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No Velvet Transition

CAMBRIDGE: It is easy to idealize revolutions that happen somewhere else. Across the West, people have been celebrating the tenth anniversary of the end of communism as the war won without firing a shot. Across the former Soviet empire, genuine euphoria is tempered by ten hard years of change.

Some things happened as expected: Hungary is doing better than most, Estonia outpaced the rest of the Soviet Union, and Southern Europe is in trouble. But surprises also abound. Everybody's "basket case" of 1989, Poland, became the region's dynamo. The Czech Republic – everyone's favorite – went from Velvet revolution to muddied reformer.

Russia has been the biggest puzzle. It avoided the abyss that was widely predicted by the now unemployed Kremlinologists. But Russia also refused to become "normal." I myself thought that communism's collapse would deliver quicker social rejuvenation in Russia, although I argued from the start that Russia's road would be a hard slog, and that the country required substantial financial help from the West.

Despite the variety of transitions underway, there are some durable lessons that can probably be drawn by now from the experience of the postcommunist transitions: