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A Different Desire for Post-Communist Reform, But a Similar Need for Foreign Assistance

When the communist regimes started to collapse in four ECE states - Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and East Germany - and the three Baltic Soviet republics in the late 1980s, the level of desire for regime change among the peoples and their political leaders in other Soviet republics and in the Balkan communist states was much lower for a variety of reasons, the least important of which were structural ones. While some structural predispositions, primarily those related to the uneven level of pre-communist socio-economic development and, to some extent, a different historical experience with the institutions of liberal democracy (particularly with regard to its complete lack in almost all the non-Baltic post-Soviet states), were of some importance for setting the general preconditions for transition, the existence or lack of a strong desire for regime change in particular states at the end of the period of communist rule was primarily the result of some specific aspects of their communist political and socio-economic systems.

As defined and argued by this author in greater detail in his 2013 monograph (Petrovic 2013), some weaknesses in the nature of rule of domestic communist elites, combined with a history of violent (Soviet or Soviet-driven) suppression of major protests and incentives for change or reform (as was the case in Czechoslovakia), in the three ECE communist states (Ekiert 1996, 2003) and the existence of enormously strong anti-Russian and anti-Soviet sentiment (particularly in the Baltic states, Poland and Hungary), played a key role in the creation of important anticommunist national(ist) or liberal democratic political alternatives in these states. In some of them - as was the case with the movement led by Solidarity and the Catholic Church in Poland, and to a lesser level with the activities of Charter 77 and other dissident groups in Czechoslovakia - these political alternatives were articulated outside of the ruling communist elite, whereas in Hungary and to some extent (during and after 1988) in the Baltic states they were promoted by and within the ruling communist parties themselves (Crampton 1997, Chapter 22; Ekiert 1996, 2003; Petrovic 2013, Chapters 3 and 4). On the other hand, the relatively strong grip on power of domestic communist dictators, who thoroughly eliminated any traces of anticommunist and anti-regime opposition within and outside the ruling party, coupled with the generally positive popular perception and positive socio-political effects of the initially successful economic industrialisation and urbanisation of the Balkan states and (most) nonBaltic Soviet republics during the 1950s and early 1960s (Lavigne 1999, Chapter 4; Turnock 1989), simply did not allow for any wider articulation, let alone coordination, of anti-regime and anti-communist sentiment in these states.

Nevertheless, after the gradual erosion of the communist party’s monopoly in Poland and Hungary during the 1980s was further supported by Gorbachev’s decision not to interfere in the internal affairs of ‘other socialist states’ (Crampton 1997, Chapter 22), and following the eruption of mass protests and mass movements in the Baltic states during 1988 and 1989 and in East Germany and Czechoslovakia in October and November 1989, the communist regimes quickly collapsed, not only in these states, but also in all the remaining countries of the Soviet Bloc (including in two non-Bloc members—Yugoslavia and Albania). By the end of 1991, all the states in the region of formerly communist Eastern Europe officially adopted legislation that began the process of their post-communist political democratisa- tion and economic marketisation. However, the existence of the abovediscussed different levels of anti-communist opposition and the desire for regime change, which had been developed during communist rule in particular groups of states, more or less directly led to the selection of different and contrasting political options (and their protagonists) in the first multiparty elections in the newly formed post-communist states (see also McFaul 2002; Ekiert 2003). While the first post-communist elections in the ECE and Baltic states witnessed landslide victories for anti-communist and liberal democratic political parties, the winners of the first multiparty elections organised at about the same time in 1990 in all the Balkan and almost all the post-Soviet non-Baltic states (for the latter, see Gill’s chapter in this volume) were either (cosmetically) ‘reformed’ ex-communists or national populist parties (Petrovic 2013, Chapter 1).

An immediate consequence of these different political choices in the different countries and regions of post-communist Europe was a quick start with reforms and closer relations with the West and the EU in ECE and Baltic states (Lavigne 1999; Mayhew 1998) and slow reform and establishment of the systems of imperfect or ‘illiberal’ democracy in the remaining post-communist states (Petrovic 2013; Vachudova 2005; Graeme Gill and Nicholas Smith in this volume). Furthermore, the selection of the non-reformist pathway, coupled with strong nationalism (i.e. unresolved or inadequately resolved ethnic relations during communist rule; see Petrovic 2013 and Roeder 2004) in many countries of the second group led to the eruption of inter-ethnic animosities and conflicts. The most serious of them resulted in the eruption of armed conflicts such as the civil wars in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina (B-H), the Armenia- Azerbaijan war over Nagorno-Karabakh, and armed clashes between national armies and rebel ethnic groups in Georgia, Moldova and Chechnya.

However, if the desire for (real) regime change and political and economic reform was different across post-communist Europe, the socio-economic circumstances in which the states of the former communist bloc fell after the collapse of the old regime were extraordinarily similar. A deep economic, so-called transitional, crisis characterised by enormously high inflation, everyday shortages of basic life necessities, rapidly declining living standards for the vast majority of people and a lack of domestic resources, including elementary knowledge of how to profile and introduce necessary (particularly market-economic) reforms, were phenomena which no post-communist state in Eastern Europe and Eurasia could have escaped in the early 1990s (for more details and country examples see Berend 2001; Gros and Steinherr 2004; Svejnar 2002). The reliance on foreign assistance of all forms, including rudimentary items such as food and medicine, was also universally present in all post-communist states. As seen in Table 2.1, by the late 1990s of all the countries of the post-communist world, only three countries from ECE were able to regain the level of their real GDP per capita in 1989.

As soon as they got rid of communist rule, the newly emerged democracies in ECE and the Baltics did not need to wait too long for necessary (Western) assistance. However, from the very beginning, this assistance was very unevenly allocated among the particular (groups) of post-communist states. This was a result of the above-discussed different political choices and reform pathways these states had chosen at the initial stage of their post-communist transformation.

 
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