and Economic Reforms
Peter H. Merkl
After four decades of communist rule in Eastern Europe, countries such as Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and even the Russian Federation have surprised us with the alacrity with which they have embarked on the great transition toward Western-style democracy and market economies. Only yesterday, their governments and societies were pervasive, one-party dictatorships and "command economies" that held undisputed sway over the last pockets of the traditional societies that had preceded communism.
To be sure, both these precommunist antecedents (in the case of Russia, going back to 1917) and the precise state of the political and economic regimes at the time of their recent fall differed considerably from country to country, as have their paths since 1989. Nevertheless, we can pinpoint in a general way the linkage between the processes of democratization and the path and pace of economic liberalization in these countries. There is by now a large and expanding literature on postcommunist democratization and economic reforms, if not necessarily on their interaction and mutual relations, in Eastern Europe. 1 The purpose of this chapter is not to summarize this literature in any detail but rather to sketch the likely lines of such interaction and to point out possible directions of future research.
The waves of democratization during the 1970s and 1980s in Southern Europe and Latin America have dramatized once more the extraordinary complexity of the process and alerted us to the many different elements that have to be in place before democracy can be said to have triumphed in a country. Most of the perspectives apply also to the East European process of transition, although we have to bear in mind the different nature of the preceding regimes.