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East European Perspectives: May 16, 2001

16 May 2001, Volume 3, Number 9
Slovenia's Path Towards Democratic Consolidation (A)

"...the formal processes of constitutional reform takes at least six months; a general sense that things are moving up as a result of economic reforms is unlikely to spread before six years have passed; the third condition of the road to freedom is to provide the social foundations which transform the constitution and the economy from fair-weather into all-weather institutions which can withstand the storms generated within and without, and sixty years are barely enough to lay these foundations." (Dahrendorf, 1990, p. 93)

Ten years or so after the splash of the Third Wave of democratization, which began its journey in Portugal in 1974, reached the shores of then-Communist Eastern and Central Europe, this milestone offers an opportunity to assess what has been accomplished thus far, to identify problems, and to judge its direction(s). This is, however, easier to say than to carry out. The democratic systems that have emerged out of the ashes of communism are still very much fragile or fluid and the knowledge of the "chemistry" that keeps them together is rather limited, which often leaves scholars in the dark in their search for explanations. When the rudimentary "chemistry" is not working, elites do not hesitate to consult recipes usually associated with anti-liberal and populist rhetoric. Instead of facing "the end of history," as Francis Fukuyama expected, many of these countries (particularly in the Balkans, although not limited to this region alone) are -- as has often been noticed -- suffocating themselves on the hyperproduction of history, as it were, that they cannot manage to digest.

From a merely formal point of view, the countries in transition have more or less succeeded in imitating advanced democracies of the West through regular elections, democratic constitutions, workable parliaments and cabinets, multiparty systems, a visible separation of powers, and the like. A closer look, however, discovers that while the forms of democracy are observed, the practices often lag substantially behind (Schopflin, 2000, p. 1). Ten years may be a long period in an individual's life, but societies measure their "lives" by much longer yardsticks. One human life is hardly enough to see the democratic consolidation completed -- that is, in cases where the political will is aiming in this direction at all -- if one trusts the aforementioned prediction of Ralf Dahrendorf that the completion of the full democratic circle could take no less than 60 years. Arendt Lijphart (1984, p. 38) is in this regard somewhat more indulgent in forecasting that this process might take "only" 30 to 35 years.

Besides the "time" factor, which scholars do not have in abundance, there are also other limitations related to their ability to use the available analytic tools and theoretical repertoire in general in such a way that it leads to fruitful research results, or, alternatively, to developing their own paradigms, which can better explain and understand (VERSTEHEN) the problems in comparison with those previously offered. Research tools, of course, do not work by themselves. Their applicability and final results depend very much on their choice of the theoretical stands that scholars are familiar with, and, last but not least, on extratheoretical notions that researchers share with regard to the object of the study. This explains why they arrive at different and often contradicting conclusions despite focusing on the same problems.

We will in this respect mention only two examples, although more are available. The ultimate assessment as to how far this or that post-communist democratization has progressed varies with the definition of democracy that the scholar chooses. If one takes or applies the minimalist definition of democracy (taking into account merely "electoral" and "formal" attributes) -- for example, that of Joseph Schumpeter (1962) -- it is not that difficult for a country to reach the ultimate aim of democratization. The matter is, however, much different, and the objective of democratization even farther away, if one chooses and applies the maximalist definition of democracy. Let us look at the definition of Robert Dahl (1971), which takes into consideration non-electoral dimensions of democracy (that is such substantive factors as the existence of opposition, participation, and civil liberty). Among the extratheoretical factors that influence research, there dominate (dominant are) either the emphatic expectations and noble dreams of justice and freedom that people had in connection with the revolutions of 1989, or afterwards the many frustrations and disappointments that scholars simply cannot abide. To these sorts of exaggerated influences, one should also add subjectivity, which brings to fore the scholars' own inclination to either "optimistic" or "pessimistic" assessments.

The Diversity Of Post-Communism

Scholars undertaking an analysis of post-communist developments, moreover, face an extraordinary and complex diversity, which adds to the words "post-communism" and "post-socialism," respectively, the attribute of a virtual construct. The current post-communist diversity is, of course, a more or less mirror image of the diversity that already existed in communist times. The former regime, however, "succeeded" in holding back economic development in the region to the point where the economic ratio between the richest and poorest states was 3 to 1, while in the post-communist period it increased to 17 to 1 (Bunce, 1999, p. 786). These disparities, which will eventually only further increase, can tell us something about the new problems these countries will be facing in the future. But already today, we can talk about the existence of a gap between the "North" and the "South" in this region, which reminds one of the prior and even long-established gap between North and South elsewhere.

