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Sources of Post-communist Democratization: Economic Structure, Political Culture, War, and Political Institutions

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 November 2018

Shale Horowitz
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, USA,
E-mail address:


The fall of communist regimes and the breakup of the multinational Soviet and Yugoslav states produced a remarkable experiment in regime change. Twenty-eight old, new and revived states emerged. While most adopted democratic institutions, many others evolved new variants of authoritarian rule. Some new democracies maintained much higher standards in upholding formal democratic rules and complementary freedoms of the press and political organization. How is this variation in initial democratization to be explained? Among countries that initially adopted democracy, how is variation in the survival and development of democratic freedoms to be explained?

Copyright © 2003 Association for the Study of Nationalities 

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1. Alexander Gerschenkron, Bread and Democracy in Germany (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989); Gregory M. Luebbert, Liberalism, Fascism or Social Democracy: Social Classes and the Political Origins of Regimes in Interwar Europe (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991); Barrington Moore, Jr, Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World (Boston: Beacon, 1966); Ronald Rogowski, Commerce and Coalitions: How Trade Affects Domestic Political Alignments (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989).Google Scholar

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6. On presidencies, see Juan J. Linz and Arturo Valenzuela, eds, The Failure of Presidential Democracy (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994); Alfred Stepan and Cindy Skach, “Constitutional Frameworks and Democratic Consolidation: Parliamentarism vs. Presidentialism,” World Politics, Vol. 46, No. 1, 1993, pp. 1–22. On party systems, see Stephan Haggard and Robert R. Kaufman, “The Political Economy of Inflation and Stabilization in Middle-Income Countries,” in Stephan Haggard and Robert R. Kaufman, eds, The Politics of Economic Adjustment: International Constraints, Distributive Conflicts, and the State (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), pp. 270–315. In a related but not identical inquiry, however, Joel S. Hellman, “Winners Take All: The Politics of Partial Reform in Post-communist Transitions,” World Politics, Vol. 50, No. 1, 1998, pp. 203–234, finds that more fragmented political power is more likely to produce effective market reform in post-communist countries.Google Scholar

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9. In other contexts, for example in Latin America and Southern Europe, some have argued that Catholicism has been more favorable to authoritarianism. Weber, Protestant Ethic; Wiarda, “Latin American Tradition.” Elsewhere, for example in Catholic Western Europe following World War II, the relationship seems weaker.Google Scholar

10. Mirella W. Eberts, “The Roman Catholic Church and Democracy in Poland,” Europe-Asia Studies, Vol. 50, No. 5, 1998, pp. 817–842; M. Steven Fish, “Democratization's Requisites: The Post-communist Experience,” Post-Soviet Affairs, Vol. 14, No. 3, 1998, pp. 212–247; Huntington, Clash of Civilizations; Lavinia Stan and Lucian Turcescu, “The Romanian Orthodox Church and Post-communist Democratization,” Europe-Asia Studies, Vol. 52, No. 8, 2000, pp. 1467–1488. The discussion raises the issue of whether religious traditions determine parallel patterns of political rule. For the post-communist countries, this points to the possibility that different historical traditions of imperial rule may have had influences similar to those of religious traditions. Such simultaneous traditional influences are not easy to separate, logically or empirically.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

11. For example: Valerie Bunce, “Comparing East and South,” Journal of Democracy, Vol. 6, No. 3, 1995, p. 91; Fish, “Democracy's Requisites,” pp. 238–239.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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14. For example, market democracy was obviously not such an appealing or feasible alternative during the interwar period—when many post-communist countries last gained political autonomy.Google Scholar

15. See note 5.Google Scholar

16. See note 6. Also compare John T. Ishiyama and Matthew Velten, “Presidential Power and Democratic Development in Post-communist Politics,” Communist and Post-communist Studies, Vol. 31, No. 3, 1998. pp. 217–233.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

17. Haggard and Kaufman, “Political Economy of Inflation and Stabilization.”Google Scholar

18. See Gerald Easter, “Preference for Presidentialism: Post-communist Regime Change in Russia and the NIS,” World Politics, Vol. 49, No. 1, 1997, pp. 184–211; Barbara Geddes, “A Comparative Perspective on the Leninist Legacy in Eastern Europe,” Comparative Political Studies, Vol. 28, No. 2, 1995, pp. 239–274.Google Scholar

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21. The rankings were originally published with one indicating most complete protection of political rights. The scale is inverted here to facilitate understanding of the statistical results. Freedom House, Annual Survey of Freedom Country Ratings 1972–3 to 1999–00 (New York: Freedom House, 2001). See also the Freedom House website: http://www.freedomhouse.orgGoogle Scholar

22. With the exception of Bosnia-Herzegovina—where Islam is the plurality but not the majority religion—the plurality religion is always the majority religion.Google Scholar

23. Ralph Scott Clem, “The Changing Geography of Soviet Nationalities and Its Socioeconomic Correlates, 1926–1970,” Ph.D. dissertation, Columbia University, 1976, p. 278; B. R. Mitchell, European Historical Statistics, 1750–1975 (New York: Facts on File, 1980), series C1; Joseph Rothschild, East Central Europe between the Two World Wars (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1974), pp. 37, 39, 91, 167, 204, 285, 359, 367, 369; Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, “The Non-Agricultural Population,” Yugoslav Survey, Vol. 28, 1987, pp. 3–24. Czechoslovakia is grouped with Hungary and Slovenia in order to use five-level rankings across all four dimensions. Allowing a sixth level for past economic achievement has no significant effect on the results. Slovakia alone falls into the category of around 60%.Google Scholar

