The Problem of Privatization

One major problem throughout Eastern Europe and the Baltics is that of privatization, the return to private ownership of vast amounts of land and buildings that became public property during the period of Soviet domination. Problems of unclear titles, incomplete records, of inflicting major gains and losses upon people who may be the children or grandchildren of the original owners, and the like are very substantial. The transfer of wealth that the process of privatization inevitably involves opens up major opportunities for corruption. For example, in Russia the so-called oligarchs, a very small number of individuals who have become billionaires since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, to a substantial degree made their fortunes by receiving industrial, commercial, and other state assets at bargain basement prices.

In all countries, one difficult puzzle has been what to do with the land under and in between the apartment blocks built during communism. Typically, this was once private agricultural land. However, it cannot simply be returned to its pre-communist owners, as this will lead to the loss of all green spaces between the apartment buildings. Thus in most countries this land continues to be municipal and various schemes have been devised to compensate its pre-communist owners.

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