There are two radically different versions of the postcommunist narrative. One tells the triumphal tale of the only world region in which the reforms recommended by the “Washington consensus” worked. The other and more realistic account speaks of a historic window of opportunity that lasted for only a quarter-century, during which efforts by the West and patriotic elites of Central and Eastern Europe managed to drag the region into Europe proper, leaving Europe and Russia pitted against each other along the old “civilizational” border between them. This essay argues that while Institutional choices matter in the postcommunist world, geopolitical and civilizational boundaries still set the horizons of political possibility.
The recent history of Eastern Europe can best be understood as a transition to a new social contract between the postcommunist state that emerged from its communist predecessor and the postcommunist citizen who evolved from the communist subject. It is the relationship between state and society under communism that best explains the divergent paths taken by the former communist countries after 1989. Where societies had been weak, these networks managed to capture full social control during the transition, using their influence to appropriate former state assets. Where the gap had been widest between the level of state power and the level of social autonomy during communism, the most difficult transitions ensued, as there was no ground on which to build a social contract.
Few Europeans had heard of Moldova, a tiny state on the EU’s eastern flank, before seeing images of the strife that broke out there in early April 2009 after the Communist Party (PCRM) won reelection in a landslide. Except for their international context, the events in Moldova did not differ substantially from those that sparked the color revolutions in Serbia, Georgia, and Ukraine, but this difference in context led to a different outcome. What was missing in Moldova? The short answer is a unified opposition that could put itself in the driver’s seat.