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>Fringe benefit?


I’ve always had a minor fascination with minor parties, whether in a West European or a CEE context – indeed, the next academic conference I’m planning to go to the International Conference on Minor Parties, Independent Politicians, Voter Associations and Political Associations in Politics at the University of Birmingham at the end of November, where I’ll be doing a paper on pensioner parties in Eastern Europe (and beyond). So I was interested to stumble across the newly set up Berrocsir’s blog, which promises a ‘syncretic view of fringe politics’ in the UK. There are only half a dozen postings so far – including, rather oddly, a review of Cider With Rosy – but the writer does seem well informed about both the far right and the internal politics of the Green Part of England and Wales (including links to the two rival Green Party factions campaigning for and against proposed organizational reforms in the party).
Indeed, perhaps s/he is a little too well informed for comfort as “For a world of ten thousand flags!” tag used to sign off is a variant of the “Europe of a Hundred Flags” slogan of the post-fascist French Nouvelle Droite/aka the European New Right, which has been ably and interestingly academically explored by Prof Roger Griffin of Oxford Brookes University in papers such as the one here. The use of the word ‘syncretic’ – a favourite buzzword of the ENR used to describe their fusion of liberal radicalisms of right and left – is also something of a giveaway.
Even if this particular blogger should turn out to be a bit beyond the fringem, a dedicated blog on fringe and minor parties would be an excellent idea given the general dearth of easily accessible information on them…

>The New Right in the New Europe


My book on the Czech right-wing politics The New Right in the New Europe is published next week. The last leg in the whole authoring process, it seems, is an email exchange with the someone in the RoutledgeCurzon marketing depatment. It’s just over nine years since I first put pen to paper, or rather finger to keyboard, about a bizarre and exotic creature called ‘Czech Thatcherism’ and about four years since I decided to turn this particular academic interest into a book. Having become one of the UK’s biggest Czech politics junkies, it’s probably is time to move on. My wife routinely turns any books she finds about the house with Václav Klaus’s picture on face down. Even I found it mildly worrying when I had to explain to our six year old that the familiar face on the computer screeen was someone “a bit like a king who lives in Czechia in a Castle”.
RoutledgeCurzon prefer typographical (i.e. blank) book fronts, so there is no cover illustration, although in my mind’s eye I would probably put on a photo of the mega-hoarding of Klaus put up by ODS by Prague’s Letna during the 1998 local election campaign. A giant statue of Stalin stood in the 1950s and later in the Havel era a giant metronome. Apart from being a striking image in itself this bold but outrageous piece of electioneering sum up the appalling but impressive chutzpah of Klaus and his party. The accompanying slogan”We Think Differently” is also, at several levels, a rather neat encapsulation of the politics of the post-1989 Czech national-liberal right.
As it is the book comes in pictureless and with the standard academic hardback price tag £75.00 ($150) Review copies, it seems are being sent to Perspectives on Politics, Political Studies Review, Europe-Asia Studies, Slavic Review, East European Politics and Societies, West European Politics, Democratization, Czech Sociological Review, Slavonic and East European Review and Central European Political Science Review. So any suitably qualified academic readers who fancy some summer reading should free feel free to click through to their favourite book review editor.

>Unsunny afternoon


It’s a typical English July summer day. Weird weather – this time rainy and cool in mid-summer– and an unravelling terror plot feverishly covered in the media. I get the train to London to give a student some feedback on her MA performance and tie up various other administrative loose ends of printing, signing and tidying the afternoon away. There;s no visible security clampdown and, fortunately, I am the bearer of good news as far as the student is concerned. None of the rest is very onerous and end up tracking down and reading French language study of Luxembourg politics to find out something more about the Alternative Democratic Reforms (ADR) party, which superficially seemed to West Europe’s only example of a sustained success by a pensioners’ party – the ADR which has pulled in up to 10% of the vote in the Grand Duchy since it emerged in the early 1990s having began as a Commitee for Pensions Justice seeking to bring (state-supervised?) private sector pensions up to the generous level of those paid to public sector employees. In fact, as the pensions issue receded it seems to have as has made the transition to being a right-wing populist/anti-establishment party and was perhaps always more about poujadisme as ‘grey power’.
When I leave SSEES the odd summer times make themselves felt a bit more forcefully: 30 seconds into my five minute walk to the Undergound monsoon like downpour begins and as I run into the tube station I almost bump into two machine gun wielding cops, also presumably taking shelter from the weird weather.

