Skip to main content Accessibility help

The Myth of the Post-Communist Citizen: Communist Legacies and Political Trust

  • Brad Epperly


In assessing legacy-based explanations for the “trust deficit” observed in the post-communist region, I argue that one need first specify what kind of legacy is being considered: either between post-communist countries and another region, or among the post-communist states. I further contend that the most valid reference for legacies is Western Europe, not the globe. Using data from the European Social Survey (2002–10), I examine the association between sociodemographic factors and political trust in Eastern and Western Europe, and communist legacy effects among post-communist states. Results answer the question of legacies with a strong negative: no evidence is found that communist legacies account for the trust deficit, and I examine four empirical implications instead suggesting this deficit is the result of poor institutional performance.



Hide All

The author would like to thank Stephen Hanson, Josh Tucker, and conference participants at the NYU Florence La Pietra Dialogues, Midwestern Political Science Association, and Council for European Studies for feedback on earlier drafts of this essay.



Hide All
Beissinger, Mark (2002) Nationalist Mobilization and the Collapse of the Soviet State. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Beissinger, Mark, and Kotkin, Stephen (2014) “Historical legacies of communism: An empirical agenda,” in Beissinger, Mark and Kotkin, Stephen (eds.) Historical Legacies of Communism in Russia and Eastern Europe. New York: Cambridge University Press: 127.
Catterberg, Gabriela, and Morena, Alejandro (2005) “The individual bases of political trust: Trends in new and established democracies.” International Journal of Public Opinion Research 18 (1): 3148.
de Melo, Martha, Denizer, Cevdet, Gelb, Alan, and Tenev, Stoyan (2001) “Circumstance and choice: The role of initial conditions and policies in transition economies.” The World Bank Economic Review 15 (1): 131.
Ekiert, Grzegorz, and Hanson, Stephen E. (2003) Capitalism and Democracy in Central and Eastern Europe: Assessing the Legacy of Communist Rule. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Ekiert, Grzegorz, and Kubik, Jan (1998) “Contentious politics in new democracies: East Germany, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, 1989–93.” World Politics 50 (4): 547–81.
Epperly, Brad (2011) “Institutions and legacies: Electoral volatility in the postcommunist world.” Comparative Political Studies 44 (8): 829–53.
European Social Survey (2012a) ESS-5 2010 documentation report. London, UK: European Social Survey Data Archive Norwegian Social Science Data Services.
European Social Survey (2012b) “European social survey,” (accessed February 16).
Freedom House (2016) “Nations in transit 2016,” (accessed February 16).
Freitag, Markus, and Buhlmann, Marc (2009) “Crafting trust: The role of political institutions in a comparative perspective.” Comparative Political Studies 42 (12): 1537–66.
Frye, Timothy (2010) Building States and Markets after Communism: The Perils of Polarized Democracy. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Frye, Timothy (2014) “The limits of legacies: Property rights in Russian energy,” in Beissinger, Mark R. and Kotkin, Stephen (eds.) Historical Legacies of Communism in Russia and Eastern Europe. New York: Cambridge University Press: 90110.
Gaddy, Clifford G. (2014) “Room for error: The economic legacy of Soviet spatial misallocation,” in Beissinger, Mark R. and Kotkin, Stephen (eds.) Historical Legacies of Communism in Russia and Eastern Europe. New York: Cambridge University Press: 5266.
Grzymala-Busse, Anna (2007) Rebuilding Leviathan: Party Competition and State Exploitation in Post-Communist Democracies. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Hanson, Stephen E. (2009) “The contribution of area studies,” in Landman, Todd and Robinson, Neil (eds.) Sage Handbook of Comparative Politics. Los Angeles: Sage: 159–74.
Howard, Marc Morje (2003) The Weakness of Civil Society in Post-Communist Europe. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Ishiyama, John (2015) “Regime legacies and governance in post-communist states.” Taiwan Journal of Democracy 11 (2): 124.
