Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation (Book Summary)

This is a book summary

Book Summary: Juan J. Linz and Alfred Stepan, Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation, Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996

Key words:

Democratic consolidation
Central and Eastern Europe
Post-totalitarian regimes
Sultanistic regimes

A.  Main Hypotheses of Relevance to PDT

Definition of Democracy

Democracy requires open contestation of the right to control the government, and thus the provision of free competitive elections. It is considered primarily as a form of governance (it does not imply a slew of rights, however).  Democracy can be said to be consolidated when it has become “the only game in town”.  Additionally, consolidation of democracy requires: a free and lively civil society; a relatively autonomous political society; the rule of law to ensure legal guarantees for citizens’ freedoms and independent associational life; a usable state bureaucracy; and an institutionalized economic society (which means more than markets, and requires a certain degree of regulation by the state). 

Best Measures

Linz and Stepan implicitly endorse the FH rankings by citing them in the book.

Linz and Stepan are in broad agreement with most other commentators as to which countries are leaders/laggards, although the importance of the relationship between prior regime type and subsequent democratic success is stressed.  In contrast to many other accounts the tension between democracy and nation-state building in respect to Estonia and Latvia is highlighted.

Political Institutions

Executive Powers

Prior regime type - authoritarian, totalitarian, post-totalitarian or sultanistic - is a key determinant of the transition paths and the consolidation tasks of postcommunist states.  It helps explain why certain constitutional arrangements were adopted in the aftermath of 1989.

The state tends to be more usable when its officials and institutions have developed some degree of autonomy from the party.  The effect of individuals’ attitudes toward state institutions affected the chances of an effective opposition.

The degree of pre-transition pluralism is central to understanding the type of transition and consolidation.


Where societies are homogeneous, building a nation-state can be complementary to democratic consolidation (e.g. Poland).  Where diverse populations exist, however, the logic of democratic consolidation tends to run counter to nation-state-building. Here federalism can help.  Thus most CEE states will not be able to become democratic nation-states without federalism. 

Economic and Sociological Factors

Poor economic performance does not undermine the chances of democratic consolidation (citizens’ attitudes toward democracy are not adversely affected by poor economic performance). The development of economic society (a market system plus norms and values) is central to promoting democratic consolidation.

Clean Break vs. Gradualism

Experiences under communism certainly affected the chances of democratic consolidation.  Individuals were in a position to leave lasting legacies for their respective countries – e.g. Ceausescu who, through identifying the regime with himself, allowed the Romanian public to associate their woes with him, and not the totalitarian-cum-sultanistic system.  Thus, a communist was elected post-1989.


Whether and how a transition is pacted or not shapes the trajectory of democratic consolidation.  Also, the timing of elections (pre/post constitution) is key.


The relative type, mobilization and coherence of pre-transition elites to a great extent determined the type of transition and thus, the consolidation tasks.  This did differ from country to country. E.g. in Poland, where an ethical (not political) civil society did develop, the force for change was great, but the ability of such groups to govern was undermined by their anti-political/apolitical approach.  This is in contrast to Hungary where a political society was developed pre-1989 thus, both governing and the task of consolidation was more straightforward.  Therefore, the noncommunist intelligentsia played an important role in ending communism, but its effect on the chances of consolidation differed depending on its type.

While military/security forces did play a role, they did not substantially shape democratic transition or consolidation.

Individuals do make important differences with respect to regime type (Romania) and the ability to govern (Walesa in Poland). 

External Factors

While “democratic consolidation in an independent country is ultimately determined by domestic forces,” diffusion effects – the process of political learning – were particularly powerful in CEE in 1989.  Also change within the regional hegemon (Soviet Union) increased dramatically the likelihood of change in the system.

B.  Book Summary

Definitions: “A democratic transition is complete when sufficient agreement has been reached about political procedures to produce an elected government, when a government comes to power that is the direct result of a free and popular vote, when this government de facto has the authority to generate new policies, and when the executive, legislative and judicial power generated by the new democracy does not have to share power with other bodies de jure” (3).  Put simply a democracy has become consolidated when it has become “the only game in town” (5).  It has behavioral, attitudinal and constitutional elements (6).

Democratization is distinguished from liberalization.  The former “entails liberalization but is a wider and more specifically political concept” which refers exclusively to the open contestation of the right to control the government, which in turn requires free competitive elections, the results of which determine who governs.  Thus, they are more demanding than Zakaria (“democratic consolidation requires much more than markets” (7)), but do not confuse democracy with liberal democracy. 

