Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Transition from Communism and the Spectre of Latin-Americanisation

Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Transition from Communism and the Spectre of Latin-Americanisation

Article excerpt

All economically highly developed countries are democracies. Most of the world's democracies are economically highly developed. One thus assumes that both things -- economic and political -- development go together.(1) But correlation is not causation and at a closer look, the link between democratization and economic evolution becomes less cogent. If relative wealth and a modem economy would be a precondition of democracy, how come that some of the poorer countries are democratic? And if, on the other hand, democracy would be a prerequisite for moving up on the economic ladder, how come that countries have done so that were not democratic?

Furthermore, the two developments are not automatic ones: it is not a one dimensional upward and forward movement, unperturbed by interruptions or reversals. In the very long run, if seen in terms of centuries, the development towards democracy and greater wealth, both economic and political modernity would seem inevitable.(2) But such an Olympian view disregards painful historic details. Democracies have failed.(3) Fairly wealthy countries have seen their growth prospects stunted and even have experienced periods of long lasting decline.

Communism was perceived to have been but a -- certainly disastrous -- evolutionary accident on the road of progress. Once this error would have been corrected and once the Communist system was removed, the countries concerned would, without any great difficulties, resume their rightful place on the ladder of economic and political progress. This would occur spontaneously. Errors could stunt or thwart the development. But, on the other hand, no special measures would be necessary to promote it. Markets and with them wealth; civic society and political institutions and with them democracy would install themselves without further ado. Some even claimed that this step back unto the ladder of political and economic evolution would be a rather short one. One quick jump would suffice.(4)

Evidently, that can no longer be maintained. More somber prospects have to be contemplated. One spectre especially has come to haunt the reform countries of Central and Eastern Europe and of the former Soviet Union. It is the spectre of Latin Americanisation. This fear is sustained by two facts. First, the legacy of Communism is more enduring and deeply entrenched than had been assumed. Second, the process of political and economic modernization can self-destruct if entered at this peculiar moment of history, under the present international regime, and under the peculiar conditions prevailing in the countries themselves.

Before pursuing this argument, a word of caution. It is tempting to think of the formerly Communist countries as a group. We will dwell at length upon why this can be justified. Nonetheless discrepancies among them are widening. Politically and economically they differ more strongly from each other than they did in Communist times. Their wealth, if measured in per capita domestic product, is highly unequal. So are their political institutions; so is their civic and political culture. These differences can not be neglected.

Some ascribe those differences to a simple "return to the past." Countries would start off at the very place and under the very same conditions that prevailed before the Communist take-over. Evidently, there is some truth in that: one cannot help but being struck by a demeanor in the Czech Republic that recalls its pre-war, bourgeois past. The countries of what has formerly been Yugoslavia have certainly reclaimed with great eclat their Balkan heritage. It is easy to detect behind the present political clashes in Russia the very same conflict that divided Western reformers and romantic nationalist all through the Nineteenth Century and up to the Bolshevik coup d'etat in 1917.

If there is some justification to the concept of a return to the past -- and as mentioned it is difficult to see how it could be completely wrong -- two conclusions have to be drawn. …

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