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Reform, Prosperity, and Collapse in 1980-1991 Essay

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Updated: Sep 10th, 2021

Since the end of World War II, the populations of Eastern and Western Europe have developed in divergent directions. The significant differences that can be observed were attributed to the development of political systems in the East that allowed limited personal authority, welfare policies associated with demographic and welfare aims, as well as decreased access to resources that could have improved the well-being of nations, including healthcare and contraception. In the mid-1980s, just prior to Gorbachev becoming General Secretary of the Soviet Union’s Communist Party, the divide between East and West in Europe became even stronger. In addition, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Warsaw Pact deployed new nuclear missiles against one another, with political tensions on both sides becoming highly acute.1 Within the tense environment, Western Europe showed the ability to adapt to tough economic conditions and implement reforms leading to the improved quality of life for its citizens. The discussion focus on exploring the reasons behind the success of Western Europe associated with embracing globalization and the collapse of Eastern Europe, predominantly the Soviet Union, linked to policy changes implemented by the government.

The issues to be discussed further are associated with the politics of history, which has become an important aspect of international relations both in Europe and globally.2 The fall of the Berlin Wall represents the defining event in the history of Europe. Several important political figures played essential roles in the unification of Germany. For example, Gorbachev mentioned that he was prepared for the event because it was inevitable: “We knew that when we pursued the principle of freedom of choice and non-interference in Eastern Europe, we also deprived West from interfering.”3 The United States government supported Germany in the efforts to reach independence, with George Bush Senior stating that “we were in favor of German unity early on and felt events were moving properly”.4 While Margaret Thatcher was initially opposed to the unification of Germany, she later stated that “to unify Germany would make her the dominant nation in the European community. They are powerful, and they are efficient.”5 Thus, the future of Europe was defined by the event of unifying Germany into one independent country, changing a range of economic and political processes that would make the region what it is today.

The fall of the wall facilitated globalization, which is a societal process associated with the “rise of the relative share of trans-border transactions as compared to within-border transactions. It is an ongoing social process which substantially changes the context of all kinds of political processes.”6 Globalization is now considered among the causes contributing to the rising prosperity of Western Europe because it enabled the development of a successful European Union (EU) from economy with a single market to a political community since the unification of Germany into one sovereign state. Europe managed to enter a new stage of development within the international system as the center of politics shifter to the United States. Thus, the only chance for the European Union to remain influential in international politics was to facilitate the deeper integration of the economy. Globalization as a process thus refers to the transition from inter-dependence to social denationalization. Thus, the widening political integration of countries in Western Europe represented a challenge to the Soviet empire, which inevitably broke down. Within this perspective, globalization triggered by the fall of the Berlin fall represented a macro-structural condition that enabled the development of new social and political systems, predominantly in the Western part of Europe.

Eastern Europe could not adjust to the processes occurring in the west because the issues inherent to the Soviet system did not welcome globalization as a principle that could be embedded into political, social, and economic systems. For example, as a response to the crisis that hit the Soviet Union in the beginning of the 1980s, Gorbachev’s government attempted to introduce and sustain the market economy within the Soviet planned economy. These efforts failed because of several reasons associated with the inability of the government to adjust to global trends. For example, from the economic standpoint, there was the absence of a cohesive legal framework that would regulate contractual arrangements and property rights, the passive role of money, as well as the concentration of capital in one hand.

Also, as the reform opened some opportunities for local and regional elites to get more autonomy from the central power, the ability of the state to control all operations began significantly decreasing.7 This meant that the nation states of the Soviet Union increased their potential to gain independence from the authoritarian communist rule and embrace the democratic ideas that were rapidly spreading in the West. Put simply, the reforms implemented in the Soviet Union negatively affected the functional mechanisms that played the role of social adhesive. Without having a cohesive market infrastructure as well as a socially-minded workforce, the Union was about to witness a complete collapse in the production sector.

In addition, the Soviet Union failed to develop a formal, institutionalized mechanism for resolving conflicts and decrease the impact of social interests. As a result of this failure, the social contract established by Brezhnev, that encouraged the development of political apathy from Soviet society in return for the government’s guarantee of a rising living standard, was revoked. By the end of perestroika, a program launched by Gorbachev to restructure both political and economic policies, the economic turmoil in the Union was so high that more and more individuals believed that the transition to a full market economy would not be as disastrous as it seemed previously.

Authoritarianism as a foundation of the communist structure was another contributor to the failure of Eastern Europe between until 1991. Compared to other dictatorships that existed in the world in the late twentieth century, communist authoritarianism should have been more durable due to its great ambitions in terms of social, political, and economic terms and therefore was invasive in all areas of national life.8 However, the regime failed because of the increasing influence of the third wave of democratization, with the global dynamic associated with the shift from authoritarian rule to democracy that reached as far as sub-Saharan Arica, Southern Asia, and East Asia. The collapse of communism in the Soviet Union, as well as other countries in Eastern Europe, is directly associated with the fact that dictatorships are inherently fragile and therefore will fail sooner or later. While Western Europe had also undergone a series of political and economic challenges such as the financial restoration after the 1980’s slump characterized by high unemployment rates, the countries, the Soviet failed due to the lack of openness to reforms that would integrate external players.

Bibliography

Bunce, Valerie. “Reflections on 1989 and Authoritarianism.” Problems of Post-Communism 56, no. 5 (2009): 19-24.

Kramer, Mark. “The Demise of the Soviet Bloc.” Europe-Asia Studies 63, no. 9 (2011): 1535-1590.

NPQ. “Recalling the Fall of the Berlin Wall.” New Perspect Q 27, no. 1 (2010): 14-21.

Torbakov, Igor. “History, Memory and National Identity: Understanding the Politics of History and Memory Wars in Post-Soviet Lands.” Demokratizatsiya 19, no. 3 (2011): 209-232.

Zürn, Michael. “Fall of the Berlin Wall: Globalization and the Future of Europe.” New Zealand International Review 2010 (2010): 2-7.

Footnotes

  1. Mark Kramer, “The Demise of the Soviet Bloc,” Europe-Asia Studies 63, no. 9 (2011): 1535.
  2. Igor Torbakov, “History, Memory and National Identity: Understanding the Politics of History and Memory Wars in Post-Soviet Lands,” Demokratizatsiya 19, no. 3 (2011): 209.
  3. NPQ, “Recalling the Fall of the Berlin Wall,” New Perspect Q 27, no. 1 (2010): 15.
  4. NPQ, “Recalling the Fall of the Berlin Wall,” 15.
  5. Ibid., 15.
  6. Michael Zürn, “Fall of the Berlin Wall: Globalization and the Future of Europe,” New Zealand International Review 2010 (2010): 2.
  7. Michael Zürn, “Fall of the Berlin Wall: Globalization and the Future of Europe,” 3.
  8. Valerie Bunce, “Reflections on 1989 and Authoritariansim,” Problems of Post-Communism 56, no. 5 (2009): 22.
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