Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law


J. French Hill

First Page



The 1980s will go down in history as the Decade of Democracy. Latin America, Europe, and even parts of Africa saw remarkable gains in political pluralism and individual freedoms, but nowhere was this more pronounced than in central and eastern Europe and the Balkans.

As Timothy Garton Ash chronicled in his inspiring essays, The Magic Lantern, the movements of a people from totalitarianism to freedom were remarkably peaceful. Once started, the speed was breathtaking. This dash toward freedom is epitomized in Ash's quip made famous by playwright, turned President, Vaclav Havel: "In Poland it took ten years, in Hungary ten months, in East Germany ten weeks: perhaps in Czechoslovakia it will take ten days!"' It actually took twenty-four days from meetings in the smoke-filled basement of the Magic Lantern Theater (which served as the Civic Forum's headquarters) to the Presidency.

The decade of democracy began with a Polish Pope making his first visit to Poland in June 1979, which inspired the courage necessary to form Solidarity in 1980. The decade ended with people poking their heads out from beneath the weight of the Iron Curtain. From the Baltic to the Adriatic, once again people breathed the air of freedom--the freedoms we take for granted: of association, thought, prayer, and to own private property.

Today, I would like to reflect on the first year or two of freedom for the emerging economies of east central Europe and the Balkans, and specifically highlight the important role of the financial sector for their future success.