Dimitrij Rupel Stran 1 11.4.2010
(»Der Donauraum - Twenty Years After the Fall of the Iron Curtain.«)
FROM COMMUNISTS TO OLIGARCHS1
(Ten Points about the Twenty Years of Transformation in Central and Eastern Europe)
Dr Dimitrij Rupel2
1. On the eve of proclamation of the independent Slovenia in 1991, President Kučan3
gave a speech where he solemnly predicted that »nothing will remain the way it used
to be. « As a matter of fact, this was a paraphrase of an earlier prediction. The same
words were used by a train passenger on the eve of the establishment of Yugoslavia in
1918, overheard and reported by Ivan Hribar4 in his Memoirs. I remember my own
excitement and hundreds of enthusiastic speeches given by European politicians and
Eastern European activists after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Today, when we
are removed and distant from those pathetic statements, we can evaluate their
2. What actually happened in 1989? It is indeed a question, whether the political
developments in Yugoslavia after 1918, all over Europe after 1989, and specifically in
The term oligarchs has been used in connection with the rise of the new class in modern Russia after the
demise of the Soviet system. Similar developments can be observed in other former Communist countries,
including Slovenia where the members of the new class have been called tycoons.
Dr. Dimitrij Rupel (born in 1946) is a professor of sociology, a writer, a politician and a diplomat. In 1987,
when he was its »responsible editor«, the dissident journal Nova revija published the controversial collection of
Contributions for the Slovenian National Program that served as the philosophical and political basis for the
Slovenian movement of national independence. Dr. Rupel and his colleagues were purged, but the decay of the
Communist system could not be stopped. In January 1989, Dr. Rupel established one of the earliest non-
Communist parties (Slovenian Democratic Alliance) that joined the opposition coalition Demos. In April 1990,
the opposition won the first democratic elections in Yugoslavia. Dr. Rupel became minister (»for international
cooperation«) in the new government whose program consisted of two points: democracy and national
independence. During the past 20 years, Dr. Rupel has spent approximately 10 years as foreign minister in the
governments chaired by Peterle, Drnovšek, Rop and Janša. In 1992, he was elected to the Parliament; in 1994, he
became the mayor of the Slovenian capital (Ljubljana), and between 1997 and 2000, he served as the
Ambassador of Slovenia to United States of America. In 2005, Minister Rupel served as the Chairman in Office
of the OSCE, while in the first semester of 2008, he was the President of the EU Council for General Affairs and
External Relations (GAERC). After the elections of 2008, Dr. Rupel first became an adviser to Prime Minister
Pahor, but he soon returned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He spends most of his time writing about his
political and diplomatic experience, and analyzing contemporary international issues. His next book (The
President or As It Was) is due to appear in the Fall of 2009.
Milan Kučan was elected as President of the Presidency of the Republic of Slovenia in 1990, and stayed in that
position until 2002. In his previous career, Kučan was a leader of the Yugoslav League of Communists.
Ivan Hribar (1851-1941) was a liberal politician, a mayor of Ljubljana during the time of Austria-Hungary, a
Yugoslav enthusiast and even the Royal Deputy for Slovenia (1921-1923).
Dimitrij Rupel Stran 2 11.4.2010
Slovenia after 1991, have confirmed, or justified the expectations expressed in those
wonderful proclamations and exclamations?! Let me dwell for a moment on the
political developments of the past twenty years in Central and Eastern Europe, in
Yugoslavia and specifically in Slovenia. What exactly were the expectations, what
was the goal of these developments? What were their achievements? What actually
happened? Was it a revolution? A simple regime change? Political and economic
reform? Replacement of the upper layer of the administration? Technological
progress? Cultural metamorphosis? Continuation with some elements of
discontinuity? And lastly, where are we today? Is it true, that nothing has remained
the way it used to be? Are we still in the process of transition from the Communist
system to democracy and market economy? Or is it more true to say that much has
remained the way it used to be?
