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After the Collapse of Communism: Comparative Lessons of Transition

Comparative Social Research Vol. Series editor: Craig Calhoun Greenwich, Conn. The Communist Legacy in Eastern Europe. New Brunswick: Transaction Books, London: Pinter, New York: St. Martin's Press, London: Pinter; New York: St. Budapest: Hungarian Political Science Association, Bergen: University of Bergen, W krajach Europy srodkowej i wschodniej. Warszawa: Instytut Sociologii, Csapody, E. February-March A special annual issue of Advances in the History of Rhetoric.

October September Summer Issue 3. December November-December April June Sommer Fall January, December, Spring-Summer September, Winter January February Autumn , November Spring March-April May-June August November- December March , March New York: Palgrave Macmillan, Czech Sociological Review, Review, Vol.

Varga eds. Szakszervezeti Szemle, Szemle, Vol. Shils: The Social System. Central European Ways to Democracy. Studies in Public Policy. Between Modernization and Nationalism. April, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest, May 29, University of Bucharest, Romania, May With a growing hobby in multimedia production, he spends his time at CHNM producing the videos found in a number of featured projects. He is a student at George Mason University. His research and teaching center on the Communist period in Eastern Europe and he is the author of The Struggle for the Soul of the Nation: Czech Culture and the Rise of Communism as well as many articles on the Communist experience in the region.

Maria Bucur is the John W. Her research and teaching interests focus on European history in the modern period, especially social and cultural developments in Eastern Europe. He is currently researching a book on political prisoners in the twentieth-century world. A three-time winner of the George R. Introductory Essay Author. Teaching Module Authors. Szwajkowski also taught Advanced Placement U. History and Government to high school students in northern Virginia. History to Loudoun County teachers.

Trained as a cultural anthropologist, Dr. This study explores tensions and contradictions in social memory and historical understanding in the former German Democratic Republic after Case Study Authors. Professor Agnew earned an Honors B. He teaches graduate and undergraduate courses on Eastern Europe and the European history survey.

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He focuses on nationalism in the region, especially Czech nationalism. Among his publications are The Czechs and the Lands of the Bohemian Crown , Origins of the Czech National Renascence , and numerous articles and chapters on aspects of Czech nationalism and national identity. She received a Ph.

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Her current research project is entitled Politics of Commemoration: Memory and Mourning in Serbia and Croatia, Her work focuses on the cultural, political and social construction of Italian identity in the Upper Adriatic region. This contrast is one reason, for instance, why mixed regimes are so much more prevalent in Sub-Saharan Africa and the postcommunist region than in Latin America. In addition, many authoritarian regimes stayed in power by building institutions that divided publics in general and the opposition in particular and that played groups off against one another.

As the war in Iraq, for example, reminds us, with liberalization of politics, especially in the absence of strong institutions, the short- term result can be heightened conflicts among citizens, as well as between the government and various groups. Such conflicts are all the more likely when there is a widespread perception that short-term bargaining outcomes will have powerful and lasting effects on the future character of the regime and the place of individuals and groups in the state and the economy.


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Mixed regimes also tend to form in contexts, common in much of Sub-Saharan Africa and post-Soviet Eurasia and the Balkans, where there are severe difficulties involved in defining the nation and solidifying the boundaries of the state. While these problems undermine democratic development, see, again, Rustow , they also work against the consolidation of dictatorship—largely because continuing contestation over the nation and the state weaken the ability of authoritarian leaders to consolidate their powers as a result of contentious politics at home, fragmented states, and threats to state sovereignty abroad.

As a result, such difficulties favor in fact the rise of mixed regimes, once authoritarian rule weakens and politics becomes more fluid. While all of these features undermine democracy and support a mixed regime outcome, they also lead to other outcomes associated with mixed regimes, as noted earlier; that is, the syndrome of weak states, secessionist regions, failing economies, and unstable governments and more generally politics. While severe in all four of our cases, the problems with nation and state formation nonetheless varied.

In Belarus, a state tradition was lacking, and ethnic diversity combined with both a strong connection to the Russian state and Russian identity especially in terms of language and culture.

