Evgeniy Yasin: ‘We Shall Discuss the Problems of Transitional Countries’
From May 23rd – 25th the international symposium ‘Twenty Years: Political and Economic Evolution in Post-communist Europe’ will take place at the Higher School of Economics. Evgeniy Yasin, Academic Supervisor of the HSE, told us about the forthcoming forum.
— Dr. Yasin, how did the idea of this forum come about and why is it in the format of a symposium?
— A while ago, Igor Klyamkin and I were invited to a conference in Poland where not only economists, but also sociologists and political scientists were discussing Russia-Polish relations. I was surprised that, compared with the times when we lived in the framework of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance and the Warsaw Pact, the intellectual level of our Polish colleagues had decreased. I felt that in the past they were able to play a leading role in the social thought of the socialist camp, but today they cannot. The most prominent representatives have moved to the West, and some others are only interested in Polish problems, they have no serious attitude to larger scale problems. In the past, relations with Eastern European countries were a very important part of our international communication and we compared experiences to try and solve similar problems
Among the participants of our April Conference was Leszek Balcerowicz, who after giving his speech, immediately left for Warsaw, since the Sejm was in the middle of abolishing certain parts of the pension, and Leszek was going there to defend the core of the pension reform. But we have just the same problems! And I thought that probably there are many such questions which are interesting both for us and Eastern European countries. That’s why we decided to organize this symposium which, in some sense, would restore our academic ties and would let colleagues from many countries discus shared issues. I don’t think that our colleagues from Serbia, Slovenia or Bulgaria can easily find an audience to share their problems with . And here they will be welcomed with interest.
So, we agreed to meet and discuss the political and economic problems of transitional countries over the last 20 years. We’ll see how it will go. We already have some experience. Igor Klyamkin and Lilia Shevtsova from Liberalnaya Missia (Liberal Mission) foundation together with the Carnegie Foundation have carried out research and published a book entitled ‘Path to Europe’. I have to say that in Russia there is a tradition of Eastern European studies, but such studies are primarily carried out just at the RAS Institute of Economics. I think it would be interesting if this area were studied at the HSE.
Speaking about the format of the event, from our understanding a conference is a large meeting which involves many presentations and discussions. Here we shall only have about 30 international guests plus a number of Russians. So, as it’s not so big, we decided to organize a symposium.
— What will be the main topics of the forum?
— Most Eastern European countries had similar starting positions before the reforms and a similar post-war history, but they have achieved different results in the development of democracy and a market economy. What is the influence of their geographical position, ethnic composition, religious specific, the presence of their own national statehood, experience of democracy and parliamentarism in their pre-communist past over their evolution? What was the impact of the socio-economic characteristics which they had at the moment of the breakup of the communist regime over their further development? What was the role of the key personalities who have influenced political and economic changes over the last 20 years? What were the alternative scenarios of development? What is the influence of cultural differences in different societies, such as ideas about law compliance, the rights and duties of statesmen, labour ethics and contract relations? Those are the main issues which we would like to discuss at the symposium.
The main topic is the results of the economic reforms. 16 countries, including Russia, will be represented at the symposium. Speaking about the former USSR republics, researchers from Ukraine, Belorussia and Georgia will come to participate. In all these countries the results of the reforms are different. But their experience can be of interest for everybody. One of our former students worked in Georgia for a number of years, and then wrote a book (which we published just before the opening of the symposium) entitled ‘Why Did Georgia Succeed?’ It is about fighting corruption. There are similar stories in other countries also.
There are two key areas in the topics of the symposium. The first one is economic: the results of the reforms, who achieved more, what problems we face. The second area is political: what were the democratic reforms and how they were carried out. Since some of the countries have entered the EU, it means that they comply with a certain standard of democracy. And some former USSR republics have more complicated relations with the EU. They say that the success of economic and political reforms is directly proportional to the distance from Brussels.
— Who will participate in the symposium?
— The list of participants includes both researchers and public figures. I will not name all of them, but they include, for example: Pal Tamas, a prominent Hungarian sociologist and economist. Among the speakers will be Pekka Sutela, who worked for a long time at the research institute of the Bank of Finland. Marek Dabrowsky, our old friend and expert in world economics, will come to visit us again. There will be two representatives from Bulgaria, Ivan Krastev and Krassen Stanchev, one of them is an economist and the other is a political scientist. There will be public figures and researchers from Ukraine, Georgia and other countries. In particular, the first President of Belorussia, Stanislav Shushkevich, will join us. Kaha Bendukidze will communicate with us from Georgia via video conference.
Anders Aslund from Sweden will deliver a big presentation. He was head of a research institute in Stockholm, worked for many years at the Carnegie Foundation and is a renowned expert on Russia and Eastern Europe. He will present a report on how the most recent crisis has influenced Eastern Europe. Some researchers from Germany will present an interesting report on the changes and special development conditions in Eastern Germany in comparison with Western Germany.
— Who will represent Russia?
— Russia will be represented by Igor Klyamkin, Lilia Shevtsova and myself. In addition to this, we have invited many other people. I shall make a presentation on the first day on the development of the Russian economy. By the way, two plenary sessions will take place during the first day. One of them will be dedicated to economics and the other to politics. The remaining two days will involve roundtable discussions on groups of countries: Central Europe and the Baltic countries, Southern Europe and the CIS countries.
— Will this symposium become a regular event?
— We are planning to repeat it in 2 or 3 years. But of course every time it will be necessary to find a new perspective and this requires serious effort. That’s why it makes sense to meet not every year, but less frequently, after some changes have occurred and it will be possible to seriously discuss them. I think that it will be possible to discuss some more specific topics than today when we are summarizing the last 20 years.
I have an idea to stimulate democratic changes in Russia. We see that Eastern Europe is leaving us behind. When Poland or Czech Republic is ahead, this can be explained by a higher cultural level, but when Bulgaria or Romania leave us behind, it is disappointing. We are tied culturally, and I would hope that those ties which have been established after WWII, the feeling of mutual problems, will make people communicate, think and compare more. We should share new experiences, but also keep what once tied us together.
I strongly believe that to solve the problems of modernization, the creation of an innovation economy and the development of democracy and a market economy which are relevant for Russia, it is necessary for us to comprehend the experience of other post-communist countries and to understand the interconnection between their cultural, political and economic evolution.
Andrey Shcherbakov, HSE News Service