Why did Eastern Europe become so violent post the dissolution of the Soviet Union?

By Sunil Kumar

Eastern Europe has always been a violent place. In Communist times; there was a sense of outward order as the media was not free and there was enforced order; as most of the countries were vassal states of the Soviet Union under the Warsaw pact.

Look at European history. It’s always been wars and violence; interspersed with periods of peace. Eastern Europe was mostly under the Austro-Hungarian empire till the end of the First World War; and many states became independent only to fall to savage Nazi Germany in World War II.

After 1453; Turks gained a foothold in Europe and most of their colonies were in Eastern Europe. For example; the poet Byron attempted to rally all of Western Europe’s intellectuals and especially England against them during the Greek independence struggle.

The Soviet Union was like a big bulwark against the West; with the ideology of Communism as a unifying factor against the “image” of a depraved, corrupt West which they secretly admired due to material progress.

Transition from one type of society to another depends on the adjusting ability of the old ruling class to a new way of operating; and then profit or suffer tremendously. Apart from Romania and its Ceausescu dictatorship; most of them smoothly moved over to the free market.

Now; in the mother ship itself; Russia and the Soviet Union there was a period of great unrest and economic hardship under Yeltsin; and after Putin took over; a large part of that instability ended and some degree of balance was restored. According to the West; crony capitalism flourished in Russia and most of the erstwhile Soviet bloc.

The result has been that we now hear of Russian oil billionaires in London and the rise of a mafia(Russian as well as from countries of Eastern Europe). It is a different ballgame from the Soviet era and its deadly internal and external spy agencies that controlled citizen’s lives.

The same period in the 90s saw the gradual rise of China as well as Islamist attacks becoming more prevalent after the rise of Bin Laden and Al Qaeda.

Circa 2018; we are seeing that a unipolar world with the U.S at its helm is again being challenged by China(now No.1 antagonist to superpower status) and to a lesser extent by Putin’s Russia. However; the Russians still try to maintain leverage and influence in areas formerly under its iron grip.

The prime example of violent clashes was in erstwhile Yugoslavia where tensions between ethnic Serbs, Croats and Bosnian Muslims etc resulted in violent clashes and ethnic cleansing in the 90s. To Communism’s credit; Tito had kept the imaginary construct of Yugoslavia alive and ticking as along as he was around(1980). Most of these countries had failing economic systems and a large amount of debt to their creditors; a large majority bankers of Western Europe.

It is natural that when a large change happens; with economic hardship and a semi-democratic setup which rarely is as effective in curbing protest than an authoritarian regime; that violence will flare up. Some of the countries in Eastern Europe have creditably stabilized after the tidal wave of change subsided; but the world is always in flux as Brexit; backlash against globalization around the world; especially in the biggest economy(USA) and other countries continues; we may be in for an even bigger roller coaster ride. Only time will tell.

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