The late 1980s and the 1990s witnessed the dramatic collapses of authoritarian regimes in many different parts of the world, most notably in Central and Eastern Europe and South Africa, but also in other countries, including the Philippines, Chile, and Argentina. In the original euphoria that attended the virtually simultaneous demise of so many dictatorships, there was a widespread belief that problems of "transition" basically involved shedding a known past, and replacing it with an also known future. This was the spirit behind the insistence of the first postcommunist leaders, that they would engage in no more experiments. The miseries of their own immediate histories were in large part the results of experiments gone horribly wrong. They were determined not to repeat them. Their ambition was that the future would be radically different, but not because it would involve new and different experiments. Rather, they had already seen the future at work. in the past and present of successful, normal, Western countries. That future was full of features unfamiliar at home but routine in many other places, in particular liberal democratic politics, capitalist economics, both undergirded by the rule of law, the features of which could be identified by observing successful lawabiding societies and states.
Of course, not everyone was an optimist. It is easy to forget how deep were the apprehensions shared by many at the time. In the postcommunist world in particular, which is the subject of this book, there was fear that legacies of the local past made such a wished-for transition unattainable, or at least extremely difficult and unlikely of attainment. Cultural pessimists (see Krygier 1999) reminded us of the undemocratic, uncapitalist, unRechtstaatlich history of many of the countries in the region, not just from communist times but way before. The more recent deposits left by what Ernest Gellner described as the uniquely Caesaro-Papist-Mammonist character of communism (Gellner 1994: 4), overlaid an uncongenial history with a unique "Leninist legacy" and post-Leninist predicament (Jowitt 1992). Unlike other transitions, the postcommunist one, to be successful, would have to deal with economic, political, legal, and ideological transformations, not just one or the other, and all at the same time (Elster et al. 1998). What was necessary in one domain, say economic transformation, might have conflicted with what was required for another, say democracy; the time it would take for success . . .