May, Havana, Cuba.
The process of transition towards democracy, in authoritarian and totalitarian regimes, should be included as a subject within the Political Science field, because of the worldwide vast experiences gained from recent history, especially in European countries.
The fall of Communism in the Euro-Asian continent was undoubtedly one of the major events of world history, ending an ideological system that resulted in more than one hundred million victims.
The key elements that made the system collapse were: the stagnation of the socialist societies, the frustrated expectations of their citizens, nationalism, leaders of the dissidence like Lech Walesa and Vaclav Havel, the militaristic policies of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, the advent of a Polish Pope, and especially the actions taken by Mikhail Gorbachev, a leader who, despite being in control of all the totalitarian powers, decided to create programs to promote freedom of the press and freedom of expression (Glasnost).
Gorbachev decentralized and restructured the stagnant Soviet economy (Perestroika); he also created competitive elections for new parliaments and leaders (Demokratizatsiya), and implemented new foreign policies that ended the Cold War.
The way in which Communism emerged in these European countries had a crucial influence on how they could get rid of it. Estonia, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Georgia, Lithuania saw Communism as a foreign invasion that had brought poverty, deportations and violence. This is why these countries had a strong dissidence movement during the communist era.
In other countries like Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Serbia, there was some legitimacy due to poverty, illiteracy, lack of previous democracies, and lack of awareness as nations.
They ways in which the transition out of Communism took place in Europe can be divided into several groups. In the first group dissidents and nationalists were able to topple the recalcitrant Communist Party and form a government mainly composed of the opposition. As examples we can mention Vaclav Havel’s Czechoslovakia (where large student demonstrations took place, followed by a national strike), Sviad Gamsakhurdia’s Georgia, Askar Akaev’s Kyrgyzstán, and Vojislav Kostunica’s Yugoslavia.
In the second group, the communist parties were more flexible and willing to negotiate a transition, as in Poland and Lithuania.
In the third group, the communist leaders carried out the changes as their own initiatives and without being pressured. This was called “Revolution from Above”, and resulted in a moderate opposition movement, which negotiated with the moderates in the government. The most eloquent example was the Soviet Union.
In the fourth group, the former communist functionaries, who had been expelled from the Party’s high ranks, took advantage of the democratic movement to seize power through opportunism and revenge. A few examples to mention are Boris Yeltsin’s Russia, expelled in 1987 by Gorbachev; Franjo Tudjman’s Croatia, expelled in 1971 by Tito; and Ion Iliescu’s Romania, who was also expelled by Ceausescu in the 80s.
A fifth group characterized by second-level functionaries, as categorized within the regime’s nomenklatura, took advantage to raise reformist flags, either democratic or nationalist, and attack the government that they previously applauded and served. This is the case of Gyula Horn in Hungary and Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia.
The sixth group of countries is composed of the cases where political parties, due to major social pressures, were forced to fake a breaking away from Communism to survive. This was seen in Leonid Kravchuk’s Ukraine, Anatolijs Gorburnovs’ Latvia, and Ramiz Alia’s Albania.
For the seventh group, the transition was like a facade. The communist leaders became heads of state of independent nations, and kept in place the repressive structures and the planned economies, as in the case of Islam Karimov’s Uzbekistan, Vyacheslau Kebich’s Belarus, and Nursultan Nazarbaev’s Kazakhstan.
The eighth group is formed by Armenia, Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh, where the leaders ignored inter-ethnic conflicts for political interests.
Designed based on the same image, structure and political system from the countries of the former socialist camp, Cuba has not found yet its path to a political transition.
Its political and economic models remain the same. The fundamental freedoms continue to be shelved, awaiting social movements as drivers of change. The State, the government, the party, the judicial, legislative, military and repressive structures, continue to be a single entity.
The work of the internal opposition and the push from the diaspora have not been effective in creating the necessary objective and subjective conditions for change on the island.
The revolutionary strategies, presented as reforms and openings, as the correction of errors and negative tendencies, or as the modernization of the socialist model, have buried the aspirations in times of suitable circumstances.
The transition into democracy remains a pending subject for the largest of the Antilles.
June 25 2012