The transformation of the economies in transition was from the outset bound to be complicated and divisive—a very long-term policy task. Turning the previous state-socialist economies and polities into societies firmly anchored by stable pluralistic democracy and a functioning market economy could never have been a mean feat. The sheer scale of the undertaking and the scope of the societal reengineering to be forged in one way or another would have been sufficiently daunting. In the absence of a reasonable minimal consensus on how best to proceed in and among the social sciences; in the assistance organs; and in the transition economies themselves, the assignment became even more cumbersome. No theory of the main regularities of the transition process was at hand. In many respects, though several treatises on transition matters are now available, a consensus on what must be done and how is still lacking. But progress is being booked.
For many social scientists, including the economies’ profession, the “events” of 1989-1991 in the eastern part of Europe opened up a nearly completely unanticipated research agenda of vast scope and with a cornucopia of challenges in need of urgent policy innovation. The transition issues since 1989 have, of course, been heavily influenced by specific time and space parameters. Seen in a more detached perspective, they have been of acute interest also in broader international debates. The range of the, at times intractable and perplexing, tasks cropping up has since been continuously enriched. By its sheer magnitude and complexity, transition has spawned a nearly indigestible mass of materials on the most diverse aspects of these research and policy agendas. It is not only the sheer bulk, but the variety of research and commentaries tabled to date, let alone the policies embraced since 1989, that simply prohibit an exhaustive treatment of the subject in the literature. It also complicates sifting the chaff from the corn. Yet, distilling an appropriately balanced “view” on transition has become an urgent matter for students, scholars, policy makers, and the broader community interested in challenging international affairs. This monograph does not pretend to provide a critical survey of this rich literature; at least not an exhaustive one. Nor does it intentionally rehearse well-trodden fields. Instead, it provides the nonspecialist with an impartial, yet fairly comprehensive, hopefully intelligent,