The Wall fell only for some
November 4, 2014 6:30 AM   Subscribe

So, what is the balance-sheet of transition? Only three or at most five or six countries could be said to be on the road to becoming a part of the rich and (relatively) stable capitalist world. Many are falling behind, and some are so far behind that they cannot aspire to go back to the point where they were when the Wall fell for several decades. Despite philosophers of “universal harmonies” such as Francis Fukuyama, Timothy Garton Ash, Vaclav Havel, Bernard Henry Lévy, and scores of international “economic advisors” to Boris Yeltsin, who all phantasized about democracy and prosperity, neither really arrived for most people in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. The Wall fell only for some.
On the eve of the 25th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall Branko Milanovic looks at how the transition to capitalism worked out for the ex-communist countries of the USSR and Eastern Europe.
posted by MartinWisse (49 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
This seems like the sort of thing that Edmund Burke, putative favourite of conservatives, could have predicted. Just another indication (as if we needed one) that the economists and advisors of the Washington Consensus were radicals and not at all small-c conservatives, prone to tearing apart existing systems (as demonstrably imperfect as they were) and replacing them with systems built on abstractions.
posted by clawsoon at 6:50 AM on November 4, 2014 [4 favorites]


There was a "transition" for Russia? Didn't it literally change overnight?
posted by I-baLL at 6:51 AM on November 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


Interesting article, but I do take exception to the statement:

Russia, probably for the first time since the early 1800s, has gone through a quarter of a century without leaving any trace on the international world of arts, literature, philosophy or science

There are and continue to be a number of world class Russian physicists. The arts and literature I can speak less to.
posted by Zalzidrax at 6:51 AM on November 4, 2014 [3 favorites]


I mean, yes, the transition from communism was badly botched - it's hard to argue with the proposition that many, many people are no better off than they were under Communism, or are even worse off.

But this is such a freaking awful article ... for one thing, an article that purports to review post-Soviet/Warsaw Pact outcomes and doesn't talk about East Germany is just failing. Its integration with West Germany hasn't been perfect, but it's been far from an object failure.

Further - calling Belarus a "capitalist success story", even an undemocratic one, is kind of nuts. Belarus basically never transitioned away from communism - not only are the political and law-enforcement institutions the same, the economic system just hasn't changed much.

Finally, I don't even know what to make of the assertion that former communist states haven't produced important artists, scientists, or politicians since the end of the Cold War. Yeesh.
posted by Mr. Excellent at 6:55 AM on November 4, 2014 [9 favorites]


There's another article linked in the comments that go a different direction: Normal Countries: The East 25 Years After Communism

posted by Harald74 at 6:57 AM on November 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


In Iain Banks' novel The Business, a character makes an observation about Russia's transition to capitalism that seemed to resonate:
"What's happened [...] is that the Russians have created their own form of capitalism in the image of what was portrayed to them as the reality of the West by the old Soviet Union's propaganda machine. They were informed that there was nothing but gangsterism, gross and endemic corruption, naked profiteering, a vast, starving, utterly exploited underclass and a tiny number of rapacious, vicious capitalist crooks who were utterly above the law. Of course, even at its most laissez-faire the West was never remotely like that, but that's what the Russians have now created for themselves."

"...it's the caricature they're in the process of copying now, not the reality."
posted by George_Spiggott at 6:59 AM on November 4, 2014 [42 favorites]


I'll have to echo Mr. Excellent about East Germany. In September, I was visiting what was the old DDR and also the Czech Republic. I found it extremely prosperous and the people quite outwardly happy, especially in Berlin. I contrast it to where I live in New England suburbia, which is also quite prosperous - but I don't find people as happy. Not knowing Russia/ex-USSR very well as a country, but knowing quite a few immigrants from there, it seems to me like a very complex place, so analysis of what went on there is probably quite difficult. But saying 'the wall fell only for some' could be applied to world history in general, where the outcomes from great events never quite live up to our expectations for them.
posted by McMillan's Other Wife at 7:08 AM on November 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


