Quest For The Opulent West 01/25/02
By Tomislav Sunic
Catching up with the West is the big dream of all post-communist countries
in Eastern Europe. This dream transpires through imported liberal slogans
such as "transition," "integration" and "market democracy" aired daily on
all local TV and radio wavelengths. This rhetorical switch from former
socialist command economy to capitalist market economy appears to East
European leaders far more palatable than the necessity of removing their
own ossified past. In fact, proponents of globalism and their institutional
transmission belts, such as the IMF and WTO had never given the green light
for the Eastern European masses to forcefully remove communist officials
from power. With the choice between local nationalists and local
ex-communists, the global plutocrats have opted for the latter.
In reality though, the transition to market economy has been going on for
years, yielding meager results and only in some areas of Eastern Europe.
The countries of Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Hungary now on the
fastest track to "catching up with the West," benefit from their geographic
vicinity of affluent Germany. Other post-communist countries further to the
East do not have the same comparative geographic advantage, offering little
incentive for direct foreign investments.
The modern financial network based in Brussels and New York, makes a
mistake, despite its financial ingenuity. These assume that rapid economic
growth in Eastern Europe could be solely achieved through liberal formulas
or by resorting to some Asian role modeling. What was successful in
denazified Germany in the 1950's, in Thailand and Singapore in the 1980's,
does not apply to present day Rumania, Ukraine, or Croatia. It is also a
frequent error among many US politicians to project their own wishful
thinking onto Eastern Europe, pumping their taxpayers' money into the hands
of bankrupt East European leaders.
The gap between Eastern and Western Europe is bigger today than ever and
likely to get even bigger. In terms of economic output, from a ratio 12 in
1989, the gap in productivity between East and West increased threefold in
1999, notably to the ratios of 13 and 14 respectively. On the whole, east
European countries have reached only 60 to 70 per cent of their 1989
communist GDP level. In plain English it means that the purchasing power of
the majority of east European citizens is worse off than during the last
days of communism.
The leading slogan which had brought down communist economies was the
popular outcry, "join Europe." The main motor behind this naive idea was
that Western affluence would suddenly follow suit. But catching up with the
West has not occurred. One can now sense a widespread nostalgia for the
economic predictability and guaranteed social security which communism once
provided for all.
A Western visitor should not be duped by the shopping mall glitz in
Croatia's Zagreb, Hungary's Budapest, or Russia's Moscow. Nor should the
presence of rowdy young "conspicuous consumers" be viewed as the trademark
of an improvement in living standards. The core of any democracy is its
middle class. However, in late 1945, the communists physically destroyed
the middle class.
An overzealous mimicry by east European leaders copies the free market
canons with the incessant regurgitation of slogans such as "the rule of
law," and "market democracy." But the real market is a mixture of bandit
capitalism and shadow economy in full swing. This is true not only for
Russia, but also for every other country in the region. The so-called
basket-case economies of neo-communist Croatia and the bankrupt
post-Milosevic Serbia garner little support from their respective
citizenry. This will result in a mass appeal for yet another muscled man in
the not too distant future. In such a fragile economic environment that is
still governed by never repentant communists now turned phony liberals, it
would be unwise for individual US businessmen to make any professional
Of course, for global sharks it is easy to lecture East European
politicians on the virtues of market democracy. Despite their planetary
influence modern plutocrats ignore the heritage of communist psychology.
All the present political elites from the Baltic to the Balkans are
basically recycled communists who have no idea of what a free market really
means other than verbal virtuosity in free market recitals.
The road to genuine democracy in Eastern Europe can only be achieved
through reeducation and the removal of all former communists from power.
Prior to its economic miracle, post-war Germany had to start the process of
denazification first - in order to attain the certificate of democracy much
later. It is impossible for the present recycled neo-communist political
class in Eastern Europe to shed its old Bolshevik carapace. Half a century
of communist social leveling, a culture of mendacity and the lack of
personal initiative have left deep scars on the souls of all East
Europeans. This tragic area of Europe has historically been subject to
unpredictable tremors. A new version of bandit capitalism mixed with the
legacy of communism creates a breeding ground for all sorts of terrorist
Mr Sunic is an author, former professor in political science and contributor
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