Why is constitutional engineering crucial but difficult for the former communist countries?
Why is constitutional engineering crucial but difficult for the former communist countries?

Why is constitutional engineering crucial but difficult for the former communist countries?

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  • Pages: 3 (1168 words)
  • Published: November 9, 2018
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When communism was imposed as the incontestable political doctrine at the culmination of the Second World War, many Eastern European nations set upon a new chapter in their respective histories. During the forty odd years as part of the Soviet Union a degree of economic, political and constitutional homogeneity was brought into this region, which has previously shown diverse traditions in these aspects. What has unraveled with the fall of the Berlin Wall (and is continuing to this day) makes for an interesting academic exercise. It also has practical implications for the lives of citizens of these countries, whose future depends on the development of democracy backed by a robust judicial system. Constitutional reform or engineering toward this end is a daunting task and early signs of this experiment have shown disappointing results[1]. This essay will take an in-depth look into factors that are holding back constitutional engineering in the Eastern European bloc; and especially focus on how the Soviet legacy is still influencing crucial areas of reform.

The ongoing transformation from state communism to a free-market economic system in Eastern European countries is unprecedented in its scope and wide-ranging in its impact. Given that communism radically altered major institutions in these countries, it should come as no surprise that the early stages of the reform process have not been fruitful. Since economic growth is a key indicator of a stable constitutional structure, it is instructive to look into this facet of a nation’s health. It turns out that the degree of eco

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nomic contraction is larger than what was predicted by analysts. This trend can be observed in the republics of former U.S.S.R as well. For example,

“With the important caveat that the rise in private sector activity may not be fully captured in the official statistics, the drop in output in the region since 1989 is now estimated to have reached 20 percent, and for some countries it has exceeded 35 percent. There has been some progress in the implementation of reforms in Eastern Europe, but the supply response thus far has been limited. Signs of a bottoming out of the contraction can be discerned in some countries, but further output losses may yet be in store. In the republics of the former U.S.S.R., the reform process has barely started.” [2]

The transformation from communism to democracy involves radical overhaul of former authoritarian institutions. Hence, political commentators were under no illusion about the turbulences it is going to involve. Already, in the twenty years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, three former communist countries of the union have seen political upheavals. The Rose Revolution threw out Eduard Shevardnadze in Georgia and brought to power a 36-year-old lawyer from New York. The Orange Revolution that followed in 2004 handed power to Viktor Yushchenko, who is known to have the backing of Washington. Yushchenko’s election victory was disputed by the opposition party and he narrowly escaped an assassination bid as well. Similarly, the Tulip Revolution of 2005 in Kyrgyzstan removed dictatorial president Askar Akayev (who eventually

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took refuge in neighbouring Russia) and in his stead brought the opposition leader to power, whose election rhetoric was centred on constitutional reform. These examples show the magnitude of the task of bringing democracy to the region which has not yet come out from the communist hangover. At first these so-called revolutions were hailed in the Western press as the beginning of a new era of prosperity and progress for these countries. But the truth is far from this idealization. These three ‘revolutions’ are now recognized as total failures. In fact,

“no fresh heroes rose from the grass roots, swept into power by a newly robust civil society and banished Soviet-era apparatchiks. The “revolutions” were really the product of a split in the “political elite” surviving from the Soviet era. The Rose, Orange, and Tulip revolutions were initiated and controlled by “outs” seeking to replace the “ins.”. The democratic revolutions so beautifully named in the euphoria of mass street demonstrations, Tudoroiu writes, have proven to be not much more than a “limited rotation of the ruling elites within undemocratic political systems.”[3]

It is interesting to note that chaos and political intrigue are endemic to former communist countries in Eastern Europe. Mikhail Saakashvili, former Georgian leader soon gained a reputation for being a ruthless autocrat, “accumulating outsized powers and fending off lurid charges of murder and corruption”. This observation could be extended to Ukraine’s former prime minister and head of the national bank, who, after failing to act on his election promises, was ultimately forced to relinquish his premiership to a leader of the opposition group that was alleged to have made an assassination attempt on him. The events that unfolded in Kyrgyzstan was no different, “whose president has polished coercive institutions to a brighter shine than in the Soviet era itself, is mired in corruption and nepotism and has suffered business-linked killings and political assassinations.”[4]

It could be logically deduced that the problems facing former Communist countries are due to legacy of failings under that system. But surprisingly, more authoritarian communist regimes such as China have held up solidly amid the surrounding chaos. Considered the last communist bastion, China has succeeded in undertaking and implementing far greater reforms than its East European counterparts. Admittedly, the authoritarian tendencies within China has escalated in this period, but so did the standard of living for most of its citizens. In contrast to cases of abuse of power and opportunistic accumulation of wealth by the ruling elite witnessed in former communist countries, China has followed a socialist template for its economic liberalization program. It is true that China fares badly in human rights reports, but what keeps harmony within its borders is the semblance of egalitarianism it has managed to achieve. In areas such as access to basic education, access to basic healthcare, etc, China outperforms even some of the advanced economies in the world. [5]

There’s another important reason why constitutional engineering is difficult in former communist countries of Eastern Europe. In the prevailing world order (of both military and economic dimensions),

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