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>I’d like to teach the world to… vote


Ever been frustrated that the decisions of the US affect you when you have no influence on who gets to the Oval Office? If so, you at least have a chance to ‘vote’ online in a global online poll organized by two Icelanders (who obviously have more reason than most to feel vulnerable in the face of big power global politics and economics just now). Unsuprisingly, Obama sweeps the board in most countries of the world byhuge margins. The more hawkish McCain only gets a decent level of support (20-30%+) if rom online voters in US allies facing some kind of external threat (Georgia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Latvia – the subject of Russian hostility), Israel (no detailed explanation needed) and Columbia (narco-mafia, FARC). He also does well in Nicaragua and Venuzulua, presumably because of pro-US inclination of opponent of left-wing populist governments. I guess McCain’s 20% from Iranian ‘voters’ might also be a gesture of anti-regime sentiment. I’m at a loss, however, as to why McCain does well in Macedonia (90%) or gets a respectable 24% in Russia. My finger hovered over my mouse for a second , but I really wouldn’t want Sarah Palin a heart-beat away from the Presidency, so I clicked for Obama.
At least one British blogger seems to have toyed with the idea of UK becoming the 51st state, which would seem to be a kind of low taxing, eurosceptic’s dream but for those on the liberal-left would have the upside of abolishing the monarchy and putting Obama and sundry other liberal Democrats in the White House. However, as Wikipedia – ever packed with useful information – helpfully points out there is actually a rather long queue to become the 51st state (sorry, I should perhaps say ‘line’, shouldn’t I) with Puerto Rico, Cuba, Australia, Israel and Iraq all having some kind of claim too.

>Czech Republic: Same ole history (not ) repeating itself?


I shouldn’t be reading about Czech politics, should I? But, as ever, I couldn’t turn down the offer of free review copy and a long deadline from a journal, so I have been doing precisely that. The book in question is Kapitoly z dějin české demokracie po roce 1989 (Prague, Paseka, 2008) edited by Adéla Gjuričová and Michal Kopeček of Prague’s Institute for Contemporary History (USD). This collection brings together by younger researcher associated with the USD and various Western specialists on Czech politics and society. The idea of publishing the collection is to move the sub-discipline of ‘contemporary history’ beyond its original German and East European rationale as a means of ‘coming to terms’ with the totalitarian past toward. More recent political events in the Czech Republic need unravelling using a historian’s skills the editors argue.

The book divides into three loose thematic sections: the origins of the post-1989 Czech political system; Czech culture’s reflection of post-communist transformation; and the place the Czech experience into a broader Central European region. Despite its title, which loosely translates as Aspects of Czech Democracy After 1989 the book’s unifying theme is less democracy than the Czech national identity, the Czech transition from communism and the way the historical past has impinged upon contemporary politics and society.

The collection begins with a discussion of Václav Havel’s career between 1969 and 1992 by Jiří Suk. As author of a magisterial prize-winning history of the Velvet Revolution, Suk ably documents the decline and fall of Czechoslovakia’s communist regime, the emergence of the Civic Forum movement in November 1989 and the broader transitional power structures of 1980-90; and the new president’s place within them. However, like many similar English language treatments of Havel, Suk’s attempt to use the playwright-president as an emblematic figure encapsulating recent Czech political history is not wholly successful. Ultimately, his essay offers a rather familiar account which reduces the rich palette of anti-political, pre-political and political positions held by Havel and other dissidents to intellectual blueprint for the Civic Forum movement and catch-all explanation of their failure in political office after 1989. The omission of Havel’s record as President of the independent Czech Republic – his eloquent, but quixotic promotion of civil society in 1990s; his diagnosis Czech society’s ‘foul mood’; the condemnation on ‘mafia capitalism’; the Rudolfinum speech blasting the Klaus government in 1997 – also give the essay an oddly partial feel.

