M. Steven Fish, Graeme Gill and Milenko Petrovic

During the quarter century following the collapse of communist regimes in Eastern Europe and Eurasia, the successor states have followed a wide diversity of development paths. While some countries have largely fulfilled the hopes that accompanied the communist demise, other countries have fallen far short. Some have become full-blown democracies, while others are still struggling to implement transitional reforms or have merely exchanged the Soviet-type dictatorship for another form of harsh authoritarianism. Some countries have followed dramatically different paths of economic reform as well. Some have embraced rapid, thoroughgoing reform, while policy change in others has been halting and uncertain. Patterns of economic development have varied as well. Some countries have traveled a long way toward convergence with their Western neighbors, experiencing substantial and steady growth of output and marked improvement in infrastructure. Other countries have posted less impressive gains.

Without attempting to provide a unique explanation for cross-national and cross-regional post-communist trajectories, the authors contributing to

G. Gill (*)

Department of Government and International Relations, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia e-mail: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it

© The Author(s) 2017

Fish, Gill, Petrovic (eds.), A Quarter Century of Post-Communism Assessed, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-43437-7_1

this volume discuss the circumstances and factors that have led to the democratization and robust marketization of some post-communist states and not others. Apart from a continuous increase ofauthoritarianism in most non-Baltic post-Soviet states since the mid-1990s (which in recent years appears also to have spread to some European post-communist states that have for long been considered well-consolidated democracies),1 the only common pattern identified has been that those post-communist states that were able to tie their reforms to the EU’s conditional offer of membership were transformed more successfully than those that could not.

Bunce et al. (2010)2 identified “three waves of democratic change” in this enormously heterogeneous region3: The first wave encompasses the initial democratization of all the ex-communist states during 1989-1992, and the second wave refers to democratization (of some of these states) “associated with accession to the European Union” (Bunce et al. 2010, p. viii). It is more difficult to see the specific outcomes of the third wave (unless they are again “associated with accession” to the EU). The third wave is meant to refer to the “second democratisation” of most of the post-communist Balkan states, which occurred between November 1996 and October 2000: Slovakia’s parliamentary election held in September 1998 and the “colour revolutions” in Georgia of November 2003, in Ukraine of November 2004-January 2005, and in Kyrgyzstan of February-April 2005, all of which removed from power post-communist authoritarian leaders. While there were some positive developments in Ukraine and Georgia in the first few years after their revolutions and even some significant lasting improvements regarding the fight against corruption in Georgia (see Leslie Holmes’ chapter in this volume), democracy in both of these countries is still very “shaky” (see Graeme Gill’s and Nicolas Smith’s contributions in this volume), and Kyrgyzstan remains closer to autocracy than to democracy.4 As was the case after the initial democratization in the early 1990s (after the “first wave”), the lasting gains and significant improvements from the “third wave” of democratization of post-communist states have only been felt by those countries that were able to tie their reforms to accession to the EU, and these were the Balkan states - first Bulgaria and Romania - and then the so-called Western Balkan countries, particularly Croatia, Serbia, and Montenegro (see Chap. 2 in this volume for more detail).

The above-defined commonalities and differences among the countries of post-communist Eastern Europe and Eurasia are reflected in the organizational structure of this book. The book is divided into three parts. In the first part, the authors of Chaps. 1-4 provide analyses and a general assessment of the achievements of post-communist transition(s) in the post-communist world and in particular groups of countries, and offer both agent-driven and structure-driven explanations of the trajectory of regime change. In the latter two parts, the chapters take up particular aspects of the transition process, including institution building and foreign policy making, rather than surveying the general path of development adopted by particular states.

