By JOHN MARTIN
Imagine cooking up the political framework of a modern nation state and serving it to 100 million people reared on a strictly totalitarian diet.
Your experience, according to Professor Rett Ludwikowski, might parallel those of lawmakers throughout the newly independent countries of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe as they struggle to draft and implement constitutions for their fledgling democracies.
Mr. Ludwikowski, director of the Comparative and International Law Institute at Catholic University's Columbus School of Law, addressed the topic of "New Constitutions in the Emerging Democracies of Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Region" during a seminar organized by the Library's Polish Round Table on Feb. 20.
To date, the efforts of the constitution-makers have yielded unpredictable results. Academics, constitutional lawyers and other experts who flocked to the former communist countries to offer their assistance in the early 1990s were surprised by the new democracies' willingness to sample and experiment, Mr. Ludwikowski said. So far, no dominant model - such as the generally respected U.S. constitution - has emerged. Rather, the drafters have displayed a free-wheeling creativity in mixing and matching elements of various systems to suit their individual nations' needs.
Countries with formerly hard-line communist regimes, such as Bulgaria and Romania, were among the first to adopt new constitutions. Ironically, traditionally more democratic countries such as Poland and Hungary have been latecomers.
Within this patchwork, however, certain patterns are visible. With the exception of the Baltic states (Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia), the former Soviet republics have chosen the "presidential system," in which the executive and legislative branches are separated. The countries of East-Central Europe, by contrast, have preferred the parliamentary system, in which legislative and executive authority are merged. In a parliamentary system, the leader of the legislative majority forms a government and wields executive power.
In addition to defining the relationship between the executive and legislative branches, the constitution-makers must address issues of intralegislative authority, such as choosing a bicameral or unicameral legislature, and codify the role of the judiciary.
Sometimes these determinations owe as much to quirk as to principle. For example, a common rationale for a bicameral, or two-chambered, legislature, is to elect representatives to the lower house that will foster and promote regional interests. The Czech Republic, however, retained its bicameral system even after its split from the Slovak Republic. When asked why they had retained what would appear to be a redundant legislative body within such a small and homogenous national territory, Czech drafters replied that they were afraid to abolish their upper house for fear the former senators could find no better employment.
Mr. Ludwikowski concluded by describing economic, political and social conditions that not only hamper the efforts of drafters to erect enduring constitutional systems but also threaten the very existence of democratic institutions. While no state has yet sought to reinstate a permanent Communist Party, as did the old Soviet constitution, some of the new drafts reflect the continued influence of socialist ideology.
The Albanian constitution, for instance, endorses "social market economies." "We think as we eat," Mr. Ludwikowski quoted Marx, as he observed that unemployment, food shortages and a lack of consumer goods underlay the election of a communist government in Poland and the rising popularity of the Communist Party in Russian politics.
From this standpoint, "Accepting constitutional democracy will also mean accepting social and economic inequalities. Many are not ready to do this."
John Martin is a copyright examiner in the Visual Arts section of the Copyright Office.