After the Collapse of Communism: Comparative Lessons of Transitions

With independence, therefore, Belarussian identity was weak Marples, However, unlike the other three countries, Belarus did not face secessionist pressures or economic collapse. Put simply: it had a state because of its republican status and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, but a limited sense of the community in whose name the state existed. In the Moldovan transition, a complex political struggle unfolded that included minorities seeking independence or in some cases a return to the Russian state and a majority that was divided over the question of whether to embrace a distinctive Moldovan identity and an independent state or merge with Romania see Charles King.

One divide was geography, with western and northwestern Ukraine counterposed to the east and south. Another was economic interests, with the corridor abutting Russia an area of heavy industry that was tightly integrated with the Russian economy versus the rest of Ukraine. Finally, there were significant differences in historical experiences. Western Ukraine had been part of the Habsburg, not Russian, empire; it was added to the Soviet Union during World War II; and Crimea, a largely Russian area in the far south, was in turn added to Ukraine by a capricious decision by Nikita Khrushchev in the s.

Like Moldova and the Transniestr issue, moreover, there were secessionist pressures on the new Ukrainian state—in this instance, from Crimea though such demands also appeared in the east in response to the Orange Revolution in Finally, although the Russian federation was far more homogeneous in ethnic terms though more heterogeneous along religious lines than the other three countries, it faced nonetheless considerable secessionist pressures from Chechnya, as well as Tatarstan—with the former leading to two unusually violent wars and the latter leading to the establishment, thanks to the clever actions of Shamiev, of significant local autonomy.

In addition, Russian identity was closely tied to Soviet identity, the role of the Soviet Union as a Superpower, and, more generally, the communist experiment. This observation leads to a third explanation for the rise of mixed regimes: the impact of international factors. Just as linkage speaks to high levels of interaction between the two sets of countries as a result of shared borders and commonalities in history, culture and institutional forms, so leverage is an important contributor to democratic change because of the incentives and resources made available to leaders and citizens in strategically- located countries.

Such incentives and resources, moreover, can tip the balance of domestic politics in countries in transition in the direction of empowering supporters of democratic change against their opponents see, especially, Vachudova, This line of analysis, it can be noted, explains the striking contrast in the postcommunist region, whether focusing on the early years of the transition or later, between political developments in east-central Europe, on the one hand, and the former Soviet Union, on the other.

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This is the story in part of Western relations with Russia, as well as Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. It is fair to argue, therefore, that the mixed regimes in the postcommunist region, with the four countries of interest in this paper providing particularly good examples, occupy the borderlands between east and west. This means far fewer linkages to the West than in, say, Poland, but more than in, say, the Caucasus or Central Asia. The international context of democratization and its consequences for the formation of mixed regimes can also be analyzed with respect to democratic norms.


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Even rigged elections can reveal the distribution of public sentiments to authoritarians and help them fine-tune patronage networks Lust-Okar, In addition, since the second half of the s, we have seen the proliferation of non- governmental organizations that increasingly serve as the core distributors of external economic assistance and that also serve as major proponents of democratic improvements. During the same period, we have also seen a change in the international financial community. Mixing democracy with dictatorship can be beneficial for regime survival.

As a result and with a certain amount of irony, it can be argued that rational authoritarians can prolong their rule by adding some democratic features to their regimes—to divide the opposition while courting external funding. Finally, a number of scholars have drawn on the focus in early third wave studies of democratization as a bargaining outcome and argued that mixed regimes reflect a specific set of bargaining processes and consequences that take place once authoritarian regimes weaken. In particular, in the postcommunist region, mixed regimes have tended to form under one of two conditions.

The first is a balance between weak and divided oppositions versus weak and divided authoritarians—which describes quite well what happened in Russia and Moldova throughout the s and Belarus in the first half of that decade.


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The other is a balance between the same two groups, but in conditions where both are relatively strong. This describes the politics of Ukraine throughout the s see Bunce, a; McFaul, ; and Petrova, Indeed, the outcomes of the first competitive elections in the postcommunist world as a whole provide strong evidence of the importance of these considerations. Just as the countries that were quick to establish fully democratic polities all featured decisive victories of the opposition in the first competitive elections with the communists at times defecting in effect to the liberal project, as in Hungary and Slovenia in particular , so the authoritarian countries in the region feature one of two scenarios.

