Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law Stanford University


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Theorizing about Post-Communist Transitions: A book review of Klaus von Beyme's "Transitions to Democracy in Eastern Europe"

Book Review

Michael A. McFaul - Stanford University

Published by
Slavic Review, April 4, 1998

Almost a decade after the collapse of communism in Europe, western scholars and analysts of this part of the world have still not agree upon a common definition, description, metaphor, or framework, let alone an explanation of what happened in 1989 and what has occurred in postcommunist Europe since then. For many, this event represented the collapse of the last great colonial empire. For these scholars, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the freeing of liberated territories should be compared to other instances of empires collapsing, such as the Ottoman empire, the Hapsburg empire, or the English empire. Others have labeled this tumultuous decade an example of economic reform.For these analysts, other developing countries that have undergone macroeconomic stabilization and structural adjustment in the 1980s provide the comparison. Some have called these momentous changes revolutions and compared them to other great periods of revolutionary change, such as the end of the eighteenth century or the beginning of the twentieth century. For others, these changes have been viewed as a transition to democracy, making the Soviet Union one of the last places where the third wave of democracy splashed and establishing southern Europe and South America as the basis for comparison.