Five arenas of a consolidated democracy: Democracy, they argue, is a form of governance of a state.  This necessarily requires the existence of a state. In addition to a functioning state, consolidation of democracy requires: a free and lively civil society; a relatively autonomous political society; the rule of law to ensure legal guarantees for citizens’ freedoms and independent associational life; a usable state bureaucracy; and an institutionalized economic society (which means more than markets, and requires a certain degree of regulation by the state).  Each of these arenas is interrelated and each one is governed by its own organizing principle. Consolidated democracy is the system which describes these elements and processes (see 7-15 and table attached).

“Stateness,” Nationalism, and Democratization.  “Stateness” problems emerge when there is disagreement over who has the right to citizenship of a state.  This is particularly problematic when some consider the nation synonymous with the state.

  • The necessity of a state: “the absence of an organization with the attributes of a modern state…precludes democratic governance over the whole territory of the state, although it might not preclude areas of segmented political authority” (18).
  • State-building and nation-building are overlapping but distinct and separate processes.  However, the interaction between the two is problematic for both stateness and democratization. A nation here is conceived of as an imagined community, whereas a state is a set of institutions which perform specific functions (20-22). 
  • Many states within CEE that emerged after 1918 were not nation states – Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Poland, the enlarged Romania, Lithuania and Latvia (23).
  • In many of the states with which we are concerned, “the nation-state policy often has a different logic than a democratic polity” (25).  That is, minorities can be alienated to varying extents when nation-state-building measures, such as the imposition of one official language and the privileging certain nation-based symbols, are applied.  It can only really work in the rare cases in which there is low cultural diversity and/or all residents of a state “identify with on subjective idea of the nation” (25). 
  • Linz and Stepan bemoan the neglect in the literature of the issue of state legitimacy.  They argue that it is a fundamental issue since “agreements about stateness are logically prior to the creation of democratic institutions” (26).  That, is the rightfulness of the state cannot be in question if democratic consolidation is to take place, since citizenship is central to it (28).
  • Thus for most of the CEE states, becoming both nation-states and consolidated democracies would be “probably impossible,” because they are often multicultural, multinational, and multilingual (30).  Moreover, in these states, the different cultures and nations are often greatly dispersed and intermingled.
  • “In the multinational setting, the chances to consolidate democracy are increased by state policies that grant inclusive and equal citizenship and that give all citizens a common ‘roof’ of state-mandated and enforced individual rights” (33).  Federalism is suggested to create state-nations in which multiple identities can coexist.  Policies should emerge as a result of consensual, not majoritarian, decision-making.

Modern nondemocratic regimes

  • To enable a textured analysis of transition paths and consolidation tasks Linz and Stepan expand the once-dominant tripartite typology of regimes (authoritarian, totalitarian and democratic) by adding two more (post-totalitarian and sultanistic).  These ‘ideal types’ differ from each other with respect to four constituent characteristics of regime type – pluralism, ideology, mobilization and leadership.  This is described on table 3.1 (attached) (38-54).
  • With respect to CEE countries, Poland is coded as closest to authoritarianism, Czechoslovakia and Hungary are coded as frozen post-totalitarian and mature post-totalitarian respectively, and Romania is closest to sultanistic/totalitarianism.

The Implications of Prior Regime Type for Transition Paths and Consolidation Tasks

  • Given the characteristics of the ideal-typical regimes, it is clear that they face a number of different tasks and will take varying paths in order to achieve a consolidated democracy.  The tables 4.2 and 4.3 in the theoretical overview show what these tasks and paths look like.  They are attached and will be supplemented later when the country-specific chapters are summarized.

