Howard J. Wiarda (with the assistance of Dale R. Herspring and Esther M. Skelley), 2006, Development on the Periphery: Democratic Transitions in Southern and Eastern Europe.
The comparative research of democratization in Southern and Eastern Europe has preoccupied scholars of transitology and consolidology since the collapse of communism in 1989. "Development on the periphery" is a part of the series of books edited and written by Howard J. Wiarda on Latin American, South and East European, and comparative politics. The volume is a monograph, based on a number of the author's previous publications and articles (in East European Political and Society and Mediterranean Quarterly), except for the chapter on East European political culture, contributed by Dale R. Herspring. It can be recommended to students of regime change in Southern and/or Eastern Europe. The informationally rich narration and profound analysis of political history of both regions (in the case of Eastern Europe, with focus on the twentieth century) are especially valuable for the students of history and politics of the regions.
The focus of the book is on political-cultural aspects of regime change in two traditionally undemocratic and underdeveloped regions of Europe, Southern and Eastern, and their prospects for consolidation of democracy and European integration. This topic is especially relevant in light of the democratic backsliding in new EU member states, faltering democratization in Moldova and Ukraine and reversion towards authoritarianism in Belarus and the Russian Federation. The theoretical argument of the book (developed in Chapter 3 Transitology and the Need for New Theory) is that transitology and consolidology, theories initially developed for analysis of Southern European and Latin American regime change, are "fundamentally flawed" and incomplete (p. 80), as well as non-applicable to East and Central Europe. The latter is due to the region's principally different historical experience of political regimes and to the significance of political culture, although varying greatly from country to country. The book recedes from either a purely rationalist or institutionalist approach. Instead, historical approach is applied to provide a structural explanation of prospects of democratization, with political culture as one of the main explanatory variables. The book provides in-depth case studies of two South European countries (Spain and Portugal) and an overview of the East European region as a whole, rather than a coherent comparative study.
On the basis of voluminous historic evidence, it is successfully explained why Southern Europe had better conditions for a successful transition from authoritarianism than East European countries from communism. In line with structural theory of democratization (societal modernization and comparative historical approach), the level of transformation within the previous regime (e.g., prior to the death of Franco in Spain and a military coup d'etat in Portugal; or "reform communism" in Hungary) is considered as determinative for the outcome of transition from authoritarianism. In contrast to Southern Europe, where the comprehensive bottom-up changes had begun long before the end of authoritarian regimes, not only did top-down changes in political culture start with the collapse of the regime in Eastern Europe, they were also rather shallow. The lack of the "civic" political culture necessary for a democracy and basic societal attitudes internalized under communism have dominated transition and obscured prospects for democratization in Eastern Europe, despite the implemented institutional changes. The argument that membership in the Soviet Union complicates transition towards democracy in comparison to post-communist East European states belongs here as well. Although criteria for complete transition are not fully defined except for general reference to "continuity with a previous regime" (p. 97), implying that transitions are never over, transitions in both Eastern and Southern Europe are classified as incomplete.
Undoubtedly, bringing back political culture along with historical and geographic factors definitely contributes to the understanding of democratization in both regions. However, it largely ignores elite contestation and institutional configuration, a subject of contextual theories of democratization, and other variables of regime change, e.g. mode of transition, studied by transitology, which are particularly important for analysis of post-communist transitions. Moreover, where complementary structural explanatory factors influencing transition, such as a level of economic development and institutionalization (for study of the East European case) are introduced, the causal relations between all main explanatory factors seem rather intricate.
Furthermore, the conceptualization of notions such as political culture (including religion, previous experience of polity/regime, and psychological attitudes) in Central and Eastern Europe, important precisely because of the book's focus on historical legacies and cultural divisions, should be addressed. Political culture is defined rather broadly, (44) up to merging with a general notion of culture, and is interchangeably referred to as "participatory" or "civic", indicating a problem of conceptual stretching and vagueness. Given the complex nature and broad definition of the concept, the political culture, although considered the main explanatory factor for prospects of regime change, sometimes is analyzed as conditioned by economic, institutional, societal changes or the nature of the regime (authoritarian versus totalitarian).
Likewise, the presentation of some constituents of political culture is disputable. For instance, a substantial constituent of the complex notion of political culture is the factor of religion. In the book the overarching concept (Christianity as a whole) is identified with its Western (Roman Catholic and Protestant) branches, whereas the Eastern (Orthodox) branch is seen rather as an alternative to Christianity than apart of it. Although religious division is one of the most fundamental identifiers of political culture and geopolitical orientation of the state (e.g., Samuel Huntigton's "clash of civilizations"), it however stands for either Western or Eastern Christianity but not Europeanness per se. The next dimension for distinguishability between West and East of Europe, namely belonging to an empire, is even more blurred. All monarchies to which Eastern European countries (Belarus, Moldova, Western Ukraine) belonged, such as Polish-Lithuanian and Austro-Hungarian, monarchy, identified themselves with the West and Western Christendom.
Finally, although the importance of differences between countries is stressed, their understanding is blurred by analysis of Eastern Europe as a whole (contrary to country-specific studies of Southern Europe) and by the Russian Federation-centered view. Besides, Eastern Europe and FSU, CIS, and the Russian Federation are often interpreted as three different entities. This leads to the second crucial and problematic concept--that of Europe (and its borders). It has turned out difficult to define primarily because of its multiversion essence allowing for plurality of criteria, e.g. "geography, religion, culture, politics, economics, sociology, or ethnicity" (p. 182) according to which it can be defined. As observed with regard to the religious factor, the notion of "Europeanness" seems problematic to define. Occasionally, it is either substituted for with level of development or equated to Western Europe. The delimitation of belonging to Europe is not consistent and occasionally excludes either Easterners (Belarussians, Georgians, Russians, and Ukrainians) and Southern nations (the Balkans).
Regarding the overall structure of the book, the presentation of information on Southern and Eastern Europe is asymmetric. In the former case, the very detailed political history of each country is outlined back to pre-nation state times; by this, two case-studies of Spain and Portugal niche foreign policies towards their colonies, undertaken in Chapter 6, although informative and analytical, seem to be not coherent with the main argumentation of the book. In contrast, for Eastern Europe rather little attention is paid to the pre-communist period.
The general aim of the book is largely achieved since it reveals the significance of political culture for studies of regime change. Yet inclusion of other factors, e.g. institutions and modes of transition, could provide a more overall analysis.
Central European University
(44) "... the values, ideas, norms, belief systems (including religious beliefs), behavioural patterns, and standards ways by which people operate" (Wiarda 2006: 9).
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|Publication:||CEU Political Science Journal|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Feb 1, 2009|
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