Trends in Czech attitudes toward the market and democracy

Trends in Czech attitudes toward the market and democracy

Hraba, Joseph


Journal of Political and Military Sociology 2001, Vol. 29 (Winter):200-220

The post-communist transitions in Europe are both economic and political reforms. Experiences with the economic reforms and attitudes about them might undermine support for the democratic reforms, a possible contradiction embedded in post-communist transitions. We examined first trends in support for the market and democratic reforms in the Czech Republic with eleven national surveys from 1990 to 1998. We then asked if respondents’ economic experiences and their attitudes about the market reforms were associated with their support for democracy. Market support was measured by a pro-market index A pro-democracy index opposition to strong-hand government, and a political orientation toward the right measured support for the political reforms. Trends in market support and those for political reform are somewhat different. Support for the market declined over time as the Czechs passed from one phase of the reforms to another, particularly toward the end of the survey period. Support for the political reforms either remained stable after the first phase or it, too, dipped toward the end of the survey period, depending on the measure. Next, we found in regression analyses that respondents’ economic experiences predicted their support for the market reforms and both predicted their support for the political reforms. Economic strain and insecurity and low support for market reforms did undermine support for democracy, even after controlling for demographic characteristics and time.


The post-communist transitions in Europe are simultaneously economic and political reforms. Some version of a market economy has replaced command economies, and multi-party democracy has often supplanted one-party rule since 1990. The co-occurrence of economic and political change immediately raised questions. Might people’s economic experiences and attitudes about the market reforms affect their support for the democratic reforms? According to Przeworski (1991), Vecernik (1994), and Staniszkis (1991), those experiencing economic trouble would withdraw their support for democracy as well as the market economy. Experiences with and attitudes about democratic reforms might also influence people’s support for the market reforms (Gibson 1993 a and b; Gibson 1996). Furthermore, third variables such as age and education might explain support for both the political and economic reforms (Gibson 1996).

We explore these issues during the 1991-1998 Czech transformation with national surveys that repeat all study variables. First, we examine trends in Czech support for market and democratic reforms over the survey period, asking if they are similar. Second, we test for possible causes of these trends, asking specifically if economic experiences, anxiety, and support for market reforms explain support for democratic reforms. In doing so, we control for possible third variables, especially respondents’ demographic characteristics and the different phases of the Czech economic reforms.


A social-market replaced the former command economy in the now Czech Republic after 1989, as property was privatized and private sectors expanded. In the process, employment opportunity grew in the tertiary sector while it contracted in the primary and secondary sectors favored during communism. Between 1989 and 1994, there was a 46 percent reduction in the number of people employed in agriculture and a 29 percent drop in miners and workers employed in manufacturing and energy in the Czech Republic. In the same period, there was a 200 percent increase in those employed in the financial sector (Hraba, McCutcheon and Vecernik 1999), and the percentage of Czech workers in the entire tertiary sector rose from 42.7% in 1990 to 54% in 1997 (Vecernik and Mateju 1999).

Concomitantly, the Czech wage distribution changed toward a market model, although this did not happen in all transition countries (e.g., Gerber and Hout 1998). University education was not correlated with income in 1989 Czechoslovakia at the end of the communist era, but it became a strong and positive predictor of income just two years into the reforms and this trend has continued in the Czech Republic (Mateju and Lim 1995; Vecernik and Mat6jfi 1999). Educated workers making the transition to the new private sector, both employees and the self-employed, did especially well while those who remained in state jobs, teaching and research, for example, did not (Hraba, Lorenz, Pechaeova, and Liu 1998; VeCernik and Mateju 1999). Farmers’ income fell from 108 percent of the national average in 1984 to 77 percent of the national average in 1996, while unskilled manual workers slid from about 90 to under 80 percent of the national average in the same period (Hraba, McCutcheon and VeCernik 1999). A dual labor market took shape after 1990, another feature to the new market model of wage distribution. Educated workers were concentrated at its core, with job security, better pay and working conditions, and fringe benefits. Uneducated Czechs were concentrated in jobs at the margin, with little security, lower pay, poorer working conditions, and few benefits (Vecernik and Mateju 1999).

