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Eastern Europe’s Post-communist Transformations

Eastern Europe’s Post-communist Transformations

April 11, 2012

Two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, several of the former communist republics have developed consolidated democratic systems, functioning market economies and efficient democratic states and welfare policies. Others don’t share this democratic standards and the political system still looks like before 1991.


The countries that today are part of the European Union are today solid democracies with relatively low inequality. They even have vibrant free media and a developed civil society. Excepting Hungary and Latvia, the rest of Eastern Europe are not very affected by the financial and euro crisis.

Nevertheless, the rest of former Soviet republics don’t enjoy this prosperity and social and economic development. Actually, the majority of them has either returned to authoritarianism or has persisted in a semi-reformed and unconsolidated state. The capitalism is corrupt, state-dominated and oligarchic.

Grzegorz Ekiert, member of the Club de Madrid Advisor Committee, has published a very interesting article on the World Politics Review magazine called “Eastern Europe’s Postcommunist Transformations” about all of this issues.

Why, from the author point of view, is there this wide range of political, economic and social systems?

  • Structural factors, historical legacies and preconditions: the most developed Soviet countries at the end of the USSR are democracies today – excepting Russia.
  • State’s institutional design
  • Proximity, cultural ties and historically friendly relations with the West – and also a democratic neighborhood: joining the European Union has been very very important, as the main goal of the democratic development.
  • Having previous democratic experience
  • Social welfare – struggle against underdevelopment, poverty, unemployment and inequality.
  • Consolidated democracy – effective state and rule of law go together.

So, as Mr. Ekiert explains, the difference between the EU members and the rest is enormous – but there are still some risks, such as the recent policies of the Orban government in Hungary and the financial crisis in Europe, which is likely to end any further enlargement of the EU (except for Croatia and maybe some other Balkan state).

Ekiert concludes with the three key factors for the successful development of the Eastern Europe democracy:

  • Previous democratic episodes and historically close relations to Western Europe
  • Relatively high levels of economic and social development
  • Support and conditionality framework extended by the European Union
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Related Member

  • Grzegorz EkiertLaurence A. Tisch Professor of Government; Director of the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies (CES), Harvard University

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