In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Regime Transitions and Variation in Post-Communist Europe

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Textbooks
  • Anthologies
  • Databases
  • Resource Centers
  • Journals
  • Foundational Works
  • The Post-Communist Experience in Comparative Perspective

Political Science Regime Transitions and Variation in Post-Communist Europe
Paul Kubicek
  • LAST REVIEWED: 02 April 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 May 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0115


The collapse of communism opened up prospects for political change in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Many leaders and parties in the region touted democratization as a top priority. However, successful creation of new democratic political systems was by no means assured. Economic reform, namely movement to a more market-based system, was also on the agenda of post-communist reformers, and some argued that the pressures of simultaneous political and economic reform would be hard to manage. Additionally, some states were new creations, necessitating state-building. In other cases, the fear was that the end of communism would reanimate nationalist forces, which could undermine prospects for political liberalization. Approaches that suggested some sort of teleology to the post-communist transition process (e.g., “transition to democracy”) have, over time, given way to those that emphasize indeterminacy and the range of outcomes observable throughout post-communist Europe. In some cases, mostly in East Central Europe and the Baltic states, there was rapid adoption of democratic reforms, and, by the end of the 1990s, one could say that countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic, and Estonia had made a successful “transition” to democracy and capitalism. Other countries, such as Romania, Bulgaria, and Croatia, were reform laggards, although by the 2000s they too had made substantial progress. Some, such as Albania and Ukraine, have seen the emergence of “hybrid regimes” that exhibit both democratic and nondemocratic features. Last, in some cases one has seen little reform or movement to democracy (e.g., Belarus) or, in the case of Russia in the 2000s, movement away from democracy. Numerous factors have been suggested that can help account for the variance in the timing, pace, and success of regime transitions in post-communist Europe (defined here to include the western states of the former Soviet Union; for coverage of the entire range of post-Soviet states, see Comparative Politics of Eurasia). These variables include legacies of the previous regime, socioeconomic conditions, institutional choice, political culture, ethnic diversity and conflict, and policies of external actors such as the European Union (EU) (see Post-Communist Democratization). Some of the works on the region draw upon the wider literature on democratization in comparative politics (see Democratization). This article surveys both general literature on regime transformation in the region as well as country-level analyses that describe and explain political outcomes.

General Overviews

Several works that cover the basic issues and dilemmas of the post-communist political reform could serve as useful overviews (see also Anthologies). Holmes 1997 stands out as the classic overview, addressing the major political, economic, and social dilemmas faced by post-communist societies in the early 1990s. Ágh 1998 is more empirically grounded, discussing both starting points and movement toward democracy in a number of eastern European states. Fowkes 1999 covers similar ground, but its presentation is more thematically organized. Gill 2002 is a slightly more advanced text, covering basic concepts and dilemmas of post-communist reform and presenting data on the performance of various countries in the 1990s. Rose 2009 may be the best single source that synthesizes public opinion research to reveal how publics across post-communist countries have reacted to the transition and the nature of their political values. Some works that can serve as overviews of the study of post-communist regime change are more grounded in theory and more reflective of what to make of the post-communist experience. Bunce 2003 is recommended for suggesting what the post-communist experience adds to the vast literature in comparative politics on democratization. Ekiert, et al. 2007 both describes the state of democracy across post-communist cases as well as offers explanations that may account for the different outcomes. Pop-Eleches 2007 makes the case that historical legacies and starting points in the late 1980s and the early 1990s matter most in accounting for different reform outcomes in post-communist countries. Ekiert 2015 is a retrospective review of the various paradigms or approaches scholars have used in studying post-communist transitions.

  • Ágh, Attila. The Politics of Central Europe. London: SAGE, 1998.

    DOI: 10.4135/9781446279250

    An assessment of the largely successful transition to democracy in a number of central and eastern European states. Each case study contains a wealth of historical material. This is an excellent overview of developments in the 1990s, making it a good starting point for research.

  • Bunce, Valerie. “Rethinking Recent Democratization: Lessons from the Postcommunist Experience.” World Politics 55.2 (2003): 167–192.

    DOI: 10.1353/wp.2003.0010

    A review of general theories of democratization and their applicability to post-communist states, particularly Russia. Useful for advanced students and those interested in comparative democratization.

  • Ekiert, Grzegorz. “Three Generations of Research on Post-Communist Politics—a Sketch.” East European Politics and Societies 29.2 (2015): 323–327.

    DOI: 10.1177/0888325414559052

    A reflection on research paradigms in the study of post-communist regimes, noting that the field has moved from a focus on the immediate communist past to comparative research to emphasizing long-term historical continuities. Better suited for advanced students.

  • Ekiert, Grzegroz, Jan Kubik, and Milada A. Vachudova. “Democracy in the Post-Communist World: An Unending Quest.” East European Politics and Societies 21.1 (2007): 7–30.

    DOI: 10.1177/0888325406297170

    Introduction to a special volume on comparative democratization in post-communist states. Describes differences across countries and reviews theories that account for these outcomes. Highly recommended, particularly as a relatively short review of a large literature.

  • Fowkes, Ben. The Post-Communist Era: Change and Continuity in Eastern Europe. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 1999.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230376915

    Solid review of developments in the 1990s. Thematically organized. Coverage of ethnic issues, economic reforms, and the social consequences of transition. Largely optimistic about results achieved.

  • Gill, Graeme. Democracy and Post-Communism: Political Change in the Post-Communist World. London: Routledge, 2002.

    Examination of some of the basic issues facing post-communist states, including development of civil society and new political parties, economic reform, and ethnic diversity. Compares and contrasts the experiences of several countries. Very informative, but better suited for readers with some background on the subject.

  • Holmes, Leslie. Post-Communism: An Introduction. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1997.

    A useful work that describes the collapse of communism and some of the basic dilemmas faced by post-communist countries, including creating new political institutions, instituting economic and social reforms, and cultivating an effective civil society.

  • Pop-Eleches, Grigore. “Historical Legacies and Post-Communist Regime Change.” Journal of Politics 69.4 (2007): 908–926.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2508.2007.00598.x

    A methodologically sophisticated discussion of how political, economic, and cultural legacies affect post-communist transitions. Suggests these legacy factors are more important in explaining different outcomes than institutional choice, external factors, or initial electoral outcomes. Shows that the importance of legacy varies with different aspects of democracy. Highly recommended for advanced students.

  • Rose, Richard. Understanding Post-Communist Transformation: A Bottom Up Approach. New York: Routledge, 2009.

    Draws upon more than 100 public opinion surveys across post-communist states to shed insight on how publics view the transition process, the strength of social capital and civil society, the consequences of economic reform, and the development of democratic values. Suitable for a supplemental text for undergraduates.

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.