Romania is the only blood-stained model in which violence was committed and its head of state – Ceausescu and his wife – were executed in the fastest trial in history in the late 1980s. This was during a period when the waves of change, or the European Spring, were sweeping the continent. One of the most prominent outcomes of this was the fall of the Berlin Wall which, in turn, resulted in the regimes that were once in the orbit of the then Soviet Union, or behind the so-called Iron Curtain, collapsing one after another.
Nearly two decades have passed following this wave that practically changed the European map, giving rise to the European Union [EU] which today incorporates 27 states. New states wishing to enter the EU were subject to a qualification criteria [Copenhagen criteria] which is still in place today in a bid to change their past cultures and adapt their laws, economy, political system and judicial system to be in harmony with that of the member states. Once a new state successfully met these requirements, it is rewarded with EU membership which includes huge trade opportunities, access to new markets, workforce and investment opportunities, not to mention open borders [within the EU].
Some countries have achieved relative successes in comparison with others. Indeed some member states continue to struggle despite the fact that they have been EU members for over two decades and despite the presence of the EU’s strong protective umbrella and massive financial machinery. Romania is the state that has perhaps struggled the most and its political climate today is similar to some of the stories and news that occurred in Arab states that later witnessed political change. The political elites are fighting one another in Romania and accusations of corruption and trials continue unabated. According to a recent report by the New York Times, 4,700 people have gone to trial on corruption changes, including 15 ministers and secretaries of state, 23 members of parliament and more than 500 police officers. In addition to this, the former prime minister was arrested earlier this summer on charges of corruption, whilst he has lately been accused of faking a suicide attempt to escape prison. Indeed, controversy even surrounds the current Romanian president himself over reported attempts to influence the judiciary to target his political opponents.
We see certain stories being repeated, at various levels, in Central and Eastern European republics and the Balkan region that continue to suffer instability and which have failed to achieve the desired economic levels and living standard. These were the major motive for overthrowing the former regimes, not to mention the desire to get rid of the austere Communist lifestyle.
Perhaps, the best success story in the process of change that beset the former Eastern Bloc republics – made possible by the collapse of the Soviet Union – was that of East Germany, which merged completely with West Germany. Although this had an enormous financial cost borne by West Germany, it resulted in the reunification of the country that had been divided following World War II. Furthermore, Poland also achieved a success that surpassed its Eastern European peers, hence serving as the first spark which ignited the process of change in other states, whereas change in Poland itself was carried out in a gradual and peaceful manner.
However, until now, none of these states have been able to reach the same high living standards as those seen in Western Europe, nor do they enjoy the same sort of transparent or dynamic political systems that can be seen there.
The lesson to be drawn from the Eastern European Spring experience, or from the storm of political change that took place there, is that regardless of the ceiling of expectations and wishes, change is a difficult and complex process. It is not a certainty that change means moving forwards, as can be evidenced by the 2005 Orange Revolution in Ukraine. It is important to note that it is the degree of economic and cultural development that largely determines a society’s path of change. What is certain is that this change requires long decades and huge effort, as can be seen in the experiences of the former Eastern bloc states.
Here, we must also take into consideration the fact that such states did not suffer structural obstacles such as illiteracy, nor did they lack basic services. Whilst the economic standings of these states, even when they were in the orbit of the former Soviet Union, was far greater than that of third world countries.