Surely the former East Germany is a different case, perhaps even the exception that proves the rule, given that it did not continue on as its own separate political entity but joined its powerhouse western counterpart in reunification.
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:23 AM on November 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


gangsterism, gross and endemic corruption, naked profiteering, a vast, starving, utterly exploited underclass and a tiny number of rapacious, vicious capitalist crooks who were utterly above the law

This does not seem like an entirely inaccurate description. "Starving" is a bit strong. The rest, not untrue.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:25 AM on November 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


Has capitalism even worked out for the vast majority of the American people? If not, then how can we reasonably expect it to work out for the majority of people in former Communist nations?
posted by starbreaker at 7:26 AM on November 4, 2014 [8 favorites]


Interesting topic, and it's good to burst the bubble of neoliberal pollyanaism. However, the article raises some red flags for me.

I might not have followed fully the current intellectual trends, but I really cannot recall, with a few exceptions (and there I confess to my own bias) anyone from Eastern Europe who has made an intellectual or artistic imprint on the world in the past 25 years. The exceptions, in my opinion, are almost all from the former Yugoslavia (here is my bias): Emir Kusturica (film), Goran Bregović (music), and Slavoj Žižek (political philosophy).

Why would anybody take this statement seriously? What the hell does this prove?

Those that are managing not to fall further behind the rich capitalist world are five: Czech republic, Slovenia, Turkmenistan, Lithuania and Romania. They include 40 million people (10% of transition countries’ total). Their growth rates have been between 1.7 and 1.9 percent per capita annually.

Whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa. What a weird way to make comparisons and plot progress. Also, apples, meet oranges. Admittedly, I'm not entirely clear how the author is charting this progress - I don't have the time to twiddle with the linked dataset. For an example of what's raising my giant, hairy eyebrow, Yugoslavia's GDP per capita in 1992 was $8,550.79 (adjusted for inflation). Slovenia's GDP per capita in 2013 was $22,729.32. Slovenia had problems after the Great Economic Crisis, but so have many countries. Their indicators are still healthier than those of some Western European countries.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:26 AM on November 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


This is a handy-dandy comparator which uses World Bank data, just as the article's author does. Play with it to see the global stories from 2000 onwards, from GDP growth to other metrics.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:45 AM on November 4, 2014


I'm no expert on the internal economy of the USSR, but weren't the "client states" of Eastern Europe effectively subsidized very heavily by Mother Russia? The question of political systems seems secondary to that one. Even if they had all decided to stay the course of Marxist-Leninism after 1990, without the artificial demand for manufactured goods provided by the Russians and the closed Soviet economy, they might have still had a very tough time economically.

It seems less like the problem is a transition to capitalism per se, but a transition from a closed economy disconnected from the rest of the world to an integrated one, which necessitates figuring out what your competitive advantage is going to be.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:49 AM on November 4, 2014 [5 favorites]


Modern life is wonderful: you can read an article like this and instantly make a graph to see if it makes any kind of sense. As far as I can tell, it doesn't. The former Soviet countries entered a recession after the shock of the breakup, but then bounced back; since 2008 per capita growth has slowed to that of the advanced economies. It's instructive to compare the Middle East grouping, which didn't enter recession but still comes out dead even with the CIS over the 1992-2012 period. Note that I'm using PPP, which is what matters to individuals.
posted by topynate at 7:51 AM on November 4, 2014 [8 favorites]


Has capitalism even worked out for the vast majority of the American people?

Yes. That's not even a question. What's happening now is that the right is trying to recreate the 19th century plutocracy; but capitalism did indeed play a massive role in the growth of the middle class in the 20th century. It was regulated capitalism, but was limited and the means of production were firmly in private hands.

It's really frustrating that people have bought into the far Right's definition of capitalism, and consider anything short of robber barons to be socialist.
posted by spaltavian at 7:56 AM on November 4, 2014 [17 favorites]


I'm no expert on the internal economy of the USSR, but weren't the "client states" of Eastern Europe effectively subsidized very heavily by Mother Russia?