Magdalena Hadjiisky’s exploration of the emergence of the centre-right Civic Democratic Party (ODS) from disintegration of the Forum movement in 1990-1 offers more original insights. In her case studies of provincial Civic Forum organizations in Brno and Ostrava, she show that, in addition to the demands of a ‘right-wing’ coalition of grassroots anti-communists, frustrated Forum officials and ordinary Czechs sceptical of ex-dissidents claims to leadership on the basis of dissident activism in 1970s and 1980s, spontaneous pressures for more hierarchical party-like structures also existed. The question has to be asked, however, just when Dr Hadjiisky is going to publish her excellent research on Civic Forum – scattered in various articles and papers in Czech, English and French and a several years old doctoral theses. Are French academic publishers really so obtuse?

Similar tensions are also identified by Deanna Colley in her study of the Czech student movement in 1989-80. However, Czech students’ organizations suffered the additional problem of reconciling their role as an interest group with loftier images of themselves as ‘guarantors of the Revolution’. As James Krapfl notes in his novel essay relating rival political narratives of revolution of 1989-90 to archetypical literary genres shows, such mythologization was ubiquitous in the politics of the time.

Perhaps the most original element in the book is its discussion of reactions to post-communist transformation in Czech cinema, fiction, and popular culture after 1989. Interestingly, these are generally at odds with prevalent mainstream political discourses of essentially successful reform process. Despite the diversity of authors and genres in Czech literature since the fall of communism, Alena Fialová finds several common motifs in their treatment of political and social change: the Revolution of November 1989 as a time of political innocence, altruism and idealism, but it is invariably followed by fictional protagonists’ disappointment. The ‘turning of coats’ by former communists, who emerge as the real winners of the transformation process in everyday life, is another a stock theme. Works of pulp fiction, perhaps unsurprisingly, take such populist constructions to extremes, depicting both ex-dissidents and ex-communists as creatures of corrupt and shady political system with their roots in the Communist period. More literary authors, by contrast, stress the corrupting effect of money, power and consumerism and the moral and ethical dilemmas that flow from these.

Petra Dominková finds a similar preoccupation with the negative or ambiguous impacts of transformation in Czech cinema after 1989. Many Czech films take as their protagonists archetypical ‘Little Czechs’, whose provincialism and lack of sophistication leaves them struggling (sometimes comically) to cope with the opening of Czech society to the wider world and the demands of the market economy. Germans and Western foreigners are also generally presented as somewhat overbearing and unwelcome outsiders Despite some recent films exploring the harsh experiences of Czech Roma, minority groups are often depicted either stereotypically or not at all. Martin Franc’s study of ‘Ostalgia’ in the Czech Republic seeks to extend this perspective by examining how attitudes to the former regime are refracted through popular culture and patterns of consumption. However, despite an engaging discussion of the re-emergence of ‘normalization’ era detective series and soap operas, 80s pop music and utilitarian ex-socialists brands on Czech TVs and supermarkets, in practice, it seems difficult to distinguish a specific post-communist Ostalgia from nostalgia generally or work out where Ostalgia or commercial imperatives for cheap mass market TV.

Only three essays discuss contemporary aspects of Czech politics after the Velvet Revolution and its immediate aftermath. Hana Havelkova’s chapter on Czech feminism after 1989 gives an interesting overview of women’s organizations in the Czech Republic and provocatively argues that the much maligned Union of Women (SŽ), which dates from the communist period, has in fact genuine roots in small town and rural Czech society. The Communists, she notes, amalgamated but then rapidly dismantled Czechoslovakia’s once extensive mass women’s organizations after taking power in 1948. SŽ, she claims, was created as a result of societal and intellectual pressures in the Prague Spring. Sadly, however, we don’t hear much more of this as the chapter is rapidly sidetracked by a terminological discussion about whether women’s and feminist organizations are or are not a social movement. Vladimír Handl examines the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM), an electorally important, if isolated, force in Czech politics and a highly unusual example in Central Europe of an orthodox communist party with mass support. Handl‘s presentation of his own reseach and a effective and thorough synthesis of Czech, English and German literatures, skillfully tracks the party‘s development from 1990, rightly pinpointing how EU membership and the gradual shrinkage of its ageing support base represent both a danger and an opportunity for the KSČM. Adéla Gjuričová’s discussion of the centre-right Civic Democratic Party’s turn in late 1990s from Thatcherite neo-liberalism to historic Czech nationalist themes is also empirically rich. However, she is less thorough than Handl and misses opportunities for a wider comparative and/or historical perspective on the party founded by Václav Klaus. Klaus’s reflections on Czech statehood, nationalism and national identity as early 1992-3, as well his more recent writings as President on immigration, multi-culturalism and civic and national cohesion clearly merit examination. ODS’s ‘national turn’ of the late 1990s also needs to be set in comparative context alongside the ‘nationalization’ of liberal forces elsewhere in CEE. The experience of Hungary’s Fidesz is an obvious point of contrast. Looser parallels might also be drawn with earlier episodes in Czech history such the national liberalism of 19th century ‘Young Czechs’.

