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Kaldor Mary, Vejvoda, Ivan: Democratisation in Central and Eastern Europe

Pinter, London and New York, 1999

Eva Sobotka

One of few can enjoy the pleasures of living in a time of transition to democracy and have the opportunity to comment on the development and raise critical questions about the future of the Central and Eastern Europe. Editors Kaldor and Vejvoda pose several such questions right at the beginning of their book: Do political systems within CEEC represent a particular variant of democracy that is specific to this part of the world? Is it possible to talk about a post-communist model sui generis that is influenced by the legacy of communism and at the same time by both the weaknesses and strengths of western democracy? Can we talk about an emergent concept of European Democratic Space [term introduced by editors] as a way of consolidating democracy in Central and Eastern European Countries and of reinvigorating democracy in Western Europe?

While these interesting questions are raised, Democratisation in Central and Eastern Europe ultimately fails to answer them. The authors observe the end of communism, but not the end of division in Europe. Operating with the distinction between formal and substantive democracy and referring to classical political theorists on democracy such as Alexis de Toecquville and Robert Dahl they say that: ” […] formal mechanisms and procedures, which represent an a priori safeguard against abuses of power is a necessary but by no means a sufficient condition for democracy in a substantive sense.’ While this remark presents the classic theoretical line, it fails to appreciate the nature of democratic change in CEEC.

Common denominator for choosing countries for critical analyses of substantial democracy, is their European Union (EU) candidacy. Experts from the applicant countries, Estonia (Juri Juus), Latvia (Andris Runcis), Lithuania (Kestutis K. Girnius), Poland (Marcin Krol), the Czech Republic (Zdenek Kavan and Martin Palous), Slovakia (Martin Butora), Hungary (Andras Bozoki), Slovenia (Tonci Kuzmanic), Romania (Alina Mungiu Pippidi) and Bulgaria (Rumyana Kolarova) analyse the state of democracy by taking a close look at the specific democratic problems within the substantial democratic criteria defined by Robert Dahl: Namely, (1) Constitutional issues and human rights (2) Political Parties (3) Media (4) Administration (5) Local Government and (6) Civil society.

Constitutional defects and unsatisfactory records on human rights are common features for Estonia and Latvia for their minority policy towards Russians; (Chapter 1, 2) Hungarians living in Slovakia and Roma living in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. In some countries, (the Czech Republic, Hungary) the overall attitude to foreigners -as well as the ban on homosexuality in Romania, (Chapter 10) remains an alarming issue of human rights abuse. Moreover, several authors within this volume claim that the lack of right’s based cultures, is due to the communist legacy that used to view human rights as social and economic rights rather than as individual, civic and political rights.
The editors do not make an attempt to distinguish between minority problems, leaving it up to the authors of the individual chapters to explain. This has the effect of creating a slight discrepancy in the cases presented, as if the situation was same in all of the countries. This is clearly not the case and indicated a lack of editorial consistency within the book. For example, while the Russian minority in Estonia constitutes 33.7% and in Latvia 46.8%, the overall number of Roma in Slovakia, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria does not exceed 10%.[1]

Looking across EU accession countries Kaldor and Vejvoda claim that the emergence of political parties after 1989 have three origins: 1) pre-1940 existence, 2) reformed communist and 3) contemporary often dissident based. All parties shortly copied a centralised organisational structure and displayed old tendencies to control the media, universities and financial markets. Partitocrazia then developed in personalities driven political spectrum of 1) catch–all parties, such as the Civic Democratic Party in former Czechoslovakia and the Alliance of Democratic Left in Poland 2) parties with a civic orientation, such as the Free Democrats in Hungary and the Union of Freedom in Poland. 3) Parties with national and religious issues; for example, Sajudis in Lithuania, Movement for Democratic Slovakia in Slovakia, and the Hungarian Democratic Forum in Hungary. The editors claim that most of the parties expressed commitment to the free market, social justice, EU membership leaving slight ideological distinctions between each other. This has had the effect of shifting the political spectrum to the right and led to the emergence of right-wing political parties. It is suggested that the absence of a public sphere, led in the long term to citizen apathy and disillusionment with party politics.
Again however, the authors leave the analyses of political and electoral systems to the individual case studies, some of their claims that clearly require deeper analyses and empirical substantiation are not addressed in the chapters. While most of the writers do not take into account the analytical framework introduced by Kaldor and Vejvoda, their contributions on political parties are largely descriptive and would not satisfy the requirements of a mature reader on the subject of political parties. An exception being Bozoki’s contribution on Hungary that brings an analytical focus to the political parties and includes references to political party theorists such as Herbert Kitschelt who contributed to the analyses of the emerging political party systems in Central and Eastern Europe in an article from 1992 and according to Bozoki again in 1995[2] Martin Butora in his description of Slovak political parties also makes an attempt to adopt an analytical approach, referring to Kitschelt’ and Szomolanyi’s work. [3]

