The fall of the Soviet Union is the single most impactful event of the second half of the 20th century. So much so, that a new era of philosophical thought is believed to have begun 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell. But such a collapse has long-lasting effects, and every country that separated from the Soviet Union had a different story from it.
I would like to mention a lecture from Yale University on Power and Politics in today’s world, in which the speaker mentions that in the past 30 years of world history, there has been an acceleration of political life, and that this acceleration made us go from one political perspective to another, with the examples of Fukuyama’s belief of the end of history and that liberalism and capitalism will be the norm, austerity measures and neo liberal politics after the 2008 crisis, the actual subprime crisis, and now the turn to more extreme ideologies, having in most countries in the world a battlefield of ideologies.
I would like to point out that this is a reality worldwide and not strictly to the “Western World”. As one can see this happening in South America and Asia. The only parts of the world I would say that do not align with the current events are the Middle East and Africa. And each for different reasons, as the Middle East went through the Arab Spring during this last decade, thus political problems either persist, or are avoided after a painstaking decade. When it comes to Africa, the continent goes through a slow and painful process of either corrupt autocrats or militias having control over countries.
This acceleration of politics, for me, has a perfect image on Eastern Europe, 30 years after the Collapse of the Soviet Union and each country that was either ruled by communism, or was actually part of the Soviet Union, is now going through a process of either consolidation of democracy or doubting it.
I would like to give another disclaimer here. To englobe eastern Europe as a group of countries that were under the influence of the Soviet Union is, in some way, intellectual dishonesty. There were countries that were part of other spheres of influence. Countries like Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Croatia were part of Yugoslavia, and the state of Yugoslavia was a non-aligned country during the cold war. And the other country that was not under the soviet sphere was Romania. Romania had an ideology of “National Communism” that mixed communist economics and ideals with the independence and aspects of far-right nationalism. Examples of this interesting ideology are the independence from the Soviet Union and the Rehabilitation of historical figures, even right-wing politicians, being republished, but with all the writings criticising communism removed.
The fact that all these countries went through different versions of communism would be enough to argue that none of this means that eastern Europe was at any point in the same page. But I would disagree, the fact that most of these countries and their departure from the Soviet Union, or the departure from a communist regime, happened during the 90’s, makes them all equal in two factors. The first factor is the willingness to move to democracy. In countries like the Czech Republic or Hungary it is obvious that these countries wanted their human rights and democracy. But not all countries had such clear demonstrations. Romania had gone through a decade of aggressive rationing in the hands of Ceaușescu. The army, after carrying out the trail of the communist leader, argued that Romania still wanted to be communist, but soon the population once more protested against this decision. In some countries, the willingness to be democratic was there but under more important desires like a stable economy, or enough food for everyone.
The Second factor that made all these countries equal was historical time. No two historical times are equal, but all the historical events that happen since 1989, happened to all these countries. If there is a scenario to compare ideologies and policies this is it. All these countries went through the same crisis, the same willingness to democratize and the same opportunities to join organizations like the EU and NATO.
There is always the fact that each country has different physical and economical necessities, not all these countries are the same size and with the same type of resource producing. But having a scenario in which time and history are the same is a great case study case for political science.
So what is the current geo political situation in Eastern Europe, and why do I think that its past may explain the present?
On one side we have countries that did not have a complete democratization of its country. I have already covered one of these countries, Belarus. I know I mention Belarus every article I write, but the fact that daily we get news from the fall of a practically dictatorial regime is incredible in this age of information.
Another country which did not see such an easy democratization was Montenegro. After going through a Balkan war during the collapse of Yugoslavia and having its independence from Serbia, it has been led by Milo Djukanovic since then, A president and prime minister for more than 20 years, creating a political class with an invincibility aura around it, as it showcases some of the ugly aspects of a leadership that brought closer relations to NATO and the EU. Montenegro is, in many ways, the opposite of Belarus. It is under the sphere of NATO and EU, it wants debates, and tries to move away from Serbia/Russia and religion. But this backfired immensely, with the new parliamentary victory of the opposition that sought to get rid of the DPS’s parliamentary advantage. The opposition cites the new religion related laws as anti-Christian and damaging to a sector of the population. To add, scandals related to the illegal trafficking of sex workers and you have a hated individual that has been ruling for 20 years. (Euronews covers it very well here)
Corruption is the name of the game in Romania. Or so is what most people would say. Romania has since the days of the revolution had a hard time against corruption and to set up a judicial system. This blocked their full entry inside the European Union, thus not being allowed to use the Euro, and not being part of the Schengen area. The Freedom House reports that
“High levels of corruption, bribery, and abuse of power persist. The June 2019 report from the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) criticized Romania for failing to establish adequate measures to address corruption among members of parliament and magistrates”
Since the changes in the penal code in 2013, there are a number of political actors that are not considered “public officials” which allows them to participate in illicit actions without being held accountable for it.
Corruption is such a problem, that the now elected government was voted for after the ousting out of parliament a government considered corrupt, and it has as its main focus solving corruption.
I would like to compare Romania’s situation to that which of Russia after the collapse.
Once the collapse of the Soviet Union happened, Russia went through a stage of mass privatization that lead to many of the people with inside government connections to get the privatizations ahead of time and amass wealth for themselves, thus capital started to fly out of the country and Russia plummeted into one of its most drastic crisis.
The difference between Russia and Romania in their situations, was that Romania kept on working into a democracy with rights and is now known as a democratic country with corruption issues, while Russia was taken up by a single man and is now an authoritarian country also with a corruption problem. Many aspects can be drawn up such as the fact that the constitution allows for a president to be a total of 12 years in power. But, the same way that business were hijacked due to inside information, the country was also hijacked and is now under an “authoritarian rule that has loyalist security a subservient judiciary, a controlled media environment, and a legislature consisting of a ruling party and pliable opposition factions” (from freedom house)
To conclude, and to not make this article any longer, countries in eastern Europe seem to be plagued by the ghosts of the autocratic rules of the communist regimes. But the reality is that they suffer as well from the same politics and economics of western Europe. As much as many of these countries have tried democracy, some of them hit the corruption wall or the autocratic way of ruling. Countries like Hungary, that I have not mentioned, have tried economic reform and turned extremely conservative due to the recurrent economic failures.
But not all countries are failures. Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia are eastern European countries that have successfully integrated and economically shifted to capitalism. They might have gone through economic crises, but so did the whole world during these past 30 years.
Author’s note: I have left out of the article any mention to Eastern Germany due to the simple fact that by itself it deserves an article. The fact that half of the country was under soviet influence created a divide in Germany that, in my opinion, affected the country to a collective psychological level.