The issue of ‘liberal nationalism’ is addressed head on by Michal Kopeček, who surveys both dissident and academic writings on liberal nationalism in Central Europe, he argues that, although crosscut by nationalism, liberalism the region was historically stronger than is often assumed. Somewhat surprisingly overlooking the (neo-)liberalism of the Civic Democrats and their efforts to crafts a new form of ‘national liberalism’ he argues that despite the weakness of Czech liberal centrist parties after 1989, dissident historians’ debates of 1970s and 1980s firmly established a liberal nationalist consensus in Czech political life, which draws its strength precisely on the unresolved and conflictual nature of debates on Czech history and identity.

However, he suggests, this consensus was too weak to block legalistic forms of ‘coming to terms with the past’ such as the Czech lustration law, leading to polarized and formulaic public debates on communism and unwelcome attempts by the state to act as guardian of ‘national memory’. The USD is the process of being swallowed up into a new Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes and both the intellectual position sketched in this chapter and the introduction’s call for a contemporary history going beyond the study of totalitarian regimes seem a critical response to this.

A somewhat different perspective is offered in the book’s concluding chapter by Jiří Přibáň. Přibáň argues that the law always encapsulates and shape the collective and national memories, which underpin and legitimize both current institutions. Contrasting decisions by Constitutional Courts in Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic, he argues, that strict doctrines of legal continuity, which block retroactive decommunization laws, in the name of maintaining rule of law may be misconceived. Concepts of retribution are, he notes, an element in most systems of criminal justice. The notion of political discontinuity inherent the notions of 1989 as a democratic revolution, he suggests, can legitimately be accompanied by the principle of legal discontinuity of retroactive decommunization laws intended to enact historical justice and protect democracy.

The parallel theme of neo-liberalism and economic nationalism also emerges in Martin Myant’s discussion of the Czech capitalism after 1989. In the early 1990s politicians across the political spectrum were in thrall to historical stereotypes of the Czech industrial and entrepreneurial tradition. This led both neo-liberals and social democratic visions of distinct ‘Czech capitalism’ with limited foreign ownership. Only as these ideas went out of fashion, as the costs of flawed coupon privatization and asset sales to dubious would-be Czech captains of industry became apparent did a distinct Czech model of capitalism emerge. This, Myant notes, was a complex combination of liberal and social market elements which defied easy comparative classification with roots in the Czech Republic’s fine political balance between left and right.

I am sympathetic to editors’ call for a more professional and thoroughgoing research into more recent Czech political history. Although making great strides recently, Czech political science has occasionally been characterized by certain shallowness of empirical research. The genre of political history and political biography as they exist in the English speaking world seem wholly absent in the Czech Republic. Although his collected works and correspondence have come out, the only full length biography of Václav Havel, for example, is John Keane’s distinctly flawed Vaclav Havel: A Political Tragedy in Six Acts (see Kieran William’s caustic review here).