The focus on the media brings a quality of insight into the situation. Several authors consider the emergence of independent TV and radio stations as a sign of freedom of expression, though they critically note that there have been media-wars in Hungary and Bulgaria as well as political party wars over the influence of the media and the absence of legislation that enables the ruling majority to control the national media in Bulgaria (Chapter 11) Furthermore they say: ”Newspapers resembling The Independent or Le Monde, which try to cover a wide variety of positions, are rare.” [p. 13]. The situation on the role of the media in individual countries in covered in chapters on Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Slovakia, Romania and less effectively in the chapter on Bulgaria. The chapter on the Czech Republic does not address the media issue at all. Similarly, in the chapter on Poland and on Slovenia we do not find anything on the role of the media.

The field of Administration is given full coverage in all chapters. Kaldor and Vejvoda say that in this context less attention has been paid to the reform of the state itself. They notice that there has been no extensive programme of ‘decomunisation’ and that ‘clientelistic’ assumptions of the previous period have caused a lack of public ethos. Former members of the ‘nomenklatura’ often became new managers while in some countries, such as Romania (Chapter 10) the secret police transformed its activities along with the transition process. The argument reads: ”Romania is a particularly acute example of this tendency, owing to the persuasiveness of the secret police during the communist period. A variety of terms including ‘directocracy’, ‘kleptocracy’, and ‘new bourgeoisie’ are used to describe the power of former directors of currently or formerly state-owned enterprises who are closely linked former communist and secret police networks and are able to circumvent the existing legal framework and achieve their goals ‘invisibly’” [p.15].
Typical feature of lack of resources in the post communist countries causes corruption, that becomes a normal way of ”doing even the most menial administrative business.” [p.15].

A common feature that had to be overcome in all EU accession countries has been the structure of centralisation of power. The delegation of power to the local governments has been the first step for most of CEECs. Nevertheless, Kaldor and Vejvoda note that important regional differences make the issue of local governments exclusive for each country. The issue of fiscal independence of the local governments is raised by Kaldor and Vejvoda and discussed in Chapters on Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia. However, in the chapter on the Czech Republic the reader will find little information on the topic of local government. Similarly, in chapters on Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Romania, the reader will not see the issue of local government addressed.

Civil society, on the other hand, has got full coverage in all chapters. Kaldor and Vejvoda refer to pre communist experience of association and organisations building in some CEECs. They point to Hungary between 1867 and 1914, and challenge the myth of perceiving Central and Eastern Europe as an unfortunate set of different cultures who never experienced civil society and thus have to learn it from the west. They note that after 1989 especially, Slovenia became an ”NGO country”. The common rationale for establishing independent, civil society based activities and organisations was first resistance against communism and after the fall of the Berlin wall initiative to challenge deep societal problems. Those are conflicts and minority issues in Slovenia and all three Baltic republics, poverty of children and discrimination of minorities in Bulgaria and Romania, discrimination of minorities in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. Slovakia is cited as an example of the most backward country in the region, especially in comparison with the Czech Republic, but on the other hand one with the most lively civil society. This only proves the theory of establishing civil society based organisation as resistance organisations.

Kaldor and Vejvoda also note that the possibility of relatively easily accessible funding from the EU established programme PHARE as well as other donors – Open Society Institute (Regional Initiatives), but also western European state’s funds created an ‘clientelistic’ NGO aspect, meaning ‘grant driven initiative’. Nevertheless, authors note that a genuine local impulse is a common feature of all CEECs.
The emergence of civil society activities also generated a debate on what is civil society. Here, early civil society thinkers and theorists such as A. Ferguson argue that civil society is a moral sentiment-driven initiative, or Seligman saying that the initiative at the civil society level is rather governed by self interest than moral belief. Habermas seems to overcome the division, representing a rather sceptical view, saying that the ”public sphere has been transformed into an arena of competition between conflicting interests in which various groups and agencies meet to negotiate a compromise in a distance from public view.” [pp 170-171].