By the same token, the Czech government maintained nearly full employment from 1993 through 1996 by privatizing “Czech-style” (Tucker et al. 1996-1997). Through this system, the state protected jobs by loaning money to inefficient enterprises and by picking up the bad debts of “privatized” firms. This policy preserved manual jobs particularly in large industries, if not agriculture, although the earning power of these workers was declining.

However, there were too many workers producing too few goods and the cost of low productivity surfaced during the recession of 1997. Aggregate unemployment rates averaged 2.5% between 1991 and 1996 but rose to 5.4% in 1997 and then to an even higher 8.7% in 1998. Furthermore, unemployment in the country’s heavy industrial and mining regions was at least double that for other regions of the country and was four times the rate in Prague. Workers with only primary education had an unemployment rate of nearly 13 percent in 1997 compared to 2.7 percent for those with a university education, and the rate for those with vocational secondary education was four times as high (Vecernik and Mateju 1999). It seems that the economic differences between “have” and “have-nots” deepened.

Consumer prices were deregulated early in the reforms bringing inflation. General inflation spiked in 1991 to 57 percent, dropped in 1992, only to rise again to 22 percent in 1993 with a new VAT. It averaged about 10 percent during the remainder of the survey period (Turnovec 1998). Price increases for rent and utilities were at higher levels, up to 50 percent for rents in 1997 and 1998. More energy price hikes are in the pipeline.

As these realities emerged, there were three phases of public opinion about the market reforms during the 1990-1998 survey period. Early mass euphoria (1990-1992 pre-crystallization) about the end of communism gave way to a new differentiation in opinions about the reforms (1992-1997 crystallization), with economic losers becoming critical and gainers becoming supportive of the market reforms. A severe economic downturn in 1997-1998 and post-crystallization followed this and the differentiation in attitudes probably deepened (e.g., Hraba, Pechacova and Lorenz 1999; Matejfu 1995; 1996; Mateju and Rehakova 1996; Vecernik 1996; Vecernik and Mateju 1999). Average support for the market also dropped (Rose and Haerpfer 1988). These observations are consistent with studies of other countries that show transitions are not necessarily continuous processes (e.g., Rona-Tas 1994, Szelenyi and Kostello 1996; Walder 1996; Zhou 2000).


Political reforms unfolded in phases as well, and this included the separation of the Czech and Slovak Republics in 1993 (Vecernik and Mateju 1999). First was the formation of multi-party politics in the Czech Republic, a time which saw the emergence of new parties and older ones reinventing themselves because of new realities. For example, the old Communist party was reduced to a minor party (KSCM), as the Social Democrats (CSSD) became the dominant party on the left, and new parties formed (or reformed) from the center to the right, such as Civic Forum (013) and the Christian Democrats ((KDU). The second phase was the alignment of old and new parties on the left-right axis, simultaneously with the demise or change of some political parties (Vecernik and Mateju 1999). The third phase after 1996 was the accord (opposition treaty) between the CSSD on the left and the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) on the right to squeeze out small parties from the evolving political scene. During the survey period, voting evolved from mass mandates on democracy and the market economy to the differentiation of voters on the left-right axis.

Economic experiences increasingly differentiated left-right voting patterns, as sharpened interest-group politics replaced the initial mass euphoria about the reforms in the crystallization phase (Przeworski, 1991; Staniszkis 1991; Wnuk-Lipinski 1994). Economic winners supported promarket parties on the right while losers supported those on the left. The level of support for political parties also changed, at least as it showed up in election results. The new pro-market political parties on the right included the Civic Democratic party, the Christian Democratic party, the Civic Democratic Alliance, and, recently, the Freedom Union. In the 1990 national elections during the early euphoria, the major right-of-center party (ODS) received almost 50 percent of the vote. The two major parties to the left, the CSSD and the revamped Communist party, received less that 18 percent of the vote, with the CSSD garnering only about 4 percent. After the 1997 economic crisis, the two major right-of-center parties received about 37 percent of the vote in the 1998 elections, while the Social Democrats alone got more than 32 percent, with the reconstituted Communist party receiving another 11 percent. Although the percentage vote for the communists had not changed much since 1990, the vote for the Social Democrats increased with each national election (1990, 1992, 1996 and 1998) during the survey period.