Kapitoly z dějin české demokracie, however, falls somewhat short of its editors’ ambitions to use contemporary history to break new ground and open up new perspectives in other disciplines. Much of the collection reflects Czech contemporary historians’ well established interests in the Velvet Revolution and the transition from communism. Despite reference to political science literatures, many contributions are essentially rather traditionally constructed pieces of historical writing lacking any real element of interdisciplinary synthesis. The collection succeeds, however, in bringing together a range high quality scholarship in a single, well researched volume, and, as such, deserves to pull in broad Czech-speaking readership interested in current politics and society in the Czech Republic and fed up of the superficial and partisan found in most Czech language books on contemporary politics.

>Solzhenitsyn’s funeral: how Russia has changed


I wander down to the living room for a coffee break and switch on BBC News 24. The funeral of Alexander Solzhenitsyn. President Medvedev is among the mourners. Ex-President Putin pays tribute. “It shows how much Russia has changed that the ex-KGB man is honouring one of communism’s greatest opponents…” says the voiced over commentary.

Hmm, well, yes and no. The KGB were a powerful part of the country’s political establishment under Brezhnev and reconfigured as the FSB and looser networks of securocrats they still are. More powerful perhaps, given the disappearance of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the institutions and industrial ministries of the planned economy. And – if the BBC’s rather better radio documentary reporting on the FSB is to be believed – much more corrupt, given the disappearance of the barriers to formal private ownership. Is what’s really changed that nomenklatura and its security apparatus have simply accommodated themselves to Orthodox-tinged conservative patriotism of which Solzhenitsyn was a representative? Perestroika and democratization just a messy transition to the nomenklatura-dominated state capitalism that Trotsky anticipated in 1930s and sundry anarchists as early as the 1920s?

As a student I read my way through a lot of Solzhenitsyn. The critique of communism is visceral, shattering even. Watching the TV coverage though, my mind turned to another book that made a impression on me when I read it as a student, Alexander Yanov’s The Russian New Right which examined the conservative-nationalist wing in the Soviet dissident movement of 1970s – something a phenomenon, which extended to many more obscure – and more extreme – figures than Solzhenitsyn. Most striking in Yanov’s book, which came out in 1978 just a few years after English editions of Gulag Archipelago, were the strong ‘neonationalist’ tendencies he detected in sections of the Soviet (cultural) nomenklatura establishment and the long term prospect discussed by some samizdat writers of a rapprochement between conservative Russian nationalists and the Soviet states. I just saw that on my TV, I think.

>Grey horizons in sunny Cologne


Having spent day after day commuting into London to revise a conference paper on Eastern Europe’s pensioners’ parties, I finally headed off to Cologne to the workshop on Politics and Public Policies in Ageing Societies, organized the Max Planck Institute for The Study on Societies, not to be confused with other Max Planck Institutes (or should that be Institutes Max Planck?) as Cologne has several. As the politics of ageing is a relatively new area for me, the two day conference was an interesting one and, helped by liberal supplies of decent coffee and fruit juice and well functioning air conditioning, I learned a lot. My own paper got a more encouraging response than I had expected, which I guess means it will get another reworking means and so won’t be retiring just yet.

Although there were some people working on ‘grey’ interest groups, the balance of attendees reflected the current bias towards researching ageing societies through the lens of social policy, demography, gerontology and pension policy, although as Achim Goerres’s excellent introductory made clear there are plenty of mainstream political sciences perspectives waiting to explored. Indeed, the (German) notion of a ‘generational contract’ seems to be direct invitation to political theorists (of whom there were none at the conference) to develop some kind of contractarian perspective on the whole problem.

Emerging into the unexpected heat, I navigated my back to Cologne’s main station, had an ice cream and a walk near the cathedral until backache and stifling temperature made the S-Bahn to airport a more appealing prospect. Here, I settled down with a couple of litres of mineral water, an iPod full of radio documentaries and a crime novel to wait for the flight back to Gatwick, pausing occasionally to improve my German by dipping into a tabloid someone had left to read about Radovan Karadzić working als Sex-Guru. Funny they didn’t mention that in The Guardian.