In conclusion, going back to the three original questions raised in the Introduction, Kaldor and Vejvoda point out that the problem of simultaneity of transition to democracy and market economy makes the CEECs a special model driven by the formal democracy policy criteria of EU membership. They claim for example that: ”transition. […] has been associated with a neo-liberal ideology in which an extreme version of free market has been imposed from above in societies in which public institutions are inadequately developed.” [p.163]. While Eastern and Central Europe were motivated by the vision of a return to the western European values of democracy, civil society, citizenship, individualism, reason and enlightenment [p.165], they are only half way there, realising that the EU (although a polity) is neither a typical intergovernmental international institution nor a new European state, even though it possesses significant elements of supra-nationality. The two crucial aspects, criticised by the EU and imposed on CEECs to fulfil before enlargement –active democracy and a functioning public sphere -- is missing in the European context and the problem is how to provide a context at the EU level in which the current configuration of elite communication of inter-governmentalism and functionalism will move beyond the debates within individual states, largely about what Europe means in each national context towards what authors call European Democratic Space, meaning support of individual citizens to stimulate ‘active solidarity’ across Europe.

The issues raised in this publication are highly relevant to the political debates in CEECs and in this respect it will remain an essential read for policy makers and civil society activists, as well as students of political science or international relations. However, had this publication with its present contents reached its readership in 1997 rather than 1999, its value would certainly double. Some of the characteristics made about Central and Eastern Europe given as a reference to well established writers on Central and Eastern Europe such George Schoepflin, particularly his writing from 1994 (see page 19) are old and outdated. On the other hand, one is pleased to realise that characteristics made in 1994 about Central and Eastern Europe are outdated in the year 2000 as nothing has driven this region more then continuous development.
Furthermore, it appears that not all of the authors in this volume are fully committed to the analytical framework introduced by Kaldor and Vejvoda. While this should not become an obstacle to gaining information about the countries individually, when attempting to take a comparative view, one could easily be mislead. It would appear to this reviewer, for example, that Kavan and Palous altered the analytical framework proposed by the editors in their coverage of the Czech Republic and took rather different perspective then one would expect after reading an Introduction. They concentrate mainly on the issue of Czech (Klausian) model of transformation and whether we could call it specific and a short run success or whether we could see it being used in different contexts and perceive it as a long run success. They also address the issue of continuing division in Europe when saying that: ”The more successful and ‘virtuous’ a country is in its transition to democracy and a market economy, the more favourable are relations with the European institutions which in turn enhance democracy and contribute to prosperity.” [p.78]
Unfortunately, one can not rely fully on this publication when attempting to learn about the countries in a comparative fashion. Nevertheless, it is a good introductory text on the region and definitely contains excellent coverage of issues relating to civil society.

Poznámky / Notes

1) While Roma are the most vulnerable minority in countries under examination, due to a tendency by Roma not to state their nationality in censuses, it is widely presumed that both the official figures on the number of Roma underestimate the real number of Roma living in the countries. Some estimates indicate that in the Czech Republic out of 10,3 million inhabitants, there are possibly up to 250-300 000 Roma (2.4-3.0% of the total population), while in Slovakia, out of 5.3 million inhabitants, up to 480-520 000 are Roma (9.4-10.0% of the total population). For more see Davidová, E. (1992): Romano Drom – Cesty Romů, Univerzita Palackého. Olomouc.
2) Kitschelt, H. (1992): The formation of party systems in East Central Europe, Politics and Society, 20 (1), March, pp. 7-50.
3) Szomolanyi, S. (1995): Does Slovakia differ from the Central European variant of transition?, in: Szomolanyi and Meseznikov (eds): Slovakia: Parliamentary Elections 1994. Causes – Consequences – Prospects, Slovak Political Science Association, Bratislava.

3 / II / léto 2000 / summer 2000Recenze / Book reviewsTisk / PrintDownload

    ISSN 1212-7817

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vydává Mezinárodní politologický
ústav Fakulty sociálních studií, Masarykova univerzita

A peer-reviewed on-line journal
issued by the International Institute
of Political Science of the Faculty of Social Studies, Masaryk University

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