3. Different interpretations. It seems that the events of 1989 have impressed different
nations in rather different ways. I suspect that they have produced more enthusiasm in
Central and Eastern Europe than in the West. In the West, the developments have been
more warmly welcomed by Conservatives than by Socialists. For many, the problem
was stability connected with balance of power, with fears of turmoil and stormy times.
Before 1991, the main concern of the West was stability of the nuclear superpower,
the Soviet Union. Generally, in the Communist countries, their elites feared for the
achievements of Socialism which meant potential loss of their substantial personal and
family possessions, security and other privileges. Their subjects and/or victims were of
course happy. The fall of the Wall meant liberation from dictatorship and general
misery, freedom of movement and expression. But they were happier at the beginning
than a few years later.
4. The situation of Slovenia was specific, since its democratic movement coincided with
and depended on, the drive to independence from the Yugoslav Federation. Slovenian
Communists were in favor of preserving Yugoslavia, and - if there was a choice - they
would prefer adjustment and agreement with Marković, the Yugoslav army and even
Milošević. But Belgrade embarked upon nationalist and genocidal policies, and started
a war. All political forces in Slovenia united against the external threat. This external
situation, i.e. the absence of a proper nation-state and the movement for independence
diverted the attention of Slovenian democrats from Party politics to National politics,
and prevented them from introducing radical reforms the way it was done by their
colleagues in Poland or Czechoslovakia. In Slovenia, no prohibition or limitation
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(lustration) against former members of the Secret Police or Communist leaders has
5. The coexistence conditioned with national emergency lasted a number of years. After
independence came international recognition, joining NATO and the EU, economic
reforms etc. In Slovenia, most governments - with the exception of the present one6 -
were more or less great coalitions consisting of »old« and »new« parties. The spirit of
trans-party cooperation was accompanied by the general upbeat atmosphere in Europe:
this was the time of open doors and windows of opportunity.
6. Freedom and stability. After 1975, with the Helsinki process, and especially after
1989, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Europe sought a new kind of stability. The
landscape behind open doors and windows of opportunity was »Europe whole and
free«. The Helsinki process, the fall of the Berlin Wall and ensuing extension of the
West towards the East meant transition to new stability. New stability emerged with
the break-up of Soviet Union and of Yugoslavia… with enlargement of NATO and
EU, with the 2003 Thessaloniki agenda for Western Balkans, the European
Neighborhood Policy for Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean… The EU and NATO
have contributed substantially to making Europe whole and free. The enlargements of
2004 were important success.
7. The domino theory. After the stormy years of 1989, 1990 and 1991 - meaning the time
from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the demise of Yugoslavia and Soviet Union - there
was a pause that lasted a decade. Then, the conquest of the East continued. After the
success of the Serbian resistance movement Otpor and after the fall of Milošević in
the year 2000, after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001;7 after the Rose
revolution in Georgia (2003), Ukraine was shaken by the Orange revolution in
November 2004. Some optimistic analysts predicted that the drive of the West towards
the East - starting in November 1989 with the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia -
would continue and bring changes to Belarus, Moldova, Kazakhstan and, maybe, to
Moscow itself. Eventually, the Tulip revolution in Kyrgyzstan followed in 2005. The
analysts and politicians were divided: some believed that the time for the correction of
In the period after the fall of the various European Communist states in 1989 – 1991, lustration came to refer to
the policy of limiting the participation of former communists, and especially informants of the communist secret
police, in the successor governments or even in civil service positions.
After the elections of September 2008, the governing majority consisted of Social Democrats (former
Communists), The »Really« Party (a new center-left group), Liberal Democrats and The Pensioners' Party.
Negative reactions to the terrorist attacks of 2001 were universal and unanimous. Then, the Russian Federation
was still preoccupied with Chechnya where military operations continued until 2000.
