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6 - The End of Communist Rule in Europe: A Comparative Perspective on the Fragility and Robustness of Regimes

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 November 2022

Richard Ned Lebow
Affiliation:
King's College London
Ludvig Norman
Affiliation:
Stockholms Universitet
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Summary

Yearnings for political change – dormant for decades, suppressed by coercion and perceptions of unattainability – can suddenly appear realizable with the emergence of new stimuli and facilitating conditions. For a Fourth Wave of Democratization, which ended Communist rule in Europe, the Gorbachev-led fundamental change of the Soviet political system and of Soviet foreign policy was the crucial facilitator. There was a circular flow of influence, which began but did not end in Moscow, in which a liberalization that evolved into democratization in the Soviet Union acted as a stimulus to pressure from below in East-Central Europe. But the attainment of decommunization and national independence in those countries emboldened the most disaffected nations within the Soviet multinational state. The transformation of the Soviet political system was consciously sought by Gorbachev, but the fragility of the state in conditions of political pluralism became evident. The USSR was not in crisis in 1985 but fundamental reform led to crisis by 1990–91. Gorbachev’s embrace of political pluralism plus Yeltsin’s paradoxical demand for Russian independence from the Union led to the Soviet breakup. Even apparently consolidated political orders, America’s included, are potentially fragile, as Trump’s attempted subversion of US democracy, with Republican Congressional backing, has underlined.

Type
Chapter
Information
Robustness and Fragility of Political Orders
Leader Assessments, Responses, and Consequences
, pp. 141 - 175
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

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