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1989 as a return to Europe : on revolution, reform, and reconciliation with a traumatic past

1989 als eine Rückkehr zu Europa : zur Revolution, Reform und Versöhnung mit einer traumatischen Vergangenheit
[working paper]

Petrescu, Dragoş

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Abstract The present paper examines the 1989 collapse of communist rule in East-Central Europe (ECE) and the subsequent developments by focusing on the countries that experienced a regime change in 1989, i.e., Poland, Hungary, former GDR and Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Romania. Thus, revolution, reform and reconciliation with the recent past are key concepts in terms of the present analysis. The main argument put forward by this study is that the nature of the 1989 regime change has influenced to a large extent the subsequent developments in the respective countries, especially with regard to the processes of democratization and integration into the European structures. Equally important, it influenced the way in which the wrongdoings of the defunct communist regimes were dealt with. This study is concerned with three major issues: (1) the nature of regime change; (2) the factors that determined the speed of the democratic consolidation process; and (3) the ways of coming to terms with the communist pasts, and consists of two main sections. The first section proposes an explanatory model of the collapse of communist dictatorships in ECE centered on a culturalist-structuralist approach and demonstrates that the regime change in ECE was determined by a complex aggregation of three kinds of factors (structural, nation-specific and conjunctural). Furthermore, this section shows that the particular aspects of regime change at country level were determined in each case by the interplay of regime and community political subcultures. The second section discusses two major aspects of democratic transition for the cases considered: (1) the pace of democratic transformation; and (2) the issue of coming to terms with the communist past. Thus, this second section is divided into two parts. The first part examines the speed of political and economic reforms and argues that in those countries in which the political transformation went hand in hand with the economic reform the transition was shorter. Establishing a delicate equilibrium between "institutional design" and "invisible hand" turned out to be the key for a more rapid and therefore less tortuous transition. The second part of this section is concerned with the problem of coming to terms with the past and the adoption of lustration legislation. The present study argues that the nature of the regime change has largely influenced the strategy of fulfilling the "backward looking" task of the post-1989 regimes during the 1989-1999 period. In dealing with the wrongdoings of the defunct communist regimes in the six countries under scrutiny, one should discern between: (1) application of early lustration (former East Germany and Czechoslovakia); (2) late initiation of lustration as a result of political competition (Poland and Romania, 1997, respectively, 1999); and (3) very limited lustration in Hungary and Bulgaria. Nevertheless, unified Germany stands out as an exceptional case in terms of scope and outcome of the process of transitional justice.
Keywords transformation; political change; post-socialist country; East Central Europe; political regime; communism; political development; democratization; institutional change; Europe; economic reform; coming to terms with the past; political culture; revolution; trauma
Classification International Relations, International Politics, Foreign Affairs, Development Policy; National Economy
Method descriptive study
Free Keywords Return to Europe; transitional justice; regime change; communist past; lustration; reconciliation
Document language English
Publication Year 2008
City Berlin
Page/Pages 17 p.
Series Working Paper Series of the Research Network 1989, 18
Status Published Version; not reviewed
Licence Creative Commons - Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works