Normal Countries

The East 25 Years After Communism

The new normal: voting in Veresegyhaz, Hungary, April 2014. Laszlo Balogh / Courtesy Reuters

Twenty-five years after the Berlin Wall came down, a sense of missed opportunity hangs over the countries that once lay to its east. Back then, hopes ran high amid the euphoria that greeted the sudden implosion of communism. From Bratislava to Ulaanbaatar, democracy and prosperity seemed to be just around the corner.

Today, the mood is more somber. With a few exceptions, such as Estonia and Poland, the postcommunist countries are seen as failures, their economies peopled by struggling pensioners and strutting oligarchs, their politics marred by ballot stuffing and emerging dictators. From the former Yugoslavia to Chechnya and now eastern Ukraine, wars have punctured the 40-plus years of cold peace on the European continent, leaving behind enclaves of smoldering violence. To many observers, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s autocratic grip and aggressive geopolitics symbolize a more general democratic decay spreading from the east. “The worst thing about communism,” quipped

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