The Downfall of Communism in Eastern and Central Europe


The shocking fall of communism in Eastern and Central Europe
in the late eighties was remarkable for both its rapidity and its
scope. The specifics of communism\'s demise varied among nations,
but similarities in both the causes and the effects of these
revolutions were quite similar. As well, all of the nations
involved shared the common goals of implementing democratic
systems of government and moving to market economies. In each of
these nations, the communist regimes in power were forced to
transfer that power to radically different institutions than they
were accustomed to. Democracy had been spreading throughout the
world for the preceding two decades, but with a very important
difference. While previous political transitions had seen
similar circumstances, the actual events in question had
generally occurred individually. In Europe, on the other hand,
the shift from communism was taking place in a different context
altogether. The peoples involved were not looking to affect a
narrow set of policy reforms; indeed, what was at stake was a
hyper-radical shift from the long-held communist ideology to a
western blueprint for governmental and economic policy
development. The problem inherent in this type of monumental
change is that, according to Ulrich K. Preuss, "In almost all the
East and Central European countries, the collapse of
authoritarian communist rule has released national, ethnic,
religious and cultural conflicts which can not be solved by
purely economic policies" (47). While tremendous changes are
evident in both the governmental and economic arenas in Europe,
these changes cannot be assumed to always be "mutually
reinforcing" (Preuss 47). Generally it has been theorized that
the most successful manner of addressing these many difficulties
is the drafting of a constitution. But what is clear is the
unsatisfactory ability of a constitution to remedy the problems
of nationalism and ethnic differences. Preuss notes that when
the constitutional state gained favor in North America,
it was founded on the principle of the unitary state; it was not
designed to address the lack of national identity which is found
throughout Europe - and which is counter to the concept of the
constitutional state (48). "Measured in terms of socioeconomic
modernization," writes Helga A. Welsh, "Central and Eastern
European countries had reached a level that was considered
conducive to the emergence of pluralistic policies" (19). It
seemed that the sole reason the downfall of communism, as it
were, took so long was the veto power of the Soviet Union.
According to theories of modernization, the higher the levels of
socioeconomic achievement, the greater the pressure for open
competition and, ultimately, democracy. As such, the nations in
Eastern and Central Europe were seen as "anomalies in
socioeconomically highly-developed countries where particularly
intellectual power resources have become widespread" (Welsh 19).
Due to their longtime adherence to communist policies, these
nations faced great difficulty in making the transition to a
pluralist system as well as a market economy. According to
Preuss, these problems were threefold: The genuine economic
devastations wrought by the communist regimes, the transformation
of the social and economic classes of the command economy into
the social and economic lasses of a capitalist economy and,
finally, the creation of a constitutional structure for
political entities that lack the undisputed integrity of a nation
state (48).

With such problems as these to contend with in re-
engineering their entire economic and political systems, the
people of East Germany seemed to be in a particularly enviable
position. Economically, they were poised to unite with one of
the richest countries, having one of the strongest economies, in
the entire world. In the competition for foreign investment,
such an alliance gave the late German Democratic Republic a
seemingly insurmountable lead over other nations. In regards to
the political aspects of unification, it effectively left a
Germany with no national or ethnic minorities, as well as having
undisputed boundaries. As well, there was no need to create a
constitution (although many of the pitfalls of constitution-
building would have been easily-avoided due to the advantages
Germany had), because the leaders of the GDR had joined the
Federal Republic by accession and, accordingly, allowed its Basic
Law to be extended over their territory. For all the good that
seemed to be imminent as a result of unification, many problems
also arose regarding the political transformation that Germany
was undergoing. Among these problems were the following: the
tensions between the Basic Law\'s simultaneous commitments to
supranational integration and to the German nation state, the
relationship between the nation and the constitution as two
different modes of political integration and the issue of so-
called "backward justice" (Preuss 48). The Federal Republic of
Germany\'s Basic Law has been the longest-lived constitution in
Germany\'s history. Intended to be