Specificity of regional policy of Central and Eastern European countries

One of the characteristic features of the process of market reform in post-communist countries is the sharp (if not explosive) aggravation of regional disproportions, which became one of the most important factors and components of the deep socio-economic transformation crisis that was growing in these countries, the scale and duration of which exceeded all even the most pessimistic expectations. Despite attempts to explain the cause of these disproportions (and any other problems) with the “typical” thesis about the pernicious legacy of the command-administrative, planned-centralized system, many regionalist scholars see the reason for the aggravation of these problems precisely in the fundamental defect of the market system, which began to manifest itself as the transition to the market. The fact is that if one of the most characteristic features of the socialist system was the policy of planned equalization. The socio-economic level of countries, regions and individual citizens (the so-called “egalitarianism”), the market system, on the contrary, contains a mechanism of socio-economic differentiation of individual citizens and enterprises, as well as regions, countries and even continents, genetically embedded in it. It is no coincidence that today, when the market system and the concept of management unconditionally dominate the planet, about 2.8 billion people, having a daily income of less than 2 USD, are simply starving, while the average American spends more than 2 USD a day only on figure correction. It is precisely because of this global market deficit, which is associated with its inability to ensure equitable, more or less uniform development, that even developed countries with market economies are forced to resort to far from market methods of planning, forecasting and state regulation of regional development, i.e. to engage in the very “equalization”, the scale of which in these countries is rapidly growing.

The fact that with the transition to the market, the differentiation of socio-economic development in all areas will inevitably increase, and the relevance of regional policy will increase accordingly, is clearly indicated by the statements of the European Commission’s specialists on regional policy and relations with the Committee of the Regions and the EU Cohesion Fund. Thus, one of the leading EU experts on regional policy pointed out that the relatively equal living conditions for the population that have developed in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe during the heyday of the command economy “… will change in the direction of increasing their differentiation as a result of the development of competition and market forces. In smaller countries, cohesion policies and regional structural policies are also important and needed to prevent the fall of weaker regions, as well as the widening of the gap between booming capital cities and rural regions, between new industrial centers and old industrial areas where significant environmental damage has been caused.”

Moreover, some major experts in the field of regional studies believe that overcoming the difficulties of the regional order can be one of the most intractable to solving the problems of the transition period. Particularly acute is the problem of unemployment, which in the years of reforms in almost all countries in transition to the market not only acquired large proportions, but also shows a significant variation depending on the region. Thus, in the first years of reforms (1990-1993), the difference in the unemployment rate in prosperous and more affected by the transformation crisis regions in all countries of Central and Eastern Europe (with the exception of only the Czech Republic, Romania and Belarus) significantly exceeded 10% (Table 3).

Experts who have deeply studied the reasons for the growth of regional problems in countries in transition to the market, identify, along with the above factor, which is of a fundamental nature, the following prerequisites for exacerbating regional disproportions:

none of the Transitional Governments has turned decisively to regional issues, demonstrating a stubborn rejection of their importance; the general crisis of science, as the most affected in the process of market transformation of the sphere of activity in all countries in transition to the market, led to a decrease in the volume and quality of scientific research, including on regional topics; the transformation of the hidden unemployment characteristic of the command-and-control system into a clear one has led to a marked increase in the problem of employment; Formed in the conditions of a planned economy (when regional problems were not so relevant), national statistical bodies did not carry out accounting and analysis of gross domestic product in the regional context, which complicated the task of scientific understanding and solving regional problems.

Table 3 Resource requirements by component

The level of regional unemployment in some countries of Central and Eastern Europe in the process of market



1990 (before the reforms)

1993 (in the process of reforms)

Average level in the country, %

Variation of unemployment by region, %

Average level in the country, %

Variation of unemployment by region, %
































Among the general trends emerging during the years of market reforms in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, the following are the most important of them. First of all, it is necessary to note a sharp increase in socio-economic differences between capital cities, other major centers of administrative-territorial entities and other parts of each of the countries under consideration. In the capital cities, unemployment was generally below the national level, and the rate of creation of new firms, output, per capita income and investment volumes were much lower. Differentiation, polarization along the “core-periphery” axis (“center-periphery”) was observed in all countries without exception. In some countries, along with the indicated polarization, there was also a pronounced asymmetry in the direction of “north-south” (Poland, Bulgaria) and “west-east” (Hungary).

