History Derailed: Central and Eastern Europe in the Long Nineteenth Century

By Ivan T. Berend | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
THE POLITICAL SYSTEM
Democratization versus Authoritarian
Nationalism

SOCIOECONOMIC CONDITIONS and the burning, unsolved national question had lasting political consequences in Central and Eastern Europe. The preserved agrarian character of its peasant societies, lack of industrialization and urbanization, and unfinished nation-building in the region in comparison with the western half of the continent all influenced political institutions and practice alike. The political elite and intellectuals had faith in progress, however, and believed in the possibility of learning from the most successful countries, adopting their institutions, and changing their own destiny and history. The main goal of the nations of the region was to join “civilized Europe” (i.e., Western Europe), and this objective equally penetrated the economic, cultural, and political arenas. No doubt, the introductions of modern constitutions and a parliamentary system were strongly influenced by Western European examples. Political parties also often imitated their Western European counterparts.

Despite the attempt to follow Western Europe, however, the result was something different. Modern democracies emerged only in the industrialized, rich core of the continent, where strong, well-established, selfconfident nation-states existed. The unindustrialized countries, struggling for independent nationhood, were unable to follow this road. Both the states and the governments were traditionally autocratic and remained authoritarian, with an autocratic interpretation and practice of law and civil rights. Unable to realize their national dreams, people became frustrated and militantly hostile toward the “enemies of the nation,” whether op-

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