Between Two Worlds

By Schoeberlein, John | Harvard International Review, Spring 2000 | Go to article overview

Between Two Worlds


Schoeberlein, John, Harvard International Review


Abstract:

Sometime between August and December of 1991, the Second World vanished. Global society has been divided into the First or Industrialized World, the Third or developing World, and this effervescent Second World that was identified with the communist model of development. When the Cold War officially ended and the Second World vanished, many in the West supposed that any new state freed of the yoke of Soviet domination would enthusiastically embrace the free-market economy. However, Central Asian attitudes toward both political and economic reforms did not conform to Western expectations. Even after 8 years of independence, and more than a decade after the reforms of perestroika, the Central Asian leaders still favor levels of state intervention in the economy and state provision of economic services more reminiscent of the Soviet era than of a Western market economy.

Text:

Obstacles to Development and Prosperity

Sometime between August and December of 1991, the "Second World" vanished, Global society had been divided into the "First" or Industrialized World, the "Third" or Developing World, and this effervescent Second World that was identified with the communist model of development. This middle world evaporated in these short five months between the unsuccessful coup against Gorbachev in August 1991 and the end of that year, when the last of the former Soviet republics in Central Asia accepted their independence and began the process of disavowing Soviet Communism.

The Second World was thought to have its own agenda for development, and Central Asia in particular was sometimes proposed as a model that Middle Eastern and Asian countries might follow should they choose the Soviet side of the Cold War. Economic and social development were entirely state-implemented, rather than market-driven. The agricultural sector, the most important in Central Asia, was dominated by industrial-style farm enterprises that were sometimes nominally in the hands of farmers' collectives and occasionally run by state farms, but always driven by the centrally--planned command economy, which dictated crops, prices, and even rates of growth. Ideological weight was given to the development of an industrial proletariat and thus to heavy industry. However, investment in this sector was highly integrated into the central Soviet economic ministries, and it focused on a small number of urban centers or sites of mineral extraction. As the breakup of the Soviet Union would eventually demonstrate, these pieces of the Soviet industrial framework were so dependent on the interlocking network of inputs and exchange as to be unviable without that framework

Reluctant Exit

In 1991, neither the Central Asian governments nor their populations had chosen to abandon the Second World. In a referendum earlier that year, Central Asian leaders asked their populations whether they wished to remain in the Soviet Union. The response was overwhelmingly positive-perhaps unsurprisingly, given the strong suggestion on the part of the leadership. But events in Russia, the Baltics, and the Caucasus severely challenged the union, and when it was dissolved, the Central Asians found themselves with an independence that they had not asked for. Nor had there been significant public discussion regarding the Soviet form of economy.

When the Cold War officially ended and the Second World vanished, many in the West supposed that any new state freed of the yoke of Soviet domination would enthusiastically embrace the free-market economy. However, Central Asian attitudes toward both political and economic reforms did not conform to Western expectations. The elites, who had carried over their position of influence and privilege from the Soviet order, agreed to those changes that only would improve their own position. As elsewhere in the post-communist world, this meant that the bulk of state resources was transferred to the private ownership of the communist elite at the expense of a majority plunged deeper into poverty. …

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