In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Post-Communist Democratization

  • Introduction

Political Science Post-Communist Democratization
Joshua Tucker
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 November 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0018


In addition to forever changing the lives of hundreds of millions of people, the collapse of communism presented a unique opportunity to social scientists, especially to political scientists. Almost thirty countries suddenly found themselves in the midst of a “transition” at approximately the same time and with at least one very strikingly similar precondition: decades of communist rule. For people who study comparative politics, it is harder to think of a better research background. This review focuses on five areas of scholarship that are related to the emergence of democracy in eastern Europe. The first examines the actual process of democratization, from the literature on the collapse of communism to the emergence of what followed it. The second then looks at the opinions held by citizens in these newly democratic states—toward democracy itself, economic and social policies, their new political institutions, and what would become the future for most of the region: membership in the European Union (EU). The next section covers the activity that distinguishes new democracies most clearly from their predemocratic regime types: elections and voting. The fourth section examines the other ways that citizens in post-communist countries have made their views heard, through social movements in protests. The final section concludes with what has been perhaps the most pressing policy issue faced in the post-communist political space since the 1990s, which is the question of post-communist economic reform.

The Collapse of Communism and Questions of Transition

The first question tackled by the new field of post-communist politics was arguably the last one to be considered by studies of communism: Why exactly did communism collapse? Large debates in the field include the extent to which this was preordained by inherent tensions within communist regimes or whether it was due to specific developments and decisions that were inevitable, which particular tensions within communism were responsible for its demise, and why collapse occurred when it did. Following the collapse of communism, the immediate question arose of what came next. Claus Offe famously referred to this as the specter of a “triple transition,” including liberalization/democratization, the settling of borders (i.e., the making and breaking of states), and economic reform. The first two—liberalization/democratization and the making and breaking of states—are addressed in this section; the issue of economic reform is taken up in the final section on Post-Communist Political Economy.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.