>Humanitarian intervention – yours for £1.67 a week

> Today’s inbox brings a request to do an electronic survey on UK Military Intervention from a UCL School of Public Policy Master’s student – well designed and straightfoward bar one rather laborious hypothetical scenario about an electronic ballot on UK humanitarian intervention in a Dafur like situation for an extra £1.67 a week in tax. The survey, which contains an altrusitic appeal to ‘advance knowledge in political science’ with the chance to win an iPod, is open to anyone (presumably some fairly serious statistical weighting and discussions of validity of anonymous online samples will find its way into the dissertation) is online here

>Global citizenship: now UC see it…


Are you for global citizenship? I certainly am. And, so more, importantly is UCL, which defines its mission in these terms and, not surprisingly, wants the idea to perculate through its teaching and research. I’ve been puzzling for while quite what this might mean in concrete terms, so the Roundtable on Global Citizenship held as part of the launch of the new UCL Department of Political Science seemed an ideal opportunity to find out, especially as the star turn was Bernard Crick of In Defence of Politics fame – a book which even penetrated behind the Iron Curtain, inspiring at least one leading Czech dissident (Petr Pithart) to reject the anti-political drift of non-conformist intellectuals in communist Czechoslovakia after the collapse of the Prague Spring.
UCL’s corporate view of ‘global citizenship’ stresses the idea of well-rounded individualists moving freely big and diverse world, tooled up with critical thinking skills, a well developed sense of entrepeurialism and a willingness to take on responsibiltiy and leasdership roles (and, of course, get good a job to pay the bills). In political science terms, however, the term raised questions rather more difficult questions than being a dynamic university with liberal values and a global reach: what actually makes up ‘citizenship’ and what political institutions that might define and protect it. All panelists were actually rather sceptical of the term.
Having opened with some slyly humourous recollections about his time as a ‘token young man’ at ‘UC’ in the 1960s when it tried and failed to start up a politics department to rival the hegemony of LSE, Sir Bernard decried the vagueness of the term, which short of some form of Wellsian world government could at best mean the promotion of ‘citizens from different parts of the globe’ and worst serve as a pretext for ducking difficult issues closer to home. Teachers of citizenship as a secondary school subject, he suggested, sometimes found discussion of the Amazon rainforest a convenient way of ducking discussion of more immediate problems of citizenship on the ethnically and religiously diverse streets of Britain.
Although Prof Richard Bellamy linked global citizenship to the global spead of democracy – the best form he argued for maintaining and defending civil and political rights – other panellist including Bernard Crick were less sanguine, pointing out that citizenship predated mass democracy and happily coexist with authoritarian political forms. Globalization was, however, seen as the bigger challenge in a world which, it was agreed, national states not supranational institutions (even the EU) or global civil society will be not only the main actors and the main providers and protectors of democratic citizenship.
Not that national citizenship remained had untouched by globalization or Europeanization. The partial unravelling of the building blocks of traditional national citizenship – membership of a specific community; civil and human rights; and opportunities for participation in decision-making – into looser forms of ‘post-national citizenship’ actually created a hierarchy of citizenships with migrants and non-nationals relegated to a second of third class status ( ‘denizenship’ so to speak) in the guise of post-modern. Citizenship is, after all, an illiberal notion based on exclusion as well as inclusion.
90 minutes later as I crunched on a biscuit I still didn’t quite know how to ‘do’ global citizenship, but I had a whole lot more to ponder.

>When postgrads draw blood


MA students hunt in packs. Or least they can when given work by a leading scholar to chase down and grab by the throat In this case, Anna Grzymala-Busse’s paper on “Post-Communist Competition and State Development is fairly ripped apart in reflections by my MA East European Politics class. They quite like her liberal argument that, in the absence of a strong rule of law or a strong civil society, inter-party competition in CEE offers mutual checks and balance spurring the building of more neutral and accountable institutions. On the other hand, they find her depiction of politicians in the region as venal office seekers simplistic, especially in contexts where ideology and programmes are known to play a role. They find the stress on the fear of losing elections and losing office repetitive and rather unconvincing and indeed it is a rather Hobbesian outlook, although kind of consistent with the basically liberal model of politics informing Gryzmala-Busse writing. Will there be no successful pay-off for doing the right thing and carrying through successful reform my students asked? Many people would probably answer ‘no’ given the time horizons of electoral politics and political careers are rather shorter than those of structural reforms to public administration. Bulgaria (as ever this year) poses an interesting test case with polarized party politics of ex-communist left and anti-communist right until the eruption of the Simeon II National Movement (NDSV) in 2001 and after the 2005 (when normal service when normal service to have been resumed with the NDSV reduced to the usual minor party size of many liberal groupings in the region) but rather less successful state transformation. The obvious answer is that the weaker ‘right’ felt a pressing need to recapture the ‘communist’ state exploited by the left, a dynamic I think. As ever, it is very unclear what role the EU played and how important domestic factors were: like other US comparativists Gryzmala-Busse is found guilty of being very vague on this point and presenting an argument based on domestic features and using the EU as a deus ex machina to explain anomalies. It will be interesting to see whether Grzymala-Busse’s forthcoming book on the same topic, Rebuilding Leviathan, proves a more elusive prey.

