- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 25, 2000

More than 60 years after Josef Stalin helped Hitler to help himself to Europe and nine years after communism fell in the Soviet Union, the French Communist Party is coming to grips with its founding philosophy's shortcomings. In its party conference in Martigues this week, Europe's last major communist party is being asked to vote in favor of a two-page apology titled: "Has communism been a failure in the 20th century?" The apology not only says that it has been, but that it caused "oppression of the individual, a tendency to see different opinions as deviation or betrayal, and practices which in all too many cases bordered on the criminal."

Such an admission, should it be approved by the 200 party members is warranted, even if it is as belated as it is unexpected. But the question remains: In a country where the left is considered sacred ground, is such an apology meant to revive a party on its way out, or dissolve it altogether? The latter seems the only viable choice if party members believe the words of the confession, which said communism "did not liberate humanity" and that post-war party leaders were "blind, error-ridden and behind the times."

Indeed, the French Communist Party has had to face its weakness countless times from its inception after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. Serving as a mouthpiece for Stalin, the French communists campaigned against the Nazis but then acquiesced and helped them to power when faced with the Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939. They were then outlawed in France, but revived after Hitler's invasion of the USSR in 1941. They also enjoyed a period of peace with President Francois Mitterrand's Socialists in the early '80s, but soon were weakened by the fall of communism in Eastern Europe as well as by inner-party tensions.

An apology for how the party has failed its country and its allies through those years can only be complete with its disintegration. As even a member of the party hierarchy admitted to the London Sunday Telegraph recently: "It's time to move on and leave all those old ideas behind. They didn't do us any good." That's the understatement of the century.

• GLENDENING'S FUMBLING FINGERS:. Maryland governor and fervent gun-control advocate Parris N. Glendening inadvertently demonstrated the very real problems that attend the so-called "smart-gun" technology he's been pushing. While attempting to demonstrate the new combination gun lock that Maryland National Capital Park Police will have to contend with on their 9mm Glock semi-automatic service weapons, Mr. Glendening found himself fumbling for several minutes with the clunky device before managing to release it. He began the embarrassing performance by saying, "This is how it works." Right.

Hopefully, it will "work" better for the unfortunate police officers who are about to be saddled with these ill-advised gun locks. Manufactured by Florida-based Saf T Lok Inc., the device works by replacing the magazine that normally contains the pistol's ammunition. Before the gun can be fired, the Saf T Lok must be removed and a live magazine inserted. Ostensibly, the gun lock will prevent police weapons from being used by criminals if stolen or used against an officer in a scuffle. But the flip side is that when the officer needs a gun one that fires he needs it immediately. Saf T Lok makes this difficult, awkward, perhaps even impossible. Imagine having to fiddle with a gun lock which as Mr. Glendening amply demonstrated often takes some time when confronted with a dangerous criminal one who doesn't have to worry about a gun lock himself.

"This new technology will keep the officers' firearms much safer since the weapon will not be able to be used by anyone other than the officer," beamed an enthusiastic Park Police Division Chief Elizabeth Kreiter. And maybe not by the police officer, either.

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