DP7825 | Civil Society, Institutional Change and the Politics of Reform: The Great Transition

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This paper examines the relationship between differences in civil society development under communism and divergence in the nature and pace of political and economic reform and transformation after 1989. We put together a unique data set on dissident activities for the 27 former centrally planned economies of Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union during the years immediately preceding the collapse of communism: 1985 to 1989 for Central and Eastern Europe and 1985 to 1991 for the former Soviet Union. Our data measure the nature and intensity of political opposition to the communist regime, and the communist governments response to such opposition. We relate the data to subsequent political and economic developments in the post-communist countries. We find that political opposition was considerably more intense in the Central and Eastern European countries than in the former Soviet Union. Moreover, the frequency of government reaction, and the probability that the reaction was violent, was substantially higher in the former Soviet Union. This rich data allows tests of conflicting hypotheses on the politics of institutional change and economic reform. Both the extent of political opposition and the frequency and severity of government reaction help explain the choice of political regime after 1989/1991, the concentration of power in the executive branch of government. The vibrancy of civil societies and their level of organization before the collapse of communism is an important factor in explaining the nature and pace of market oriented reforms.