Academic journal article Polish Sociological Review

Two Periods of the Peripheric Capitalist Development: Pre-Communist and Post-Communist Eastern Europe in Comparison

Academic journal article Polish Sociological Review

Two Periods of the Peripheric Capitalist Development: Pre-Communist and Post-Communist Eastern Europe in Comparison

Article excerpt

Introduction

The comparison of two historical periods, separated in time by half a century, may not seem like a sane contribution to the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the end of communism in Poland. However, the comparing the post-communist period with that of interwar independence is an integral part of the celebration of the most important national holidays in the post-communist Baltic States-Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Only in 1918-1940 could all three Baltic nations use the institutions of the modern state to foster the development of national "high cultures" in the vernacular languages. In Soviet times, national cultures and languages were perceived to be endangered because of the the policies of russification of the Soviet authorities and mass immigration from other Soviet republics.

Therefore, to begin with, the post-communist transformation in the Baltic States was about the restoration of the independent nation-state. The assumption of legal continuity grounds the much disputed citizenship laws in Estonia and Latvia that granted citizenship rights only for people who had such rights by 1940 and their descendants (Pettai 2010). The principle of restoration was implemented most consequently in Latvia, which is living under the Constitution (Satversme) of 1922. This may be the reason why Latvian scholars were pioneers in the comparative work on the period before World War II (WW II) and post-communism. They published several ground-breaking contributions (Seleckis 2000; Krastins 2001; Zile 2001) in the late 1990s and early 2000, celebrating the anniversary of the first decade after communism, drawing its critical balance and using achievements of the first decade of interwar independence from 1918 to 1928 as the benchmark. Estonians followed in 2008, celebrating the 90th anniversary of the Estonian independence (Valge 2008), with Lithuanian researchers joining with the comparison of the two twenty year periods of interwar and post-commmunist Lithuania (Norkus 2014).

The aim of present contribution is to demonstrate that the "Baltic approach" to post-communist transformation (diachronic comparison with pre-communist period) may also be useful for the audit of post-communist achievements for those Eastern European countries which were independent national states before World War I (WW I) and remained at least nominally sovereign independent states under communism. I will apply "Baltic approach" by comparing the economic performance of the restored capitalism in the Eastern European countries during the post-communist and pre-communist periods of similar length.

While rich advanced countries seem to be already mature for alternative ideas of the well-being and indexes of the economy's performance (cp. Coyle 2014, Fioramonti 2013 etc.), in the poorer countries the best test of the quality of economic system arguably remains the capacity to decrease the gross domestic product (GDP) per capita gap, or to achieve convergence with them. How much then post-communist countries did catch up with or fall behind after the restoration of capitalism in comparison with the pre-communist period of similar length? This is the research question of the paper.

I will not avoid the comparisons of pre-communist and post-communist periods with the communist intermezzo, but this will not be my focus, because there already is a lot of research on the failures of the state socialist system (e.g. Berend 2006, 2009; Turnock 1997, 2006). Due to the special occasion for this contribution, data limitations and inter-temporal comparability problems, I will focus on the Eastern European countries that enjoyed national statehood before communism. However, where it is possible and appropriate (to provide broader background and illuminating contrasts), I will expand the scope of my comparisons, including new independent states, countries from other regions or with different economic systems (e.g. interwar USSR).

In the first section, I will provide the historical and conceptual background (drawn from the capitalist world system (CWS) analysis) for the diachronic comparison of the post-communist and pre-communist periods as well as the rationale behind the specific measure ("American standard"). …

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