>Lithuania investigates ‘war crimes’ of WWII Jewish resistance fighters


Excellent report on BBC Radio 4’s Crossing Continents programme about historical memory in Lithuania, where the authorities are investigating the supposed war crimes of Jewish resistance fighters in World War II, whilst dragging their feet over prosecuting the country’s own wartime collaborators who took part in the Holocaust. Lithuania’s deputy foreign minister explains that Soviet mass deportations of the country’s elite were also a ‘genocide’. Anti-communism with an undercurrent of anti-semitism. Uncomfortable listening.

>The kids aren’t all right


Burning the midnight oil, I stumble across a report about Russian policymakers plans to knock the country’s youth into shape with a mixture of authoritarianism (no Halloween celebrations, thank you very much), Mary Whitehouse style moral panics about TV violence and officially orchestrated youth organizations and events – in additional to the already well reported Nashi grouping, there is now a sort of Putin scouts movement called Mishki (Teddy Bears), to put post-Soviet patriotic backbone into the Russian 8-15. To judge from this report Miski lacks much in political sophistication, so let’s hope its activities are vaguely fun, although as its website lacks even a decent computer game I doubt it.

Moving on from the temptation to spend too much time gawp with the usual mixture of horror and amusement at the Potemkin civil society in (post-?) Putin Russia, it struck me that official Russia’s notions of youth and its problems provide interestingly contrast with the liberal-civic perspective, which seems to inform debate about the limitation of disengaged youth CEE and W Europe, where the blame is self-critically heaped on politicians and political institutions. Although in CEE there does seem to be shared that civic/patriotic values have been eroded by the consumerist hedonism.

>States of change


Some academics can never say no to a conference invitation. Others never turn down a book review. I don’t like flying, so I am (pretty much) much one of the latter. So, for my sins, for the last few weeks I’ve been reading and writing my way towards a review essay of – two very high class pieces of US comparative political science which asks why some states in CEE have ended up with far more bloated and politicized state bureaucracies than others (both think the answer lies in the why parties compete against each other: Runaway State Building by Conor O’Dwyer and Anna Grzymała-Busse’s Rebuilding Leviathan. O’Dwyer does a narrower set of cases, but they basically agree that the Estonians and Slovenes come out on top for lean mean administration (relatively speaking), as more surprisingly do those big public sector spenders the Hungarians. The Slovaks Bulgarians, and Latvians get the booby prize. The two authors, for rather interesting reasons, disagree on the Czech and the Polish cases. Unfortunately, I enjoyed the books so much the essay underwent its own runaway growth processes and ended up as a bit of a Leviathan itself, so I spent the last few days hacking it down to size for the journal concerned. Anyone interested in the longer deluxe version can, however, download it from the link here.

>The Prague Spring: Many happy returns?


Yesterday I took myself off to Notting Hill yesterday to hear Dr Oldřich Tůma, head of the Czech Republic‘s excellent Institute for Contemporary History, talk on ‘The Prague Spring After 40 Years: Anti-Communist Revolution Or Campaign To Reform Communism?’. One of my colleagues, used to events at the Polish embassy, was surprised I wasn’t wearing a tie, but the Czech Embassy is a fairly down-to-earth kind of place, which rather nicely sums up the country it represents. I wandered out onto a terrace before the lecture to look a plaque expecting to read about some profound historical event only to be confronted with a Monty Pythonesque inscription about how Jára Cimrman – a Zelig like non-existent national hero made up by two humorists, who enjoys cult like status in the CR – had invented the light bulb. Let’s hope he also makes a contribution to the Czech Presidency of the EU

Dr Tůma hadn’t been feeling too well earlier in the day, apparently, but he quickly got into his stride and his presentation wasclear, well thought out and – as you would expect of a leading Czech historian – sprinkled with interesting and subtle interpretations. It was, I thought, however, a slightly safe view of the reform process, the answer to the question posed in the lecture title was that the Prague Spring was both a top-down communist attempt to revitalize one party rule with little (or limited) democratic content and a slow but gathering emancipation of Czech society trying to ease itself out from under the communist system – a ‘refolution’ with pressure from below and cautiously (mis-)engineered change from above, to borrow the phrase Timothy Garton Ash coined for 1989.

