No. 29, László Csaba (1995): Transition and/or modernisation in Eastern Europe

The first question to be asked about this country group is the following: what makes it different from other underdeveloped countries on the periphery of the world economic system? The most trivial answer is of course its military might and geographical location. Russia still maintains far the largest army in continental Europe of over 2.5 mn people in uniforms. Until December 1994 besides Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan followed independent nuclear policies on their own and only White Russia has declared its disinterest in retaining its nuclear arsenal. Second, geography does not follow new developments in trade, technology or intellectual fashions having relocated their focus on the Transatlantic axis. Therefore disasters of various sorts – from the repercussions of a still functioning Chernobyl power plant to those of the endless interethnic conflicts in Bosnia, producing hundreds of thousands of refugees – are bound to spill over more immediately to the core countries of the European Union than cataclysms taking place elsewhere. Third, most of these countries have historically, culturally, religiously and even politically and militarily been integral parts of the pan-European scene, especially in the last two centuries. In sports and politics, arts and sciences, music and personal, even family contacts various Central and East European nations have not only felt but have actually become inseparable parts of the old continent in the pre-Yalta period. The economic background of these countries have been substantially divergent in the pre- and post Cold War era alike, ranging from the Czech Lands, with per capita income exceeding Austrian levels in 1920 to Albania, which has traditionally been the most backward Islamic society of Europe. What they have in common is the fate they were sharing until recently. Namely most of them were parts of the Soviet empire, and all of them were subject to a command economy in one form or another. In other words each of them have become subjugated to the greatest experiment of social engineering in modern history: the state socialist modernisatory attempt.

Project leader:
László Csaba