30 Years of Post-Communism with Well-Deserved Gloom. But Why and By Whom?
Western failures in Eastern Europe and at home, coupled with Eastern Europeans’ impotence, have entrenched post-communism, the highest stage of communism.
A specter is haunting Europe. The specter of post-communism…
It has just been 30 years since “communism” ended.
And there isn’t a word in that above sentence that isn’t highly questionable. For a close scrutiny reveals that neither was it last weekend, nor was it 30 years ago, nor was it communism, nor did it end.
But the human mind easily gets lost in too many conditionalities so it’s best to do what economic science, political science, and social sciences in general do when erecting their entire edifices on the faulty foundations of the “rational choice theory”. They do that not because the rational choice theory is correct, for it isn’t, but because otherwise their scientific-ness would be non-existent.
So, of course, the event at hand here is the 30th anniversary since November 9 – 10, 1989, when the Berlin Wall “fell”, and so did the supposedly communist semi-totalitarian, semi-authoritarian Soviet satellite dictatorships in the countries of Eastern Europe, which had had the unfortunate fate of being occupied by Stalin’s Red Army at the end of World War II. The Soviet Union itself teetered on the brink of collapse for two more years until it got dissolved by the newly emerged leaders of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus in December 1991.
Then the story is well-known – the former Soviet satellites then democratized, restored market economy and private property, and personal freedom, and sought to gain or regain their status as Western and European countries, a process that has been formalized even since 1999 through their gradual accession to NATO and the European Union – whose membership is precisely the formal recognition of those changes.
Meanwhile, the Soviet Union’s main successor state, Russia, grew relatively rich thanks to mostly growing and gas prices, kept getting “insulted” by the West, and became “resurgent”, shaping a new great power dynamic on the European continent.
But for more than the dozen of Eastern European countries, the continent’s middle tier, from Estonia in the north to Bulgaria in the south, and for their Western allies and partners, this “end of communism” thing has been a major success story, right? It has boosted freedom, democracy, the economy, peace, security, stability…
Then why has there been all that gloom when Germany, Eastern Europe, and supposedly all of Europe and the world celebrated, or at least acknowledged the 30th anniversary since the Fall of the Berlin Wall, the lifting of the Iron Curtain, the end of the Cold War (btw, that historical period had some swell vocabulary!), the end of communism, and the end of history?
What happened? These was supposed to be a success story – and it has been in so many respects. But why the bitter aftertaste?!
Indeed, the gloom and the bitter aftertaste surrounding this end of communism anniversary of a very mature age are very real – even the mainstream media got it dead right this time.
There are two very simple and conspicuous reasons justifying feeling some deep disillusionment 30 years on.
First, “communism” didn’t exactly end. It metamorphosed into post-communism. This means that Eastern Europe didn’t change the way it was supposed, or assumed to.
Second, the democratic, capitalist, liberal West has managed to mess it up big time in the process, going to utterly unnecessary ideological extremes, losing direction and sight of what truly matters, perhaps because it lost its overt outside threat, all the while shooting itself in both feet more often than not in terms of international politics.
Let’s start with the first reason there: the rise of post-communism, a “mature” or “developed” version of communism. (Again, “communism” as a term refers to whatever these dictatorial regimes in Eastern Europe were during the Cold War, not to the supposed theoretical utopian “communism” which has never existed and never will).
In case you aren’t aware, because of the impossibility of “building” the communism paradise even according to their own goals, the dictatorial regimes in Eastern Europe kept “deluding” themselves and their subjects that they had to go through different stages starting from early socialism and gradually advancing to “developed socialism” or “mature socialism”, after which there would arrive real communism in full swing. It never did.
(They loved erroneously seeing historical development in stages in general, just remember Vladimir Lenin’s famous essay “Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism”.)
But I think I’d be fully justified to describe precisely post-communism as “developed communism”, or “mature communism”, or “the highest stage of communism”. Remember, “communism” here refers to those regimes in Eastern Europe, not to the concept of communism.
These regimes were never about that concept, never about the people, they were about murderous thieving, corrupt “elites”, the class of red aristocrats who had risen from rags to riches overnight through violence as a result of the advance of the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany, followed up with spineless opportunism, and blind obedience to the very top (or the two tops – the local dictator and the bigger one in Moscow). The supposed “ruling class” of the artificially created “proletariat” was a mass of slaves for all practical purposes.
So how did the red aristocracy achieve its highest stage in post-communism, and what does post-communism even mean?