Since 1998, the CSSD has lost ground, however, with the Czech electorate. Czech voters in a 2000 first-round election for the Senate switched from the Social Democrats to either the Communists on the left or toward the right, a four-party coalition that included the Christian Democrats and the Freedom Union. Voting is becoming more polarized in the country toward more extreme positions on both the left and right, abandoning the two-year alliance between the CSSD and ODS.


We first establish trends in support for the market and democratic reforms, asking if the two trends are similar over the survey period. We then examine possible causes for market and democratic support with regression analyses after controls for reform phases and respondents’ demographic characteristics.



Immediately following the “Velvet Revolution,” the Institute of Sociology at the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences (now the Czech Academy of Sciences) began a series of periodic national surveys in an effort to track the Czech and Slovak peoples’ ability to cope economically, as well as to monitor trends of popular support for the market and political reforms. There were eleven national surveys of Czechs collected from early 1990 through early 1998, each with samples ranging from 1,110 to 1,400 respondents. This analysis is based on only those surveys (1991, 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1998) that repeat all the study variables. The variables gender, residence, and time had no missing data on these five surveys. Age, marital status, education, and number of economically active members of the household are associated with modest exclusions; for example, excluded respondents were more likely to be older and have an elementary education. Missing data on income is more substantial, especially in the earlier surveys when respondents were asked complex income questions.

Each survey consists of face-to-face interviews conducted by trained interviewers in respondents’ homes. Interviewers were assigned districts and were given a quota of interviews to obtain in proportion to distributions of gender, age, and education in those districts. The number of respondents and estimates of proportions were based on the 1989 Microcensus of the Czechoslovak Federal Republic. The Czech Academy of Sciences chose quota sampling because the national registry of housing units and occupants was considered unreliable but the demographic distributions by district were known. Although quota sampling is subject to greater biases than ideal probability sampling, the information provided by these samples provides a rare glimpse of people’s reaction to the transformation.


Pro Market Support – Our pro-market index consists of summed responses to six questions asked in the five surveys (Table 1). The questions are being satisfied with the economic reform, believing that the economy should not be under state control, private entrepreneurship should be given complete freedom, capable and competent people should be given a lot of money, foreign firms should be absolutely free in the country, and differences in wages and salaries should increase. The four response categories are coded in the direction of being pro-market and the means (divided by number of items) are shown in Table 1 along with the reliabilities. Note that mean pro-market support declines after 1992 and the decline accelerates toward the end of the survey period (see also Figure 1).

Pro-Democracy Support – This measure is the summation of responses to two questions: “civil liberties in the Czech Republic today are on the level of advanced western countries” and the “country has laid the foundations for democracy.” There were four response categories scored in the direction of believing both statements to be untrue, taken as an aspiration for more democracy in the country. The means are found in Table land note that mean level of pro-democracy remains relatively stable after 1991 (see also Figure 1).

Strong-Hand and Political Inclination – Respondents in all surveys were also asked: “Would it be better for our country to be ruled by a strong hand and someone who would clearly say what should be done, rather than head discussions about different solutions to our present situation?” (Definitely yes [1]/ Yes [2]/ No [3]/ Definitely No [41). The mean scores by survey are shown in Table 1; opposition to a strong hand was lowest in 1991 and returned to a relatively low level again in 1998 (see also Figure 1). Opposing a return to strong-hand government is not the only way to measure support for the political reforms. Indeed, respondents who endorsed strong-hand government may want more orderly democratic government but not a return to totalitarian communism. In another item, respondents were asked whether their political inclination was to the right or left (completely left [1] to completely right [51), with the left supportive of socialism/communism and the right supportive of capitalism/democratic reforms. Political inclination toward the right is highest in 1993 and lower earlier and later in the survey period (see also Figure 1).

