britons seeking cheap Polish plumbers, but is not so good for Poland, where a large pool of unemployment offers a constant temptation to unscrupulous local demagogues.

But these are cavils. That this election has an almost "business-as-usual" flavour is a cause for optimism - a sign of hope not only for Poland, but for the whole of Eastern Europe.

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