This is not to say that everything has changed for the worse. Quite the contrary, we are facing a new reality in many respects: for example, the international context after the end of the Cold War is more conducive to positive political and economic developments, if the endogenous situation desires or facilitates such new and obvious opportunities. Thus, some post-communist countries succeeded in seizing the momentum and advanced, while a number of them stayed where they were or, even worse, decayed both in the economic and political sense. The first example pertains to most of the countries of the so-called Visegrad Group (Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary), the Baltic states, and Slovenia, all of which provided the first "success stories" on the path of democratic transition and consolidation, respectively.

The opposite examples are provided by some of the Balkan countries and Russia, which have not yet made up their minds as to what they want to be as a nation-state and which are experiencing economic collapse on a daily basis. The economic extremes are quite telling in this regard: while the percentage of the labor force in Albania working in agriculture is 50 percent, Slovenia's is only 5 percent. Slovenia's income per capita is 17 times higher than that of Azerbaijan. Or, to take an example from another angle, if Poland's gross domestic product (GDP) in 1997 was 11 percent larger than what it was in 1989, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Georgia show quite a different picture: their GDP in 1997 was only one-third of what it was in 1989 (Bunce, 2000, p. 124). Examples abound concerning these and similar differences within 28 formerly communist regimes in the region (they are: Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Mongolia, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan), and this raises the comparability question: if the Czech Republic, or any other formerly communist Central European country has more in common with such democratically consolidated countries as Austria than with, say, Kazakhstan, then we are perhaps close to witnessing absurdity in face of the undiscriminating usage of the notions of "post-communism" and "post-socialism," respectively. This led Rupnik (1999, p. 57) to suggest that "post-communism" in fact has lost its semantic relevance. Of course, we are not advocating getting rid of the concept, but simply plead for its more thoughtful and responsive use.

Typologizing Diversity

To delineate the Slovene pattern of democratic transition and place it into an appropriate comparative perspective, we need to elucidate more general pathways and types in which post-communism has emerged in different countries, i.e. to underline both their commonalties and differences. Here we must beware of several potential threats that await scholars in this regard. The most common threat refers to "exceptionalism," on one hand, and to "Procrusteanism" (Roeder, 1999, pp. 752-753) on the other hand. The first professional fallacy is arguably hostile to any comparative work in believing that post-communist societies and cultures are unique on all counts. One can therefore only agree with Roeder that this approach leads its practitioners straight into professional suicide in the social sciences. "Procrusteanism," on the other hand, considers only general models and theories as being "serious," employing facts and the concrete social reality of the post-communist case under study as mere handmaidens to its alleged superior and purely "theoretical" interests. In the latter case, the object of the study eventually evaporates after its "service" has expired. In what follows we shall try our best to avoid both extremes, which does not mean, of course, that we will not base our explanations and understanding of the problem -- on one hand -- on valid theoretical generalizations, while, on the other also pinpointing the relevant unique features of the studied case. The method of eliminating either dimension is not a good premise for arriving at illuminating research results capable of surviving the tests of the profession and of time alike.

Thus far, scholars in the area of post-communist democratic transitions have offered various criteria for sorting these countries into distinguishable groups and types. They do not necessarily collide; on the contrary, with few exceptions they provide useful material in order to arrive at some point in the future at a more or less acceptable common understanding of where some particular country belongs on a chart of democratic achievements and reversals. Most typologies, as will be later seen, do agree fairly well in identifying the "vanguard" in the multifaceted processes of democratization, which usually consists -- depending on the criteria -- of from half a dozen to up to nine countries. But when it comes to explaining "why they and not the others," or to which stage of democratic transition they pertain ("early," "complete," "consolidated," or not at all democratic, that is, "pseudo-democratic," "quasi-democratic," etc.), ranking and diagnosing further development produces disagreement and/or variations that are far apart.

Let us start with the typology (Roeder 1999, pp. 744-749) that measures the 1989 revolutions by examining success or failure in the aims they set up to achieve. The three core historical objectives introduced in this typology are: nation-state, democracy, and a capitalist economy. Roeder accordingly ranked the 28 post-communist countries with a view to their successful carrying out of the triple transformation: national, democratic, and capitalist. Thus, he came out with a list of nine successful countries (Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Mongolia, Bulgaria, and Romania), which is close to one-third of all the post-communist countries. Not much, if measured by the initial expectations and euphoria, although if one would have predicted, say, a dozen years ago that nine countries would, in a relatively short time, make it into the democratic and capitalist world, one would have been considered to be out of one's mind. This does not mean that these countries are hereafter guaranteed an irreversible march toward the completion of what has been the initial aim of the historical breakthrough, but that the chances that this might occur are, in a comparative perspective, rather high.

Another proposed typology is that of Agh (1998, pp. 37-45), which is, in comparison with the previous example, a lot more ambitious, in the sense that it polarizes images of past and present in order to conceptualize future developments. Moreover, it introduces an equally ambitious attempt to combine the narrative-descriptive approach with the theoretical-analytical. I find his approach fresh and far from any "Procrustean" temptations which abound in this area of expertise, and believe that Agh's heuristic endeavor will find creative followers who will improve his suggestions. Besides, I believe that it is possible to extend Agh's observations to the rest of the post-communist world. It is, however, too early to predict the future of this particular typology -- which the author prefers to call a "scenario" -- among the "transitologists," although it can already be said that it convincingly groups the Central European and Balkan post-communist states into four distinguishable types.

The first type is called "Sleeping Beauty (The Raped West)," and defines Central Europe as a historical case where a Western-style modernization process was intercepted by the Soviet occupation of this region and subdued to "Easternization." The revolutions of 1989 introduced almost utopian expectations that the Western character of these nations would be quickly restored. It took, and is still taking, quite some time before these nations will acknowledge that realism has to replace euphoria, and that "Westernization" will take much longer than had been initially envisaged. The second type is termed "Deep-freeze (the Eternal East)" and reflects the mentality of "Great Uncertainty," which followed when the time of euphoria ended. The old contradictions of the backward "Eastern" Europe returned, and many exchanged their previous slogan of a "Return to Europe" for a "Return to the Past."

The first two types, or better put, "scenarios" were constructed to serve mainly analytical purposes, which means that they are only partially related to reality. For better or worse, in most Eastern and Central European post-communist countries it does not appear likely that either a sudden leap into the future or a definitive return to the past will occur. The everyday dialectics of political life in this part of the world are, however, in a Manichaean manner, prisoners of either the Future or of the Past.

The second pair of types offers a more realistic scenario: one for the Balkans, and the other for the East-Central European post-communist countries. It revolves around the struggle with aggressive nationalism. Yet a third differentiation concentrates on the deep socio-economic crisis in some of these countries. Agh terms it "Latin Americanization (the Extended South)" and thus introduces the debate on the tendency that has been identified by the authors of the seminal work on "transitology," "Transition from Authoritarian Rule" (O'Donnell, Schmitter, and Whitehead, 1986), applying it to the region last affected by the Third Wave of democratization. East-Central Europe has since the 16th century been the semiperiphery of the Western European epicenter, and the danger of becoming "Southernized" reappeared in the 1980s, with huge foreign debts and increases in poverty and unemployment. The political implications of these economic hardships were reflected in mass dissatisfaction which blamed the political elites who were carrying out democratization as well as the weak parliamentary systems. Most of the manifest responses in this regard could be seen in the growth of radical right and populist movements with their search for a "strong man" (in the form of uncontrolled presidential systems) and an obvious longing for a return of authoritarian rule. The fourth type or scenario, titled "Fair Weather (the Promising North)," tries to build on the historical argument for the inclusion of East-Central Europe into the European integration process, primarily into the European Union. This scenario places great importance on the role of international factors (in particular, the EU) as facilitating in a political, economic, and, last but not least, moral sense, the further development and consolidation of democratic rule in East-Central Europe. In this vein, these countries are encouraged by the recent rapid catching up with the Western European core, as demonstrated by the progress of Southern European countries (in particular, Spain).

Rudolf Martin Rizman is professor of Sociology and Political Science in the Department of Sociology, Faculty of Arts, Ljubljana University, Ljubljana, Slovenia (


Agh, A., 1998, "The Politics of Central Europe" (Thousand Oaks, New Delhi: Sage).

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Bunce, V., 2000, "Postsocialisms," in Antohi, S., Tismaneanu, V. (eds.), "Between Past and Future -- The Revolutions of 1989 and Their Aftermath" (Budapest: Central European University Press), pp. 122-152.

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