The most cursory glance at economic growth statistics in post-Communist Europe suggests that the past counts a lot. Yet it isn't quite as simple as a Boeing analyst summarized in a 1991 conversation when talking about economic growth potential in post-Communist Eastern Europe: "Protestant and Catholic, good; Orthodox, bad; Muslim, forget it." It is more complicated, of course, but this sort of gross and unfair generalization does succinctly capture what has happened as well as or better than some of the more sophisticated comparative theory models.
An alternate description would state in more politically correct terms that Central Europe is doing pretty well, especially Poland. By contrast, the Balkans, including Romania, are doing quite poorly, except for Catholic Slovenia. Croatia, now that it is at peace and President Franjo Tudjman has been replaced by more pro-Western leaders, shows prospects for recovery, but Serbia is hopeless. Albania is a disaster. In the former Soviet Union, the Baltic countries (Catholic for the most part) [sic] are doing best, the Orthodox countries are doing badly or worse, and much of Central Asia is a catastrophe.
Economic statistics vary from year to year and there are seeming anomalies. The Czech Republic, for example, once a leader in reforms, is now performing relatively poorly. But to go from Prague and Brno to Bucharest is to go from one world to another. All statistics about direct foreign investment, about consumption patterns, or about quality of life show that, indeed, Catholic and Protestant Central Europe is far better off than the Orthodox and Muslim East and South.
Daniel Chirot is professor of sociology at the Henry M. Jackson School of International Affairs, University of Washington, Seattle, WA.
Edited excerpt reprinted with permission from "How Important Is the Past? Interpreting Eastern Europe's Transitional Failures and Successes," East European Studies News, (November-December 2000), 3, based on an East European Studies Meeting Report.
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