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RUSSIA AND POLAND

The Berlin Wall crumbled again this month, only this time in Moscow. Another vestige of the totalitarian takeover of Russia eroded away, as Russia's parliament voted to allow some private ownership of land for the first time since the Bolsheviks banned private property the day after Vladimir I. Lenin took over from the Romanovs in 1917.

If liberty needed another boost, that was it. Although the new ruling applies only to the relatively small amount of urban and industrial land in a vast country, it is widely and rightly seen as a watershed moment, both politically and economically.

Politically, the 250-137 vote in the State Duma amounts to a victory over hard-liners in the Communist Party and its allies, which had long blocked legislative action on land ownership. Economically, the move removes a restriction that investors, including foreign investors, had cited as one of the worst remaining barriers to economic development. The law allows land ownership, sales and purchases by foreigners and Russians alike -- and it allows many Russians to actually own the small urban garden plots they long have used to grow potatoes and other vegetables.

Meanwhile, between Moscow and Berlin, Poland held parliamentary elections Sunday -- and a party dominated by that nation's former Communists won.

But although that is troubling, it is part of the democratic process. The Solidarity Party, once revered for bringing freedom to Poland, has faltered badly in recent years, fragmenting and losing public confidence and public support. Sunday, it apparently failed to win a single seat in the Polish parliament. Last year, Solidarity pioneer Lech Walesa won only 1 percent of the vote in a presidential election.

Meanwhile, the ex-Communist Democratic Left Alliance -- which just failed to win a majority, but will lead a coalition government -- has gained strength by embracing principles that encourage free-market enterprises and rein in socialism.

Poland still faces major unemployment, and is vulnerable to further economic slowdown. In extremely poor rural areas, there also is rising resentment among small farmers who fear international marketing competition and land purchases. But experts expect the Democratic Left Alliance to continue to push for membership in the European Union, keep Poland in NATO, and to be better able to gain backing for painful but needed budget cuts.

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