One was a decisive victory of the communists coupled with limited support, especially outside of major cities, of the opposition, and the other is an equally decisive victory by an illiberal opposition as in Croatia and Georgia in particular. In the latter cases, the common story was that the communists had lost support from key players because they were associated with repressing nationalist mobilizations during communism. As a result, once the regime and state began to disintegrate, the struggle for political power shifted to struggles within the opposition, which the nationalist agenda had divided into liberal and illiberal groups.

The illiberal flank won, among other reasons, because it was able to demobilize the liberal opposition, and it could lay claim to being long at the forefront of the struggle for the nation and statehood against communism and the larger state.

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Finally, with respect to mixed regimes, we see in the postcommunist region what can be termed ambiguous electoral outcomes also see Fish, ; Frye, A rough balance between contending political forces, therefore, led to compromise with respect to both democratic development though this was least true in Bulgaria and economic reform, with the result that both dynamics had the effect of generating in regional terms unusually unstable politics and either limited economic reforms as in Belarus and Ukraine or stop and start economic reforms as in Russia and Moldova.

The failure to come to closure on both democratization and economic reform, therefore, as a result of important divisions in society as a whole, the communist party, and the opposition created not just mixed regimes, but also unstable politics and unusually poor economic performance. Point of Departure This discussion of the origins of mixed regimes leads to a clear conclusion. Mixed regimes in general and in the cases of Belarus, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine in particular are the product of both long-term and short-term influences that are domestic and international, cultural, political and social in nature.

However, when all is said and done, the key point is that such regimes—in contrast to transitions from authoritarian rule that lead either to democracy or dictatorship--are the product of considerable contestation among elites and publics that are expressed not simply in terms of the relative balance between authoritarians and democrats, but also definitions within each camp of the nation and the borders of the state. In this sense, they occupy what Thomas Carothers has termed the grey zone, but with the additional meaning that this zone is at once political, economic, cultural and historical.

Grey Into Black: Belarus and Russia On Table 1, we have provided a snapshot of our four regimes in the early years of the transition, along with a snapshot of several other regimes in the region which were also mixed regimes in and As this table suggests, all four regimes were mixed—though Russia and Ukraine, interestingly enough, tilted more in a democratic direction than Belarus and Moldova.

However, as Tables 2 and 3 indicate, once we take a longer-term view of the transition, we find significant changes in these regimes over time. To put the matter simply and to echo an earlier point: these mixed regimes were far from frozen in their political attributes. We now turn to a brief overview of our four regime trajectories. We begin with a synopsis of what transpired in Russia and Belarus: the two countries that became more authoritarian over time and see graph 1.

In Belarus, the key development was the election of Aleksander Lukashenka to the Presidency in While a longstanding member of the communist party, Lukashenka was very low in the hierarchy of the Belorussian Communist Party, and he came in effect out of nowhere to win the Presidency. Over the course of his time in office, Lukashenka has avoided economic reforms; formed a close alliance with Russia which has been quite frayed in the past two years ; and built a full-scale authoritarian system based upon state control over the media, the courts and the legislature.

He has also done a thorough-going job of rigging local and national rigged elections; harassing the opposition; and supporting a quite corrupt system that uses economic benefits to pay off supporters see Silitski, He is a very popular leader, in part because of personal charisma and in part because of the striking economic stability of Belarus over the course of the transition, and he was very successful at limiting the ability of the opposition to make effective challenges to his powers in both the and presidential elections.

He has also been quite attentive to any threats to his power. For example, just as he was a careful student of what happened to Milosevic in Serbia in , so he followed developments in Georgia in and Ukraine in , when oppositions coalesced to defeat dictators. Here, it is striking to note, first, that Medvedev has been rumored to have headed the failed Russian attempt to influence the outcome of the Ukrainian elections by supporting Viktor Yanukovytch—who lost to Viktor Yuskchenko. At the same time, a March, poll in Russia showed that sixty-six percent of Russians assumed that a vote for Medvedev for President would necessarily lead, in contrast to the time Putin was President, to a shift in power in the direction of the office of the Prime Minister Knight, Put simply: Russians assumed that Putin would remain in charge.