Jowell, R. (2003) European social survey 2002–2003: Technical report. London, UK: Centre for Comparative Social Surveys, City University of London.
Jowitt, Ken (1992) New World Disorder: The Leninist Extinction. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Kitschelt, Herbert (2002) “Accounting for post-communist regime diversity,” in Hanson, Stephen E. and Ekiert, Grzegorz (eds.) Capitalism and Democracy in Central and Eastern Europe. New York: Cambridge University Press: 4986.
Kurtz, Marcus J., and Schrank, Andrew (2007) “Growth and governance: Models, measures, and mechanisms.” Journal of Politics 69 (2): 538–54.
Letki, Natalya, and Evans, Geoffrey (2005) “Endogenizing social trust: Democratization in East-Central Europe.” British Journal of Political Science 35 (3): 515–29.
Lieven, Anatol (1994) The Baltic Revolution: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the Path to Independence. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Lovell, David W. (2001) “Trust and the politics of postcommunism.” Communist and Post- Communist Studies 34 (1): 2738.
Luhiste, Kadri (2006) “Explaining trust in political institutions: Some illustrations from the Baltic States.” Communist and Post-Communist Studies 39 (4): 475–96.
McFaul, Michael (2002) “The fourth wave of democracy and dictatorship: Noncooperative transitions in the postcommunist world.” World Politics 54 (2): 212–44.
Mishler, William, and Rose, Richard (1997) “Trust, distrust and skepticism: Popular evaluations of civil and political institutions in post-communist societies.” Journal of Politics 59 (2): 418–51.
Mishler, William, and Rose, Richard (1998) “Trust in untrustworthy institutions: Culture and institutional performance in post-communist societies.” Number 310. Centre for the Study of Public Policy, University of Stratchlyde.
Mishler, William, and Rose, Richard (2001) “What are the origins of political trust?Comparative Political Studies 34 (1): 3062.
Murrell, Peter, and Yijiang, Wang (1993) “When privatization should be delayed: The effect of communist legacies on organizational and institutional reforms.” Journal of Comparative Economics 17 (2): 385406.
Pfaff, Steven (2006) Exit-Voice Dynamics and the Collapse of East Germany: The Crisis of Leninism and the Revolution of 1989. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Pop-Eleches, Grigore (2007) “Historical legacies and post-communist regime change.” Journal of Politics 69 (41): 908–26.
Pop-Eleches, Grigore (2015) “Pre-communist and communist developmental legacies.” East European Politics and Societies 29 (2): 391408.
Pop-Eleches, Grigore, and Tucker, Joshua A. (2011) “Communism’s shadow: Postcommunist legacies, values, and behavior.” Comparative Politics 43 (4): 379408.
Pop-Eleches, Grigore, and Tucker, Joshua A. (2017) Communism’s Shadow: Historical Legacies and Contemporary Political Attitudes. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Popova, Maria (2012). “Why doesn’t the Bulgarian judiciary prosecute corruption?Problems of Post-Communism 59 (5): 3549.
Reeskens, Tim, and Hooghe, Marc (2008) “Cross-cultural measurement equivalence of generalized trust.” Social Indicators Research 85 (3): 515–32.
Smith, Graham, Law, Vivien, Wilson, Andrew, Bohr, Annette, and Allworth, Edward (1998) Nation-Building in the Post-Soviet Borderlands: The Politics of National Identities. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Szporluk, Roman (1990) “The imperial legacy and the Soviet nationalities problem,” in Hajda, Lubomyr and Beissinger, Mark R. (eds.) The Nationalities Factor in Soviet Politics and Society. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Wezel, Katja (2010) Lettlands “Ruckkehr nach Europa”—Erfullung eines lettischen Traums? Der EU-Beitritt als Projekt der lettischen Elite. Nordost-Archiv XVIII: 132151.
Wittenberg, Jason (2015) “Conceptualizing historical legacies.” East European Politics and Societies 29 (2): 366–78.
World Bank (2013) “Worldwide Governance Indicators,” (accessed February 16).
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Social Science History
  • ISSN: 0145-5532
  • EISSN: 1527-8034
  • URL: /core/journals/social-science-history
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Epperly supplementary material
Epperly supplementary material 1

 PDF (304 KB)
304 KB


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed