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Poland has made major economic strides since the fall of communism, and especially since joining the EU. In 2009, when all the major European economies were contracting because of the credit crunch, Poland was the only country in Europe to experience economic growth.
The Czech Republic is a stable and prosperous market economy closely integrated with the EU, especially since the country's EU accession in 2004. While the conservative, inward-looking Czech financial system has remained relatively healthy, the small, open, export-driven Czech economy remains sensitive to changes in the economic performance of its main export markets, especially Germany.
Economic strength has allowed Vladimir Putin - Russia's dominant political figure since 2000 - to enhance state control over political institutions and the media, buoyed by extensive public support for his policies.
Slovakia has made significant economic reforms since its separation from the Czech Republic in 1993. Reforms to the taxation, healthcare, pension, and social welfare systems helped Slovakia consolidate its budget and get on track to join the EU in 2004 after a period of relative stagnation in the early and mid 1990s and to adopt the euro in January 2009. Major privatizations are nearly complete, the banking sector is almost entirely in foreign hands, and the government has helped facilitate a foreign investment boom with business friendly policies.
Hungary has made the transition from a centrally planned to a market economy, with a per capita income nearly two-thirds that of the EU-27 average. The private sector accounts for more than 80% of GDP. Foreign ownership of and investment in Hungarian firms are widespread, with cumulative foreign direct investment worth more than $70 billion.