Part I begins with Steven Fish’s quantitative analysis of the role of structural factors in shaping different regime outcomes in thirty postcommunist Eurasian states. Fish finds that the structural conditions have powerfully shaped regime outcomes in the region. Still, he concludes that “structure is not fate. Factors other than the big background conditions examined here might shape outcomes” (p. 37). Milenko Petrovic and Graeme Gill then focus on the role of other factors in Chaps. 2 and 3 respectively. In their respective examinations of the different pathways of the East European and Baltic states and the non-Baltic post-Soviet states, they do not deny the importance of some historical legacies (particularly those related to the link between pre-communist socioeconomic backwardness and the effects ofcommunist industrialization and urbanization) in setting the general and sometimes different conditions in which the initial replacement of the communist regimes occurred. However, Petrovic and Gill primarily look for the reasons behind the different post-communist trajectories in the different constellations and work of political agents. Among these are the balance of power between reformers (or “democrats”) and anti-reformers (or “authoritarians”) on the domestic political scene, as well as the role of external actors in providing (or discouraging) foreign support and assistance for democratization and economic reform. Petrovic explains the less successful post-communist transition in the Balkan states (when compared to the countries in East Central Europe and the Baltics) as primarily the result of political decisions made by the non-reformist Balkan political elites in the early 1990s and EU leaders in the mid-2000s, both of which resulted in a much smaller amount of EU support and assistance for reform to these states. Gill explains the survival and subsequent increase in authoritarianism in most of the non-Baltic post-Soviet states as an outcome of the political forces that structured the regime change in the first place, with a democratic outcome being more likely when civil society forces played a major role in shaping the shift from authoritarian rule.

A similar conclusion about the role of agent-driven actions for the success of post-communist transition can be drawn from Leslie Holmes’ chapter, which concludes the first part of this book by comparing general and specific types of corruption in four post-communist states. These states are in different regions, and have different structural predispositions and levels of democratization. When compared to Russia as well as Bulgaria and Romania, which were both admitted to the EU in 2007 and are generally acknowledged as having more/better consolidated democracies with better general democracy scores, Holmes finds Georgia to be the least corrupt by far. Owing to the strong commitment of President Saakashvili and his radical policies, Georgia has not only achieved a better result than countries, such as Russia, Bulgaria, and Romania, but also by 2015 had reached a score of 52 in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, which placed it close to or even better than many other EU member states in that year. In 2015 Spain had a score of 58; Latvia a score of 55; and Hungary, Slovakia, and Croatia a score of 51. Greece, Romania, Italy, and Bulgaria had significantly worse scores of 46, 46, 44, and 41, respectively.

Part II comprises four chapters that look at the experience with various aspects of post-communist political and economic transition of particular countries, which were able to tie their transition to accession to the EU. In Chap. 5 Vladimir Balaz, Katarina Karasova, and Allan Williams compare challenges and achievements of the economic integration of the four Visegrad group (V4) countries (Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia) into the EU with the experiences of Greece, Spain, and Portugal two decades earlier. They conclude that although the V4 countries started their convergence with the incumbent EU members from considerably lower levels of GDP per capita than the three southern entrants, the V4 countries have achieved higher growth rates than those southern countries; their integration is generally considered a success story in the history of EU enlargement. In Chap. 6, Andras Pap discusses the characteristics of the emerging model of “Hungarian illiberal democracy” and explains how it happened: the country that once led the post-communist world in liberal-democratic reforms democratically opted for Orban’s authoritarianism 25 years later. In Chap. 7, Efstathios T. Fakiolas and Nikolaos Tzifakis examine the efforts and mixed results of the EU civilian missions deployed in Bosnia and Herzegovina (European Union Policy Mission (EUPM)) and Kosovo (European Union Rule of Law (EULEX)) to advance the consolidation of state-building and the establishment of the rule of law. They argue that despite serious problems and obstacles, the two missions have proven able to smoothly work to the benefit of their operational objectives whenever they have stayed in tune with local interests and coordinated their practices with other EU policies active in the region. Part II concludes with Sarunas Laikis’ discussion of the peculiarities of the post-communist transition in the Baltic states. He focuses on the similarities and differences between interethnic relations and government ethnic policies, and argues that while these did not affect successful post-communist transition, they did affect their relations with their powerful neighbor Russia.