Yep. And even states which weren't client states had other simmering issues.

For example, SFR Yugoslavia had relied heavily on monies from the First and Second World - sometimes, it's good to be Non-Aligned. When Tito died, it was the largest state funeral of all time, featuring dignitaries from all sides of the Cold War. The joke was that it was so well-attended because he owed everybody money.

...

It occurs to me that it would be unfair to use Yugoslavia's 1992 GDP in a discussion about Slovenia. So, here's something more relevant, and more damning. Yugoslavia's GDP from 1980-1989, separated by the GDPs of its constituent states. Yeah, I can't imagine why Slovenia wouldn't want to return to the glory days of -6.0% growth.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:57 AM on November 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


t seems less like the problem is a transition to capitalism per se, but a transition from a closed economy disconnected from the rest of the world to an integrated one, which necessitates figuring out what your competitive advantage is going to be.

Exactly; this is more a story of imperial disruption than any difference between crony capitalism and Soviet oligarchy.
posted by spaltavian at 7:57 AM on November 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


I might not have followed fully the current intellectual trends, but I really cannot recall, with a few exceptions (and there I confess to my own bias) anyone from Eastern Europe who has made an intellectual or artistic imprint on the world in the past 25 years.

"My appalling ignorance is the reason you should take my argument seriously!"
posted by yoink at 7:58 AM on November 4, 2014 [11 favorites]


There's a lot wrong with the linked piece, but it was worth reading for this tidbit:

Finally, we come to the success cases, those that are catching up with the rich world. There are 12 countries in this group., and in increasing order of success they are: Uzbekistan and Latvia (average growth rate of 2%), Bulgaria (2.2%), Slovakia and Kazakhstan (2.4%), Azerbaijan, Estonia, Mongolia and Armenia (around 3%), Belarus (3.5%), Poland (3.7%) and Albania (3.9%).

Albania leads the pack? Albania?? Now there's something I would never have guessed in a million years. There are no doubt problems with his data and analysis, but surely not enough to move Albania back down where I had it pictured in my mind. You go, Albania!
posted by languagehat at 8:01 AM on November 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


It's really frustrating that people have bought into the far Right's definition of capitalism, and consider anything short of robber barons to be socialist.

Well, as Piketty shows, the equitable prosperity of the "Golden Age of Capitalism" was a historical anomaly. It's not a "Right" definition of capitalism to point out that the development of capitalism logically leads to the immiseration of the working class. Indeed, that is a classically Marxist point.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 8:04 AM on November 4, 2014 [3 favorites]


Albania leads the pack? Albania??

Consider their starting position. Albania under Enver Hoxha could be called North Korea of Europe without much hyperbole.
posted by hat_eater at 8:10 AM on November 4, 2014 [6 favorites]


But, right, it shows that measuring success just by the growth rate is questionable to say the least.
posted by hat_eater at 8:11 AM on November 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


Modern life is wonderful: you can read an article like this and instantly make a graph to see if it makes any kind of sense.

GDP, per-capita or otherwise, tells you remarkably little about what it's like for an ordinary person to live, particularly in a kleptocracy where a tiny number are making a packet on extractive industries and socking the money away in foreign banks and real estate.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:12 AM on November 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


Well, as Piketty shows, the equitable prosperity of the "Golden Age of Capitalism" was a historical anomaly. It's not a "Right" definition of capitalism to point out that the development of capitalism logically leads to the immiseration of the working class. Indeed, that is a classically Marxist point.

If you haven't noticed, American right-wingers talk like Marxists these days. They're just on the side of capital. But they have totally bought into the zero-sum, total war, history plays out according to abstract theories mindset of Marxism.