Post-communism is a simple mimicry in which the communist aristocracy went from enjoying the top status in an non-functional closed-off states with a clear distinction between good and evil, they being the evil, to becoming the globalized, often westernized, legitimized unrestrained elite of presumably free and democratic market-based societies with a massively blurred line between good and evil.
The Commies literally hit the jackpot with the transition after 1989 – for the overwhelming part, they were not dispossessed of their criminally acquired power and wealth. Not only did they keep it, they grew it immensely.
To quote great American satirist Dave Barry’s 1989 “Dave Barry Slept Here”, the so called communist revolutions had overthrown “the corrupt murdering scumball ruling aristocrats who for centuries had lived like kings while brutally oppressing the masses, and replaced them with the communists, who did the same thing but at least had the decency to wear ill-fitting suits.”
After the red aristocracies of Eastern Europe managed to transform themselves into post-communist oligarchies and then into legitimized globalized elites, there could be no thought of even wearing of ill-fitting suits any more or any other “decency” of the kind. They got the first-class ticket to the world’s One Percent.
The last actual revolution in terms of redistribution of wealth in Eastern Europe occurred in 1944-1945 when the Red Army crushed Hitler’s Reich and installed its puppet regimes. There was none of that in 1989-1990.
That failure was partly the fault of the Eastern Europeans who had been humbled into submission by the Commie thugs for decades. The only violent occurrence was in Romania where one brand of the local Commies executed their dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his eccentric wife by firing squad just to preserve their power. In Bulgaria, it was a similar development except the intra-party palace coup simply deposed the 35-year dictator Todor Zhivkov. Even in the Central European success stories – Poland, Czechoslovakia (at the time), and Hungary, and even the East Germany taken over by the Wessies, there was way too little decommunization and lustration. Just consider the name of the change in Czechoslovakia – the “Velvet Revolution”. What was there to be so “velvet” about considering how and by whom your country had been run (into the ground) for decades and decades?
However, the greater fault for this failure lies with the West, not with the oppressed and oftentimes clueless Eastern European societies. In the early 1990s, the West had all the power. All the power to reclaim these countries from communism and its bearers. All the power to hold the Commie criminals accountable – for destroying democracy and human rights, for crushing human freedom, from threatening the West of liberty for decades, for turning their own entire countries and societies into state sponsors and even actors of world terrorism.
In 1945, the West more or less denazified Nazi Germany. In 1990, the West did not decommunize and lustrate communist Eastern Europe, the Soviet Bloc. Not even the former satellites, leaving the still existing Soviet Union aside.
I’ve recently come across the memories of Yanko Yankov, a Bulgarian professor of law, a dissident who spent more than 6 years in communist prisons in the 1980s – I admit I hadn’t heard of him until just now – the post-communist oligarchy has been great at watering down even the historical knowledge of communist and those who fought it. Here’s a telling quote:
“At the beginning of February 1990, US Secretary of State James Baker was on a visit in Romania… On his way back from Bucharest, James Baker also landed for a brief visit in Sofia… There was an official meeting of the US Secretary of State with the leaders of the Bulgarian opposition… In a year’s time, I already had the clear conviction that the meeting with the so called “Bulgarian opposition” was a joint operation of the KGB and the CIA, which was supposed to intimidate the Secretary of State, and to motivate him to report to the highest American political and government level that if power was to be handed to the so called anticommunists, the country would have been drowned in bloodshed. That was why the strategy had to be directed towards giving power to the “restructuring” communists desiring to become capitalists, and those were supposed to be freed of any responsibility for the crimes they had committed.”
That’s one way of putting what happened into words. Probably not even the most eloquent. Post-communism with its oligarchies stolen hopes for the Eastern Europeans, and stolen benefits and opportunities for the entire West, and the rest of the world by implication, got deeply entrenched in the former communist countries with the active or at least tacit approval and acquiescence of the Western leadership at the time.
Now it’s 30 years later, and the Western leadership of today is wondering why it’s got that gloomy feeling about the whole affair. It’s been the elites who are in power. Often even the very same people, or their families, or extended families, or adopted successors, or brothers in arms, or ideological successors, same difference. What do you expect?
To add to the gloom stemming from the deep entrenchment of oligarchical post-communism, there is the physical, material background. You know, all the ugly, rusty, disgusting stuff that the Commies built – well, had them built through de facto slave labor of “the masses”.
I have dedicated two books already to delving into both the historical and modern-day horrors of communism and post-communism – one dealing with its demographic devastation and utilization of abortion (“6 Million Abortions”) and another one with how a post-communist oligarchy has managed to fit together with the European Union of today (“Ugly Bargain”).
