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Pieter Vanhuysse, Divide and Pacify: Strategic Social Policies and Political Protests in Post-Communist Democracies.

Pieter Vanhuysse, Divide and Pacify: Strategic Social Policies and Political Protests in Post-Communist Democracies (Budapest: Central European University Press, 2006), 190 pp.

While the fall of communism in Central and Eastern Europe was perhaps the launch pad for politicians who wanted to introduce new democratic ideas to their countries, it also brought along with it substantial downsides such as soaring unemployment rates and hyperinflation which caught citizens largely off-guard. After a decade and a half of democracy, the young and promising scholar Pieter Vanhuysse, by offering his perspective on various issues related to post socialist economic transformation of Hungary, Poland and Czech Republic, gives some well-crafted and thoughtful explanations of the collective actions of the population in these countries regarding the shock of unemployment. He examines the reasons behind the lack of protests in these countries despite the high level of unemployment. Considering that the foreword of the book is written by his mentor, the widely-respected Professor Janos Kornai, it is clear from the start that we are dealing with a serious research book.

The carefully constructed introduction and conclusion hint at and introduce the reader to the author's main arguments. The second chapter gives a comparative analysis between the post communist transition periods of Hungary, Poland and Czech Republic as well as one Latin American country and other post communist countries in Europe. Interestingly, the author includes in his analysis a comparison with other democratic (liberal, social or conservative) countries, which paints a picture of the surprisingly peaceful transition for these three European countries on a number of dimensions.

The third chapter provides the reader with the real picture of the threatened workers and farmers' political silence, despite all the potential for large scale protests. So, the focus of the fourth chapter named "Preventing Protests "Divide and Pacify as Political strategy" is on the strategic role of social policies in preempting the political danger posed by threatened workers, pointing out that the means (strategic policies) used by the countries' governments to manipulate the work--welfare status of individuals were intended to reduce the capacity for reform losers' mobilization.

The "divide and pacify" strategy is the core of the plan aimed at splitting homogenous groups of threatened workers into several groups of unemployed (with benefits), some into early and some into disability retirement (the abnormal pensioners). The newly unemployed and "abnormally" retired workers were faced with declining living standards and narrowing social network ties, offloaded onto welfare programs and had stronger incentives to earn private income in the grey economy instead of pursuing public goods through protests.

Chapter five abounds with graphs and charts regarding the poverty, family spending, children and maternity allowances, early pension expenditures, and replacement rates for old age pensions, which helps the parallel analyses on these three countries, and in the sixth chapter the author clearly explains the pathways of Hungary and Poland as opposed to the Czech Republic, which didn't apply the "divide and pacify" strategy and still obtained low levels of unemployment (remained steady at around three percent throughout the early 1990s), as well as infrequent mass protests.

The book's main merit is actually closely related with the main argument of the author. By positing that governments could impose a degree of political peace upon the polity through the strategic use of state welfare programs, he offers a ray of hope for countries that are still dealing with large scale of unemployment as a result of the market reforms after the socialism. So, these policies ("Divide and Pacify") split up formally organized groups of workers simultaneously threatened by redundancy, by keeping some of them in jobs, and by sending some onto unemployment benefits and many others into early and disability retirement.

The focuses of Vanhuysse's research are Poland, Hungary and Czech Republic, but he does not exclude from his analysis Latin American countries and other post socialist European countries, which gives even more value to the project. From an economic point of view, the above mentioned policies often appeared to be very costly or irresponsibly populist. But, it does not necessarily mean that it can lead to system destruction or other bad outcomes, on the contrary, here it happens to shine new light on these "unpopular policies" by stressing the deeper political motives and the importance of being able to acknowledge the wider sociological consequences.

The author is completely aware of the delicacy of the issue, and instead of aiming for creation of some new socio-economic rules, he gives examples of other paths for socio-economic reforms (the Czech example). Showing how only an interdisciplinary perspective can really aid in better understanding an apparently puzzling issue is perhaps the best defensive mechanism in the authors explanations of the phenomenon.

The controversial part of this book is the unusual claim of the author that the grey economy and high budget disbursements were the actual reasons behind the lack of mass strikes and protests in Hungary and Poland. While stating this so clearly and openly sounds a little bit irrational, we must be aware that this is an analysis of the situation as it stands, and not the authors personal beliefs. In order to avoid trends' toward generalization and simplification the readers should have in mind that Hungary was a "Gradualist" transitional country, while Poland was one of the "Shock Therapy" countries and Czech Republic was a socalled "Big Bang" country, choosing a radically different way1 to deal with unemployment, and in fact managed to become a remarkable industrial power (obtaining rate of passive to active expenditures decreasing from 5 in 1990 to 0,5 in 1993, which stood the same ratio compared with Sweden--0,9 and France 2,2 in 1991).

The book is well written, and the reader can clearly understand the author's main goals and perspectives. Although, the easy flowing style and language can also put this book in a danger of misinterpretation of those decision makers willing to use it as an excuse for bad decisions during their governance. It is an informative, concise, and analytical book which deserves every scholar's and political researcher's attention. It is complicated to strictly define reading groups because this is a complex book which encompasses political, psychological, economical, and sociological elements, so students of human sciences can find it very useful. Economists of the post socialist countries and the political decision makers can also use these experiences to review and analyze their own political decisions already implemented in their post socialist societies and its final results. Being nominated for the American Sociological Association's Award for Distinguished Contribution to Scholarship 2006, "Divide and Pacify: Strategic Social Policies and Political Protests in Post-Socialist Democracies" comes as a highly recommended research book.

Autor: Josipa Rizankoska

University of Bologna

(1) "The Balcerowicz program", practically did not contained a social policy section, but, some of the steps in order to achieve low unemployment rate were: avoiding large scale job losses by developing the labor market, therefore, avoidance of the bankruptcy of the large enterprises, by giving it a sufficient time for adaptation, by providing credits, possibly subsidy, and partly customs policy.
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Author:Rizankoska, Josipa
Publication:CEU Political Science Journal
Date:Feb 1, 2010
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