The Relationship between the Political and the Economic in the Transformations in Eastern Europe: Continuity and Discontinuity and the Problem of Models

By Melich, Jiri S. | East European Quarterly, Summer 2000 | Go to article overview
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The Relationship between the Political and the Economic in the Transformations in Eastern Europe: Continuity and Discontinuity and the Problem of Models


Melich, Jiri S., East European Quarterly


THE COMPLEX ISSUE OF TRANSFORMATION IN EASTERN EUROPE

When considering the phenomenal modalities of the transformations in Eastern Europe (EE) in general and the failure of the economic models applied in the region in particular, it becomes obvious that two areas have been underestimated by theory of transformation. First, little attention has been paid to the broader socio-cultural environment in post-communist countries. Second, the problem of hastily applied and unadjusted (neo-) liberal models has not been examined conclusively. Both areas are of course interrelated and connected to the issue of continuity and discontinuity in the Eastern European transformations. In this context, the problem of the inability of the political domain to create necessary conditions for a functioning standard market mechanism ought to be the focus of comprehensive assessment of transforming economies.

Modern political comparatists seem to know one or two things about political and policy requirements regarding development of capitalism; however, even if this is the case, what they know is often tentative and pertaining to the Western experience only. They have been divided over requirements and implications of capitalist formation processes elsewhere, particularly when dealing with conceptualization of this problematic in transforming post-communist societies. Not only we deal in the latter case with the fact that the assumed original and "natural" course and order of capitalist economic development had been once reversed or diverted in the region and had to be created or recreated, but also with the fact that this (re-) birth of liberal democracy and market have been hampered by the surviving obstinate legacies of the collapsed communist monopolist rule (state socialism). As a result, in EE we have faced the complex and interrelated processes enfolding simultaneously without any proven blueprint or precedent, to which some refer to as the multifaceted transformation.(1) Accordingly, most students of Eastern Europe have agreed on that the economic and political aspects of transition/transformation have been very closely interrelated; though the modes of this relationship are so far rather underestimated in the theoretical and analytical work. The purpose of this paper is to investigate some aspects of the specific dynamism between the economic and the political spheres--by bringing to attention some inadequacies in the attempts to graft liberal (or "neo-liberal") models of capitalism (that have been the end-results of many decades of unique evolution in the Western societies) on societies with distinct cultural characteristics and existing in a different historical era.

PARADOXES OF INHERENT CONDITIONS IN EASTERN EUROPEAN TRANSFORMATION

At the centre of an analytical assessment of the dynamics of the transformation processes is the dilemma of continuity versus discontinuity; continuity as embodied in the legacies of communist rule and discontinuity as a deliberate effort to reorganize the system from the previous "communist" one. In an "ideal" model of post-communist transformation, reform discontinuities ought to take into full account the nature and the scale of continuities, especially those on the social and cultural levels (however not limited to these spheres only)--which has very rarely been the case.

Multiple and simultaneous transitions in post-communist Eastern Europe have also meant more or less parallel beginnings of the political and economic transitions. Nevertheless, political transition (understood here as the change of the regime) has been completed faster that economic transition. According to Balcerowicz, this asymmetry "produces a historically new sequence: mass democracy l(or at least political pluralism, i.e., some degree of legal political competition) first, and market capitalism later."(2) Although this may not apply to all post-communist states to the same degree, most of them have been affected by a set of tensions within this asymmetry.

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