The conclusions of post-communism’s realities hold true for the entire arc of Eastern Europe, with a varying degree of entrenchment. Oftentimes people think of gradation in Eastern Europe going directly from west to east – you know, from most to least democratic, prosperous, free, and westernized – i.e. from the former East Germany all the way to Russia.
Actually, it’s more like an arc, or even a full circle (see the map above) – the gradation would start at the Baltic Republics, go through Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria (a slight deviation to the rest of the former Yugoslavia to the Western Balkans), then Georgia across the Black Sea, then up north to Ukraine, Belarus and Russia (where you can close the circle back to the Baltics). The more west and north you are in that arc, or semi-circle, the less post-communist oligarchical the society, the more south, east, and again north you go, the more it is so.
30 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Western leadership is looking at the map:
– populated by the likes of Kaczynski in Poland, Babis in the Czech Republic, Orban in Hungary, the oligarchical pushback against corruption crackdown in Romania, the whole other category of a mess in the former Yugoslavia rebranded as “Western Balkans”, Borisov in Bulgaria, perplexing developments in Georgia, war-torn Ukraine, and, of course, the invariable Lukashenko in Belarus, and Putin in Russia – not to mention the Alternative for Germany in the former East Germany and the fact that even Baltic states who lack very overt oligarchies of their own are threatened by post-communist oligarchies in the neighborhood –
and the Western leadership and publics really don’t like the picture. Nor do so many people in the Eastern European publics. It isn’t pretty but it’s got mostly its predecessors from the early 1990s to blame for it.
Then comes the second very major reason for this disheartening gloom for the 30th anniversary since the Fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of communism – the often bewildering domestic turns taken by developments in the West itself, in both of its pillars, in North America and in Western Europe, but especially in the latter.
For no rational reason, the old, pre-Cold War West has been jumping into extremes since the communist threat disappeared. It has jumped to extremes in consumerism, in liberalism, in pseudo-liberalism, in political correctness, in identity politics, in freedom, in immigration. Utterly unnecessary extremes, which might have been serving the interests of big business, blind globalization ideologues, and misanthropic radical self-styled Marxist intellectuals, but which have been hurting common sense, human dignity, and the West’s image and integrity in all sorts of ways.
This sequence of blunder upon blunder, seemingly harmless at first, led to 2016, the year of twins Trump and Brexit, which may go down in history as, quite literally, “The Year the West Declined”.
The worst part has been that the more the West has been blundering with its extremes, the more that has been encouraging the assertiveness of oligarchical post-communist in Eastern Europe.
Post-Communism has stayed for a very long time. It’s has 2/3rds of communism’s lifetime in Eastern Europe. It’s here to stay some more. This won’t change in the foreseeable future. Revolutions in the region would be in order but there will be revolution no more. Few in Eastern Europe are up for those: to quote the late George Carlin, “everybody’s at the mall” – everybody who hasn’t emigrated, their senses dulled by poverty, oligarchy propaganda, and consumerist materialism all at the same time.
I’d love to give credit for all the relative, comparative progress made by those societies – there has been some. Or at least “some, not a lot!” – to quote another great political satire thinker (Joey from “Friends”). I’d love to write about regained dignity, alive hopes, and a great potential for the future. But the fact of the matter is that post-communism is overwhelming.
Like many other great problems, post-communism will be around for a very long time, up until a far more pressing problem inundates human societies, and changes everything. My bet is that will be climate change. Then it wouldn’t matter who’s in the West, who lives in post-communism, and who’s an oligarch, etc. It wouldn’t matter that the West or anybody else would have failed to sort itself out.
There’s now a Bulgarian post-communist era joke which goes, “Whoever has short memory, has a long transition”.
The “transition” from communism to freedom, democracy, and market economy wasn’t someone’s fad. It was supposed to bring liberty, prosperity, justice, and happiness to hundreds of millions of oppressed people, and security to many more, so that all in Europe and other regions of the world can be freed in order to work together in tackling far greater challenges.
Thirty years on, the cracks in the post-communism success story puzzle are so serious that they will certainly impede any more concerted effort that might be badly needed for the greater common good.
(Banner image: This isn’t a “Recylce Eastern Europe” sign but my gradation arc of post-communism in Eastern Europe – from most to least westernized, and from least to most oligarchical – going from the northwest down south and up to the northeast. Original map template derived from LizardPoint.com)