Another feature of regional problems in countries in transition to the market is that the crisis most affected highly specialized industrial areas and centers with low diversification of production (regions with a high territorial concentration of production of mining industries (coal, ore raw materials, etc.), heavy engineering, defense industry, etc.). The agrarian sector found itself in a very difficult situation.

Another specific feature of the regional problems of the group of countries under consideration is a completely different (in comparison with the level of socio-economic development) orientation of environmental problems. Environmental degradation is most characteristic of capital cities, industrial centers, which house large enterprises of the coal, metallurgical, chemical and petrochemical industries.

A feature of the current state of regional policy in the transition countries of Central and Eastern Europe is the gradual realization that the liberal market, which was considered practically sinless and all-powerful, actually showed its complete helplessness in solving regional problems. First of all, countries came to understand the meaninglessness of blind faith and reliance on the notorious “invisible hand”, about which A. Smith wrote, where some experience of market reforms was accumulated in Soviet times. Thus, the experience of quasi-market reforms in Hungary much earlier than in other countries in transition to the market sobered up Hungarian economists and politicians from the market “frenzy”, who understood earlier than their other colleagues that the concept of the state imposed on the transitional countries by the Washington consensus – “a night watchman with a monetarist mallet” – is absolutely unacceptable (especially in the sphere of interregional relations). Somewhat later, other countries in transition to the market realized that the “invisible hand” is just a market myth that made it possible to involve the absolute majority of former socialist countries in the system of global exploitation of the periphery by the center (according to the Nobel Laureate in Economics J. Stiglitz, “the hand can be invisible only for the reason that it simply does not exist”).

Most countries of Central and Eastern Europe are now convinced that combating the growing regional imbalances that undermine the economic and social foundations of the country’s territorial integrity is one of the protective functions of any modern state. In almost all of these countries, the state to a greater or lesser extent pursues an active regional policy, establishes the principles, goals and long-term priorities of regional management, approves the regional development strategy, provides state support to backward regions, including through direct state allocations to business entities. In this regard, according to experts in the field of regional management, the situation in all the countries under consideration is changing for the better. Reforms in the field of regional governance, which in the initial period of market reforms were largely spontaneous, are entering a second constructive phase, associated with the strengthening of the regulatory function of the state and the role of regional policy.

From the countries considered in this part of the manual, we will describe the administrative-territorial division of Poland as the closest neighbor of the Republic of Belarus. In Poland, the basic level of administrative-territorial division are gminas, of which there are 2489 in this country. The gminas manage the social and domestic sphere (the activities of kindergartens, primary schools, libraries, cultural institutions, the maintenance of public order, environmental protection), as well as other tasks delegated to them by the central government. Rural gminas are headed by headmen, city mayors, and in cities with a population of more than 100,000 inhabitants, presidents.

The management of secondary schools, social security, the maintenance of public security, health care, the maintenance of land and exchange registers, consumer protection and a number of other functions are entrusted to the powiats, of which there are 373 in the country and which are governments at the district level.

In parallel, Poland is divided into 16 voivodeships. At the voivodeship level, there is a dual structure of public administration. On the one hand, the democratic bodies of voivodeship self-government are independent legal entities, have their own budgets and broad powers in the field of economic policy. On the other hand, the voivode appointed by the State is responsible for the implementation and implementation of the national policy in his voivodeship, as well as for ensuring that the state institutions located in the region work for the benefit of the Polish state and contribute to the preservation of its unitary character. Voivodes are accountable to the central government and focus on monitoring the activities of self-government bodies at the level of gminas, powiats and voivodeships.