The 1968-89 parallel, Tůma suggested, was to be found in type of strategies employed by reform communist elites. He also noted that political change was – as seems typical for the Czech lands – framed in terms of ‘return’: reform communist wanted a return to 1948; socialists and radical communist reformers to the semi-pluralist managed People’s Democracy of 1945-8; and non-communist Czechs to an idealized chocolate box version of interwar Czechoslovak democracy. And on 1 January 1990 Václav Havel famously proclaimed ‘People, your government has returned to you’ and post-communist change was framed as a Return to Europe, or – if you like consuming the propaganda of the Czech right to the rich man’s club of the OECD. Like bored kids on a long car journey, Czechs are perhaps now entitled to ask ‘Have we got there yet?’ (I think the answer is yes).

The Q and A brought one important and well made criticism: a key omission in Tůma’s talk, the questioner noted, was the ubiquity of socialism. It had dominated the experience and perception of events at the time. There was little evidence that Czech society was consciously or distinctly looking back to a different point of reference, than reforming the regime. Socialism then still had significant support and legitimacy in the Czech working class. I lack the historical expertise to judge this one, but I suspect this point – basically a critique of views, which view 1968 in the hindsight of 1989 – is well observed. Czech thinking about 1968 seems to have a real blind spot here, perhaps because, at bottom, Czechs are still thinking through and coming to terms with their society’s relationship with communism and socialism. Much easier then to juxtapose an essentially non-communist society – expressing underlying national democratic tradition – with the reforming, but basically separate, communist regime and Communist Party.

When Czechs talk about 1968 they are always really thinking and talking about themselves and their society as it is and where it is going now. This rather contrasts with the profusion of flatulent retrospectives about the Western 1968‘. It occurred to me as my mind wandered a bit that if some people needed reminding that in 1968, socialism was (on) the agenda – at least in Czechoslovakia – others need reminding the left-libertarian agenda that burst forth then are either on the historical scrapheap or firmly entrenched in the mainstream. Why does there have to be endless series backward-looking intellectual nostalgiafests? I suppose because of the cultural power of a baby boomer generation of soon-to-retire academics and journalists, for whom 1968 was a never-to-be-forgotten golden moment Maybe in ten or fifteen years time, when the participants have finally moved on, 1968 will simply be studied as history. You know you’re getting middle aged when you start to agree with Timothy Garton Ash, but I can’t help thinking he was right to point out that 1968 and the May events was a merely historical hiccup compared with 1989 and that it was all, basically, a staging post to our current mainstream mix of social and economic liberalism.

Meanwhile back at the Czech Embassy, the Q and A at also revealed that Russian archives concerns the August 1968 invasion – bar a few carefully selected morsels – are largely still classified and inaccessible (a mixture of grinding post-Soviet bureaucracy and lack of political will) and that, while Czech and Slovak experiences of reform communism (and the communist regime generally) were rather different, Czech and Slovak historiography approaches 1968 in broadly similar ways. Vive la refolution!

>Democracy: Chinese whispers, East European echoes


The long awaited, much heralded but uncompleted but much partially leaked next album by Guns ‘n’ Roses for which fans have been waiting fifteen years is, apparently entitled, Chinese Democracy. This suggests a wry sense of humour and/or an unexpected sensitivity to global politics on the part of the ever changing line up of LA rockers because much of 21st century politics seems likely to be a similarly confused and expectant wait for the real thing.
I have, for once, been reading a book that is not about Eastern Europe – What Does China Think by Mark Leonard, a discussion of Chinese debates about the country’s future by the former head of the Blairite Foreign Policy Centre thinktank, who has since moved on to the European Council on Foreign Relations and become an ‘accidental sinologist’. As one might expect of a leading thinktanker it’s a consise, fluent and readable: I remember when Leonard came to SSEES a few years ago he did an excellent, well practised presentation on ‘Global Europe’ despite a streaming cold.

