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  • Eastern Europe After Communism
  • Stephen Miller (bio)
After the Fall: The Pursuit of Democracy in Central Europe by Jeffrey Goldfarb. Basic Books, 1992. 267 pp.
Reinventing Politics: Eastern Europe from Stalin to Havel by Vladimir Tismaneanu. Free Press, 1992. 312 pp.

Of late there seems to be a growing pessimism about whether representative democracy can take root in Eastern Europe, even in the relatively more advanced countries that compose Central Europe: Poland, Hungary, and the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic (or CSFR, which as I write seems to be in the process of breaking up). According to the Polish poet and essayist Stanislaw Baranczak, the region has seen an explosive growth of distrust-"distrust of the system, distrust of elected officials, distrust of any authority, distrust of the intellectual elite, distrust of common people." Well-established democracies seem to be able to withstand high levels of distrust, but can fledgling democracies survive when distrust is so endemic, especially when they are undergoing severe economic dislocation?

The two books under review, which were written before the collapse of the Soviet Union, both grapple with the question of building trust in countries where distrust and even hatred of politicians have been the norm during 40 years of communist rule. Jeffrey Goldfarb, the author of After the Fall." The Pursuit of Democracy in Central Europe, is a professor on the Graduate Faculty of Political and Social Science at the New School for Social Research in New York City. He has spent 20 years traveling in and writing about Eastern Europe, and he numbers among his friends many prominent former dissidents, notably the Polish writer Adam Michnik. Vladimir Tismaneanu, the author of Reinventing [End Page 125] Politics: Eastern Europe from Stalin to Havel, is a Romanian emigré who teaches politics at the University of Maryland and has written widely on Eastern Europe for American newspapers and magazines. Though both writers warn of the dangers of ultranationalism in the region, each thinks that there are "grounds for cautious optimism," to use Goldfarb's words (p. 8), that democracy will prevail in Poland, Hungary, and the CSFR. They are less sanguine about the prospects for democracy in Bulgaria, Romania, and Yugoslavia.

The basis for Goldfarb's optimism, however, is not quite clear, mainly because his book is poorly organized along vaguely thematic lines, making it difficult for the reader to gain a clear sense of the prospects for democracy in a particular country. Moreover, Goldfarb's narrative is larded with too many trivial anecdotes of his meetings with East European dissidents, mostly from Poland, the country to which he devotes most of his attention. His knowledge of the other countries of Eastern Europe seems thin. Goldfarb's book is not only impressionistic, it is occasionally tendentious as well. At times, he seems concerned less with the East European landscape than with trying to score points against unnamed anticommunist "ideologues" in the West.

Goldfarb's polemic against Western anticommunists can be dismissed as basically irrelevant to his discussion of the changes taking place in Eastern Europe. Not so his polemic against capitalist "ideologues"-those who see "capitalism as an answer by itself" (p. 148). Although Goldfarb admits that a market economy is essential if liberal democracy is to flourish, he argues that capitalist ideologues may wreck the chances for liberal democracy in Eastern Europe. Identifying Harvard economist Jeffrey Sachs as such an ideologue, he brands Sachs's economic reform plan for Poland "a new totalitarian temptation" (p. 48). Yet what sense does it make to call "totalitarian" a market-oriented economic reform program aimed at reducing the state's role in economic life, given that totalitarianism means state control over all aspects of life? In any case, despite Goldfarb's fear that the countries of Central Europe may be moving too fast toward a market economy, the real problem is that these countries are moving too slowly in that direction. As a result, outmoded and unprofitable smokestack industries continue to create tremendous deficits, to distort the allocation of resources, and to generate terrible pollution.

Although Goldfarb is a poor guide to the political economy of the [End Page 126] region, his discussion of nationalism is-at least...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3214
Print ISSN
1045-5736
Pages
pp. 125-129
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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