Actors and Contexts

  • Linz and Stepan throw two ‘actor centered’ variables and three ‘context variables’ into the mix.  The two actor centered variables “concern the leadership base of the prior nondemocratic regime and the question of who initiates and who controls the transition.  The three context variables relate to international influences, the political economy of legitimacy and coercion, and constitution-making environments” (66).
  • The “leadership base of the prior nondemocratic regime” could include: a hierarchical military (associated only with authoritarian regimes), a nonhierarchical military, a civilian elite, and the distinctive category of sultanistic elites.
  • A number of groups/events could initiate and/or control the transition.  Where transitions are initiated by civil society uprising, sudden collapse of the nondemocratic regime, armed revolution, or a non-hierarchically-led military coup, the instruments of rule will “tend to be assumed by a provisional government.  Transitions initiated by hierarchical state-led or regime-led forces will not” (71).
  • International influences include: foreign policies, which may seek and achieve regime change, subversion or a change in incentive structures (although they point out that “democratic consolidation in an independent country is ultimately determined by domestic forces”); zeitgeist, which refers to cases in which a particular ideology becomes the spirit of the times; and diffusion, the process by which political learning may take place.  Diffusion is usually over a matter of weeks or days, which is unlike zeitgeist which occurs over eras.  Diffusion effects were particularly powerful in CEE in 1989 (67-76).
  • The political economy of legitimacy and coercion. Combining politics and economics and focusing on legitimacy, allows one to more accurately and to a greater extent consider why certain transitions took place at certain times and in certain ways, rather than simply looking at economic factors.  Perception of alternatives, system blame, and legitimacy beliefs are key elements to this story (77).  Prolonged economic growth may contribute to social changes that make the cost of repression too high which in turn may facilitate transition (78).  Evidence suggests that “a democratic regime has more insulation from economic difficulty than does a nondemocratic regime (80).
  • Attention should also be paid to constitution-making environments (81-83).

Post-Communist Europe

  • International influences played a special role, given the USSR, which helps to understand the timing of the transitions. “Without a domestic change in the hegemon…it was extremely difficult for either Central and Eastern European elites (dependent on Soviet political control) or Central and Eastern European masses (coercible by domestic elites credibly supported by the hegemon) to initiate new political processes that might have led to democratic transitions” (238).
  • The decision of Gorbachev to cut military spending and thus, make significant withdrawals of troops and military equipment, according to Gati, “more than any other single event…set the stage for the dramatic developments of 1989.”  These changes in the centre detrimentally affected the repressive leaders in Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Romania and Bulgaria and emboldened the reform wings of the respective communist parties and the democratic opposition “in all countries in Eastern Europe” (242-3).  Here, the political economy of coercion played its role – “the cost of intervention was greater than the cost of toleration” (244).
  • The “simultaneity problem” is the problem CEE states have faced when, in addition to making a political transition, had to simultaneously make a transition to the market economy.
  • Civil society – many of the organizations that might normally be associated with civil society – unions, agrarian collectives, cultural societies etc. – were often, in the CEE cases, funded, formed and penetrated by the state.  Some religious organizations, particularly the internationally organized Catholic Church served as an autonomous, oppositional society.  However, orthodox Christianity oftentimes did not (245).
  • Political society – L+S point out that because of the communist experience ‘parties’ had negative connotations which retarded the development of political society.
  • Rule of law – under high Stalinism the concept of law was fundamentally at odds with liberal constitutionalism. It was often instrumentally applied and “heavily dependent on the party’s initiative and interpretation.”  Under post-totalitarian regimes some generic legal binding did emerge.  However, “legal culture” has to be the “creation of new democracies” (249).
  • Usable state – potential problems with regimes of the totalitarian or post-totalitarian ideal type include: dependent bureaucracy; problem of the temptation to purge the bureaucracy upon transition; the informer legacy.  Mass lustration can end up fomenting support for ‘reformed’ communist parties (250-1).
  • Economic society – “most commentaries fail to highlight the crucial social, political, and state requisites of modern market economies.”  They emphasize that economic societies, not simply markets, have developed in modern democracies.  “These have been socially constructed by economic incentives and a complex interplay of societal norms, government policies, and state-sanctioned rules that regulate…contracts, the rights and privileges of private (and public) property, and banking and credit systems…In a totalitarian regime of the communist type, none of the above listed (minimal) components of an effective, socially constructed, economic society exist” (252).

