A Comparative Analysis of Lithuania and Czech Republic with regards to their transition to the Liberal Democracy
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, many countries in the Eastern Europe, which were formerly a part of USSR, went into a period of rapid transition from being authoritarian regimes to the more democratic ones. This transition included the dissolution of the former Soviet institutions, re-creation of their national identities at the state level which was formerly oppressed, broadening the citizenship rights and obligations, embracing the norms of liberal democracy and a switch to a market oriented economy. The process of transformation of the ‘illiberal states’ to the ‘liberal ones’ was arguably a part of the same wave of democratization in a global context which is generally referred as the ‘Third Wave of Democracy’ by scholars such as Samuel Huntington. It was expected that as a result of this transition, all countries which were formerly a part of Soviet Union would embrace the ideas such as democracy, rule of law, private property, free and fair elections and civil society. However, these new ideas along with the others such as civil society and active citizenry were not in the same line with the ideas in the communist USSR. Thus, there were a series of problems to overcome for the post-Soviet countries for democratization.
As it could be expected, the pace of this radical transition was uneven among the successors of the former Soviet Union. In the last twenty years that passed since the beginning of the third wave of democracy, only a few of the countries which went into a process of democratization have achieved a well-functioning democracy. Although many of the former-Soviet states today have more or less democratic constitutions and institutions, some were more successful on becoming a liberal democracy. As some countries such as Czech Republic and Slovenia were far more quickly adopted the values of Western democracies compared to the others such as Ukraine and even Poland. Moreover, the nations of Eastern Europe are hardly a coherent group of countries in terms of language, culture, history and economic relations. Thus, in order to better understand why and how the democratization process was different in post-Soviet countries, it is logical to compare two countries which went into the transition process at the same time and differed in the outcomes. (Badescu, 2003). The two countries that this essay will be focusing on are Czech Republic and Lithuania, a highly developed country and a medium developed country which were formerly a part of the same political structure. These two countries were among the first ones which declared independence from the USSR and more importantly, they have never experienced a bloody revolution such as in Romanians and many others did. In this respect, some scholars such as Kovacs argue that for both of the countries, the method of declaring independence was a transitional change which was both from below and above instead of a revolution which generally is a far more violent method. Additionally, there were huge mass demonstrations in both, Velvet Revolution in Czech Republic and Sajudi movement in Lithuania, which allowed them to transform their regimes to parliamentary democracies relatively easier compared to the other former post-Soviet countries. Today, both countries have established a system of limited power sharing and free and fair elections for the government (Kovacs, 1994).
The essay will put the historical, economic and political factors into account when explaining the difference between these countries’ pace of development following their declaration of independence. It will start by describing both countries’ socio-economic situations after their movements for independence, and consequently, discuss and the effects of new parties in the aftermath of the fall of Soviet Union. It will then analyze the role of EU in their process of democratization and integration to the globalized world. The final part will be based on the summary of findings. Instead of being point by point, this essay will be based on the text by text technique and the two countries will be compared on every topic discussed instantly rather than separate analysis of the two which would not be suitable for an essay on this size.
In the aftermath of their declaration of independence from Soviet Union, both Czechoslovakia and Lithuania faced with an important question: ‘What kind of political order would take the place of centralized, ruling communist parties?’ Should the new order be based around an American or French kind of a powerful presidency or a parliamentary multiparty system which is similar to that of many countries in the continental Europe? It was clear that both of these countries, along with many other successor states of the Soviet Union, were aware that embracing democracy and a market economy was be the best option for their new political – economic order. However, issues such as not having a tradition of multiparty structure and fair elections were made it hard for them to form a new public policy and a pluralist governmental structure. Historically, none of these two had a long standing era of democracy similar to that of Western European or North American examples. In the pre-1939, only Czechoslovakia had a functioning democratic system in which people expressed dissatisfaction for many times. With the Nazi occupation in 1940s and than the Soviet era, both went into a period of more than half a century of authoritarian rule. However, although both countries declared independence in 1990, Czechoslovakia had a relatively strong economic position compared to Lithuania and many other ex-Soviet countries such as Hungary and Poland. Czechoslovakia had a legacy of strong human capital, industrial infrastructure and a tradition of exports whereas Lithuania remained agrarian prior to their independence movement falling in the middle range among Eastern European countries (Pridham & Vanhanen, 1994).
In terms of the speed of reforms and transition process, Czech Republic was again ahead of Lithuania. Some scholars such as Blejer (2001) argue that Czech Republic quickly turned out to be a favorite reform country in the eyes of politicians, potential foreign investors and many scholars. It had four major reasons which distinguished Czechoslovakia from the other transition states during the early 1990s. Firstly, Czech Republic had a relatively more successful economic reform which included price liberalization and dismantling of the state monopoly on foreign trade. Secondly, Czechs were successful on macroeconomic stabilization program such as the introduction of anti-inflationary policies and change in the exchange rate regime. Thirdly, Czech government(s) was determined to follow these reforms steps quickly both for the economic and legal points of view. Fourthly, country was politically and socially stable; its governments enjoyed rather strong support of the population. Contrary to the policy of rapid integration to the rest of the world and desire for economic improvement in Czech Republic, Lithuanians were focused on national-self determination and creating a national identity in the first couple of years following their independence. Lithuanians were amongst the nations which most suffered from violent suppression and denigration of their national culture and were seen as the leading nation in the Baltic region in terms of the independence movements. The popular movement known as ‘Sajudis’ had an influence on country’s politics and became ‘the voice’ of many Lithuanians in the years following them gaining independence. In Czechoslovakia, a similar organization to Sajudis was called ‘The Civic Forum’ was founded by a group of Veteran dissidents of Prague in 1989 (Blejer, 2001).
As many of the ex-Soviet countries, Czechoslovakia and Lithuania had never experienced free and fair elections during the four decades of the communist rule. Czechoslovakia’s last free general elections were in 1946, in which Communist Party received %40 of all votes. Compared to Lithuanians, Czechs were likely to experience a relatively smooth transition to democracy. The main reason for this was the loss of Communist Party in the 1990 and then 1992 elections. Civic Forum which advocated liberal democracy and free market became the first party in 1990 elections with %53.1 of all votes. In Czechoslovakia, Communist Party and then Left Bloc consecutively lost the elections of 1990 and 1992, whereas Communist Party in Lithuania was still powerful during the first several years of the transition to democracy by winning the first elections. With regards to this electoral behavior, Roberts (2010) argue that unlike countries such as Bulgaria and Romania, former Communist parties remained marginal in Czech Republic. The difference in two countries’ speed to adopt a free market system, which was a prerequisite for integrating to the rest of the world, changed their speed of progress and economic successes as well.