Can the recent experiences of the formerly communist states
be compared in any systematic and meaningful fashion?
The collapse of communist systems in Europe and the break-up of the Soviet Union have opened a completely new field for political, economic and social study: post-communism. Since then, several efforts have been made to explain the quite different outcomes of what has often been regarded as a common starting point. This cannot surprise: the concept of post-communism itself implies that the similarities between formerly communist countries overweigh their differences, and a comparative study is hoped to uncover the set of theories that could be applicable to at least most of the region, if not beyond that. But has this approach been successful so far? Or do the current results rather suggest that post-communist studies after merely ten years of existence are lacking behind twenty years already, as Kubicek (2000) provocatively has put it for the political field? Is there a useful way of comparing the experiences of the formerly communist states, or might such an approach be initially a fraud?
In this essay I will try to answer these questions in the following way: first of all, I want to give an overview over post-communist experiences, in order to come, secondly, to a characterisation of the phenomenon. Thirdly, I will turn to discuss the main theoretical approaches on the subject that are based on comparison. By giving my own understanding of post-communism I shall, finally, come to a conclusion on the matter. For practical reasons, I will limit the wide-ranging concept of post-communism mainly to the one sub-field of political science.
The experiences of post-communism vary so much that it is hard to sum them up in one paragraph. The transformation had in some cases been already started in the communist era and introduced from above (USSR), in others it had not, but civil society was challenging the state from below (GDR). There were bloody (Romania), "velvet" (CSSR), negotiated (Hungary) revolutions, and hardly one at all (Central Asia). New state borders emerged (Soviet Union), old ones disappeared (Germany), but many remained untouched (Poland). There were peaceful negotiations (CSFR) and open war (Chechnya), ethnic cleansing (Yugoslavia) and the initial aim to secure minority rights (Romania). Some of the newly established political systems are now democratic (Mongolia), others authoritarian (Turkmenistan) ; presidential, semi-presidential and parlamentary systems all coexist in the post-communist world. Gradualism (Hungary) and shock therapy (Poland) are the contrasting approaches chosen for the needed restructuring of the economy.
The huge variety of experiences in post-communism illustrates the political, economical and social instability of the individual countries and the region as a whole. This is hardly surprising in a time when one way of organising a society is to be replaced by a new one - the more so as in communist countries society was dominated by the totalitarian state (though to various degrees). As a result of a comparison or as a concept, widespread instability, however, is hardly satisfying. Holmes' "fourteen-point model" (1997, pp. 15-21) gives a more specific characterisation of post-communism, whereby the communist "common heritage" is taken as a starting point:
"[...] no post-communist politicians have started with a clear slate; they are having to create a new system with citizens who are carrying a considerable amount of baggage from the past" (p. 16).
This baggage includes among other things "near absence of a culture of compromise", "high expectations of leaders", "mistrust of political institutions". Holmes sees the commonalities of early post-communism in the comprehensiveness of the revolution (including state institutions, political system, economy, social structure, international alliances), the temporary and dynamic character of post-communism, and legitimation problems, to name only a few. Furthermore, she regards the transition to post-communism as a "double-rejective revolution" (p. 14): a rejection of both external domination and communism as a system of power - in contrast to a "clear-cut adoption of something" (ibid.).
 Holmes (1997), p.105.
 White (1993), p. 10.
 Holmes (1997), pp. 80-2.
 Wightman (1993), pp. 51-6.
 Swain (1993), pp. 67-74.
 Gleason (1997), pp. 3f.
 Wightman (1993), pp. 61f.
 Tishkov (1997), pp. 183-227.
 Holmes (1997), pp. 291-3.
 Holmes (1997), pp. 80-3.
 Fish (1999), p. 807.
 Berezovskij (2000).
 Holmes (1997), pp. 172-84.
 Batt (1993), pp. 214-7.
 The fact that the CPSU aimed at a transformation of society speaks for itself.
- Quote paper
- Christopher Selbach (Author), 2001, Can the recent experiences of the formerly communist states be compared in any meaningful fashion?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/16466