Reforms After Communism in Poland and Yugoslavia

The communist rule in Europe marked an important historical moment. It represented the framework for the political, social, economic, and cultural evolution of most East European countries. Nonetheless, each country faced a somewhat different experience and therefore, once the fall of the Berlin Wall sealed the end of communism, the consequences of this regime were all the more different. Poland and Yugoslavia are an eloquent example of the way in which post communist countries recovered or failed to do so. Although there are certain similarities between the two, Poland and Yugoslavia now stand at practically opposing points of development.

Overall, the first clear distinction is their positioning in relation to the international organizations and forums. Poland, on the one hand, is a solid member of the European Union, and its largest trading partner, according to official figures. (Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Poland, 2007)This historical outcome is the result of increased political efforts by the leadership in Warsaw to improve the visibility of their country in Europe. Thus, the political engagement of the Polish government made it possible for Poland to sign the European Agreement on 16 December 1991 "which established an associate relationship between the EC and the Republic of Poland." (Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Poland, 2007) Its integration became official on 1 May 2004. This membership is further more strengthened by the cooperation within the NATO alliance, starting in 1999. (Oljasz, n.d.)

On the other hand, in terms of international relations, Yugoslavia is at the opposite corner. First, Yugoslavia is no longer a valid country name. Once the 2003 Union of Serbia and Montenegro was established in 2003, the eventual breakup of the political settlement was obvious, as "the aim was to settle Montenegrin independence demands." (BBC News, 2006) This became reality once the Montenegrin referendum on 3 June 2006 decided on the independence of the former Republic from Serbia. As a result, Serbia declared itself the successor state to the Union, a decision confirmed by the Serbian parliament and the subsequent referendum when adopting a new constitution. (CIA, 2007) Therefore, although Yugoslavia is a term used to generally identify the political entities of the former communist state, at the moment, the notion is no longer available. This constant political turmoil characterizes in brief the actual situation the former Yugoslavian states were in following the fall of communism. The violent breakup of the federation, along with the numerous political and military interventions from Western countries led to a negative national profile, which is visible at the level of its international relations. In this sense, despite the fact that in 2005 the EU did initiate accession talks with then Serbia and Montenegro, they were set aside following the failure of the Belgrade leadership to settle the matter of Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic. Thus, in the EU's last Report on the Western Balkans, both Serbia and Montenegro are qualified just as "potential candidates" without an institutional dialogue framework. (European Commission, 2006) Moreover, in comparison to Poland, the former State Union's contacts with the North Atlantic Alliance are limited and rather strained. A similar situation involves its relationship with the UN, especially in the matter of the Kosovo region and the independence plan the world organization proposed and the Serbian government refuses.

This distinct international evolution is the obvious result of the internal changes that both countries went through in the post communist era.

The system of government played an essential role in the development of the two. Poland benefited from a rather stable political environment. It has a unitary political apparatus. The president is elected through universal suffrage, whereas the Prime Minister is responsible in front of the Parliament after having been appointed by the President. This procedure, at least theoretically, established a democratic control procedure of the directly elected legislative branch over the appointed one. On the other hand, the Yugoslavian system of government was typical for a federative one. Thus, although the President represented the head of the state, he had to share power with the leader of Kosovo. (CIA, 2007) Thus, the unity of their decisions could have been somewhat limited. The same separation was present even in the executive and legislative branches, as the Cabinet of Serbia was separated from the one in Kosovo. Still, major decisions were taken though difficult consultations and negotiation.

In respect to the political power, a certain similarity can be underlined between Poland and Serbia. Both presidents are directly elected for a five years term, thus ensuring a democratic appointment of the presidency.

After the fall of the communist rule, the institutional system demanded an increased effort for reformation. In the Polish case, this was done under the constant pressure of the European Union, whereas in Yugoslavia, this reform took the form of a rather disorganized process. Poland has experienced a dramatic "shock therapy" transition in the early 90's, a situation that determined the forced creation of certain new institutions that would enable them to sustain the framework of the emerging market economy and in the eventuality of its accession to the EU and the Copenhagen criteria. In this sense, politically speaking, the old political parties reemerged, "parties belonging ideologically to the workers'- socialist, peasant, and Christian democrat, conservative and nationalistic camps." (Sanford, 1991) Many minorities were represented in the political life in the interwar period: the Ukrainians, white Russians, Germans, and Jews, which came into agreement with the EU's demand for equal representation and democracy. In opposition, Yugoslavia was marked by increased political conflicts that degenerated in violent clashes as well. Although politics did not represent the main reason for the Kosovo war with the Albanians, in the end this conflict resulted in the establishment of new institutions in the region, a new political system that worked for the eventual independence requests by Kosovo in 2006. All this is the consequence of a fragmentized political architecture, with numerous ethnic-based parties that have divergent interests that cannot foster agreements.

The economic factor is, however, the most important element that places the two countries in opposition. On the one hand, Poland has managed to reach a certain degree of development that enables it to face up to EU competition, whereas the Yugoslavian states are still struggling in economic disarray.

Poland underwent a series of changes that involved the attracting of major foreign investors due to their importance for the privatization process that had to be conducted following the state ownership communist practice. In response to various failed strategies, the winning plan was "the Balcerowicz Plan (which) called for a liberal domestic price policy, increased imports, tougher wage control and financial policy regarding companies; it introduced interest rates higher than inflation; made the z-oty a convertible currency and stabilized its exchange rate against the U.S. dollar. As a result, the Polish economy stabilized and opened up to the world." (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2007) Thus, the national economy became available for collaborations in the energy industry, natural gas, and oil. (Energy Information Administration, 2002) This segment of the economy is essential, taking into consideration the need for a coordinated European energy policy. Still, there are other areas where Poland is negatively improving its record. The Polish agriculture is one of the most important for the EU and yet, the country registers an increase level of poverty in rural areas. (CIA, 2007) Overall, Poland has become a determinant element for the European project.

On the other hand, Yugoslavia, or Serbia, is still struggling with the privatization process. (European Commission, 2006) However, this can be explained by the constant economic sanctions that Serbia suffered throughout the 90s. Still, starting with 2000, the government launched a program meant to re evaluate the external debt, to engage in institutional contact with all major financial actors, and to elaborate…