Hopes and Shadows: Eastern Europe After Communism

Hopes and Shadows: Eastern Europe After Communism

by J. F. Brown

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After the exuberance that marked the revolutions of 1989, the countries of Eastern Europe have faced the breathtakingly ambitious task of remaking their societies. Simultaneously they have sought to build liberal democracies based on market economics, while confronting reassertions of claims for national independence long suppressed. Taking up where his previous book … See more details below


After the exuberance that marked the revolutions of 1989, the countries of Eastern Europe have faced the breathtakingly ambitious task of remaking their societies. Simultaneously they have sought to build liberal democracies based on market economics, while confronting reassertions of claims for national independence long suppressed. Taking up where his previous book Surge to Freedom ended, J. F. Brown’s Hopes and Shadows analyzes the results of the first four years of Eastern Europe’s separation from communist rule and the prospects for the future.
The forces at work in the midst of this revolution are examined from a perspective that is necessarily both historical and contemporary as the complex relationship between the tasks that face these countries and the legacy of their communist and pre-communist past shape the difficult present. As the usefulness of the designation "Eastern Europe" is itself questioned, Brown provides both regional and country-by-country analysis of the political situation. The Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Poland are grouped together, as are Romania, Bulgaria, and Albania, to address questions such as the development of liberal democratic culture, the activation of democratic institutions and procedures, and the future of former communist bureaucracies. He considers the former Yugoslavia—now torn violently apart—largely as a separate case. The theoretical, political, social, financial, cultural, and psychological dimensions of the transition from socialism to a market economy are discussed in detail. The final aspect of this revolution, the failure of which most immediately threatens the entire process, is the attempt to build new and stable national statehoods. Brown explores the history and impact of the current reemergence of nationalism and the dangers it represents.
A comprehensive and authoritative survey, J. F. Brown’s analysis and presentation of the contemporary Eastern European political landscape will be essential reading for scholars and specialists and of great interest to general readers.

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"There simply is nothing currently available with the degree of breadth and perceptiveness that covers the topic."—Roger Kanet, Director of International Programs and Studies and Professor of Political Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Hopes and Shadows

Eastern Europe After Communism

By J. F. Brown

Duke University Press

Copyright © 1994 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-7954-6




Eastern Europe is engaged in a revolution as it copes with a legacy. Both are intimidating. The revolution involves simultaneously building liberal democracy and a market economy. As such it is unprecedented. The legacy is bequeathed not only by communism but by elements in the precommunist history of the region. The legacy interacts with the revolution, influencing and hampering it, directly and indirectly. Indeed, probably the most constraining part of the legacy is pre-communist: the national reassertiveness that was repressed by communism but never submerged by it. For the second time in just a half-century Eastern Europe must build a new system. The old one was imposed by force; this new one must come through persuasion. This book seeks to describe and analyze the results so far. And the prospects.

In the last chapter of my book, Surge to Freedom, I gingerly submitted a checklist of the problems that would face the postcommunist East European countries. Their fate would be decided by the way in which these interrelating problems were tackled. The problems varied from country to country, in both type and degree of tractability. But they existed everywhere, forming both the legacy of communist rule and the work for its successors. Very briefly, these problems were:

The development of a liberal, democratic political culture. Clearing away of the "pollution of the mind" (Vaclav Havel's expression) that had gathered under communism – the moral, intellectual, and political deformation that the contrast between communist fiction and actual fact had inflicted on individuals and society as a whole. This is an educational, moral, and psychological problem. Problems of power and politics – the activation of democratic institutions and procedures; the future of the former communist bureaucracies and the issue of collaboration with the old regime, particularly with the security apparatus.

Problems of the economy – the transition from socialism to the market, and the theoretical, social, political, financial, cultural, and psychological questions involved.

The environment – not just a question of the quality of life but often of life itself.

The emigration urge, especially of "the best and the brightest," men and women equipped to help cope with the postcommunist problems. To this must now be added the waves of immigration, a more immediate and dangerous problem.

Finally, there were the three problems concerning foreign relations:

Relations first with the Soviet Union and then with the successor states of the Soviet Union, especially Russia.

Relations with the West – mainly Western Europe, the United States, and, if mainly in the economic sense, Japan.

Relations with each other – intra-East European relations – and the huge and burgeoning issue of nationalism, as it affects state and ethnic relations.

These problems in themselves subsume both the revolution and the legacy, future tasks and past encumbrances. They constitute the East European agenda. Agendas often can impart pessimism but, especially after forty spiritually and morally enervating years of communist rule, this agenda is a particularly daunting one. But it is the only possible one. There is no going back. Some of the reassuring basics of "real, existing socialism" may be missed; Czech and Polish workers may moan; some Hungarians may get a bit wistful about Kádár; and in Romania even minicults of Ceausescu may sprout from the disillusion. But, putting George Orwell's Animal Farm into the new political context – updating it, so to speak – nobody in Eastern Europe wants Farmer Jones back. At least, not in the way he used to behave. And if he were to begin behaving differently, he would not be Farmer Jones. Leninism in Eastern Europe is gone for good; wherever Eastern Europe might be going, however successful the "postcommunist" parties might be at the polls, it is not going back to that. No matter how much political capital some circles in every country are trying to gain from spreading the fear of a communist return to power – and no matter how much echo they have made in paranoid and/or disappointed sections of the population – there is no danger of "recommunization," in the old sense.

Overcoming the Past

The problem, indeed, is not so much with recommunization as decommunization. This in turn is part of Eastern Europe's Vergangenheitsbewaltigung pattern, the problem of "overcoming the past," which is dealt with at some length in chapter 2. It is a problem to which the West Germans (although not East Germans) gave the name after World War II. It is more difficult and poignant in postcommunist Eastern Europe than it was in post-Nazi Germany. There, after all, the vast majority of Germans had supported the Nazis. The vast majority of East Europeans did not support their communist rulers. But the people were brought together with those rulers in many direct and indirect ways. The relationship was much longer and more complex than that in Nazi Germany. After six years of Hitler, Germany was at war; another six and he was gone. The communist system in Eastern Europe lasted more than forty years and looked as if it might go on indefinitely, perhaps forever. Pressures for compromise and accommodation multiplied. And then, sometimes in effortless sequence, followed cooperation, collaboration, and co-opting. Even in Poland, where communist rule was thinnest and most contested, there were more than 3 million communist party members in 1980, one in ten of the adult population. Hardly a single Polish family was without some association with the regime. Decommunization is a multifaceted problem involving matters of law, moral and political justice, excess or moderation, governmental efficiency and expediency, mass psychology, social cohesion, and political demagogy. Some see it as the rigorous pursuit of justice, others as the perpetuation of injustice; some maintain it is essential for a new beginning, others that it vitiates democracy right from the start; some see it as a breakthrough, others as a massive diversion. It is likely to remain the most divisive and dominant domestic issue in Eastern Europe for many years.

Toward the Rule of Law

Decommunization also will be a crucial test for the rule of law in Eastern Europe. For decades, laws were framed, interpreted, and implemented in the service of communist ideology. Even good laws often lost their value because of the ends to which they were put. Now the postcommunist East European states are genuinely trying to replace this perversion of law by the rule of law – law that protects rather than controls citizens, that regulates their relations with each other and with their freely elected governments, that preserves individual rights while guaranteeing social order.

Institutionalizing and guarding the rule of law is a mammoth task, especially at a time of uncertainty and of a hankering after retribution. Generally speaking, the postcommunist courts have done well in preserving legal principles in this complicated and impassioned environment and often have had the courage to make themselves unpopular in doing so. The big task for the courts, currently and for some time to come, will be to set precedents and guidelines, to establish principles on which the rule of law is based. As for decommunization, it is encouraging that many judges realize that the new order in Eastern Europe will, in good measure, be judged by the legal principles governing it, and that if they confront the old order with anything less than the highest principles, they will not be exorcising it but imitating it.

New constitutions are indispensable – written, exemplary, and clear. Every country in Eastern Europe started off by patching over communist originals. Some constitutions became more patched over than others, but even the most amended ones still offered no coherent definition and reflection of the revolutions that had taken place, or of the freedoms and responsibilities that should emanate from them. Romania and Bulgaria were the first to have new constitutions. Their enactment was both ironical and controversial since it was the work of governments composed of mutated, mutating, or downright unmutable communists. Hence, the legitimacy and authority of these constitutions were questioned. But, whatever their flaws (and their provenance), they still provided the framework for liberal and lawful government. Elsewhere, the enacting, even the drafting, of new constitutions have been delayed by inertia, political or national fractiousness, or the distraction of crisis situations. But the longer a country delays, the longer the interim, postcommunist phase in its history will be, and the longer before a new start can be made. A new constitution is not in itself a passport to the Rechtsstaat, but it is certainly part of the required documentation.

The lack of new constitutions also delayed the advent of efficient government. Everywhere a need existed for the separation of powers, including those within the executive itself, to be constitutionally affirmed, clearly defined, and reflecting of the new political realities. The absence of such a separation not only subverts efficient government, but it tends to bring the democratic process into early disrepute. Poland early on became a case where lack of a constitution almost led to political anarchy. The succession of crises there were not only due to the incurable individualism of Poles, the irresponsibility of some ministers, advisers, and representatives, or the hubris of President Walesa, but to the fact that those parts of the constitution that should have restrained excesses in public life were drafted in the communist era, when totally different philosophies, institutions, and practices obtained. Even in Hungary where government began by working relatively well, there were disputes over presidential and governmental powers, again reflecting the need for constitutional provisions that regulate the new order rather than mirror the old.

Constitutions, of course, however felicitously phrased, need interpreting; hence Constitutional Courts. It is different to exaggerate the importance and the potential of this institution in the postcommunist lands. In Hungary the Constitutional Court has become a key player in public life. Some of its decisions were controversial, going against the popular grain. In Bulgaria, too, the Constitutional Court held out against discriminatory measures against the Turkish minority and against the decommunization mania. The more the Constitutional Courts realized that their job was to be proper, not popular, the better the chance of a lasting constitutional democracy.

"Them" and "Us": The Alienation Syndrome

Borrowing again from Orwell and Animal Farm, while few East Europeans want Farmer Jones back, many of them have become disappointed, even disillusioned, with the performance of his successors. Hence the revival of the Left in most countries. Materially, many East Europeans were better off under Jones. Whatever the gradations of popular opinion are they all point to one thing: the "them" and "us" syndrome in Eastern Europe is still alive and kicking. After flourishing for centuries, whatever the form of rule, it dropped out of sight for a few months after 1989 but is now discouragingly back, this profound mistrust of, and cleavage between, the rulers and the ruled.

Economic dissatisfaction and apprehensiveness have given it new impetus, and many East Europeans are likely to become even more distrustful of "them" as their standard of living continues to fall, unemployment rises, and inflation continues to hurt. In the meantime the nouveaux riches flaunt their sometimes dubious gains. Attitudes are exacerbated here by the social jealousy that has always existed – not just an East European but a pan-European phenomenon. (Communist principles of egalitarianism reinforced this attitude but did not originate it.) Add to this the endemic corruption, the spectacular scandals, plus the capitalist flair shown by many former communist luminaries, and it is not surprising to see East European shoulders shrugging or to hear their various regional equivalents of plus ça change, plus c'est la meme chose.

The "them" and "us" syndrome in Eastern Europe will persist. Nor will it begin to disappear until democratic institutions and practices – which are already in place – become more representative of society as a whole. There is a particularly desperate need of adequate worker representation, not at the factory level, where it has tended to impede economic change, but in the political mainstream, at the parliamentary and local government level. This is not just morally right but also politically sound as a means of allaying the social consequences of the painful transitions caused by economic reform, and creating a balanced polity generally.

