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  • Where Are Postcommunist Countries Going?
  • Richard Rose (bio)

Global theories of democratization are appealing because they are clear, but clarity can be purchased at the price of oversimplification. The assertion that “all” countries are becoming democratic can be disproved by a single exception. India is an established democracy that belies generalizations about the economic prerequisites of democracy. And Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Vichy France, Franco’s Spain, and other examples refute generalizations about the democratic basis of Western civilization. European countries have made trial-and-error progress toward democracy 1 —and on other continents errors have been commoner than successes.

Democracy is only one among many answers that can be given to the question that forms the title of this essay. Samuel Huntington’s theory of rising and falling “waves” of democratization warns against seeing democracy as inevitable and universal. Many countries that have moved toward democracy have later backtracked. Ten Latin American countries, writes Larry Diamond, saw serious declines in freedom after 1987, as against six that improved. 2 In Korea, a popularly elected president has raised questions about progress toward democracy. Hong Kong, soon to be incorporated into China, is not heading for democratization.

In the postcommunist countries, the totalitarian past is surely dead, and no new ideology has emerged that its proponents believe is worth killing for. The atrocities in Bosnia are the exception rather than the rule. The watchwords of ex-communist apparatchiki today are not ethnic cleansing, but enrichissez-vous. [End Page 92]

But what of the future? With more than two dozen postcommunist countries to examine, one can detect movement in many directions. The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland are already members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which requires a demonstrated commitment to democracy and markets. Ten Central and East European countries—from the Czech Republic and Slovenia to the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania—now have associate status with the European Union (EU), the first step toward membership. The former Soviet Central Asian republics, however, are establishing strongman rule. Democracy is not necessarily the destiny of all postcommunist countries.

More Goals than One

All communist countries are cursed with the legacy of totalitarianism, which aggressively sought to eradicate anything that might serve as an institutional foundation for democracy, including civil society and the rule of law. Communist regimes could not fully achieve their Orwellian goals, although not for want of trying. As they aged, they became post-totalitarian, relaxing their efforts to mobilize bodies, hearts, and minds. Liberalization went furthest in Hungary, and came late in Russia. All over the communist world, untrustworthy institutions have left behind a legacy of “negative social capital,” the opposite of what is needed to make democracy work. 3

The collapse of repressive institutions greatly increases the individual’s freedom vis-à-vis the state, but cannot create the old-fashioned “bourgeois” institutions that made a peaceful transition from oligarchy to democracy possible in England, the Low Countries, or Scandinavia. When free elections replaced communist sham elections beginning in 1990, politicians had to create parties from scratch, and voters often found it easier to identify a party they hated than one they trusted. 4

In their comparative analysis of democratic transitions, Juan Linz and Alfred Stepan stress that the totalitarian legacy in the postcommunist countries of the 1990s is far more unfavorable to democratization than was the authoritarian legacy in the Southern Europe and Latin America of the 1970s and 1980s. 5 Authoritarians did not suppress civil society completely. Dissidents lost their rights and sometimes their lives, but not all institutions of society were taken over by an ideological and coercive party-state. Some authoritarian rulers played competing interests and institutions against one another. Franco’s Spain is the paradigm of a predemocratic authoritarian regime. Before the generalissimo’s death in 1975, the regime encouraged plans for a peaceful transition involving the democrats as well as the old guard. Conversely, Gorbachev’s spectacular failure to reform and preserve the USSR shows how hard it is to reform a party-state founded with a totalitarian mission. [End Page 93]

The Soviet collapse left Central and East European countries free to choose their own...

Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3214
Print ISSN
1045-5736
Pages
pp. 92-108
Launched on MUSE
1997-07-01
Open Access
No
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