Consulting in Eastern Europe: We know it’s only rock ‘n roll, but we like it.

As I found myself reading through a brief history of Poland in the 20th Century the other day, one thing stood out amongst the wars, pacts, uprisings, strikes, etc., and that was The Rolling Stones performing in Warsaw in 1967. This fact was sandwiched between mass anti-Soviet riots and the election of Pope John Paul II, no less. I’m sure that at the time the concert was a life-affirming moment for any and all Polish ‘Stoners’, and playing a gig behind the Iron Curtain for the first time must’ve been pretty groovy (man). But on a historical level, it did seem like a rather odd, or at least out of place, fact to throw in.

What it did provide, however, was a refreshing reminder of two fundamental truths about Eastern Europe and its relationship to the rest of the continent. First, that East Europe’s recent past is not all non-stop doom and gloom as our schools’ modern history curriculum would have us believe—sometimes fun things happened, too, and it’s nice to be reminded of them. Second, that however estranged Eastern and Western Europe may be, there are some things they will always have in common, even if it’s only rock ‘n roll.

Fast forward into the 21st Century, and Eastern and Western Europe somehow seem both closer than ever and further apart than any map would suggest. From a consulting perspective, we can see that both regions are enjoying healthy levels of growth. Both are deep in the throes of the digitisation revolution. Lucrative “nearshoring” arrangements whereby Western companies are looking eastward for lower-cost highly skilled labour are forging ever greater connections between the economies of the two regions.

Of course, without research or direct experience of this market, these commonalities aren’t things you would necessarily hear about. Because overshadowing all of this similarity and increasing togetherness, is, once again, difference, derision, and the damn-right ugly, threatening to tear Europe apart.

Our Eastern Europe consulting market report looks at a wide range of topics affecting the region, but it’s the troubling political climate that once again steals the limelight. Unless you have had your head in the sand over the last 18 months or so (and, frankly, no one could blame you for that), you could not have failed to notice the wave of far-right politics taking hold across Eastern Europe. The migrant crisis, sluggish economic growth, austerity, and general disillusionment with the status quo have all played their part in building this momentum, driving a trend toward isolationism that sends shudders down the spine to think where all could lead.

Where consultants are concerned, it’s still business as usual for now. Times are good, and the gathering political clouds have yet to cast much of a shadow in terms of the work clients are (or are not) taking on. But there is fear. Fear that public sector work will collapse if EU alienation translates into a collapse of EU funding. Fear that other industries will follow suit as the larger economies take a hit. And from some consultants, fear about the bigger implications for the direction of their countries and their own way of life.

And yet we’d be remiss if we didn’t point out that this political shift to the right is in fact yet another thing East and West have in common—even if it is a commonality that by its very nature is driving the neighbours further apart. (DID NO ONE LEARN THE DEVASTATING LESSONS OF THE 20th CENTURY?! Sigh . . .) But however much they drift, these are markets that we think will continue to have a good deal in common, and we suspect consultants will still do a brisk business peddling knowledge and experience gained on one side of the old Soviet-era borders across to the other.

And should consultants’ (and society’s) worst fears come to pass and we once again find ourselves in a world where East and West are irreconcilably apart, at least there will always be music.  And with all evidence pointing to Mick and Keith being immortal, it might even be the exact same music that brought everyone together, however briefly, all those years ago.

To find out more about our report Eastern Europe consulting market report, click here.