Democratic Consolidation in Eastern Europe - Vol. 1

By Jan Zielonka | Go to book overview
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17 Conclusions: On the Relevance of Institutions and the Centrality of Constitutions in Post-Communist Transitions

Wojciech Sadurski

If there is one conclusion that can be drawn from the impressive variety of arguments, reports, and theories included in this book, it must be that institutions matter. While it might sound like a shameful platitude, the apparent banality of this comment is somewhat deceptive. Even if this view has become commonplace in current political and constitutional theory, it is worth restating because, in contrast to political and scholarly observers, the truth has not been always self-evident to the participants of the remarkable transitions in the post-communist countries with which this volume is concerned. Institutions matter in the sense that they are not neutral; they do not merely channel and organize pre-political forms of collective life. Rather, they crucially affect, influence, and change the way politics develop. They importantly constrain the range of choices available to public actors, they organize patterns of socially constructed norms and roles, and they define the prescribed behaviours that those who occupy those roles are expected to pursue. 1

It is remarkable how the choice of this or that institution—whether it is a form of presidential, semi-presidential, or parliamentary system of government, or a type of electoral system, or a role of a constitutional court—makes an important change in the way that otherwise similar societies can develop at a point of major transformation. To be sure, no two of the societies discussed in this


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