What Does China Think is interesting and illuminating, but a litle disappointingly holds few real jolting surprises about what China’s wonks, intellectuals and politicians are variously thinking for anyone familair with the political and social landscape of late communist Europe. There is a neo-liberal ‘new right’ suspicious of state power, which wants to make a full transition to a private property-based capitalist economy (and possible democracy, or a form of democracy). More powerful and open than the neo-liberal technocrats squirreled away communist Eastern Europe, admittedly, and, of course, with a powerful private sector to draw on, whose nearest CEE equivalent was probably Hungary’s much smaller ‘second economy’. In China this vies with a ‘new left’ concerned about the socially and ecologically corrosive effects of inequality and untrammelled growth, which it wants to rein in using a more capable modernized and pro-active central state. Although there have been much publicized experiments with multi-candidate elections at local and (rarely) municipal level – sometime with a perestroika style filtering of candidates – Leonard sees the future of Chinese ‘democracy’ in technocratically directed public consultation and input into policy-making. Indeed, as this parallels developments in the West, he even sees it as rather sophisticated alternative to competitive electoral democracy. Possibly, the boot should be on the other foot: if the Chinese Communist Party can use them, then we might worry that experiments with ‘citizen juries’ and the like are simply shoring up elite-dominated political systems. Indeed, Avizier Tucker makes precisely this point in a recent issue of Political Studies.
Leonard is, unsurprisingly, rather more interesting on foreign policy. Chinese thinkers are divided as to whether to openly admit or conceal that China is a rising power and desperate to learn from the mistakes of others. ‘Neo-comms’ want to assert Chinese power, if necessary ultimately militarily against Taiwan, while ‘liberal internationalists’ are genuinely committed engagement with multi-lateral institutions. In practice, China is using multi-national institutions to achieve national interests (holding the USA in check) and to create (what are in form) new regional multi-lateral institutions, which serve to boost Chinese power. There is also the beginning of a projection of ‘soft power’: exporting the Chinese developmental and political model of state capitalism and strong sovereignty to Africa, promotion of Chinese language and culture internationally, sophisticated English language media, a well-trained, soft-spoken diplomatic and academic elites. Here all parallels with CEE – a region always controlled, not controlling – fall away and we have to look to more distant historical paralles with rising powers such as Japan or Imperial Germany.

>Lustration: From Prague to Baghdad… to Sussex


Today sees me heading over the Downs to a research in progress seminar by Roman David of Newcastle University as the Sussex European Institute on lustration in CEE. It’s a fairly well explored area with quite a rich sub-literature on various forms of ‘transitional justice’. Although a Czech, David came to Newcastle via posts in South Africa, Hong Kong and the US and his presentation Hungary, Poland and the CR, it was backlit by strong international concern with international comparison, which I liked – one of his more recent articles is entitled ‘From Prague to Baghdad’.

The presentation itself was a substantive one with two important original aspects: 1) the concept of a ‘lustration system’ with a certain logic and ideal typical form as opposed to a simple empirical run through and comparison of legal and administrative provisions in different countries (one might, he added, in the Q&A, use some more generalizable term, although he didn’t suggest one – ‘transitional justice regime?, ‘transitional justice system’?); and 2) real empirical findings testing the claimed impacts and benefits of lustration, principally increased regime legitimacy (more trust in democratic political institutions) and greater societal trust (benefits well known). Using a clever survey technique based on hypothetical vignettes in the three countries, which also controlled for anti-communism, he found that Czech-style ‘exclusionary models’ and Polish-style ‘inclusion’ models based upon truth telling (confession) about the past had positive effects on both political and social trust. It wasn’t (yet) possible to establish how great a contribution lustration systems might make to the general development of trust and legitimacy in transition societies (possibly rather limited in CEE contexts, I suspected), and there were some question over whether the individually based experimental nature of the survey (individuals responding to hypothetical, if immediately understandable, scenarios) could be scaled up to the social level. On this evidence, however, lustration certainly didn’t do any harm.