Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Slovenia's Transition to Democracy: Theory and Practice

Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Slovenia's Transition to Democracy: Theory and Practice

Article excerpt

Since its breakup in 1991, much of the scholarly research on the former Yugoslavia has been on the causes and sad consequences of its disintegration.(1) However, the breakup has yielded one small success story: that of the Republic of Slovenia. In the six years since achieving its independence, Slovenia has executed a successful transition to democratic rule and has transformed its social, self-managing economy into a market economy that is easily the wealthiest of all the former communist states.(2) While foreign policy problems with Italy initially slowed Slovenia's negotiations with the European Union (EU), it finally signed an association agreement in June 1996 and immediately applied for full EU membership. In July 1997 the EU Commission recommended that the EU enter into accession negotiations with Slovenia.

The remarkable success of Slovenia should make it an attractive subject for those studying the breakdown of communism in Eastern Europe as well those interested in the comparative study of transitions from authoritarian rule. This article will examine Slovenia's transition to democratic rule in light of the theoretical literature currently being used in transitology.(3) It will focus on the origins of this transition and the chain of events leading to Slovenia's first democratic elections in April 1990. For purposes of brevity, the issue of democratic consolidation and Slovenia's secession from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) will not be addressed here.


Prior to embarking on an examination of Slovenia's transition, this study will first make a case for the initial inclusion of Slovenia in the broader study of transitions. Although the importance of the changes in the former communist world is not in question, an ongoing debate does exist over the appropriateness of including these events as part of the comparative study of all transitions from authoritarian rule. The key issues of the debate were illuminated in an exchange between Philippe Schmitter and Terry Lynn Karl, on the one hand, and Valerie Bunce, on the other.(4)

Schmitter and Karl contend that by including Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union in the broader study of transitions, a greater "n" can be obtained for the comprehensive study of transitions. While acknowledging that the former socialist states possess significant "inter-regional" differences, they argue that the most practical way to study these systems is by using the concepts developed in earlier studies of transitions. Noting that former socialist systems essentially "face the same range of possible outcomes," they would have researchers include these states in the broader study of transitions until research clearly suggests that these states are different enough to be regarded as a separate group.(5)

Bunce's objections to Schmitter and Karl center around the comparability of the post-socialist states to other states that have experienced transitions from authoritarian rule. She contends that the historical experiences of these countries, combined with the unique characteristics resulting from the imposition of a Soviet-style communist system (e.g., its broad impact on the economy and society in addition to politics) have made these countries too different to invite useful comparison with other systems that have experienced a transition. She asks, "Are we comparing apples with apples, apples with oranges (which are at least varieties of fruit) or apples with, say, kangaroos?"(6) A more useful approach, argues Bunce, is to first study the transitions of all of the post-socialist states, and then make a determination as to whether these cases can offer any insight into the study of transitions in general.

While this debate is by no means over, a broader view of the issue permits one to observe areas of convergence. Both sides agree with the necessity of systematically examining the process of political transition in post-socialist states. …

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