Successful democratic transitions in post-totalitarianism nations: ‘dissident movements’​ against neo-government

Revised & Edited – August 17, 2019

Romania – a case study:

 “Aim of the communists is the same as that of all other proletarian parties: Formation of the proletariat into a class, overthrow of the bourgeois supremacy, conquest of the political power by the proletariat”

Manifesto of the Communist Party – Karl Marx 1848

During the periods between president Ion Iliescu (1992) and President Traian Basescu (2007):- Romania’s faced a significant problem that slowed democratization and economic reform processes. Those problems existed because of the ex-communist elites, the old-left (S-D) party, created a regime shift known academically as the “political polarization,”

The Frye’s Model states that: when a political polarization; because they monopolize the ability to influence the government political reform, economic policies and the spread of corruption. 

The Romanian case is very intricate since corruption is an entangling force between politics and economics. Hence, the factors behind the sluggish democratic and market economy reforms are also intricate, which raises the question: who are the winners and losers in the Romanian case?

Historically: Romania was a vessel for the Ottoman Empire until 1870, and in the 1918 Greater Romania emerged composting areas that all were part of the

Old Kingdom, or Regat

Wolchik, 2011, pp.314

Also, the Romanian “Ragat” has acquired territories, which expanded its geography. Besides, in Romania, there are four significant minorities: “Jews, Hungarians, Russians, and Bulgarians.” (Wolchik, 2011, pp.314). Early on Romanian-Soviet relationship was the reason that led Romania into World War II and soon later to be under the Despotic Soviet siege (Wolchik, 2011, pp.314-15).

Our Modern Romania: In the aftermath of the Soviet Union, Romania’s “street revolution” was one of the harshest anti-regime post-communism riots (Wolchik, 2011, pp.316-7). The new government led by an ex-communist elite member called “Ion Iliescu,” who became an elected president in 1992, and he leads a major one party “nomenklatura” in the parliament (Wolchik, 2011, pp.317). The European Union pushed the reform in Romania, and it was the cost for their EU membership.

Therefore in regards to the EU-membership plan, Romania has signed up to two new articles concerning “European Agreements” which focused on a) Human rights and b) Democratic principles (Noutcheva, 2008, pp.119). Moreover, politically, Romania was not led by the New-right Liberals, at the new begging’s, they came to power in 2007 represented by President Traian Basescu. Also, Basescu was the Head of the Security Services; he gathered information about mistakes done by other PS-D (Social Democratic party) to use it against them (NineO’clock, Wikileaks).

Never the less, the delay for the European accession was a direct result of the earlier cause which has based it on post-communist elites corrupting the processes of the new government. Thus, this results in three schools of thought: the domestic political choices, the Scio-economic conditions of that era, and institutional historical legacies.

In the early years of the Romanian democratic transition; we can see the political importance of the Romanian case. In 1989, the formation of the post-communist party called the National Salvation Front (FSN); in both right and left parties of 1989. Afterward, that massive single party collation broke-up, and that resulted in the creation of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) and the Democratic Liberal Party (PD-L). Social Democratic Party, PSD was in power since 1989, and the wealthiest businessman supported that monopoly, the “new oligarchy,” that is just power maintain group (Gallagher, Modern Romania, pp.116-119).

The two leading major parties have expected a consociational democracy. However, it has resulted in creating other smaller parties that formed the government and occupied the legislative branch (Bi-Cameral legislation).

“The constitution was adopted in 1993 and revised in 2003 for the NATO Accession”

Noutcheva & Bechev, “Successful Laggards: Bulgaria and Romania’s Accession to the EU,” East European Politics and Societies 22 (2008), 114-144.

Noutcheva blames the post-communist era elites for the political failures since there have been many election results delays and interruptions and delays to economic reforms. Noutcheva argues that because of elites old membership in the former communist secret police, they have gained powerful insights in the government-private dealings and financial situation. Gallagher, Also agrees in his book on Modern Romania, he called them the “privileged group”; but he blames it for the coercion that does not enable the “autonomous groups” to get strong enough to promote reforms (Gallagher, Modern Romania, pp.331). Also, Gallagher thought the Romanian reform to be moving toward change. The problem was that it is “too big and too weak” simultaneously (Gallagher, Modern Romania, pp.331). For example, today, Romania seeks fast and ambitions EU membership and have a socio-economic crisis to fix.

As mentioned earlier, the differences between political and economic problems are inseparable, since the source of delays is strong because of the Role of post-communist elites. In contrast, when the Democratic Liberal Party (PD-L) came to power in 2004, the EU welcomed the transformation and considered Romani’s economy to be “a functioning” free market economy (Noutcheva, pp.123). The E.U accession was put on hold again till 2007. Moreover, Sharon Wolchik, argues that the dis-functions of the economic reforms are mainly a result of political party extremism and nationalist factions in the political processes (Wolchik, pp.330-331).