Marx made an excellent critique of capitalism's excesses. Marxism is not, however, an accurate guidepost of how any economic system will inevitably play out. The sheer unheralded growth of wealth in the 20th century may be an anomaly. The more or less shared prosperity and political equality of the democratic-capitalism system was not: unlike the economy in general, it was not the result of huge forces we cannot predict. It was the result of legislation, that since Reagan has been systemically dismantled in an acts of class warfare leading us to where we are now: attempted disenfranchisement. None of this was inevitable because of capitalism for Marxist or other reasons. It's a result of the inherent risk of democracy; bad people can be elected.
posted by spaltavian at 8:58 AM on November 4, 2014 [5 favorites]


George_Spiggott, that Banks quote very much mirrors my experience in Russian in the early 90s. I was accompanying a legal scholar from the US who was giving a talk on the legal basis of a capitalist economy, and it was fascinating and worrying to see that highly educated Russians were almost universally shocked to hear that there was any legal basis to capitalism. They believed that capitalism was what they had all learned about in university: a system of gangsterism where the courts exist to rubber-stamp whatever payment they receive. So naturally, they all went on to create exactly that system.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 9:16 AM on November 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


GDP, per-capita or otherwise, tells you remarkably little about what it's like for an ordinary person to live, particularly in a kleptocracy where a tiny number are making a packet on extractive industries and socking the money away in foreign banks and real estate.

"Remarkably little" seems like an overstatement. If you look at a list of countries by GDP (PPP) per capita you don't find yourself staring in slack-jawed amazement at the randomness of the ranking. There are certainly outliers (places which have relatively small populations and some local super-elite--like Macau, for example), but by and large you can say with some confidence that the median "ordinary person" in a country low on the list is doing worse, economically, than the median "ordinary person" in a country higher on the list.
posted by yoink at 9:17 AM on November 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


If you haven't noticed, American right-wingers talk like Marxists these days. They're just on the side of capital.

Granted. (Perhaps I would agree even with the more general point: your statement minus "these days.")

Marx made an excellent critique of capitalism's excesses

He made a critique of capitalism, period. The "excesses" are part and parcel of the logical development of the system. I think that's an important distinction to make.

The more or less shared prosperity and political equality of the democratic-capitalism system was not [an anomaly]

Ok, I will again bring up Piketty because that was the exact opposite of the conclusion that he arrived at. Please look at Figure 1.1 of his book: http://georgecooper.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/capital-fig-1-1.jpg That huge drop in income inequality from 1940 to 1980 is the exception, not the rule.

With respect to political rights, I'm not really sure what you're arguing. Are you trying to forward some master narrative of political rights? If so, what is it? I mean, legislation has to come from somewhere. Is it class struggle? Good lawyering? Mass movements? Economically determined? And why did the history of political rights play out the way it did, given that thesis? How do you define political rights? Enfranchisement? Freedom to speak / assemble / print? etc.

It's a result of the inherent risk of democracy; bad people can be elected.

... unless the outcome of your formal democracy is basically determined by the whims of capitalists. Nixon allowed exchange rates to float. Carter appointed Volker, who hiked interest rates. Nixon, Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama have proceeded to pursue austerity policies. This is not a matter of electing the wrong people. All the politicians that could be elected serve the interests of the capitalist class.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 9:22 AM on November 4, 2014 [4 favorites]


Would some of the people ridiculing the "without leaving any trace on the international world of arts, literature, philosophy or science" comment kindly point out examples that disprove it? It's interesting that not a single one so far has produced anything more tangible than "a number of world class Russian physicists."

I'm sure you can name some artists, but that still falls far short of disproving the statement.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:35 AM on November 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm sure you can name some artists, but that still falls far short of disproving the statement.

The problem is that there is nothing to disprove. "I myself can only name three figures" is not a serious statement of anything. What would count as a rebuttal? How many intellectuals, artists, scientists, etc. from how many countries would we have to cite before the statement is disproven? If there is no set number, then what would be the criteria to address this kind of claim? What are we to make of such a statement when the author cites Emir Kusturica for film, but doesn't even attempt to bring up, say, the Romanian New Wave movement in film?
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:40 AM on November 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


It's hardly unique to Russia, but a girlfriend of mine taught a semester at a Moscow university and was shocked at how furious students were when she gave them poor marks for writing papers that simply regurgitated the course material verbatim. They had been raised to do precisely that. This was in the late 1990s, so many of them would have had much of their education under the old system where expressing an original idea was not a very wise move. But I wonder to what extent that approach has changed, how quickly, and if any such change has really had a chance to percolate into the attitudes of the working population?
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:52 AM on November 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm sure you can name some artists, but that still falls far short of disproving the statement.