With United Russia, headed by Putin, dominating the legislature, it is unlikely that Mevedev will be able to carve out an independent political position—though his background, unlike that of much of the rest of the Russian political elite, is not in the security services.

Like Lukashenka, Putin has been committed to building a strong state by constructing an authoritarian regime, using many of the same mechanisms, such as control over the media and elections, harassment of the opposition, the use of nationalism to promote public support, and widespread corruption. However, there are some differences in their routes to consolidation of political power and de- democratization. At the same time, the Russian economy, again in contrast to Belarus, was in shambles.

He has also made it far harder for the opposition to contest, let alone win power at the local or national levels. For example, it has become very hard, given the huge number of signatures required for candidates to run for office, the absence of transparency in electoral commissions, and the high thresholds for representation after the elections, for the opposition to run for and take office. United Russia, the dominant party in Russia, currently controls seventy percent of the Russian parliament. As a result, the Russian opposition has decided that electoral politics are no longer a meaningful route to popular influence, and their leaders have focused instead on two kinds of activities: popular demonstrations and the slow formation of a nation-wide, Solidarity-like political movement.

Both actions, of course, signify a return to the communist past, where such actions constituted the primary challenge to dictatorial power. At the same time, Putin has reasserted state control over the energy sector, and he has benefited from a return of the Russian economy to growth, largely as a result of buoyant energy prices. At the same time, it is fair to conclude that Russia has de-democratized under Putin. During this period, while the Moldovan economy imploded and the issue of either an independent Transnistria or its reincorporation into the state continued to fester, Moldova nonetheless maintained a relatively democratic polity, especially with respect to such standards as extensive civil liberties and regular, free and fair elections though the communist party was banned from to However, there were many problems besetting Moldova throughout the s.

For example, the Gross National Product in was approximately thirty percent of the size it was in ; there was a huge emigration of the working age population in response to constricted economic opportunities; and the ruling opposition was plagued by divisions, political paralysis, and very high rates of turnover in office. The communists, who had not reformed themselves in either name or ideology, ran on a platform that combined economic populism with closer relations with Russia—a platform that was similar to the one that was embraced by Lukashenka in his elections, beginning in From to late , it appeared that Moldova under the leadership of the new President, Vladimir Voronin, would go the way of Belarus and Russia see graph 2.

For example, like Lukashenka, Voronin sought closer economic and political relations with Russia, and, like both Putin and Lukashenka, Voronin intimidated the opposition; packed the judiciary; revised the constitution; attacked the media; returned the structure of local government to its design during communism; and held rigged local elections. However, the media managed to stay relatively independent and active, as did the opposition, which began a cycle of protests in , and Russia overplayed its hand with respect to both its interventions in Transnistria where Russian troops were still stationed and the prices charged Moldova for Russian energy products.

As a result of these factors, along with large-scale political protests, declining public support for the communists, and the precedent of the Orange Revolution next door which in the short-term had led Voronin to push through a bill prohibiting students from participating in demonstrations! Stealing the thunder of the opposition, he embraced a return to Europe and with that moved away from his authoritarian political practices. To draw on an observation by Alina Mungiu-Pippidi : if the choice for Moldova was between Romania and Belarus, Moldova, as of this writing, has opted for the former over the latter.

In the case of Ukraine, a similar choice was confronted during the second and final term of President Leonid Kuchma, a communist like earlier leaders of independent Ukraine, who was, in contrast to his predecessor, a very close ally of Russia and Putin and a leader with strong support in both the Russian-speaking, heavy industrial belt of Ukraine that borders Russia and Crimea see Table 3 and graph 2.

As in Russia and Moldova, the Ukrainian economy was in a freefall throughout the s, with Ukrainian economic performance, not surprisingly, moving in tandem with its neighbor and closest trade partner, Russia. During that period, there was a two-way competition for power— between the communists and the opposition, with the opposition well-represented in the parliament, and, especially with respect to the office of the presidency, and within the communist party as well, which was divided with respect to its geographical and economic bases of power, along with its commitments to economic and political reform.