Evident in Table 1, the four dependent variables are significantly correlated with each other. The pro-market measure is correlated with the pro-democracy index (.420), opposition to strong-hand government (.301), and a rightist political orientation (.494), as expected. The pro-democracy index, opposition to strong-hand government, and rightist political orientation are inter-correlated as well (Table 1).

Time – We constructed a variable called time. Time was divided into the three phases of opinions about the economic reforms: early euphoria or pre-crystallization up to July 1992, crystallization from 1992 through early 1997 (through 1994 in these five surveys), and the post-crystallization phase and economic crisis from July 1997 to the end of the survey period (the 1998 survey). In the regressions, the early and late phases are compared against the middle phase of crystallization.

Demographic Controls – Three dichotomous variables, gender, size of residence, as well as marital status, are effects coded to minimize collinearity (cf., Hagenaars 1990). Consequently, men and women are coded 1 and -1, respectively, and residents of communities of less than 2,000 and more than 2,000 are coded -1 and 1, respectively. This cutting point is used by census agencies in the country, and economic experiences have been different for rural and urban residents since the reforms (Hraba, McCutcheon and Vecernik 1999). Marital status is also an effects coded variable with the single, divorced, and widowed grouped together (-1) and married for first time and married more than once grouped together (+ 1). The percentage of male, urban, and married respondents are shown in Table 1.

We include a ratio of “economically active” to total number of household members as a measure of household economic resources. A higher score represents proportionately more household members in the work force (Table 1). The percentage of working household members fell slightly from 1991 to 1998. Age is measured as respondent-reported years of age and in later surveys was coded into four age categories (1 = 18-29, 2= 30-44, 3= 45-59, and 4= 60 years and older). The mean age category of respondents varies only slightly from survey to survey. Education is divided into four-levels: 1) elementary, 2) vocational training, 3) secondary school, and 4) university or college. It is dummy coded to compare vocational, secondary, and university education with elementary education. Forty percent of the respondents have vocational education in 1991, 24 percent have secondary, and eight percent have a university education (Table 1). These percentages vary somewhat from survey to survey, trending upward for secondary and university educated. Since total household income is clearly a critical variable to include, and the currency underwent devaluation several times through the decade, we have adjusted the total household monthly income by the Current Price Index (CPI) to obtain amounts in constant January, 1994 Korun (Table 3).

Economic Experiences – One measure of self-reported economic experiences was obtained by asking respondents, “How can you manage with the income that you have in your household?” (Very Hard [1]/ Hard [2]/ Somewhat Hard [3]/ Somewhat Easy [4]/ Easy [5]/ Very Easy [6]). This variable is highly correlated (.70 – .85) with several less-frequently asked selfreports about purchase behaviors, such as whether respondents were able to afford good food and clothing, as well as being able to save any money in the recent past. Thus, we view the responses to this variable as a general indicator of self-assessed lack of economic strain. Ease of managing was lowest at the beginning and end of the survey period (Table 1). The second measure of economic experience is the respondents’ self-reports of unemployment. Respondents were asked, “Have you been unemployed for more than 2 months during the last two years?” (No [0]/ Yes [1]). The percentage of respondents reporting an unemployment experience is shown in Table 1.

Respondents were asked as well about their insecurity regarding economic development “Looking into the near future; are you afraid of economic development? Do you have a feeling of insecurity?” (Definitely No [1]/ No [2]/ Yes [3]/ Definitely Yes [4]). Insecurity declines after 1991 only to rise again by 1998 (Table 1).


Results of pro-market support regressed on time, demographic controls, and economic experiences are shown in Table 2. Compared to the crystallization phase, the respondents were more pro-market during the early euphoria (Beta = .124) and decidedly less pro-market during postcrystallization (-.125). In equation 2, we add the demographic characteristics. First, the time variables are still significantly related to support for the market (.190 and -.124). Men are more pro-market than women (.077), as are single respondents (-.034). Younger respondents (-.111), the better educated (.104, .182, and .199), and higher-income respondents (.167) are more pro-market as well.

Economic experiences are added in equation 3. Ease of managing on household income and economic insecurity are associated with market support in the expected directions (.171 and -.424) net of time and demographic controls. Time and demographic characteristics continue to be related to support for the market. The final equation explains 37 percent of the support for a market economy.