Lyudmila Ulitskaya

Awards

* Penne Prize (1997, Italy)
* Medici Prize (1998, France)
* Giuseppe Acerbi Award it:Premio Letterario Giuseppe Acerbi (1998, Italy) for her novel Sonechka
* Russian Booker Prize (2002, Russia) for the novel Kukotsky Case
*Chevalier of the Ordre des Palmes Académiques (2003, France)
*Novel of the Year Prize (2004, Russia) for the novel Sincerely yours, Shurik
*Best Writer of the Year Ivanushka Prize (2004, Russia)
*Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (2004, France)
*National Literature Prize for Sincerely yours, Shurik (2005, China)
*Penne Prize (2006, Italy) for the novel Kukotsky Case
*National Olympia Prize of Russian Academy of Business (2007, Russia)
*National Literary Prize BIG BOOK (2007, Russia) for the novel Daniel Stein, Translator
*Father Alexander Men Award (2008, Germany-Russia)
*2009 Man Booker International Prize nominee (along with 14 authors from 12 different countries: Mario Vargas Llosa, E.L Doctorow and 2001 Nobel Prize in Literature winner V. S. Naipaul)
*Simone de Beauvoir Prize (2011, France)
*Pak Kyong-ni Prize (2012, South Korea)
*Austrian State Prize for European Literature (2014, Austria)

But hang on, if "naming some artists...falls far short of disproving the statement" then, um, what could possibly constitute disproof?
posted by yoink at 9:56 AM on November 4, 2014 [3 favorites]


"...it's the caricature they're in the process of copying now, not the reality."

No true Scotsman would fall for that.
posted by vicx at 10:09 AM on November 4, 2014


Yoink, you did quite a bit more than "naming some artists." You made a pretty strong point that Lyudmila Ulitskaya is a significant Russian writer with global impact. THAT'S what I meant.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:18 AM on November 4, 2014


Marx made an excellent critique of capitalism's excesses

He made a critique of capitalism, period. The "excesses" are part and parcel of the logical development of the system. I think that's an important distinction to make.


Sure that's what he tried to do, and I don't agree. He was describing a time of unregulated (but mostly state) capitalism and decided that was the only way it could be. How many times have you heard a socialist saying that the Soviet gulag is not a fair measure of Marxism? Why would a Dickens novel be better for capitalism? Marx accurately described what was happening, his theoretical basis for it was bunk. The strong always preys upon the weak; there's nothing special regarding capitalism in this regard. You cannot solve that economically, only politically.

Ok, I will again bring up Piketty because that was the exact opposite of the conclusion that he arrived at. Please look at Figure 1.1 of his book: http://georgecooper.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/capital-fig-1-1.jpg That huge drop in income inequality from 1940 to 1980 is the exception, not the rule.

I've seen the chart, but we're talking about different things. I said prosperity, not inequality. Compare poverty in 50 year snap shots starting 1750. Look at related measures like education, infant mortality, life span, rates of violent death, etc. Capitalism and the relief of poverty are not incompatible. Inequality, however, will be all over the map in that timeframe, however.
posted by spaltavian at 10:31 AM on November 4, 2014 [1 favorite]




I'm sure you can name some artists, but that still falls far short of disproving the statement.

Henryk Gorecki

'Górecki received an honorary doctorate from Concordia University, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. In a press statement, Concordia Professor Wolfgang Bottenberg described him as one of the "most renowned and respected composers of our time", and stated that Górecki's music "represents the most positive aspects of the closing years of our century, as we try to heal the wounds inflicted by the violence and intolerance of our times. It will endure into the next millennium and inspire other composers".'