It is, though, easier said than done. Economic reform, particularly of the "shock therapy" variety (see chapter 5), effectively means the social disfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of workers throughout the region, the proles of the heavy industrial monsters that must become extinct if the new Eastern Europe is to have a future. The prospects of many of these men and women ever retraining, redeploying, or being reincarnated as entrepreneurs are practically nil. They represent not just a serious moral and social problem: they are also a pointer to political development in the region. For several years to come there is going to be a big pool of unemployable people in Eastern Europe, representing a danger to democratic development. All the more reason, therefore, to mitigate the danger by as benevolent a social policy as can be afforded, with meaningful representation of these groups in the political mainstream. It can most effectively and safely be done through Social Democracy. If this is not strong enough to attract sufficient worker confidence and support, to soften discontent and channel it peacefully and constructively, then proletarian discontent will be exploited by the unreconstructed extreme left and the new extreme right. Fortunately, the "postcommunist" parties successfully emerging in countries like Poland and Hungary are more Social Democrat than Leninist and could play this crucial representational role.

Authoritarianism, "Diluted and Temporary"?

Amid all the problems of postcommunist Europe, the tasks of reconstruction in all their complexity, the dangers of social upheavals, of right- or left-nationalism, it is not surprising that suggestions have been made by public figures in Eastern Europe as well as in the West, that liberal democracy, at least for the short term future, would be a premature luxury, anarchic, self-indulgent and self-defeating. It is particularly endangering, so the argument goes, to market economic reforms, particularly of the "shock therapy" variety, which, because of their inevitably adverse social consequences, immediately become a political football endangering their eventual success. And since a minimum economic sufficiency is crucial to securing liberal democracy, a bit less democracy now could be the best means of guaranteeing more of it later on. In addition to this, too much democracy too soon allows nationalists of whatever ilk, racists, criminals, and a huge assortment of other undesirables, to go about their nefarious business without let or hindrance. Why not, therefore, a salutary dose of authoritarianism, "to get things done" and "till the worst is over?" It must, of course, be mild, enlightened, and definitely pro tern. Preferably, too, it should function through the democratic forms already in place.

The case is plausible and could well become clamoring. But it is unconvincing. The dose of authoritarianism being prescribed may sound harmless enough, but it is insidiously dangerous. It would mean braking, not just liberal political democracy, but also progress toward the rule of law, whose legal niceties and constitutional complexities are uniquely calculated to quicken authoritarian impulses. Indeed, braking is the wrong word. It conveys the idea that liberal political democracy and the rule of law can be put on hold, starting again where they left off once the coast is clear. The truth is that, especially in the East European conditions prevailing, once their progress were halted, democracy and the rule of law would not stay put, but retreat – and the retreat could well become a rout. And certainly the liberal tradition in Eastern Europe has never been so bright and sturdy for it to be put on the shelf for an indeterminate period, then taken down, polished up, and put back into service. In short, what might be good and inevitable for Yeltsin's Russia is neither for the East European countries.

It must, therefore, be either forward – however slowly – toward liberal democracy or backward – very quickly backward – to something that can best be termed fascism. Fascism always took some defining, but perhaps Ralf Dahrendorf best describes the type that could threaten the new Eastern Europe:

I mean the combination of a nostalgic ideology of community which draws harsh boundaries between those who belong and those who do not, with a new political monopoly of a man or a "movement" and a strong emphasis on organisation and mobilisation rather than freedom of choice. The rule of law would be suspended; dissidents and deviants would be incarcerated; minorities would be singled out for popular wrath and official discrimination. Fascism in this sense need not be as horrific as German National Socialism; systematic genocide is not a necessary consequence of its rule, though it is always likely. It is in any case a tyranny which has its origin on what we have got used to calling the right, because it is allied with the military, the other forces of "law and order," it appeals to reactionary sentiments and it dreams of the purity of a bygone age rather than Utopian visions of a better future. Such fascism can have many names, Mussolini and Franco, Peron and Pinochet.


Excerpted from Hopes and Shadows by J. F. Brown. Copyright © 1994 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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