Why we’re not looking up to the west anymore
When I was 7, growing up in a Czechoslovakia that had just recently shed Communist rule, my family took me on a trip to Hanover, Germany, to visit some émigré friends. This was my first visit to the West — the mythical place that most Eastern Europeans knew only from television commercials and Hollywood films. I was mesmerized by the obvious prosperity (to this day I can remember my first taste of the soft-serve ice cream at IKEA), the clean streets, and the sense of social order.
The West — both real and imagined — played a critical role in the success of post-Communist transitions the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and the Baltic states. The prospect of becoming like the West enabled politicians from these countries to justify policy decisions that would not otherwise have been accepted.
Many of the necessary reforms carried short-term political, economic, or social costs. Yet their proponents were able to point out to the expected benefits of joining the European Union and NATO, which required prospective members to put their political and economic house in order. More fundamentally, many voters in the post-Communist world wanted their countries to be as prosperous, democratic, and well-governed as the West — or, at least, as they imagined it to be. Even if their idea of the West was naïve, it helped them carry the burden of policy changes that have ultimately turned Central Europe into a much better place than it was 26 years ago. Read more…