That was about when I had a record-scratch moment. Really? You've* admitted your own bias and can't be bothered to correct it, so you're just going to present a really poor metric and hope you get taken seriously?

*you as in author of the linked article

I didn't have enough knowledge to argue with the rest of his article, other than to point out that using a single measurement (well, two I guess, since he acknowledges the Polity scores) is a pretty poor way to get even a general overview of something as complex as a whole country/population. But, I mean, that's why I come to metafilter, to learn exactly how iffy (although, clearly, good for arguments) the article is.
posted by kalimac at 10:52 AM on November 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


> I agree, uh sort of. Whose fault? Wikipedia reminds me:

It's worth mentioning that however sound the observation might be the character making it is an uber-capitalist -- which the author was assuredly not -- so his perspective, particularly in saying that "the West was never remotely like that" reflects the character's beliefs not the author's, and that much at least isn't meant to be construed by the reader as a truism.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:59 AM on November 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


Would some of the people ridiculing the "without leaving any trace on the international world of arts, literature, philosophy or science" comment kindly point out examples that disprove it?

How about a Slovakian company designing a flying car?

There's also the Russia girl-group "Pussy Riot".
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:27 AM on November 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


ovvl: "...Of course, even at its most laissez-faire the West was never remotely like that, but that's what the Russians have now created for themselves."

I agree, uh sort of. Whose fault? Wikipedia reminds me:
If you're implying that Putin's Russia is Washington's, or the West's, fault.... that's weapons-grade sillyness. The West had a limited hand in Russia's restructuring, as did most of Russia. The fall of the Soviet Union was a power grab moment; mostly the oligarchs behind the scene and the major players in the previous government (those powerful enough to have already made themselves oligarchs) took over.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:33 AM on November 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


Titling this article For Whom the Wall Fell is a really bizarre bit of metonymy given that it represents the one thing that the fall of the USSR really did change for everyone in former Soviet states: the ability to freely cross borders and vastly greater access to and communication with the rest of the world.

During the Cold War years, people talked a lot more about the lack of freedom in the Soviet Union than poverty. There may have been the hope or assumption that increased freedom would lead to increased prosperity, but freedom was also desired for it's own sake.
posted by straight at 12:16 PM on November 4, 2014 [8 favorites]


Might as well thow Arvo Pärt on that pile of nonexistent Eastern European culture.

"As of 2013, Pärt has been the most performed contemporary composer in the world for three years in a row."
posted by Pyrogenesis at 2:31 AM on November 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


I have traveled somewhat in many of these countries... by no means does that make me an expert... But just crossing borders and covering distance gives you a feel for the many faultlines in the area: cultural, political, religious... To the point where it feels like it hardly makes sense to speak of the region as a single entity or to base judgment of any individual country off of any single event. Not to say that it is without value to do so... Certainly the collapse of the USSR was a historic event and many commentators at the time anticipated a flowering of progress and development.

But an analysis that puts Albania and Estonia in the same category... Well... It is true they are both countries by the sea... And they both did experience some form of communist leadership... But otherwise... Albania has enormous problems... The social fabric was all but destroyed by Hoxha's criminal rule. Travel, even within the country, was severely restricted for decades. There is some trade and interaction with Italy, over the sea, but trade relations with other countries are problematic, not least due to the utterly dilapidated state of the infrastructure and probably even more so by the widespread corruption. Some people are saying government weakness has caused a gradual resurgence of medieval "Kanun" laws. It resembles Bosnia or Kosovo more than Greece or Croatia, in the sense that it appears isolated, desperately poor, and tribal in a pitiable sense.

Estonia, on the other hand, although gravely impacted by Soviet rule and coping with an underdeveloped back country, was able to rapidly (re)kindle trade relations with Scandinavia as well as the other Baltic states and Germany... Perhaps also owing to the ties that were forged being part of the Hanseatic league. As I understand it is not uncommon for Estonians to work in Finland. The language shares similarities with Finnish, and ferries travel from Tallin to Helsinki a couple of times a day. These qualities add up to Estonia being in a class of its own even among their Baltic neighbours - let alone Albania.

So even though I understand the author is kind of making a argument ad absurdum... i.e. by showing that even by its own standards, "capitalism" has a pauvre track record... if it leads you to class these two countries in the same league... and as success stories, no less... That's just random. And this impression isn't helped by the fact that, by his metric, Italy and France would have ranked alongside Hungary or Turkmenistan... and there are many more bizarre groupings in this piece... like Turkmenistan and Lithuania, or Poland and Bulgaria...

So... yeah... It's entirely valid to critically examine the expectations of Western triumpalism after the fall... and the rucksichtslosigkeit by which a volatile blend of ideology and capital was exported to or imposed on many of the former Soviet-sattelites... a blend that (I believe) has also partly fueled the conflict in Ukraine... but these results are random to the point of obscuring more than they clarify.
posted by dmh at 5:00 AM on November 5, 2014




If you're implying that Putin's Russia is Washington's, or the West's, fault.... that's weapons-grade sillyness.

Yeah, I imply that.

I buy into the theory of IMF's Shock Doctrine as creating the framework of the 21st Century world. They didn't create Putin, but they sure didn't stop him from being the man he is today.
posted by ovvl at 7:53 PM on November 5, 2014


ovvl: They didn't create Putin, but they sure didn't stop him from being the man he is today.
I didn't create Mitch McConnell, but I sure didn't stop him from being the man he is today.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:40 AM on November 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


> Yeah, I imply that.

I buy into the theory of IMF's Shock Doctrine as creating the framework of the 21st Century world. They didn't create Putin, but they sure didn't stop him from being the man he is today.


That's ridiculous (as IAmBroom pithily points out). I don't like the IMF any more than you do, but neither they nor any other Westerners created the current situation of Russia; the greedy politicians and oligarchs who rose to the oil-slicked surface following the collapse of the USSR were never going to bring about any sort of democratic paradise. The fact that the useful idiots who rushed to Moscow to "help them with their democratic transition" provided them with an ideological framework for their greed should not be mistaken for anything more than what it was, a bit of helpful PR.
posted by languagehat at 12:21 PM on November 6, 2014 [3 favorites]


So we're not really saying that 90's Shock Doctrine had no effect on the evolution of Russia today? Hmn.

I'd agree with you that something like the oiligarchy cash-grab would still have happened in the course of post-Communist confusion. But I'd also say that Shock Doctrine made difficult things worse, and added an extra cynical twist to the Bear's legendary (and sometimes justified) distrust of the USA/Eurozone.
posted by ovvl at 2:55 PM on November 6, 2014


Russia's reasons for distrusting the West long predate the creation of the IMF.

I like Naomi Klein as much as anybody, but trying to stretch her book into a Grand Unified Theory of Geopolitics isn't doing it any favors. Revolutionary socialism had its own "shock doctrine" long before the Anglo-American elites decided to give it a shot.

It is a necessary step in almost every instance of internal power consolidation that an external enemy must be found, and if not found, then manufactured. The US is an easy selection, if you are a Russian politician, for obvious historical reasons. But it's probably not the only choice; in some parallel universe China might have been forced into the role if the US had been found especially wanting.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:34 PM on November 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


ovvl: So we're not really saying that 90's Shock Doctrine had no effect on the evolution of Russia today? Hmn.

It's quite a change of stance from:
(your earlier implied claim that) Putin's Russia is the West's fault,
to:
the 90s Schock Doctrine had some effect.

ovvl: I'd agree with you that something like the oiligarchy cash-grab would still have happened in the course of post-Communist confusion. But I'd also say that Shock Doctrine made difficult things worse, and added an extra cynical twist to the Bear's legendary (and sometimes justified) distrust of the USA/Eurozone.

OK, if you're going to make reasonable claims that the military actions of a superpower had some effect on post-Soviet Russia's path, I'll agree.

Cute how you moved your goalposts, and then moved ours.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:19 AM on November 9, 2014 [4 favorites]


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