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The great transformation of Central Eastern Europe; Success and disappointment


Study finds that the economic and political transformation of the Central Eastern European region over the last two decades may be simultaneously considered a success and a failure.

2004 saw the accession to the European Union of several Central Eastern European countries, attesting to their newly established democratic political systems and functioning market economies. The rapid pace of reform and the relative harmony surrounding the process may be regarded as a great success story; yet on an individual level the process has caused pain, bitterness and disappointment for many.

A recent study by János Kornai (Professor of Economics Emeritus, Harvard University and Collegium Budapest, and Distinguished Research Professor, Central European University) examines the changes of the Central Eastern European region (Czech Republic, Estonia, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia) in the context of world history.

The study confirms by comparative historical analyses that the transformation was unique: this has been the only total transformation that took place peacefully, without violence, yet astonishingly fast, in the main direction of the economic and the political changes of Western civilization. From that perspective it is an exceptional success story of global historical significance.

However, from the perspective of everyday life, the result is different. Deep economic troubles are experienced by a considerable portion of the population. The perception of losses is intensified by various cognitive problems. Based on the experience of today’s generation, evaluating the change as an unequivocal success would be unwarranted. In many important aspects, the transformation failed because it caused pain, bitterness and disappointment for so many people.

The study finds that an interdisciplinary approach to evaluating the transformation of Central Eastern Europe – combining economics, political science and history – is necessary to ensure that the correct economic policy recommendations are made in other regions currently undergoing or about to enter a period of transformation. In this way, economists can contribute to the more informed and well-balanced processing of the experiences, helping people to find the right valuation of changes.

Rosalind Letellier | alfa
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