Part III focuses on three countries whose paths ofdevelopment have not been tied to EU accession, although one of them (Ukraine) does harbor such aspirations. In Chap. 9, Nicholas Smith examines the internal and external impediments to democracy experienced by Ukraine following the Orange Revolution. He focuses particularly upon one internal and one external impediment. The internal obstacle is the oligarchization of power. The external problem is Ukraine’s geopolitical location, which leaves it cross-pressured by the EU, which urges democratization, and Russia, which encourages autocracy. Smith concludes that were the EU to offer Ukraine a clear path to membership, Europe’s democracy promotion efforts in that country would be strengthened. In Chap. 10, James Headley charts the way in which Russia’s relations with the West have lurched from crisis to crisis, beginning with Bosnia in 1994 and going through to Syria in 2013. He argues that in this trajectory, Russian policy has been fairly consistent. Russia has become more assertive, but this is partly due to the way Western states have consistently sought to downplay and ignore Russia’s role in international affairs. In Chap. 11, Stephen Fortescue analyzes the process of decision-making in Russia as revealed by the decision to annex Crimea. Although the evidence for understanding governmental decision-making in any system is usually difficult to get and often contradictory in what it suggests, Fortescue makes a strong case that the decision to take Crimea was taken by a small group around Putin. This conclusion is important not only for what it tells us about the specific decision on Crimea, but also for what it implies for the institutional development of the Russian political system. In Chap. 12, Kirill Nourzhanov charts Kazakhstan’s attitude to the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). He argues that the country’s accession to the EEU does not represent a divergence from an independent foreign policy, but is a pragmatic response to its understanding of its place in the world. And far from losing the capacity for independent action, it remains an active, independent middle power.

The chapters in this book highlight the diversity that now characterizes the countries offormer communist Eastern Europe and Eurasia. The region constitutes an ideal laboratory for social science research. Given the similarities in the starting points of each of these countries at the time of the collapse of communism, explaining the diversity of outcomes should keep scholars busy for some time to come.


  • 1. This is particularly the case for Hungary (which is also discussed in Chap. 6 of this volume) and to a lesser extent for Slovakia and some Western Balkan states. It coincides with a recently increasing impression that authoritarianism is increasing globally. Hence, the Journal of Democracy has devoted two of its issues in 2015 to this topic: The Authoritarian Resurgence (vol. 26, No. 2, April 2015) and Authoritarianism Goes Globally (Vol. 26, No. 4, October 2015) while the last issue of Freedom House’s Nations in Transit of June 2015 is entitled Democracy on the Defensive in Europe and Eurasia.
  • 2. Bunce, V., McFaul, M., Stoner-Weiss, K. (Eds.) (2010). Democracy and authoritarianism in the post-communist world. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • 3. Whose “countries are united by their common recent history of a particular form of authoritarian regime and little else,” Steven Fish, in this volume, p. 36)
  • 4. See data in Tables 1.2 and 3.1 in this volume as well as Freedom House Nation in Transit’s 2015 democracy scores, according to which this country is considered a “semi-consolidated authoritarian regime.”

M. Steven Fish is Professor of Political Science at the University of California- Berkeley. He has published six authored or co-authored books and numerous journal articles and book chapters on democracy and regime change in developing and postcommunist countries, religion and politics, and constitutional systems and national legislatures. His book Are Muslims Distinctive? A Look at the Evidence (Oxford, 2011) was selected for Choice’s Outstanding Academic Titles, 2012: Top 25 Books.

Graeme Gill is Professor Emeritus of Government and Public Administration at the University of Sydney and a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia. He has been President of the International Council for Central and East European Studies (ICCEES) from 2010 to 2015. In addition to several coauthored and edited volumes, he has published twelve authored books on various aspects of Soviet and Russian politics. The most recent is Building an Authoritarian Polity. Russia in Post-Soviet Times (Cambridge, 2016)

Dr Milenko Petrovic is Senior Lecturer Above the Bar at the National Centre for Research on Europe and at the Department of Global, Cultural and Language Studies, University of Canterbury, New Zealand. He is the author of The Democratic Transition of Post-Communist Europe - in the Shadow of Communist Differences and an Uneven Europeanisation (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013) and the author/co-editor of two other volumes and numerous journal articles and shorter contributions on comparative politics, post-communist transition and EU enlargement.

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