>Academic books: stocking up for 2007

>So what would I like from Santa Claus this year? Maybe some of the following

Anna Gryzmala-Busse, Rebuilding Leviathan: Party Competition and State Exploitation in Post-communist Democracies, Cambridge University Press, forthcoming 2007

Jean Blondel Ferdinand Muller-Rommel, Darina Malova Governing New European Democracies, Palgrave, forthcoming December 2006.

Gerd Meyer (ed) Formal Institutions and Informal Politics in Central and Eastern Europe: Hungary, Poland, Russia and Ukraine,Verlag Barbara Budrich.

Pieter Vanhuysse, Divide and Pacify: Strategic Social Policies and Political Protests in Post-communist Democracies , Central European University Press, 2006

Leslie Holmes Rotten States?: Corruption, Post-communism and Neo-liberalism, Duke University Press, 2006

Stephen White, David Stansfield, and Paul Webb (eds.) Political Parties in Transitional Democracies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2006

Susanne Jungerstam-Mulders, (ed) Post-Communist EU Member States: Parties and Party Systems, Ashgate, 2006

Cas Mudde, Populist Radical Right Parties in Europe, Cambridge University Press (forthcoming 2007)

Paul Webb, Paul Taggart, Paul Lewis, Aleks Szczerbiak and Charles Lees, Party Politics in Contemporary Europe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, forthcoming)

>Higher education: futureschlock

>Never let it be said that British universities aren’t innovative. I had to do a double take to check it wasn’t 1st April today when I saw the front page of this week’s Time’s Higher Education Supplement. Reports that a scientist is being punished for falsifying research findings about whether sheep can recognize each other (they can’t really) and a plan to train university cleaners as student counsellors, so they can deal with students’ emotional problems between hoovering the corridors halls of residence.

A pressing issue in the study of animal behaviour and an inventive form of pastoral care, I guess. Let’s hope personal tutors aren’t required to fill with the vacuum cleaner during quieter office hours. Suddenly, the suggestions for dystopian university futures we facetiously making in the break between exam boards last week – university staff in Man Utd or Tesco style uniforms emblazoned with sponsors logos or academics individually ‘privatized’ with CelebDaq (AcadDaq?) style ratings – don’t seem so far fetched.

>Markedly interesting


An interesting thought in an MA dissertation: democratic transitions can be better be understood in terms of actors’ collective action problems (read through the lens of Olson’s classic Logic of Collective Action study) than a simple balance of power and resources rooted in regime legacies. Who says marking coursework is boring?

>Excuse my French

>A pre-term discussion with SSEES colleagues about timetabling and options morphs into a rather more fundamental and interesting exchange of views about how to study Eastern Europe. What, we wondered, was the proper place of options in langauges like French or Spanish on East European studies degree? Not at all or at least only a very peripheral one if one takes Eastern Europe in the traditional sense as referring to post-communist countries, which are – despite the diverging paths of East Central Europe and the FSU since the fall of communism – bound by history, culture and not dissimilar process of transition. On the other hand, we live in a world where the East/West division of the continent has melted away and is being ever more eroded by lapping waters of EU integration, which may, in fact, be shifting the fundamental dividing line further to the East to the borders with …. Ukraine? Russia? Turkey? Hard to tell. Students are interested in Portguese-Hungarian parallel in economic restructuring or Spanish-Polish experiences of democratization and regionalization – a commonplace enough comparison in academic literatures.

Václav Klaus (who else?) banged the nail squared on the head when opening the new SSEES building last year, by telling the assembled audience that, linguistic kinship and historical geo-politics aside, he didn’t consider himself a Slav and certaintly not an East European. Reprising Masaryk’s discussion of the Problem of Small Nations, which partly prompted the foundation of SSEES in 1915, he didn’t quite suggest a wholesale name change – the School of Wider European Studies, perhaps ? – but the logicof his argument was clear enough. Other academic institutions have, of course, grappled with the same problem: just how Europe does Europe now divides up and just what does ‘our region’ as specialists on post-communist politics tend to call it (or should that be ‘regions’) now consist of. An ESRC research project of the 1990s posed the question directly – One Europe or Several? Despite many interesting and useful pieces of research pon diverse aspects of European politics, economics and society East and West, no very clear answer emerged.