Letters:Strong leaders or history?

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The Independent Online
TONY BARBER'S argument that the varying fortunes of post-Communist Eastern European countries shows the importance of strong leaders rather than the broader tides of history demonstrates only that his appreciation of history does not go back far enough ("It could have been different", 27 August).

All the countries he cites as having achieved democracy, pluralism and tolerance more readily lie in the northern part of Eastern Europe and were part of the European cultural and political area during the Enlightenment as Europe turned its back on the barbarities of the Inquisition and of religious wars, and prepared the ground for these more modern ideas. Four decades of Communist dictatorship could not erase this inheritance in Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia.

But all the countries Tony Barber cites as failing since 1989, except Croatia, suffered centuries of despotic Ottoman rule. Most of what became Romania and Yugoslavia had only a few decades to develop in a more pluralist climate before they fell victim to Communism.

The Croat exception may perhaps be due to the villainy of Franjo Tudjman. But the broader pattern is much stronger. We should be more aware of our own heritage of cruel and violent government, such as the English Tudors and how many centuries it took Europe to develop the respect for freedom and human rights we take for granted.

Michael Steed

Canterbury, Kent