The results of the pro-democracy index regressed on time, demographic characteristics, economic experiences, and economic attitudes are shown in Table 3. First, the sentiment that the country requires further democratic reforms rises after the early euphoria (- .038) and remains stable into the post-crystallization phase. In equation 2, male and younger respondents support additional democratic reforms (.038 and – .044). Compared to those with elementary education, respondents with secondary (.119) and university education (.114) feel the democratic reforms are incomplete and endorse further democratization.Higher-income respondents feel the same way (.102). Time is no longer associated with the prodemocracy index net of these controls.

Economic experiences are entered in equation 3. Ease of management is positively related to sentiments for further democratic reforms (.147), whereas unemployment (-.027) and economic insecurity (.319) are negatively related to endorsing further democratic reform net of time and demographic controls. In the fourth equation, we add economic attitudes. Being pro-market is positively associatedwith being pro-democracy (.315) net of all previous variables. Twenty-four percent of the variance in the pro-democracy index is explained in the final equation.

Opposition to strong-hand government is regressed on the same four sets of explanatory variables in Table 4. Throughout Central and Eastern Europe, using the term “strong-hand” indicates support for the oneparty and autocratic regimes that existed prior to the changes. In equation 1, we see that opposing strong-hand government was lower in the pre- and post-crystallization phases than during crystallization (- .114 and – .076). This relation continues to be significant in equation 2, with the addition of demographic variables. Note that higher education (.080, .171, and .191) and incomes (.045) are positively associated with opposing a return to stronghand government. In equation 4, ease of managing on household income is positively related to opposing strong-hand government (.060) and economic insecurity is negatively related to it (- .228) net of time and demographic controls. In the final equation, being pro-market is positively related to opposing a strong-hand government (.366) net of time, demographic controls, and economic experiences. The final equation explains 14 percent of the variance in opposing a strong-hand.

Political inclination is regressed on time, demographic characteristics, economic experiences, and economic attitudes in Table 5. In the first equation, we see that an inclination toward the right rises in the middle phase of the reforms and falls off at the end of the survey period (.041 and -.047). Only the decline during post-crystallization is significant in equation 2. Men, single and younger respondents, and the better-educated and higher-income respondents are more likely to express a political orientation toward the right (.034, -.047 -.133, .070, .142, .135, and .142). In equation 4, ease of management is positively associated (. 118) and economic insecurity is negatively associated (-.328) with an inclination toward the right net of time and demographic controls. Pro-market attitudes are positively related to a rightist political inclination in the final equation (.399) net of economic experiences as well. Thirty-one percent of the variance in political inclination is explained by this equation.


We asked first if trends (1990-1998) in support for a market economy and democratic government were similar or dissimilar in the Czech Republic. Respondents supported the market early in the Czech reforms and then their support fell during the subsequent crystallization and postcrystallization phases. The decline was steep with the 1997 economic crisis. In contrast, support for further democratization rose after the early euphoria and remained relatively stable during the following two phases of the reforms. Opposition to a return to strong-hand government peaked during the middle phase (crystallization) and was significantly lower early and late in the survey period. In parallel fashion, the popularity of a political inclination toward the right was highest in the crystallization phase and significantly lower at the beginning and end of the survey period. In short, trend lines for market support and those for democracy diverged somewhat during the survey period.

By the same token, opposing a strong-hand and being oriented toward the political right fell toward the end of the survey period, similar to the fall in market support. It appears that the economic downturn at the end of the survey period made respondents less positive about pro-market (rightist) parties and more favorable about strong-hand rule. In these two cases, trends in declining support for democracy are parallel to the falling support for the market economy at the end of the survey period. The case of respondents’ desire for further democratization (foundations and civil liberties) was not as closely parallel with declining market support toward the end of the survey period.

