Frye Introduction

Frye Introduction - Oligarchs and Markets 01/29/05...

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Oligarchs and Markets 01/29/05 Introduction 1 Introduction In the popular Soviet-era movie, An Irony of Fate , a bout of drinking leads a Russian man bound for Moscow to board a flight to St. Petersburg. Unaware of his mistake, he collects his luggage, hails a taxi and tells the driver to take him to his apartment on Construction Workers Street. The ride takes him through a familiar landscape of seemingly identical apartment buildings, public service signs extolling the benefits of socialism, and shops with highly functional names like “Milk” and “Bread.” Upon leaving the cab, he enters a non-descript concrete bloc building and takes the lift to an equally non-descript two-room apartment. He has no idea that he is in the wrong city. Fifteen years into the transformation of the post-Soviet space, this premise is implausible. If the watchword of the communist era was conformity, the watchword of the postcommunist world is diversity. The bustling streets of Prague are a far cry from the drab thoroughfares of Minsk. The faux-rococo design of Moscow’s Manezh Square has little in common with the staid old-European atmosphere of central Zagreb. It is of course wrong to claim that countries in the region have jumped out of their communist era skin. The hardwiring of the planned economy cannot be replaced overnight or even in a decade. Energy grids planned with political rather than economic rationales, housing blocs with common heating and electrical systems, and middle-age engineers and workers with skills made obsolete by the passing of the command economy continue to mark the postcommunist tableaux. However, the scope of change across countries in the relatively brief period years is astonishing.
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Oligarchs and Markets 01/29/05 Introduction 2 Moldova, a small agricultural country tucked between Romania and Ukraine, began the transition with a gross domestic product per capita that was roughly three times greater than that of Albania, but has now become the poorest country in Europe. Estonia a relatively well off, but far from prosperous former Soviet Republic, began the decade with many expecting dramatic economic declines and great potential for ethnic conflict with the Russian minority (IMF 1994). However, Estonia remained at peace throughout the decade, created a booming economy, and recently joined the European Union. Poland, the economic basket case of Eastern Europe in the 1980s, became an economic powerhouse in the 1990s, while Slovakia, its neighbor to the south, has experienced strong economic performance over the last decade despite many predictions to the contrary. The extent of political change across the region has been no less striking. Robust democracies have emerged in Latvia and Hungary and equally robust authoritarian regimes have taken hold in Uzbekistan and Belarus. For much of the decade deep cleavages over economic policy marked political systems in Russia and Bulgaria, but not Estonia and Kazakhstan. Robust party systems have developed in the Czech Republic,
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This note was uploaded on 05/05/2008 for the course CPE 357 taught by Professor Robertkaufman during the Spring '08 term at Rutgers.

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Frye Introduction - Oligarchs and Markets 01/29/05...

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