Poland – Authoritarian Communism, Ethical Civil Society, and Ambivalent Political Society

Four interrelated arguments:

  1. 1.      L+S argue that “Poland is the only country in Eastern Europe that was always closer to an authoritarian than to a totalitarian regime.”
  • L+S assert that some fundamental elements of Polish politics and society did not fit the totalitarian regime type.  In particular, there was always “a significant de facto degree of societal pluralism” which enabled parts of civil society to resist ideological mobilization.  Note: resistance had to come through civil society because there was no political society.
  • The areas key to such resistance were the Catholic Church (especially given its formal organization and transnational base), which remained relatively autonomous (although the church agreed not to become overly involved in political activities), peasant cooperatives in agriculture, a degree of “collegial power-sharing” (258).
  • Stateness is central to understanding how Poland was able to assume this character.  First, the loss of Jewish, ethnically German and Byelorussian minorities “left the overwhelming majority of Poland’s citizens ethnically Polish and Roman Catholic.  “This was the first true nation-state in Polish history” (288).  Second, the Red Army failed to support Polish resistance fighters in WWII, generating nationalist antagonism toward the USSR.
  • Also, the army, at critical moments, “by their ambivalence and slowness to act, de facto checked the possibility of totalitarian state power (260).  They would go on to control the country thus promoting an “authoritarian-bureaucratic, non-ideological army state” (264).
  1. 2.      From 1976-1988 “the dominant ethos, structure and language of conflict in Poland were between the nation’s ‘ethical civil society’ and the regime’s internationalized, authoritarian party state.”
  • Gomulka’s 1956 agreement to allow the church to teach religion in public schools protected the church henceforth.  Also, after this, universities were given greater autonomy and creativity than elsewhere in CEE.  These factors helped to develop an oppositional hegemony illustrated by the popularity of groups such as Solidarity and in opinion polls that show “deep social rejection of a totalitarian vision of state and society” (262).  People thus acted, in Michnik’s phrase, “as if they were free” (263).
  • Between 1981 and 1989 five institutions interacted to shape the timing and tempo of the eventual transition: the security services, the army, the Soviet-related party, the Catholic Church, and Solidarity (264).
  1. 3.      “Precisely because Poland in 1988-89 was an authoritarian regime led by party-soldiers – and was the first of East Europe’s transitions – the regime initiated and the opposition accepted a ‘pacted transition’ comparable to those we have seen in Chile and Brazil.”
  • “Both the government and the opposition overestimated the government’s strength” – thus both sides made more concessions than would have done had they known what the results would be.
  • Crucial compromises were made, making only 35 percent of the seats in the 1989 Sjem elections free, creating a directly elected Senate and a strong indirectly elected Presidency.  Thus conflicting legacies were bequeathed (268).
  • The “price paid by Poland for being first was that its pacted transition delayed and retarded its democratic transition and consolidation” (267).
  1. 4.      “The new democracy’s origins in an ethical civil society, a pacted transition, and very rapidly, a semipresidential system with a directly elected charismatic leader created a legacy of ambivalence toward political society which must be transcended before Poland can consolidate democracy.”
  • One important legacy is that in political society representation is difficult to achieve.  First, the lack of independent capital meant people lack material interests to be protected.  Second, a social democratic party was difficult to establish because of the ambivalence towards communists.  Third, there is a conception of civil society as antithetical to the state and the development of a “politics of anti-politics.” 
  • The irony is that “most of the values and language of ethical civil society that were so functional in the tasks of opposition are dysfunctional for a political society in a consolidated democracy” (272).  The attitudes towards compromise, interests, the state and conflict are all negative.
  • Significantly, Walesa was anti-politics and anti-party, which inhibited political society.
  • The decision not to have minimum percentage of the vote to get seats in parliament meant that it was extremely difficult to form a government when in 1991 no party (out of 29) received more than 14 percent of the vote (275-7).
  • More difficulties emerged from the fact that Walesa was elected before the constitution was written.  “This fact complicated the constitution-making process in general and exacerbated the conflicts between minority prime ministers and the no-party president in particular” (280).
  • Surveys from the early 1990s showed low levels of trust in the government and democratic institutions, while simultaneously giving high ratings to economic performance (thus people were able to delink the two issues clearly).

Varieties of Post-Totalitarian Regimes: Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria

  • Two main types of post-totalitarianism: post-totalitarianism “by choice” (which involves some form of liberalization from the centre) and post-totalitarianism “by decay” (involving hollowing of commitment to ideology, possible degeneration of mobilizing efforts, and the emergence of resistance pockets) (293).  Post-totalitarianism necessarily emerges out of totalitarianism and should be considered as a continuum from early post-totalitarianism toward frozen post-totalitarianism (when no further evolution is taking place along the continuum) and mature post-totalitarianism (which may be close to an out-of-type change to democracy or authoritarianism) (294).
  • Hungary is a case of a negotiated transition from mature post-totalitarianism.  Its “detotalitarianisation” began in spring 1962 when Kadar advocated a “politics of alliance” – “those who are not against us, are with us,” he said (298).  Economic change initiated by the 1972 New Economic Mechanism precipitated the development of economic society, i.e. increased rule of law, regulation, quasi-markets and private property.  A second economy emerged which in turn had social and then political implications. 

