Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe has been through a lot. In two short decades, the region moved from a communist planned system to a market economy, and living standards have converged towards those in the West. It has also weathered major crises: first the break-up of the old Soviet system in the early 1990s, then the Russian financial crisis in 1998, and finally the recent global economic crisis. How did these countries do it? From the Baltic to the Balkans, the region’s resilience and flexibility are the result of hard work and adaptability. But more than anything, it is the strong institutions built over the last two decades that have enhanced the region’s ability to deal with the momentous challenges of the past, the present—and those to come.
When I traveled to Reykjavik in October 2008 to offer the IMF’s assistance, the situation there was critical. The country’s three main banks—which made up almost the entire financial system—had just collapsed within a week of each other. The sense of fear and shock were palpable—few, if any, countries had ever experienced such a catastrophic economic crash. Today, three years later, it is worth reflecting on how far Iceland―a country of just 320,000 people―has come since those dark days back in 2008.