25 YEARS OF FREEDOM
By Jorge Fuentes Monzonís-Villalonga
I. The XXI century begun in 1989 with the fallen of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Iron Curtain. The deep transformation of the communist countries lead, in the following years, to a total modification of the European landscape.
- The Soviet Union breaks into 15 new republics, three of which –the Baltic states- join the European Union and NATO. All of them adopt a western democracy as a new formula of political and economic life style.
- The totality of the remaining Warsaw Pact countries, integrate the Euro-Atlantic institutions, so that in 2007 the frontiers of these organizations reach the limits of the former USSR.
- Some of the countries of the ex Soviet Union (specially Ukraine, Moldova and the three Caucasian countries) have also pro western aspirations even, so far, they have not materialized in specific results. The case of Ukraine is particularly shocking even is still premature to advance the final course it will take.
- Two other countries of the region –Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia- equally split giving birth to nine independent states, four of which –the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia and Croatia- are already members of the EU and NATO. The remaining ones shall follow the same path as soon as possible, and it is so even the Union is crossing one of its most critical moments in its 58 years of life.
II. The enlargement of the EU that took place between 2004 and 2007, that admitted all the European members of CAME, apart from being the largest in all the history of the Union (up to that moment, the Union used to admit between one and three countries each time), is the one that brought most serious doubts to Brussels since it had to accommodate to the acquis communautaire a group of countries with totally different economies from the ones of the old partners, what would imply logical difficulties of adaptation. Without forgetting that all of them had GNPs much lower than the Union average which would demand strong transfers of structural and cohesion funds to reach a satisfactory balance among the whole members. In fact, and in the best of cases, the convergence would need some decades to be reached. In the worst scenario, it would never take place.
Due to these circumstances, some of the old members of the EU were afraid that the enlargement to the East would bring very negative consequences to the Brussels institutions that perhaps would be unable to assimilate.
However, the economic crisis that took place in the EU, did not happen because of the enlargement of the new members but for the miscalculations and the fragilities shown by some of the old members, for the squander, the corruption, the financial and bank anomalies, the lacking in forethought and finally for the fact that the EU is still not sufficiently constructed in the political, military, fiscal and bank aspects and all these insufficiencies became suddenly evident in our organization.
III. The deep transformation known in Central Europe, from Poland to Bulgaria, have no precedents. The transition from totalitarian regimes monitored from Moscow to western democracies brought many pros but also some contras. The advantages are obvious and would not need to be mentioned: attainment of real independence, approach to other European countries with a common History, openness of its frontiers to the world, freedom to participate in the political life, possibility to improve the private economic situation. The democratization and integration of the countries of the region in general and the one of Bulgaria in particular had also some inconveniences that should not be neglected.
1. The fracture of COMECON meant a dislocation in a market that based upon the international division of labour, brought with it, specialization and full employment. Big factories failed and had to be either transformed or abandoned.
2. The lack of freedom in communist times and the rigid police control meant as well a considerable people’s security even it was often based upon injustice. With the arrival of democracy, the equation freedom-security moved in detriment of the latter and derived in the growth of criminality.
3. The approach to the market economy brought with it the raise in the cost of living to a higher rhythm than the increase of salaries. Only the younger and more dynamic group of society was able to accommodate favorably to the new situation. State pensioners and elderly workers were the victims of the change.
4. The economic structure based upon privatization and incomplete liberalization had as a consequence job destruction, unemployment growth and emigration of 1.5 million Bulgarian people shrinking the population of the country from 9 to 7.5 million people.
5. Political freedom led to very frequent changes in the Government with the birth of new parties, in many cases little operative.
IV. The balance of the change in Bulgaria as much as in the other neighboring countries is, in spite of the mentioned mistakes, very positive having into consideration that the alternative would have led to isolation and progressive impoverishment. Within the Warsaw Pact and COMECON there was no future for the member states. The direction the countries are following now is the correct one even it will be necessary for them to rectify certain policies:
- To procure a certain economic convergence with the EU meaning that if the average yearly growth of the countries of the Union is 1 or 2%, Bulgaria should grow the 2 or 4%.
- Though the integration in Schengen and the Eurozone, is the final objective, for the time being is preferable not to be in a hurry since it would imply the necessity of monetary adjustments and high degrees of inflation that would impoverish additionally the pensioners and unemployed persons.
- Strong migrations are to be deplored for the social cost they imply and also because they force the departure of the youngest and most dynamic members of the society. However, in a short and medium term the migrant remittances help the recovering of the country. This has been the experience of all the nations that in a moment or another of their History, suffered strong emigrations.
- It is necessary to break the equation higher freedom=lower security. It may favor the conviction that “With Dictatorship we lived better”.
- Tough there have been countries like Italy where frequent changes in the Government have not impeded its prosperity, it is more advisable serenity in the political changes to allow every team the necessary time to implement its program.
Evidently the former remarks are easier to be stated than to be implemented. Let us trust that the global crisis will be surmounted, the EU will recover and that Bulgaria and the countries of the region will progress correctly under the umbrella of the new bonanza that should reappear.
Jorge Fuentes Monzonís-Villalonga is a Spanish diplomat. He has been stationed at the Spanish Embassy in Tunisia and the United States. From 2005-2009 he was head of the mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Croatia. Until November 2010 he was the ambassador of Spain in Bulgaria, a position he had previously held between 1993 and 1997.