L+S argue that while “political out-of-type change did not begin until 1989…economic out-of-type change began in 1982” (300).  In 1982 a new set of regulations were passed which expanded property rights.  In the late 1980s opposition groups began to emerge and challenge the Kadar regime for which the political economy of the regime was coming under increasing pressure.  The political movements that began in 1987/8 coupled with the rise in social movements contributed to the “passage of a new law of association which in turn helped pave the way for a multiparty system” – former parties soon after announced their reactivation (302).

“By our regime criteria of pluralism, ideology, mobilization and leadership, Hungary had already arrived – before the dramatic Polish election – at the brink of a boundary change away from post-totalitarianism” (306).  Unlike any other Eastern European round table, the 1989 negotiations were between “the regime and an already constituted political society, not civil society” (307).

Given the progress made before 1989, the transition tasks Hungary faced were far fewer than for other countries.  Political society was further aided by the selection of a pure parliamentary model of government.  Moreover, constitutional negotiations took place before elections (310).  Economic society was also well developed – “in 1991 [foreign investors] invested as much money in Hungary as they did in the rest of Eastern Europe combined” (313).  The state was also more usable.  Civil society is a bit paradoxical. L+S claim that “political society effectively demobilized civil society” through blocking broader civilian control of the media.  However, they are hopeful about its development.

  • Czechoslovakia is an example of “transition by the collapse of ‘frozen’ post-totalitarianism.  There the regime “simply collapsed.”  The provisional government had “strong anti politics tendencies and rejected an opportunity to develop statewide political parties” (316).  The regime was frozen because it was not moving in the direction of Hungary, but neither did the regime attempt to mobilize enthusiasm.  The vast majority of people were “living a lie,” attempting to live in a “parallel culture” (319).  Even the dissidents in 1988/9 were comprised of small groups which did “not develop an articulated political approach.”  Moreover, the hardline regime gave no space for moderates with whom any pact could be forged.  The regime “collapsed” because the police, media, army and members of the government and the bureaucracy defected en masse (323-327).
  • Bulgaria is a case of “regime-controlled transition from early post-totalitarianism” (333).  “Unlike the transitions in Hungary and Czechoslovakia, the early post-totalitarian regime in Bulgaria initiated and never lost control of the transition, and the leaders of that regime emerged from the first free elections not only with a plurality of the vote, but also with a newly reconstituted claim to power” (355-7).  With respect to pluralism, Bulgaria conformed to the totalitarian ideal type until 1988.  Only by mid- 1989 did independently organized democratic forces become effective.  Even by then there were significantly fewer such organizations than in Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Most opposition emerged after elections and after Roundtable discussions.  Moreover, there was some initial doubt as to how committed the opposition was to democracy (See 341).  However, given the prior regime type, L+S argue that “Bulgaria from 1989-1995 probably ‘overperformed’ democratically” (342).  One reason for this is the pre-transition civil society which was stronger than one might imagine.


