Catching up with the West is a big dream of all post-communist countries in Eastern Europe. This dream transpires through imported liberal slogans such as “transition,” “integration,” and “market democracy” and is aired daily on all local TV and radio wave lengths. This rhetorical switch from former socialist command economy to capitalist market economy appears to East European leaders far more palatable than the necessity of removing their own ossified past. In fact, movers and shakers of the New World Order had never given the green light to East European masses to forcefully remove communist officials from power. Between local nationalists and local ex-communists, global plutocrats opt for the latter.
In reality, though, the transition to a market economy has been going on for years, yielding meager results, and only in some areas of Eastern Europe. Countries, such as Slovenia, the Czech Republic, and Hungary, which appear now on the fastest track to “catching up with the West,” benefit from geographic vicinity of the affluent Germany. Other post-communist countries, further to the east, do not have the same comparative geographic advantage and offer little incentive for direct foreign investments.
New World Order sharks, despite their financial ingenuity, commit serious mistakes, assuming that rapid economic growth in Eastern Europe can be solely achieved through liberal formulas or by resorting to some Asian role modeling. What was successful in de-nazified Germany in the 1950s, or in Thailand and Singapore in the 1980s, does not apply to present-day Romania, Ukraine, or Croatia. It is also a frequent error among US politicians and businessmen to project their own wishful thinking onto Eastern Europe or occasionally pump their tax payers’ money into the hands of bankrupt East European leaders. The gap between Eastern and Western Europe is bigger today than ever before, and is likely to become even larger. In terms of economic output, from a ratio of 1: 2 in 1989, the gap in productivity between East and West increased threefold in 1999, notably to the ratio of 1: 3 and 1: 4, respectively. On the whole, East European countries have reached only 60 to 70 percent of their 1989 communist GDP levels. In plain English, this means that the majority of East European citizens, in terms of their purchasing power, are worse off than during the last days of communism.
The leading slogan, which had brought down communist economies, was the popular outcry to “join Europe.” The main motor behind it was the idea, albeit naive, that Western prosperity would suddenly follow suite. But catching up with the West has not occurred, and one can sense now a widespread nostalgia for the economic predictability and guaranteed social security that communism once provided. The proverbial homo sovieticus is well alive, although he carries now a false veneer of a would be Melrose Place broken-English macho entrepreneur.
A Western visitor should not be duped by the shopping mall glitz in Croatia’s Zagreb, Hungary’s Budapest, or Russia’s Moscow. Nor should the presence of East European rowdy young “conspicuous consumers” be viewed as a trade mark of improvement in living standards. The core of democracy is its middle class, which quite simply was physically destroyed after the communist take over in the early 1920s and late 1945, respectively. Despite overzealous mimicry by East European leaders to copy the free market cannons, notably by the incessant regurgitation of slogans such as “the rule of law” and “market democracy,” in reality, a mixture of Western- imported bandit capitalism and local shadow economies is in full swing. This is true not only for Russia but for practically every country in the region. The so-called basket-case economies of the Western tele-guided liberal-leftist Croatia, let alone the bankrupt post-Milosevic Serbia, garner little support from their respective citizenry. In a not too distant future, the rising social apathy may result in a mass appeal for yet another strong man. In such a fragile economic environment governed by poor imitators, with each of them tainted by a murky totalitarian past and each waffling empty marketeering slogans, it would be unwise for US and EU businessmen to make professional commitments. Of course, for global money-flow architects, such as the WTO and the IMF, it is easy to lecture East Europeans on the virtues of market democracy. Yet, despite their planetary influence, modern plutocrats ignore the heritage of embedded communist psychology. In fact, present political elites, be it the Baltics or in the Balkans, seem to be well versed in political survivability of any kind. Other than verbal virtuosity in free market recitals, all of them know deadly well that cut-throat, free market competition has no chance of long-term success in Eastern Europe.
The road to genuine democracy in Eastern Europe can only be achieved through the reeducation and the removal of the communist mindset. Even post-war Germany, prior to its economic miracle, had to start the process of de-nazification first in order to attain a certificate of democracy later. For the present ruling class in Eastern Europe, it is impossible to shed its paleo-Bolshevik carapace. Half a century of communist social leveling, the culture of mendacity, and the lack of self-initiative have left deep scars on all East Europeans, including its own victims. This tragic area of Europe has historically been subject to unpredictable tremors. A new version of Western bandit capitalism, mixed with the terrorist legacy of Stalinism, will soon exacerbate these tremors to an unseen boiling point.