Revolution and Change in Central and Eastern Europe: Political, Economic, and Social Challenges

By Minton F. Goldman | Go to book overview
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draw closer militarily and economically to the West and strengthen their security vis-à-vis postcommunist Russia. These countries are sometimes referred to as the Visegrád Group after the city where, in 1990, they held their first multilateral summit after the collapse of communist rule. Diplomats of the Balkan countries have also met periodically to discuss problems in areas of mutual concern and to strengthen ties with peripheral countries such as Ukraine, Georgia, Turkey, and Greece.69 While the Central and East European counties have not created any regional organizations to replace the Warsaw Pact and the CMEA, and while integration of the kind going on in Western Europe is still far away, they have collectively laid the basis for bilateral and multilateral cooperation among themselves and strengthened ties with neighbors outside the region.


In the postcommunist era, the countries of Eastern Europe are moving into uncharted waters. They are developing new political systems, economic structures, and social orders quite different from those they had in the era of communist rule. They seem to be developing versions of Western-style pluralistic parliamentary democracies, free-market capitalist-style economies, and open, unfettered social environments in which people are experiencing a new freedom in personal behavior they never had under communist rule.

But change has not been easy. Communism had distorted everything it touched. When Communist Party rule collapsed, the whole structure of society, institutions, processes, and values collapsed along with it. People lost one way of doing things, but they have had difficulty finding an alternative. Popular behavior and thought could not be transformed overnight. The societies of Central and Eastern Europe are in a sort of political and economic limbo. This condition is fertile ground for a hunt for scapegoats and a search for a common identifiable enemy, as well as for radicalism of both the neofascist and neocommunist sort. It is a time in which the new postcommunist states are vulnerable to hatred of the world, are seeking self-affirmation at any cost, and are displaying a personal selfishness and an excessive, primitive consumerism based on the principle that everything is now permitted. The success of political and economic democratization is by no means assured.

An important aspect of communism had been its monotonous conformity, a similarity of greyness that had spread throughout the wide region of its rule from Berlin to Vladivostok. Red stars had been everywhere; administrative institutions, at least in their physical appearance and to some extent in the way they functioned, had been similar all over Eastern Europe. Even allowing for rather sharp environmental and cultural distinctions in different national settings, social and economic life showed the same characteristics and the same problems and weaknesses wherever one went. Consequently, the different peoples of Central and Eastern Europe are paying more attention to their special characteristics and


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