For example, Kuchma cracked down on the media, going so far as to kill a journalist. However, there was resistance to his policies—as revealed, for example, in popular protests and in the local elections in , where the opposition came together and won in a number of localities. While Yushchenko has faced enormous difficulties since the Orange Revolution in creating a stable and effective government, given the divisions of the Ukrainian opposition, the continuing impact of political, economic and geographical divisions in Ukraine, and subsequent electoral pressures to name his former opponent, Yanukovytch as Prime Minister, Ukraine has nonetheless made significant progress in democratization since Put succinctly, while turbulent, the Ukrainian political scene is a good deal more democratic than it has ever been, especially with respect to civil liberties and political rights, the independence of the media, the powers of the legislature, rule of law, and the existence of free and fair elections.

While different in many ways, political changes in Ukraine and Moldova are similar in two respects. At the same time, in both countries, elections have played a key role—first in moving these mixed regimes in a more authoritarian direction and then in returning both countries to a far more democratic path.

It is also striking that both countries are currently ruled by presidents with a similar profile of being communists who embraced a reformist position; who won power in part by supporting more ties with Europe, while distancing themselves from Russia; who sit on top of a quite factionalized coalition of supporters; and who are associated in the public mind with improved economic performance.

Explaining Divergent Trajectories The four synopses of regime developments presented above suggest a more muddied picture than one of, say, two mixed regimes becoming increasingly authoritarian over time and two mixed regimes moving into the democratic column. Instead, what we found was that, while both Belarus and Russia slid in a consistent way into authoritarian politics since the transition began, with Belarus starting its journey earlier than Russia, Moldova and Ukraine, when also confronting the threat of de-democratization, were able to return to the democratic path, albeit one without the guarantees as yet of establishing a stable and full-scale democratic polity.

In this sense, while Russia and Belarus have become authoritarian orders, both Moldova and Ukraine have been able to remain mixed regimes—although ones where the future of democracy, especially in Ukraine, is far better than in the past. The question then becomes: what explains this contrast between what could be termed successful and failed authoritarianism?

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We can begin to answer this question by noting factors that fail to differentiate well among our cases. The Ukrainian economy was in fact on the upswing the last years of the Kuchma regime—a trend that also applies to the Russian economy in the first years of Putin and the Moldovan economy during the first term of Voronin. At the same time, it is striking that neither cultural heterogeneity nor the presence of secessionist pressures on the state explains the contrast between Belarus and Russia, on the one hand, and Moldova and Ukraine, on the other.

Third, it is striking that all the leaders who played key roles in either building authoritarian orders or deconstructing them were tied to the communists, rather than being political outsiders whose entire careers were associated with the liberal opposition. Moreover, external factors have not played a consistent role.

Both the United States and the European Union have devoted substantial resources to the promotion of democracy in all four of these countries—though far less so in Russia and especially Belarus in recent years, given the rise of authoritarianism and blockages of foreign democracy assistance. Finally, it is important to note that the two countries closest to Russia in economic terms and with respect to the location of Russian pipelines—that is, Belarus and Ukraine—have moved in different political directions see Yasmann, One grows out of contrasts in the outcome of the first competitive elections and their consequences in turn for the selection of political institutions at the beginning of the transition see Table 4.

In Moldova, the first competitive election led to a victory of the opposition, whereas in Ukraine the first election led to the victory of the communists in the presidential election, but sizeable representation of the opposition in parliament. Because of the investment in strong legislatures, therefore, it was far harder in both of these countries for communist presidents to build durable coalitions and ambitious political machines that supported their power and to centralize and abuse the powers of the presidency.

As Steven Fish , p. These were also the only successor states where the opposition won the first competitive election—a pattern that we also see in east-central Europe. By contrast and far more typical of the post-Soviet space, both Russia albeit with a more divided electoral outcome and Belarus opted for more powerful presidencies and weaker legislatures—with the latter becoming even weaker over time as presidents in both of these countries consolidated their powers. It is also telling that, while the courts in Russia and Belarus were silenced, they played a more active role in Moldova and especially Ukraine in limiting what presidents and their anointed successors could do to amass political and economic resources.

While it is hard to disentangle electoral outcomes from institutional selection especially given the Russian case , the key point remains that weaker presidential offices are associated in our four cases with greater resistance to authoritarian challenges in mixed regimes.