Explaining Post-Communist Differences
In the world outside of the post-communist countries of Central and .Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, younger, more educated, and more democratically inclined citizens tend to have a left-wing bias in terms of their self-placement on a standard left-right scale. In post-communist countries, however, it is the opposite: younger, more educated, and more democratically inclined citizens all tend to have a right-wing bias. (1) Why might this be the case? One could point to the fact that older citizens in these countries had largely been socialized under communist--and hence leftwing--regimes. Or one could point to the fact that communism-- a non-democratic regime--had a leftist orientation, and thus democratic opposition and a propensity to self-identify on the right hand side of the political spectrum could seem like natural bedfellows. Alternatively, it is conceivable that those who are less educated might still expect the state to provide for all their basic social welfare needs, precisely as the communist state had done previously, while at the same time criticizing the new democratic state for failing to provide these benefits. We have actually tested these different explanations against each other, and find stronger support for the second and third hypotheses than for the early socialization explanation, but for now, the key point is that it is difficult to imagine an answer to that question that did not somehow invoke the specter of the communist past shared by these countries.
In order to answer the above question, and a range of other similar questions about the underlying causes of post-communist political attitudes and behavior, we really have to tackle three main analytical tasks. First, we have to establish the key features that distinguished the communist experience from the social, political, and economic experiences of other countries in the world. Second, we need to formulate a set of theoretical arguments that link these distinctive features of communist regimes and societies to the political attitudes and behavior of the citizens who now live in these "post-communist" societies. Finally, we need a rigorous, falsifiable method for ascertaining whether or not our assertions about the effects of the communist past on political attitudes and behavior in post-communist countries are supported by empirical evidence.
We are currently at work on a book manuscript, tentatively titled Communism's Shadow: Historical Legacies, and Political Values and Behavior that addresses all three of these tasks, and then tests these competing theoretical explanations on a wide range of political attitudes and behaviors. (2) In the remainder of this article, however, we briefly present our general thoughts in terms of the second of these tasks: introducing a set of rigorous theoretical arguments about the manner in which the communist era past could affect political attitudes and behavior in the post-communist present. While this is not an empirical article, the eventual empirical analysis we have conducted (3) and plan to conduct in the future strongly motivates our overriding argument: if we want to claim that the past matters, then we need to have a priori theories about how the past matters, and these theories need to have observable implications that can be tested empirically.
We identify four potential pathways by which communist-era legacies could affect political attitudes and behavior in the post-communist present. First, it is possible that living through communism, and in particular being "politically socialized" under communism results in different attitudes about politics and/or different forms of political behavior. Conversely, it is possible that people who lived through communism do not approach politics any differently than those who did not, but that communism left behind a different socio-demographic landscape, which in the aggregate leads to different patterns of political attitudes and behavior. …