Freedom's drive

THE threads of an extraordinary story are there. In Chile, the crowds cheer the coming demise of a dictatorial regime.

In Poland, the workers nudge forward their relentless campaign for more personal freedom within communism's embrace.

Burma explodes from years of obscurity as the crowds demand a better deal.

In Algeria the government promises protesting workers that it will abandon its failing revolutionary socialism.

Scenes like these are being reenacted around the world as people seek to tear off the bonds imposed upon them by leaders sometimes cruel, sometimes unenlightened, sometimes unresponsive to the people's will.

What is happening here? What does it all mean? What is happening is one of the most dramatic stories of our times.

What we are seeing is a kind of people's revolution. Not the phony kind with which communist leaders often label their dictatorial takeovers, but the authentic and genuine kind of reaching out for freedom by people frustrated by restriction.

It is happening on an impressive scale. Sometimes it is an impassioned plea for political freedom. Sometimes it is an anguished demand for economic freedom. What the retreating defenders of the dictatorial status quo do not realize is that the two go hand in hand. Freedom is man's inherent right. But freedom in the marketplace, as well as in parliament, makes man's life better.

Not all of the story is positive. Democracy has yet to come to South Africa and Nicaragua. Though the sounds of war are diminishing in Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia, and Iran, it is not yet clear that peace will bring democracy.

But overall in the past 10 years, freedom has made extraordinary gains. Totalitarianism has been rolled back in such ancient lands as Portugal and Spain. Perhaps not unconnected has been the advance of democracy in Latin America. A decade ago, its map was replete with dictatorships and military regimes. Today many of them have shrugged off their bonds. Chile is the most recent, hopeful instance of progress.

Discredited regimes have been toppled with great drama in such Asian lands as the Philippines, and with breathtaking constitutional change in such countries as South Korea. The outcome in Burma has yet to be determined, but there can be no doubt that the people's voice, stifled for many years, is being heard and taken carefully into account by a shattered regime.

One of the most intriguing chapters in this story is the upheaval across the lands of communism. In both China and the Soviet Union the lid has been lifted a little and we are getting a whiff of the pressures bubbling away beneath. Few people are enchanted by the lure of Marxism and Leninism anymore as a recipe for material well-being. The communist example is a failure and no longer, from either Moscow or Peking, beckons the mendicant nations of the third world.

The Soviet empire seethes. Poland is ever restless. In Czechoslovakia there are shifts and shuffles regarding the pace of change. The Armenians are on the march. Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia are roiled with contempt for Mother Russia.

A lot of the unhappiness derives from economic frustration. Some derives from ethnic suppression or discrimination. But threaded through it all is man's desire to go where he wants to go, to work where he wants to work, to pray as he chooses to pray, to rear his family in happiness and comfort, to speak freely.

Such basic and simple desires - but such force do they unleash.

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