Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Social Turmoil in Post-Socialist Eastern Europe - a Revolution Gone Astray?

Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Social Turmoil in Post-Socialist Eastern Europe - a Revolution Gone Astray?

Article excerpt


The political, social, and economic transformations which have been taking place in Eastern Europe and the former USSR for the past six years or so, have so far brought about quite ambiguous results: On the one hand, there is no doubt that improvements in both political and economic areas can clearly be seen, but on the other hand -- as an ever increasing number of sources have been pointing out -- the entire "bloodless revolution" in Eastern Europe has been turning out to be not only a disappointment for the societies involved but also a source of major social discontent. The dissatisfaction of the societies manifests itself in a number of ways, among them there is a reluctance to participate in what the societies often regard as reforms of doubtful value, mistrust of the authorities, low election turnouts, increasing nationalism and anti-minority sentiments, decreasing social solidarity, social apathy, and other similar negative phenomena. Far from attempting to constitute a comprehensive treatment of the issues involved, the following paper does nevertheless purport to identify the most fundamental interdependencies involved, which are grouped in two main areas: first, post-socialist ideals versus reality societal disappointments and reluctance; and second, the roots of the weaknesses involved.

I. Pre-Revolutionary Ideals Versus the Post-Revolutionary Reality - Societal Disappointments, the Resulting Reluctance, Mistrust, and Protest

There is no question in anybody's mind by this point in time that what Eastern Europe has been getting out of its transformations is not what the societies had in mind prior to 1989. To put it bluntly: That was not the plan. Instead, the "plan" was to reform state structures from centralized and inefficient socialist bureaucracies into modern-day, decentralized, society-responsive, and democratic structures, to transform the old, socialist economies into free markets, and, simultaneously, provide prosperity to a maximum number of citizens. There is no doubt that such high social expectations were fueled, among others, by some populist politicians, as shown in this example from Poland:

. . . [T]he new market arrangements introduced by the

economic reforms soon generated a diversity of interests for

which institutional representation was sorely lacking. By the

spring of 1990, after the three months that Walesa had

initially said would be all that was needed to transform the

economy, social unrest began growing. In May 1990 railroad

workers crippled the Polish economy with a powerful strike,

opposed by Solidarity. The former communist-sponsored

union, OPZZ, tried to consolidate support there, as did

"Solidarity-80" the militant break-off from the main union

[emphasis added].(1)

There were of course a number of other factors behind the incredibly high social expectations on the eve of the radical transformations, like for instance the almost completely uncritical reception (or rather one should say, "an unsuccessful attempt at a reception") of the mature, Western-style democracy and economy, as Los points out in the following passage:

. . . [E]xtraordinary measures are needed to lift these countries

from their state of profound decay and dejection. A mere

replication of Western patterns is neither possible nor

sufficient as a way out of the crisis. New policies are needed

that would be able to promote and balance several quite

disparate tasks....(2)

Whatever the deeper causes, it is clear that the Eastern European transformations can hardly be called a success:

1. Attempts by post-socialist governments to popularize the notion of economic liberalism (which demands thinking in terms of interest), resulted in

...the political response of much of the populace show[ing] a

clear unwillingness or inability to think in this way. …

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