Disillusionment in Central and Eastern Europe
Are individual and social disillusionment having a significant impact on Central and Eastern European transitions to democracy?
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Disillusionment causes low participation rates in politics and civil society. Disillusioned individ...
Disillusionment causes low participation rates in politics and civil society. Disillusioned individuals are likely to exhibit political apathy, with reluctance to vote and participate in the political process. They are also less likely to volunteer and participate in community actions, resulting in a weak civil society. The lack of participation in community and political affairs undermines the very fabric of the state, which relies on its citizens for support, participation and feedback. Widespread disillusionment weakens the state, creating dangerous windows of opportunity for corrupt behaviour and otherwise unpopular factions to rise to power.
Disillusionment is an effect rather than a cause of low participation rates in politics and civil society. Widespread political apathy and a weak civil society in transitioning Central and Eastern Europe are a direct result of a particular social and political culture that was enforced during the 40 years of communism. People don’t know how to participate since they were never encouraged to do so. Since all social changes take time and social adaptation to those changes is likely to be slow, one cannot expect participation rates to rise suddenly. Central and Eastern Europe has however been experiencing slowly rising participation rates in the past few years.
Disillusionment causes fragmentation in society and a break in social solidarity, which threatens th...
Disillusionment causes fragmentation in society and a break in social solidarity, which threatens the democratic transition. A fragmented society formed by disenchanted individuals is a recipe for disaster, particularly in times of transition from a totalitarian regime to a democratic one. Given that the democratic transition relies to a large extent on individual energies and individual involvement in political, economic and social transformations, decreased enthusiasm and interest will most likely result in a slower, more fragile transition. The lack of feedback and input into the political process from the population risks rebuilding a society on values that are not necessarily representative. This will create more resentment in the long run.
All transitioning societies suffer from high levels of disillusionment as a direct result of a series of radical changes that simply overwhelm citizens in their implications. Disillusionment may thus simply be a natural reaction to shock, and a protective attitude at a time when decisions seem too overwhelming to make and situations too complicated to untangle and understand. Disillusionment however need not necessarily be equated only with apathy, low energy and lack of interest. Many disillusioned individuals are willing to openly express their concerns and exhibit high levels of organization when it comes to organizing demonstrations and raising awareness about a series of unwanted changes. Disillusionment can thus also be seen as a response to unwelcome change: one need not assume that the democratic transition only brings about positive changes.
Disillusionment causes a series of dangerous social psychologies – from xenophobia and attraction to...
Disillusionment causes a series of dangerous social psychologies – from xenophobia and attraction to nationalist parties, to mass pessimism and destructive individual and collective behaviour. The rise of nationalist parties throughout Central and Eastern Europe and the appeal that former communists maintain within many of these countries is worrying and presents a serious challenge to the democratic process. With enough support, these factions can significantly slow down the reform process or even cause it to go into reverse. They can introduce dangerous legislation, feed disillusioned individuals with empty hopes, and in the worst cases, set one group against another, deepening resentment and encouraging violence.
Any transition from one economic structure to another – from communist to capitalism in this case – causes deep unrest and unsettles previous social arrangements. Transitions are times for new factions to rise to the top and old ones to collapse. This may not necessarily be a bad thing, for the evil you see is better than the evil you don’t see. Allowing a series of resentments and what many see as dangerous attitudes and behaviours to rise to the surface, can also draw people’s attention to it and signal the existence of a deeper problem that would otherwise go undetected. While xenophobic behaviour has been on the rise in Central and Eastern Europe, the fear of its effect has been significantly weakened by a strong mobilization against it and an increasing awareness of the dangers it poses to society.
The difficulties of capitalist reform cause even higher levels of disillusionment. Shock therapy ha...
The difficulties of capitalist reform cause even higher levels of disillusionment. Shock therapy has not been a very efficient transition strategy, threatening to do more social harm then good in the long run, despite the strengthening of the economy. Rising inflation and prices, unemployment and the collapse of major industries that followed the first capitalist reforms throughout Central and Eastern Europe caused significant hardships, resulting in mass demonstrations and resentment of liberal democratic parties calling for these reforms. In some countries reforms such as privatisation were associated with corruption, as a few members of the elite were able to acquire former state businesses for apparently small sums of money. While many argue the democratic transitions are made easier by rapid reforms, the Central and Eastern European experience speaks otherwise.
Strengthening the economy has proven to be essential in boosting people’s morale, something that is particularly evident in Central and Eastern Europe. Countries that are doing better economically, generally also have a higher morale. Economic reforms, whether implemented at a slower or quicker rate, will lead to similar effects: a rise in prices and unemployment are inevitable when it comes to a radical transition from nationalized industries to private companies. Demonstrations and resentments were the result of a lack of information and a proper set of expectations: if people had known that hardship was inevitable before a strengthening of the economy, their reaction would have most likely been significantly different.
Disillusionment causes a dangerous attraction to the past, and a longing for the communist era, in t...
Disillusionment causes a dangerous attraction to the past, and a longing for the communist era, in the case of Central and Eastern Europe. The older generation has yet to adjust to the economic and political reforms, having experienced significant losses in both their social and economic position in society. Instances of elderly being thrown out in the street after their nationalized houses were reclaimed, and pensioners being forced to go out and beg because their pensions are not enough to pay for electricity are unfortunate incidents that nonetheless affect a large part of the population. It is this part of society that understandably longs for the communist past, when housing, jobs and pensions were secured by the state and everyone could enjoy a sense of security despite economic difficulties.
The longing for the past is inevitable and while a minority has indeed had lost more than they have gained from the capitalist transition in Central and Eastern Europe, the majority have greatly benefited. Perhaps the most difficult thing to recreate within such a transition is a system of social protection, which requires a strong enough economy to support it. The elderly in Central and Eastern Europe have most likely seen the worst of it, since the situation is slowly improving along with the constant strengthening of the state. While the push for privatization and liberal reform has been seen as a threat to the social democratic state, Central and Eastern Europe will most likely seek to rebuild and maintain strong welfare states. Increasing social security benefits are already the norm in many of these countries.
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