Anti-Sikh Riots, Eastern Europe’s Normalcy

Here is a pdf from economists Andrei Shleifer and Daniel Treisman on life in Eastern Europe 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall:

Twenty-five years after the Berlin Wall came down, a sense of missed possibilities hangs over the countries to its east. Amid the euphoria that greeted the sudden implosion of communism, hopes ran high. From Bratislava to Ulaan Bataar, democracy and prosperity seemed just around the corner.

Yet, a quarter century on, the mood has changed to disillusion. With a few exceptions, the postcommunist countries are seen as failures—their economies peopled by struggling pensioners and strutting oligarchs, their politics a realm of ballot stuffing and emerging dictators.

Wars—from Nagorno-Karabakh to Yugoslavia, Chechnya, and now Eastern Ukraine— have punctured the 40 years of cold peace on the European continent, leaving behind enclaves of smoldering violence. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s consolidation of autocracy and imperial aggression seem to many emblematic of a more general rot spreading from the East.

[…]

We find that objective evidence contradicts the conventional view. Media images aside, life has improved dramatically across the former Eastern Bloc. Since the start of transition, the post-communist countries have grown rapidly. Their citizens live richer, longer, and happier lives. In most regards they look today just like other countries at similar levels of economic development. They have become normal countries—and in some ways “better than normal.”

If only this picture would garner as much attention as wars, protests, and economic downturns.

This week marks the 30th anniversary of the vicious anti-Sikh riots that occurred after Indira Gandhi was assassinated. Akhilesh Pillalamarri has a thoughtful piece.

How ’bout Communism?

Note: Most of my adult life and all of my childhood were dominated by the threat of Communism. People of my generation who wanted to know understood well the horrors of Communist societies. We knew of the slave-labor camps, of the mass executions, of the constant spying on ordinary citizens by the secret police, of the betrayals of friend by friend that were everyday life in Communist countries. We were well aware also of the grinding poverty in those countries.

I am concerned that thinking individuals who are in their twenties and even in their thirties now might know little about the reality of Communism as it was practiced. It seems to me that no one asked them to study the matter. A Russian friend of mine is going back to Russia this summer for a couple of months. If a few readers ask, I will request of my friend that he contribute to this blog from there, drawing on the memories of older friends and relatives who survived the Soviet period.

There was once a “Communist” movement whose followers were often motivated by generous impulses and by economic ignorance, in more or less equal parts. There has never been a Communist state, whatever that would be. Historically several Communist parties did achieve political power. None did so through democratic means, although the Czechoslovak Communists may have come close, in 1948. We will never know because the presence of a large contingent of the Soviet Red Army in the country forever mars the analysis. Continue reading