chapter  13
24 Pages

Patterns of parliamentary elite recruitment in Central and Eastern Europe: a comparative analysis


The initial configuration of elites proved crucial for the process of democratic consolidation across Eastern Europe. The significant differences between individual countries notwithstanding, these former communist satellites all experienced the collapse of their regimes and the rapid delegitimization of their old elites. New elites, however – whether within the nomenklatura or outside the structures of power altogether – could not fully seize power prior to the holding of free elections. In some Central and East European (CEE) countries, new configurations of power resulted from “negotiated revolutions” and “round table” compromises – pacts between the hardliners and reformers of the old elite on the one hand, and the moderates and radicals of the opposition on the other. These reform-minded, yet substantial regime changes have been termed “refolutions” (Garton Ash 1989). For two groups in particular, these regime changes presented a window of opportunity – namely, political dissidents previously excluded from public office, and technically educated secondary or tertiary elites inside and outside of the nomenklatura. The latter, who had dim career prospects under the gerontocratic recruitment patterns of the late-communist period, could use the transition to make the most of their experience and education, and to enter into the halls of political power, e.g., parliament, cabinet, and high-ranking administrative posts. The dissidents, although inexperienced in the practice of politics, found themselves with an unprecedented moral authority and, by the logic of an exceptional situation, became decision-makers almost overnight. Yet in many CEE countries, the regime turnover was marked by a dearth of suitable candidates for the new elite. This increased the likelihood that old communist politicians could “survive” the collapse of their regime, or re-enter politics after a brief absence. The scope of political elite circulation was taken as an indication of the comprehensiveness of the regime change, as well as the legitimacy of the new leadership (Higley and Lengyel 2000). The perceived correspondence between the composition of the new political elite and the durability of its regime reflected serious doubts about whether a democratic order could endure and flourish under the political leadership of the “old guard” (Szelényi and Szelényi 1995).