The Effects of Totalitarianism-cum-Sultanism on Democratic Transition: Romania

  • Of the CEE countries, “Romania has numerous distinctions.  It had the most violent regime change.  It had the last transition.  It had to most violent regime termination.  It was the only country that had nothing remotely close to a national round table.  It is the country where the successor regime committed the most egregious violations of human rights.  It is the only country where the democratic opposition had yet to win a national election.  It is the only country where a former high Communist office was not only elected to the presidency in the first free election, but re-elected” (344).
  • As the above quote shows, L+S believe Romania to be exceptional.  This was so, in large part, because of from of Ceausescu’s rule which they classify as “sultanistic” (see table for key characteristics).
  • It was also totalitarian – the destalinization which took place in other CEE states was resisted by Ceausescu.  He rose to power though a skillful use of nationalism.  He condemned the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 which increased national and international support and gained him the support of Romanian intellectuals, who struggled to reject him lest it was seen as a sign of support for the Soviet Union.
  • Ceausescu thus created a new form of “anti-Soviet Stalinism” (348).
  • After visiting China and North Korea (he was reportedly more impressed by the cult of Kim Il Sung than Mao) “he almost immediately eliminated the last vestiges of a more relaxed post-totalitarian cultural life” (349).
  • “After 1974 the Romanian regime never became less totalitarian but it did become increasingly sultanistic.  This combination made the Romanian regime very resistant to any form of nonviolent transformation” (349).
  • Leadership: he was “unbounded by rational legal constraints…and his rule was highly personalistic and arbitrary.”  Moreover, he placed much of his family in high-ranking positions, making his wife “the second most powerful person in the country.”  His personalistic rule was reflected in the publication of 160 “books” and the fact that, as Mary Ellen Fisher argues, “no Romanian official could deliver a report or write an article without referring to President Ceausescu’s personal insight and leadership as a major source of inspiration and leadership.”  He also personally designed many building and industrial projects (350).
  • Pluralism: “The essence of pluralism in sultanism is that no one is free from the exercise of despotic power.”  Thus there was “no degree of institutional autonomy or pluralism in Romania.”  This includes the Orthodox Church (351).  The dissidents that did exist operated “alone or almost alone” (352).  “Of all the countries we consider in this book, Romania is the only country where not one genuinely full-blown samizdat publication appeared.  In no other country was penetration by, and fear of, the ruler and his security services so intense” (352-3).
  • Ideology: “there was indeed an elaborate ideology of the sort that is a key characteristic of totalitarianism and that is not normally associated with sultanism” (354).  Over time, however, the standard Marxism-Leninism was contorted by Ceausescu’s manipulation which was increasingly opportunistic and expedient.  Thus, “in this context Marxism as a living ideology virtually died out in Romania” (355).
  • Mobilization: “designed not so much to ‘mobilize enthusiasm’ but to ensure the sultan’s control of the population by reducing private space and the scope for any form of unauthorized activity” (356).
  • Missing players for pacted transition: no civil society, no “soft liners” in regime.
  • The special role of violence and international influence: the absence of incentives and vehicles for regime-led, or pacted, democratic transition made a violent end to the regime more likely.  External events, under these circumstances, can be influential, acting as an exogenous shock to the system.
  • Because the regime was so closely associated with one person/family, there is a possibility that groups very close to the old regime may ‘capture’ the revolution (358).  The success of the revolution was the toppling of the Ceausescu clan not the installation of democratic institutions.  The sultanistic nature of the regime helps to explain why many high communists did well in elections in the major cities as well as the countryside.
  • Illiescu became more popular during his reign, abolishing many of the measures personally associate with Ceausescu.  While he did not develop democratic processes or institutions some of these acts created more freedoms.
  • The simmering stateness problem has been “exploited by Ceausescu’s successors” who have made nationalist appeals, exaggerating the threat to national integrity (363).

