Political Change in Eastern Europe since 1989: Prospects for Liberal Democracy and a Market Economy

By Kirschbaum, Stanislav | Canadian Slavonic Papers, September-December 1999 | Go to article overview
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Political Change in Eastern Europe since 1989: Prospects for Liberal Democracy and a Market Economy


Kirschbaum, Stanislav, Canadian Slavonic Papers


Robert Zuzowski. Political Change in Eastern Europe Since 1989: Prospects for Liberal Democracy and a Market Economy. Westport, CT and London: Praeger, 1998, 176 pages.

In the decade since the Berlin Wall came down, scholars have sought to explain not only the how and why of the fall of one-party regimes in Central and Eastern Europe, but, more importantly, the process of transformation that those states have subsequently undergone. The concept of post-communism was coined to represent this process and its two fundamental components: political change and economic restructuration. Western liberal democracy and a market economy have been held up not only as objectives but also as the measure by which to assess the transformation. After the initial euphoria of the West's "victory" over communism and the anticipation that the attainment of these objectives was simply a matter of time, scholars and analysts have come to understand that they must adopt a more sober approach and take into account differences not just in the process but also in the objectives. The initial certainty gave way to skepticism and spawned as well a debate on how these states were to achieve the ultimate objectives of liberal democracy and a market economy. This essay by Robert Zuzowski which looks at three states, Russia, Poland, and the Czech Republic, seeks to contribute to the ongoing debate.

One is tempted to ask whether it is in fact possible, given the magnitude of the task of transformation but also the brief period of time that has elapsed, to give any sort of answer that offers explanatory as well as heuristic factors. Zuzowski thinks so but his approach and his conclusions are anything but satisfactory. The impact of his argument is limited not merely by the choice of only three countries but also by his documentation which, while rich, does not go beyond secondary sources. Only in the chapter on Poland is there reference to indigenous sources. Zuzowski's contention that the transformation process must be rapid and total and rely heavily on the Western experience is thus based on the very frame of reference that Western analysts have been using to analyse post-communism. But this approach does not allow him to assess developments and determine prospects on their own merits, only to ascertain whether these regimes are living up to Western standards.

The author's presentation of developments since the fall of communism in the three chosen countries covers most aspects of their transformation process. He looks not only at political and economic change but also at the social and cultural aspects. The most interesting chapter is the one on Poland which Zuzowski seems to understand particularly well. He takes a critical approach to Polish politics but nevertheless concludes that "when one takes into account the state of the Polish economy prior to the downfall of communism, in the last two centuries or so, the results attained since 1989 are not so poor but rather more or less as expected" (p. 91 ). He sees Russia in the throes of an "incomplete revolution," while acknowledging at the same time that the changes attained so far are the measure of its success. He is full of praise for the Czech Republic because it had "decided to implement a comprehensive and rapid fundamental transformation based on the rule of law as well as on justice" (p.

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