Joerg Forbig and Pavol Demes (eds.), Reclaiming Democracy: Civil Society and Electoral Change in Central and Eastern Europe.
Forbig and Demes' detailed ethnographic analysis of the political transformation of post--communist Central and Eastern Europe is presented in their 2007 work, 'Reclaiming Democracy- Civil Society and Electoral Change in Central and Eastern Europe.' The authors dedicate themselves to providing a detailed account and analysis of civil society's role in bringing about democratic change in Georgia, Serbia the Ukraine and Slovakia since the early 1990's. Taking examples from the particular experience of civil society groups within these countries, Forbig and Demes provide the reader a variety of debates and perspectives which have often been over looked in other more general studies on the Central and Eastern European (CEE) and the transition from authoritarianism to democracy, which, as the authors indicate, is still ongoing. The book is presented in two parts, the first is a case study series and the second a comparative exploration of the key themes outlined in the preface and introductory sections.
In part one, the authors provide a panoramic case-orientated study series to the reader which, from key activists, provides a unique and intimate view of civil society activities and efforts, pre-election campaigns and civic movements, which emerged in the analyzed countries in this collaborative work. Through the use of case studies based on actual experience rather than secondparty narrative the authors achieve what they purport to achieve, producing work with an emphasis on authenticity rather than relying exclusively on scholarly analysis. The authors introduce a wide variety of case studies which facilitate their debate in Part two's comparative analysis, which contends with the misconception that a 'universal recipe exists for civil society efforts to assert democracy' (p.14). Concentrating on moving away from explicitly narrating the colour and velvet revolutions of the time, the case studies focus on tenants of democratic change influenced by the civil society, such as free and fair elections, preparation 'on the ground'(p.40), and particular nuances of the Rose revolution in Georgia and the Orange revolution in the Ukraine. As stated by the authors, the particular nuances highlighted, often remain hidden behind broader categories that have been applied to recent democratic change in CEE (p. 17).
Part two's comparative approach places the observations made in part one into a broader political perspective. A broader perspective enables the reader to analyze the situation during this time of political transformation and place it in a wider international context. Furthermore it re-emphasizes that the introduction of democratic electoral reform at no point guarantees a model which can be used as a universally applicable standard for all post-communist countries. Part two's international perspective goes beyond the confines of CEE and considers 'different authoritarianisms' from China, Belarus, Russia and Eurasia and highlights that civil society movements without credible leadership in opposition to the status-quo are essentially powerless (p.160). Challenging the views that have become popular during the revolutions, the chapters analyzing patterns of electoral change, strategy, resources, youth culture involvement, the economy and direction, the authors reflect on the real effect of color and velvet revolutions and the difficultly in determining causal links between and the prime motivators of a transition to democracy (p. 18). The main emphasis in each chapter is that electoral revolution is not the only possible mode of regime change and that pluralism both socially and politically are the main supporting components conducive to electoral change. Fundamentally, the reader is shown, as a result of Forbig and Demes' thorough analysis that civil society or evolution in cultural norms cannot be understood so rigidly as to expect them to bring about electoral change and 'reclaim' democracy.
Forbig and Demes put forth a well structured and thematically sound piece of work. The reader is guided through debates which are clear, concise and original. Furthermore, the work provides a wider choice of examples than is typically found in texts dealing with transitional democracy in CEE. Methodologically, the use of both case study and comparative technique is a classical approach which champions the merits of ethnographic scholarship. Stylistically the book is well written and where definition and further explanation is required the reader is provided with such in a clear, concise and informative manner. The language used is stimulating and the reader is not overwhelmed by the use of jargon or long convoluted sentences, quotations are choice and thematic. Critically however, it should be mentioned that in order to fully appreciate part two's comparative analysis, the reader should be equipped with a prior knowledge of the political and social cleavages in the cases used as models such as China, Russia and Eurasia. While these case studies are well researched, presented, and debated, the merits of their inclusion may be overlooked and under-appreciated by students who are unfamiliar with these cases.
Reclaiming Democracy is an insightful and original approach to the consideration of civil society and its relationship with electoral change in CEE. This book would be of particular relevance to scholars and students of CEE history and politics as it looks beyond the traditional headings and assumptions about the actual contributory force of civil society.
University of St Andrews, Scotland
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|Publication:||CEU Political Science Journal|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Feb 1, 2009|
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