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Building strong civil societies in Eastern Europe after the fall of communism: Poland, Romania, and the importance of pre-existing social roots

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  1. Introduction
  2. Building strong civil societies in Eastern Europe
  3. The fall of communism
  4. Poland, Romania, and the importance of pre-existing social roots
  5. Conclusion

Throughout Eastern Europe, embryonic civil societies have demonstrated in various ways but with the same result their crucial role in the advent of democracy in the early 1990s : within a few years, Eastern European communist governments were forced to cede power and undertake democratic reforms under the pressure of popular movements, whether peaceful as in Czechoslovakia after its famous ''Velvet revolution'', Poland and Hungary, or more violent, as in Romania, the most extreme case, where the communist regime was overthrown through riots which ended in the execution of its ruler, Nicolae Ceausescu, and his wife.

A strong civil society indeed appears to be an important precondition for the development and consolidation of democracy, especially in Eastern Europe where the communist parties relied on the absence of structured oppositional movements to retain power. The notion of civil society refers to the existence of voluntary social relationships in a specific state, through various and numerous civic and social organizations and institutions, as opposed to the force-backed state structures and market institutions. After the end of the communist era in this area, many political actors, both from Eastern Europe itsef comprised mainly of intellectuals and from abroad through donations and foundations, assumed the best way to support democratic reforms was through aiding in the construction and consolidation of the previously stifled civil society.

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