24. The classifications in this and the following paragraph reflect the discussions in Ian Bremmer and Ray Taras, eds, New States, New Politics: Building the Post-Soviet Nations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997); D. A. Dyker and I. Vejvoda, eds, Yugoslavia and After: A Study in Fragmentation, Despair and Rebirth (London: Longman, 1996); Zev Katz, ed., Handbook of Major Soviet Nationalities (New York: Free Press, 1975); Rothschild, East Central Europe; Jozo Tomasevich, Peasants, Politics and Economic Change in Yugoslavia (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1955).Google Scholar

25. An alternative indicator of economic development is per capita gross domestic product at purchasing power parity. But the latter statistic is not available for many of the poorest post-communist countries. For data on agricultural share of the workforce and GDP per capita at purchasing power parity, see World Bank, From Plan to Market, pp. 188–189, 194–195; World Bank, The State in a Changing World: World Development Report 1997 (Washington: Oxford University Press, 1997), pp. 214–215, 220–221; Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, “The Non-Agricultural Population.”Google Scholar

26. Information on the incidence and duration of warfare can be found in Karen Dawisha and Bruce Parrott, eds, Conflict, Cleavage, and Change in Central Asia and the Caucasus (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997); Karen Dawisha and Bruce Parrott, eds, The Consolidation of Democracy in East-Central Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997); Karen Dawisha and Bruce Parrott, eds, Democratic Changes and Authoritarian Reactions in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997); Karen Dawisha and Bruce Parrott, eds, Politics, Power, and the Struggle for Democracy in South-East Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997); Bogdan Szajkowski, ed., Political Parties of Eastern Europe, Russia, and the Successor States (London: Longman, 1994).Google Scholar

27. Data on presidencies and party seat shares are taken from Sten Berglund and Jan Åke Dellenbrant, The New Democracies in Eastern Europe, 2nd edn (Aldershot: Edward Elgar, 1994); Center for Political Analysis, Elections in Yugoslavia (Belgrade: Center for Political Analysis, 2002), available at; Centre for the Study of Public Policy, Parties and Elections (Glasgow: University of Strathclyde, 2002), available at; Wilfried Derksen, Elections around the World (2002), available at; Roger East and Jolyon Pontin, Revolution and Change in Central and Eastern Europe, rev. edn (London: Pinter, 1997); European Forum, Country Updates (Brussels: European Forum for Democracy and Solidarity, 2002), available at; Inter-Parliamentary Union, Parline Database (Geneva: Inter-Parliamentary Union, 2002), available at; Adrian Karatnycky, Alexander Motyl and Boris Shor, Nations in Transit 1997: Civil Society, Democracy and Markets in East Central Europe and the Newly Independent States (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 1997); Keesing's Record of World Events (London: Longman, 1989–2001); Wolfram Nordsiek, Parties and Elections in Europe (2002), available at; OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Elections (2000), available at;, The Political Reference Almanac (Arlington, VA: Keynote, 2002), available at; Richard Rose, Neil Munro and Tom Mackie, Elections in Central and Eastern Europe since 1990 (Glasgow: University of Strathclyde, Centre for the Study of Public Policy, 1998). See also the sources cited in note 26.Google Scholar

28. If the religion and frustrated national ideals variables are all included, the frustrated national ideals variable consistently has greater statistical significance and explanatory power. (The Muslim dummy variable retains its statistical significance, unlike the Christian Orthodox dummy variable.) This is also the case for the models of Tables 3 and 4, discussed later. Results are available upon request.Google Scholar

29. Note the smaller number of data points. The excluded, non-democratic countries are Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and, for the second two time-spans, Belarus. Kyrgyzstan is excluded owing to incomplete data.Google Scholar

30. The results for time-weighted averages of party system concentration indices are virtually identical. Results are available upon request.Google Scholar

31. For 1991–1993, 1995–1997 and 1999, the correlation coefficients between Christian Orthdoxy and strength of presidential powers are 0.183, 0.403 and 0.420, respectively.Google Scholar

32. One could obtain results similar to the religion variables with indicators for history of Russian, Ottoman, Austrian, German or Swedish imperial rule.Google Scholar

33. Powers and Cox, “Echoes from the Past,” offer a suggestive study of mass opinion in Poland. Suggestive case studies of the political process of democratization are provided by Herbert Kitschelt, Zdenka Mansfeldova, Radoslaw Markowski and Gábor Tóka, Post-communist Party Systems: Competition, Representation, and Inter-party Cooperation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999); Juan J. Linz and Alfred Stepan, Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation: Southern Europe, South America, and Post-communist Europe (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996); and the sources in notes 26 and 27.Google Scholar

34. See note 28.Google Scholar

35. George Tsebelis, “Decision Making in Political Systems: Veto Players in Presidentialism, Parliamentarism, Multicameralism and Multipartyism,” British Journal of Political Science, Vol. 25, No. 3, 1995, pp. 289–325.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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