Frye argues that polarization is mainly, a source of delay and dysfunction within a system with far right-left extremes in the political arena. His model refers to polarization as the result of inconsistency in the reform, and its the size

Frye, T. (2010). Building states and markets after communism: the perils of polarized democracy. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

In the Romanian case, the case polarization is the direct result of those delays, especially with the early Social Democratic Party – PSD unwillingness to cut-state aid and close the loss-making enterprises owned by the state government. The fact that the Social Democratic Party – PSD was in power for a very long period does not affect how the Romanian politic would do an excellent performance.

"The post-totalitarian system ts mounting a total on humans and humans stand against it alone, abandoned and isolated. It is therefore entirely natural that all the 'dissident movements' are explicitly defensive movements: they exist to defend beings and the genuine aims of life against the aims of the system.” 

Steven Lukes, The Power of the Powerless: Citizens Against the State in Central Eastern Europe" -- Section XVI

For example, economic reform was not fast. Romania transition government was supposed to show signs of excellent performance, but the post-communist parties saw otherwise. The post-communist party other more critical issues for them to focus on; also to remain in power with enough support. Like the welfare system, which includes housing, health, and social security. Some liberal-socialist even saw it as a vital socialist inheritance gained from communism or old socialism. Since such ideological analogies were embedded in the communist party a long time ago, as well as the civic community of post-communist regimes.

On the other hand, new liberals pushed more “austerity measures”; to cut down spending and asked for less welfare spending. 

Romania also had other problems, like the high elite corruption rate during that era. For example, it was one of the worst moments for the Social Democratic Party -PSD, when they started smuggling “fuel to Yugoslavia” in 1996. It happened during the Iliescu presidency. The government was made up of elites only party, were very corrupted and eventually broke all U.N sanctions to make about $500 million (Gallagher, Romania Adrift, pp.122).

Economics slowly reformed, so for a fact, the majority of the post-communist leaders have or became economically well established in the Market economy. The economic reforms were in one hand only pleasing the oligarchs and cautiously working against the democratic processes, just for the self-beneficiary works.

In conclusion, we can see that all political reforms come with a cost. In Romania, we understood that with many economics hiccups during such transition. Slow and steady improvements worked best and maybe what is called the “form without content” or anti-corruption reforms.

“we must strengthen party discipline, we must curb all those who are disorganizing our party

V. Stalin, On the Opposition, 1927

There are many things said and never being executed since the party elites are not satisfied with the results that will be subsequent. The democratic reform has won a lot of Romanian workers support. Worker support came with the guaranteed offering of welfare state and veteran financial support (Ciobanu, Working Class-Romania, pp.333-334). With all the delays, even though Romania geographical position was not under any shock reform resulting from the economic reform.

Also, the oligarchs have successfully posed a powerful influence on the majority of the post-communist elites, at least to give a chance to successful political and economic transitioning. They have managed to support the establishment of a free-market economy. They have managed to become the new elites before and during the big transition.

The oligarchs communicate their own needs, and what matters to the community; to ease the transition

Badescu, Democratic Values pp.341

The civic involvement in political transition within post-communist countries is shallow because they have inherited such attitude from the previous regime. Badescu argues that for a successful democratic transition, both civic and political communities must have a direct dialogue.

two-step flow of communication

Badescu, Democratic Values pp.340

For example, the civic involvement in Poland has made the polish democratic transition from communism using shock-reform, which caused much stronger economic and political successes. It also worked for Estonia, and as well as other prosperous countries that used shock-reform method (Badescu, Democratic Values pp.340).

Therefore, the works of the civic activists bring more cohesion between different factions of society. So in contrast, nationalism will produce only extremists and lots of political hiccups; as we saw in the case of Serbia and the rest of Yugoslavian nations.


Lukes, steven. Introduction. The Power of the Powerless: Citizens Against the State in Central Eastern Europe, by Vaclav Havel, John Keane, Routledge, 2015, Section XVI.

Frye, T. (2010). Building states and markets after communism: the perils of polarized democracy. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Wolchik, S. L., & Curry, J. L. (2011). Central and East European politics: from communism to democracy. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Gallagher, T. (2005). Modern Romania: the end of communism, the failure of democratic reform, and the theft of a nation. New York: New York University Press.

Badescu, Sum & Uslaner, “Civil Society Development and Democratic Values in Romania” East European Politics and Societies 18 (2004), 316-341.

Ciobanu, “Reconstructing the Role of the Working Class in Communist and Postcommunist Romania,” East European Politics and Societies, International Journal of Politics, Culture & Society (2009) 22:315–335.

Noutcheva & Bechev, “Successful Laggards: Bulgaria and Romania’s Accession to the EU,” East European Politics and Societies 22 (2008), 114-144.

Romania: “Nine O’clock News” Political Section. (Wikileaks does Romania – 9 O’clock 29Mar11)

Chemicals oligarch, Roibu worried about EU – TOL 27Jan10.

Romanian economic policy mess – TOL 21Jan11

Voters fed up with corruption – TOL 27Nov09.