The regression analyses showed that respondents’ economic experiences predicted their pro-market support and both predicted their prodemocracy attitudes as well as opposition to strong-hand government and a rightist political orientation. Although market support fell more than respondents’ aspiration for further democratization (as well as their opposition to a strong-hand and rightist political orientation), support for the market and further democracy were related even after controls for demographic characteristics (the third variables) and time. Support for the market as well as economic experiences and insecurity predicted all three attitudes about the political reforms. This finding is consistent with the early observation that there was a basic contradiction between the two dimensions of the post-communist reforms. Those economically disadvantaged by the Czech reforms indeed translated their pain into not only lower support for a market economy but also lower support for democracy, and this held net of possible third variables.

Demographic controls were related to pro-market and prodemocratic sentiments in expected ways. Younger, better-educated, higherincome, and male respondents were more pro-market and endorsed further democratization after controls for time. Higher education and income were also associated with opposing strong-hand government. Male, single and younger respondents, along with the educated, and those with higher income were similarly inclined toward the political right. Overall, the same demographic characteristics indicative of Czechs economically advantaged by the reforms were associated with endorsing the political as well as economic reforms.

A similar conclusion may be drawn from the relation between respondents’ economic experiences and insecurity and their support for the economic and political reforms. After controls for time and demographic characteristics, ease of management was positively and economic insecurity was negatively related to pro-democratic support, opposing a strong-hand, and a rightist political inclination, as well as market support. Unemployment experience was not consistently associated with support for the political and economic reforms. Unemployment for many respondents could be voluntary, especially for women, and represent little economic disadvantage (Benacek, 1994). Czechs are no longer forced to work by the state. These findings seem to confirm that those economically advantaged by the reforms support the democratic as well as market reforms. Conversely, the disadvantaged did not. Moreover, respondents’ attitudes about the economic and political reforms were related to each other independent of their economic experiences as well as their demographic characteristics and time.

The connection between economic experiences and attitudes and support for the political reforms may not be true for all countries making a post-communist transition. Unlike others, the Czech transition actually increased income returns for human and other forms of capital possessed by the middle class. Simultaneously, the economic position of the working classes relative to the past and current middle class fell during the economic reforms. Moreover, a left-right political axis developed reflecting the new stratification order.

Our findings are contingent on our measures, particularly of market and democratic support. We relied on measures available, but other measures of this support may yield different results. Additionally, the meaning of outcome variables, such as right-left political inclination and strong-hand, may have changed during the survey period. Surely, the distinction between left and right sharpened during much of the survey period, as the left-right political axis stood shape. Strong-hand may have brought communist dictatorship to respondents’ minds early in the period but something different later in the survey period. These questions cannot be definitively answered without additional data, but we did control for time in the regressions. Furthermore, we cannot determine the causal connection between support for the market and democracy. It is possible that the latter causes the former, contrary to our argument. Our thesis is plausible, however, that economic experiences, insecurity and attitudes about the market affect and differentiated support for the political change.

The strength of the study was the ability to follow trends in attitudes about the economic and political reforms from 1991 to 1998. Trends in Czechs’ attitudes about democracy and the market diverged or they were parallel depending on the measures of support for democracy. Demographic characteristics of reform winners were associatedwith support for democracy as well as the market, and both economic experiences and market support were related to support for the democratic reforms.

1 This research was supported by NIMH (50369) and NATO. An earlier version was presented at the 2001 Meetings of the Midwest Sociological Society, St. Louis.


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Iowa State University



Czech Academy of Sciences

JOSEPH HRABA is a Professor of Sociology at Iowa State University. His research interests center on post-communist transitions, health, and ethnic relations. His recent publications have appeared in U.S., British, Czech, and Russian journals. FREDERICK O. LORENZ is a Professor of Sociology and Statistics at Iowa State University. His interests center on methodological research about mental health and family. His recent work has appeared in numerous journals. REHAN MULLICK is a Ph.D. graduate of Iowa State University and is currently a researcher for the United Nations stationed in Baghdad, Iraq. SANGMOON LEE is currently a Ph.D. student in the Department of Sociology at Iowa State University. JIRI VECERNIK is a Senior Researcher at the Sociology Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences. His interests include post-communist transitions. He has recently published in U.S. and European journals.

Copyright Dr. George Kourvetaris Winter 2001

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