Dimitrij Rupel Stran 4 11.4.2010
the shortcomings of the world order established after the two world wars has expired
at the end of the twentieth century8; while others advocated the hypothesis that the
democratic climax was still to come. The conflict between the two schools was
evident at the Bucharest NATO summit in 2008 where the decision has been reached
that Albania and Croatia could come in, while Georgia, Macedonia and Ukraine
should wait a little longer. This new pause is connected with new political and
economic realities concerning the new strength of the Russian Federation, the oil and
gas issues and - of course - the global financial and economic crisis.
8. Enlargement fatigue. I remember well the European debates of the nineties when some
conservative leaders recommended a deepening of the EU system of 15 member
states, before it widens. This policy was not entirely successful: widening was perhaps
slower than originally intended by the wideners, but in 1999, it exploded. In 1997,
during the Presidency of Luxemburg, the EU decided to start negotiations with the 6
candidates (Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia);9 while
in 1999, during the Finnish Presidency, the green light was given to Bulgaria, Latvia,
Lithuania, Malta, Romania and Slovakia.10 The deepening-widening debate exposed
the weaknesses of the system, and opened the way to the changes introduced by the
Constitutional Treaty.11 The problem is that the changes that would limit consensual
decision-making (meaning limitation of the veto power of an individual state, more
majority decision-making, a step towards stable leadership and more unity) are
attainable only by unanimous vote. The legalistic discussions have been accompanied
by political accusations - concerning too generous enlargement with ill-prepared
countries - and by various new ideas like the idea about a two-speed EU, about special
arrangements with the candidates like Turkey or the Balkan countries, and about an
EU run by a directoire of the largest members.12 All in all, it seems that after twenty
years, the core Western nations grew tired of the liberation processes started in 1989.
The times of openness and opportunity have come to an end.
This - more conservative - school believes that the expansion of the West should be limited to the achievements
of the XXth century. This school may admit that the story was over with the enlargement of NATO (to 28
members) and the EU (to 27 members).
Negotiations with the Luxemburg group started in March 1998.
Negotiations with the Helsinki group actually started in February 2000.
EU leaders signed the Constitutional Treaty in autumn 2004, but the ratification was stalled following the two
negative votes on the text in France and the Netherlands in 2005. Later, the Constitution was replaced by the
Lisbon Treaty (2007) that has been rejected by the Irish referendum in June 2008.
In the Convention preparing the Constitutional Treaty - and especially behind the scenes - many models have
been debated. Some members would welcome stronger role of the »G« countries (like Britain, France and
Germany), maybe in the same fashion as the permanent members of the Security Council in the United Nations.
Dimitrij Rupel Stran 5 11.4.2010
9. Problems with the recognition of Kosovo. Nowhere was the problem of fatigue as
evident as in the case of Kosovo. Freedom and independence of the captive nations
were essential component parts of the democratic movements of the late eighties. So
were the resolution of the Yugoslav crisis, establishment of new nations out of the
units of the former Federation, and plans for their integration into NATO and the EU.
In a way, declaration of independence and international recognition of Kosovo
represented the last chapter of the salvage operation of the Yugoslav crisis. These
decisions were among the most difficult, and certainly were the most difficult
decisions of the Slovenian EU Presidency in the first semester of 2008. After so many
years of »liberal« and »idealist« operation, the West, particularly the Europeans
became more »realist« and »conservative«. Germany could be reunited, Soviet Union
and Yugoslavia could fall apart, the EU and NATO could absorb a dozen new
members each; but Kosovo was a problem for Spain (because of separatism in their
own camp), for Slovakia (because of the Hungarian minority), for Cyprus (because of
the Turkish part of the country) etc. I remember difficult negotiations with our EU
colleagues, and I am glad that we managed to decide unanimously to introduce in
Kosovo the EU assistance teams in spite of the Serbian and Russian opposition and
without major political and/or security problems. It was especially difficult, because
we had to keep in mind the volatility of the political situation in Serbia, and the
difficulties with extending to it - contrary to the will of The Netherlands - a
Stabilization and Association Agreement. I was personally attacked by joint Slovenian
and Serbian comrades urging me to stop the recognition of an independent Kosovo.13
These were the last positive moments of the democratic process that erupted in 1989
in Berlin. The process was launched in Slovenia already in 1987 with the program of
democratic change and national independence, and in 1989, with practical
establishment of new opposition parties that openly challenged the authoritarian one-
On the eve of the beginning of the Slovenian Presidency of the EU - in December 2007 - the Slovenian
Ambassador in Washington, Samuel Ţbogar who became Foreign Minister at the end of 2008, circulated without
customary restrictions a report containing the minutes of meetings and discussions between Slovenian and
American diplomats concerning the EU and Kosovo. The American interlocutors recommended to Slovenia to
be the first EU country to recognize Kosovo. The report was leaked to Slovenian and Serbian press and
accompanied with the commentary that Slovenia - and the EU - obviously dilligently followed American
instructions. Actually, Slovenia delayed its recognition. On the other hand, this author has introduced, during his
tenure as Minister, motions of sympathy to the fragile position of the progressive forces in Serbia, and broke the
deadlock concerning the SAA between Serbia and the EU.
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10. Restoration of Capitalism or Socialism? It is probably natural for retired politicians to
criticize their successors and the conditions that have arisen after their departure from
the political scene. So, today, in a way, one cannot be surprised to hear from older
officials, particularly those who have been active before 1990, criticism concerning
the achievements of the past twenty years. Some recent statements, however, by some
withdrawn, but still prominent Slovenian politicians14 have been extremely interesting
in this respect, and deserve to be mentioned in this context. One of them has recently
stated that - contrary to the expectations of 1989 - Slovenia has, first, embraced
capitalism; and second, allowed the capitalists to decide on political matters without a
democratic mandate. This statement is odd. Twenty years after the demise of the
Socialist/Communist system, former Communists have acknowledged the existence of
Capitalism. On the other hand, such statement may mean that the capitalist experiment
that has lasted for twenty years should now be abandoned and replaced by Socialism.
The second problem is that, after 1989, people with appropriate political and business
connections, i.e. predominantly former Communists, have themselves converted to the
local kind of Capitalism. They managed to obtain generous loans from friendly banks
and privatized former state property. Today, Slovenian political life is indeed
abundantly influenced by local oligarchs (popularly also called tycoons). It is
paradoxical that they have managed to preserve their old-times connections with the
Post-Communist parties,15 with trade unions, and that they even figure as ultimate
guardians of the working class interests, not to mention their association with NGO
activists and the remains of the deep state. Naturally, they use leftist rhetoric. The
argument that decisions are made without democratic control is serious. This was the
defect of the Communist system, and it should have been done away with. The real
problem is that Slovenian oligarchs/tycoons own or control the media16 and other
agencies that in democracy function as checking and balancing instruments. If my
description is not inaccurate, one could indeed argue that in the past twenty years we
have endured many changes, but much has remained the way it used to be.
One of the most outspoken critics happens to be former President Milan Kučan who has even - in 2004 -
established a network of influential business- and mostly retired political leaders, Forum 21.
The present day Social Democrats is a successor party to the League of Communists; while Liberal Democrats
and Zares (Really) are successor parties to the former Socialist Youth Alliance.
The owner of Laško Brewery Mr. Boško Šrot is a supporter of Social Democrats and the owner of the Delo
media group. Another media group (Dnevnik), headed by the DZS boss Bojan Petan, is connected to Liberal
Democracy and Zares/Really.
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Dr. Dimitrij Rupel asks the question, how much the Central and Eastern European countries
have changed after the stormy events of 1989. He describes the EU policies concerning
enlargement and the general idealistic atmosphere of openness that came after 1989, and finds
that after 20 years, idealism has practically exhausted itself. Despite many achievements
(establishment of independent Slovenia being one of them) some fundamental structural and
political problems remained the same. The author emphasizes the flexibility of the political
forces that have been defeated in 1989. In many cases, the Old Guard survived by
transforming itself into the new capitalist class.