Abstract

Democratization in Central Europe is a success story in historical perspective. Twenty years after the spectacular collapse of communism, most countries, which had belonged to the “buffer zone” between West Germany and the Soviet Union, now belong to the European Union. The transition was relatively short and was characterized by negotiations, self-limiting behavior, and nonviolence of the participants (with the exception of the Romanian revolution). The ideas of 1989 included negative freedom, free market liberalism, consensual democracy, civil society, and the wish to return to Europe, determined by the social, political, and economic legacies of communism. The short transition was followed by a longer and more difficult consolidation, which was parallel with economic restructuring, privatization, and deregulation. The pain of economic transformation was socially accepted as an “inevitable” part of the process. Social peace could therefore be based on the patience of these societies as well as on the hope to enter NATO and the European Union. In a way, it was an externally driven consolidation. In 2004, most of the Central European countries joined the European Union, which caused a landslide political change in their internal politics. While countries of Central Europe are now inside the EU, which caused some parallel changes in the leadership, the end of post-communism did not seem to bring fundamentally more innovative political elites into the leadership of these societies.