When Democracy and the Nation-State Are Conflicting Logics: Estonia and Latvia

  • “Estonia and Latvia had the most substantial prior experience of democratic politics than any of the Soviet republics.”  They, as well as Lithuania, were independent from 1918-1940 (403).  Thus, unlike many other former Soviet states, they “had a usable democratic past.”  However, “these countries had a radically different demography when they became independent again in 1989.”
  • Both Estonia and Latvia witnessed a considerable decline of titular groups by about twenty percent between 1934 and 1989 and a rise of about twenty percent of Russians, which then comprised around one-third of the population (403).  Lithuania’s Lithuanian population actually increased by about 10 percent, and although the Russian population increased, it stood at about 9 percent of the population as of 1989.
  • However, L+S are minded to point out that the Russian populations in the Baltics are not on the whole “transient,” the label given to them by nationalistic politicians.
  • Given their demographic make-up, however, there is a tension in Estonia and Latvia between the logic of a nation-state and the logic of a liberal democracy (this is not the case, however, for Lithuania).
  • After 1990, there was debate about what type of democracy would be implemented: “an inclusionary liberal democracy based on citizenship for almost all permanent residents or an exclusionary ‘ethnic democracy’ only for 1940 descendents” (408).
  • Research done in 1992 showed that despite being of Russian origin, the vast majority of ethnic Russians and other non-Balts “felt proud of being residents of their respective republics.”  Thus, they had multiple and complementary identities (This may also have something to do with the crisis of Russian identity during the Soviet era.)
  • Language is a problem for ethnic Russians, many of whom do not speak the titular language.  Indeed, L+S hypothesize “that Russians would want their children to learn a Baltic language simply to improve their repertoire of coping skills” (413).
  • “At independence, on linguistic grounds alone the population in the Baltics (especially in Estonia) was absolutely culturally unassimilable into a democratic nation-state for one of two generations.”  However, they assert that the Russian minorities were able “to be rapidly politically integrated into a democracy” (414).  This is due to their “low positive identification with the homeland, their tendency to some degree of dual identity, their strong sense that their…life chances would be better in the Baltics…and…their overall positive evaluation of political changes that have taken place in their republics.”
  • Estonia passed a law on citizenship, which “in effect disenfranchised almost forty percent of the population” (minorities born after 1940 were excluded) prior to the 1992 elections, which were the key foundational moment. Also, in 1989 a language law was passed, which required that Estonian language requirements would be imposed for all jobs in services or trade within two years.  These laws are part of the logic of the nation state and to argue for a broader definition of them would be logically contradictory.
  • Despite the exclusionary tenor of Latvian and Estonian politics, ethnic Russians have similarly positive assessments of the system of government and for the future.  This is attributed to a perception that they possess improved political liberties.  However, opinion polls do identify the view that the majority of ethnic Russians believe the current system is worse at protecting the rights of Russians.
  • The EC also placed pressure on Estonia’s president Meri to veto a bill undermining the legal rights of non-citizens, which he duly did.
  • In sum, “during 1991-93 in Estonia, the logic of language, and the politics of nation-state building, based on a narrow definition of citizenship, led to a shrinkage of the political and social spaces where Estonians and non-Estonians interacted and competed democratically.” These obstacles to democracy were created by politicians.

Post-Communist Europe: Concluding Comparative Reflections

  • The danger of an inverted legitimacy pyramid: L+S argue that the “Spanish sequence of political reform, socioeconomic reform, and then economic reform was optimal for that country.”  They hold that a similar sequencing would have been more optimal in CEE and the CIS.  They argue that “more consideration should have been given in the post-Communist cases to the cost of neglecting political reforms, especially state reconstruction.” This is because of the need to create not simply markets but economic society (436/7).  The Latin American cases show that “effective privatization…is best done by relatively strong states that are able to implement a coherent policy.”  “The key is a strong state and not necessarily a democracy” (437). 
  • L+S disagree with “free market enthusiasts” who argue that “privatization, however it is accomplished” will suffice in creating the key structural prerequisite for market democracies.  At the apex of legitimacy of the new regime are overall democratic processes.  They argue that “the essence of empirical findings and historical studies of Western democracies has always been that political systems of democracy legitimate market economies, not the reverse.”  To privilege economic reform is to invert the legitimacy pyramid, which may undermine transition. [This appears to support Kolodko et al].
  • On simultaneity of results verses the comparative politics of deferred gratification.  They find that in CEE the “deterioration of the economy does not necessarily translate rapidly into erosion of support for the political system…The perceived legitimacy of the political system has given democratic institutions in East Central Europe an important degree of insulation from the perceived inefficacy of the new economic system” (442/3).  Moreover, respondents throughout CEE thought that both the economic system and the political system would improve.  Thus simultaneity is not necessary, they conclude, adding that the evidence they present demonstrates the “potential danger of policies based on thinking that reflects the inverted legitimacy pyramid.
  • In contrast to the CEE countries, Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus display substantially less support for the post-communist political system (445).  Referring to scores given by Freedom House, they argue that “it seems accurate to say that both the “ceiling” and the “floor” of democratic practices in ECE were substantially higher in 1993 than in the CIS countries” (449).  This is largely attributed to a tight coupling of economic and political judgments.  However, despite their negative judgments about the system, people in the CIS do not want to return to the previous communist system.  Moreover, L+S state that some who argued that events in the early 1990s in Hungary, Poland, and Lithuania reflected “a return of communists” were wrong, and that democracy remained the “only game in town.”

C. Comments

Linz and Stepan offer a nuanced and detailed analysis of both broad trends and specific cases within post-communist Europe that reflect the varying degrees of democratization in the region. Their work serves as a substantial support for many ideas within the PDT’s Working Hypotheses, particularly regarding the role that individual leaders, specific political developments, past and present regime types, and economic and legal contexts play in determining the outcomes of transitions.

Summarized by Tim Weaver, June 2006

Comments and revisions by Shelli Gimelstein, June 2013