Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Democratic Breakthroughs and Revolutions in Five Postcommunist Countries: Comparative Perspectives on the Fourth Wave

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Democratic Breakthroughs and Revolutions in Five Postcommunist Countries: Comparative Perspectives on the Fourth Wave

Article excerpt

Abstract: Democratic revolutions and breakthroughs have occured in six postcommunist states since 1998. Nine factors are discussed as common to these revolutions and breakthroughs: a competitive- (i.e. semi-) authoritarian state facilitating space for the democratic opposition; "return to Europe" civic nationalism that assists in mobilizing civil society; a preceding political crisis that weakened the regime's legitimacy; a pro-democratic capital city; unpopular ruling elites; a charismatic candidate; a united opposition; mobilized youths; and regionalism and foreign intervention (Russia or the EU). All of the nine factors are applicable to Ukraine, but not all of them are necessarily applicable to the remaining five postcommunist states. Regionalism played a negative role in Ukraine in reducing support for the Orange Revolution while Ukraine was the only country where Russia intervened in support of the authorities. The EU's intervention in support of the democratic breakthrough in Slovakia, where it offered the prospect of membership, was not repeated in Georgia or Ukraine.

Keywords: civic nationalism, civil society, democratic revolution, elections, Orange Revolution, youths, Viktor Yushchenko


The democratic breakthroughs and revolutions of 1998-2004 for Slovakia, Croatia, Serbia, Georgia, and Ukraine constituted a second phase of their transformation as postcommunist states. All five countries experienced different national revolutions that prevented the simultaneous pursuit of nation-state building and democracy immediately after communism's collapse. After the dissolution of the Czechoslovak state, Slovakia had to come to terms with being an independent state that would coexist with a large Hungarian minority. Croatia's war of independence monopolized the first half of the 1990s and the Serbian threat only receded after the re-taking of Krajina in 1995. From 1988-99, Slobodan Milosevic dominated Serbia. His plans for a greater Serbia, which ultimately led to NATO's bombing campaign in 1999, resulted in unprecedented war crimes, chaos, and havoc in the former Yugoslavia. Georgia entered the post-Soviet era dominated by ethnic nationalism that led to civil war and the loss of two separatist enclaves. Ukraine was a leading country seeking the dismantling of the USSR in 1991, and 91 percent of Ukrainiarts overwhelmingly endorsed a referendum on independence. But national independence came without democracy as the state was hijacked until 2004 by the former "sovereign communists," turned centrists, under Leonid Kravchuk and Leonid Kuchma. Throughout the 1990s, Ukraine's elites felt threatened by internal threats from the anti-state and antireform communists, who were the largest political force until the 2002 elections, and externally from Russia, which refused to recognize Ukraine's borders until 1997-99.

The democratic opposition perceived the Slovak '98 OK Campaign as Slovakia's opportunity to complete the Velvet Revolution that escaped the country in 1989-90 and remove Vladimir Meciar's populist nationalism that had, until then, dominated postcommunist Slovakia. The Croatian opposition also sought to distance itself from the nationalist 1990s in favor of "returning to Europe" through domestic democratic reforms. Georgia's opposition sought to overcome a failed and dismembered state, amid deep levels of stagnation under Eduard Shevardnadze. Georgian analyst Nodia believes that "our revolution in 2003 reminded us of the Eastern European revolution of 1989" when a new generation of non-communist elites came to power. (1) A similar sense of unfinished revolution permeated Ukraine's Orange Revolution that, for its leaders and supporters, represented the democratic conclusion to the national revolution of 1991.

This article is divided into two sections. The first section analyzes ten causal factors that contribute to democratic breakthroughs and revolutions in Slovakia, Croatia, Serbia, Georgia, and Ukraine. …

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