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Political Aspects of Transition or Politics Matters (notes for Warsaw)

English Pages, 15. 10. 1999

There are important political aspects of transition, but there is no autonomy of the political side of transition – I am, therefore, not able to limit my comments to political issues in a narrow sense;


     1a)  all transformation measures have been done by democratically formed political structures, at least in the Central and East European region, where political pluralism, parliamentary democracy, competition of political parties, unconstrained which means absolute freedom of the media, etc. fully dominate (it was probably not so when we move more to the East or South); I enjoyed Jegor Gajdar’s yesterday comment that he was prime minister, not czar;

     1b) it may be selfevident but when I stress that I do not consider it to be an irrelevant or  empty statement. It suggests that transition was not masterminded from above, that it was not dictated by one autocratic politician or another, that it was the product of a very specific and complicated mixture of intentions and  spontaneity, of design and of action, of planned and unplanned events;

     1c) it is easy to criticize  the outcomes of such an evolutionary and uncontrolled process from outside (as uninvolved observers), from abstract theoretical positions, from absolutistic ideological principles, but the transition was not an excercise in applied economics, it was “real life”;

2)     the task of politicians was to get support  for transition, for its basic building blocks; some of us succeeded, some of us not; our success or failure dramatically  influenced the transformation costs;

     2a) one of the many tasks the politicians had to tackle was to defend or rehabilitate the role of political parties (the word party was totally discredited in the communist era) and not to accept the third way thinking based on loose, fuzzy organisations like civic movements, national fronts for or against something or somebody; (not to speak about Russia Unite, Russia’s choice, Jabloko, etc.) 

     2b) My experience tells me that there is a correlation between the presence of a standard political structure (with well-defined political parties) and the success of transition (and I believe the history will prove that I was right);

     2c) the main task of politicians was to fight the romantic or pseudoromantic point of view based on two dangerous ideas:

          1. it is possible (and even necessary) when changing society to look for new, unknown, untried solutions, to use the collapse of communism for creating another utopia;

          2. it is possible to get something for nothing, there is such thing as a free reform, there are no transformation costs.

     2d) I believe that the last ten years demonstrated  that both ideas were and are wrong, but we have to admit that it has not been fully accepted in the postcommunist world. Because of that the expectations–reality gap (E‑R gap) has been steadily growing, not narrowing. There is no doubt that much has been accomplished in this past decade. We witness an enormous change in the basic substance of life in most of the transition countries, but the expectations have been growing even faster. The road from communism to free society and market economy is rocky, nevertheless some people do not want to take into consideration that there is no magic carpet which could avoid the necessity of our travelling it. To my great regret such a fairy tale is still here. I have to say that this fairy tale is supported by some activities of international consultants and advisors, of investment bankers, of bureaucrats of international organizations who pretend that the  only missing factor is listening to their advice. They represent, however, a very well functioning rent seeking group. Additional problems come from inside. For some people feeling bad feels so good that they invest a lot in criticism, scepticism and the creation of bad mood. To fight such attitudes represents a challenge which the politicians very often do not win. At least in my country.

3)     Serious discussion of the political aspects of transition would require to deal with several other important, non-trivial issues. I will just name some of them:

     1. transition is a sequence of policy decisions, not one policy change (wrong debate about graduation or schock-therapy)

     2. transition is based on human choices (influenced by ideas, prejudices,  dreams and interests), not on scientific knowledge (Hayekian point about human action or human design)

     3. transition brings democracy, but more democracy typically enhances the power of interest groups in general, and to block further reforms in particular;

     4. during transition from communism the first problem was to concentrate on solving the dichotomy “oppression vs. freedom” whereas the not less important dichotomy  “anarchy vs. order” was - especially in the first period - usually neglected or at least underestimated

     5. the critical factor affecting transformation costs is the interaction of formal vs. informal rules on the one hand and the gap between rules and their implementation.

I would stop with the same sentence as prof. Barr – politics matters.

Václav Klaus, Notes for speech in Warsaw, October 15, 1999


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