“I included a dummy for Eastern Europe” the presenter said, explaining the statistical methodology in her paper.
You have, you see, to control for the unknowable, complex bundle of historical peculiarities that mark out one half of the continent’s democracies from the other and might skew your results.
“But not just a dummy for Western Europe?” my colleague and I mischievously wondered.
Silly question. of course. And we didn’t ask it. Most comparative political science research –West European democracies in the old (pre-2004) EU as their point of departure. Most political science theories and paradigms have been framed on the experience of established (or as they are sometimes termed ‘advanced’) democracies of Western Europe and the United States. Many political models, – of democracy, interest group politics or party organisation – are abstractions and distillations of the experience Western Europe.
The task of those studying Eastern and Central Europe typically been an exercise in model fitting, of noticing and measuring up the gaps – like a tailor trying to fix up a suit made for someone else with quick alterations. Eastern Europe – despite geographical and cultural proximity success of democratisation and liberal institution building – is not Western Europe.
The normative question lurking in the background is, of course, that of catch-up and convergence: when will Central and Eastern Europe become more like Western Europe? When would it consolidate ‘Western-style democracy’? Read More…
Like most British academics I’m loath to put any of my courses through multiple committees merely for a change of name. But sometimes you come to a point where you just know that the old name’s old name’s just got to go.
The Politics of Transition and Integration in Central and Eastern Europe course has evolved since I started teaching it some ten years ago. Less on communism, more on the EU. Out with Democratic Consolidation, in with Quality of Democracy. Downplay ethnic conflict, foreground state-building and welfare state reform. Fond farewell (sniff) to George Schöpflin’s book on Eastern Europe and the ‘condition of post-communism’. Hello to a new generation of work on leverage and democracy in CEE with sharper methodology and fewer Shakespearean quotes.
And yes the end, there are no two ways about it. That name too will have to change, paperwork or no paperwork. Transition, at least in the democratisation sense of the word, is almost a historical topic. And integration (well EU membership anyway) is ten
But the difficult question, of course, now is what do I call it? If the region’s current politics are no defined by transition and integration, what does define them? Read More…
When the Arab Spring broke out two years ago, and there were plenty of commentaries about the Arab 1989. And, perhaps against their better judgement, many specialists on Eastern Europe – including me – piled in to muse about the lessons post communist transitions might hold for unfolding democratisation in the Middle East and North Africa.
A few of these, such as the lecture Thomas Carothers of the Carnegie Foundation gave at UCL well thought through and insightful. But in hindsight many of these pieces did not go further than juxtaposition seasoned with a dose of speculation.
Having witnessed the academic spats of the 1990s when East European area studies got bogged down in polemics with comparative political scientists, in part driven by anguish and reproach over the failure of area specialists to anticipate the collapse of Communism, perhaps we should have known better.
The military intervention in Egypt and the brutal and tenacious resistance of the Assad regime in Syria – and the apparent internationalization of the Syrian civil war – have caught many commentators flat-footed. There doesn’t seem to be so much writing about the Arab 1989 (or even 1848) now.
One of the biggest problems of such current affairs driven, instant cross-regional analysis is that we hardly know the beginning of the story, still less its end. To put it in the jargon of political science, we do not have a consolidated outcome.
But perhaps, in any case, the question is the wrong way round. Rather than East Europeanists pondering what post-communist transition tell us what the unfinished story of the Arab Spring, we should asking what events in the Middle East tell us about post-communist region we actually (supposedly) know something about. Maybe we should view events in Eastern Europe in a new light.
The tenacity of regime resistance and ongoing instability driven by poverty and conflicts between political religion and the more secular groups in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) certainly makes what Ralf Dahrendorf anticipated would be Central and Eastern Europe’s ‘vale of tears’ look relatively quick, speedy and benign. The rapid reassertion of entrenched regime forces in the failed or failed transition in the former Soviet Union also begins to look more the norm than it once did. Read More…
The widely criticised detention and trial of the three members of the Russian feminist punk collective Pussy Riot, now awaiting verdicts in Moscow on charges of ‘hooliganism’ for an anti-Putin protest happening at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour has been widely – and rightly – reported as a litmus test of the nature of power and opposition in contemporary Russia.
But for anyone with a slightly longer historical memory – and an interest in East European affairs - it also has echoes of earlier trial of a group of muscians in a politically constructed trial four decades ago: that of the Plastic People of the Universe in communist Czechoslovakia in 1976 on a charge of ‘organised disturbance of the peace’.
Having stemmed popular protest following the Soviet-led invasion in 1968 that had terminated the Prague Spring reforms and then a variety of organised political groups in the early 1970s, Czechoslovakia’s hardline communist rulers wished to complete the ‘normalisation’ of the country by sending a powerful and intimdating signal to artists, intellectuals and young people with unconventional tastes.
Subsequent jail sentences for the long-haired Plastici ranged from eight to 18 months. Outrage over the trial provided the key impetus for the diverse groups to coalesce into the Charter 77 movement, creating the peaceful civic dissent that eventually provided the political leadership for the 1989 Velvet Revolution.
In some ways Pussy Riot trial seems to offer direct parallels. An authoritarian regime with no real ideology which has emerged in the wake of a failed democratic experiment seeks to reassert its potentially fragile social control itself by making an example of a rebellious non-conformist musicians with an English name.
A trial with a veneer of legality - and large doses of bathos and farce – ensures and proceeds to a predictable, politically fixed conclusion. Custododial sentences for loosely framed public offence seem a distinct possibility. But in seeking to dish out exemplary punishment and send a signal to sectors of society inclined towards protest and opposition, the regime miscalculates. The trial creates a focus for a diverse national and international coalition
But the Pussy Riot trial also underlines how authoritarianism and opposition have moved on. Czechoslovakia’s Plastici were alternative, avant-garde and deeply at odds with their cultural and artistic values of the regime, but were in no sense a political opposition. Left alone they would probably have eked out an existence as part of a marginal underground sub-culture. But while happy to see people retreat into private and family life, Czechoslovakia’s communist ‘normalisers’ were determined to monopolise public space and seek and crush pockets of organised cultural and social non-conformity.
Putin’s more modernised post-Soviet regime wouldn’t have bothered.
It has learned the lesson that, provided the commanding heights of media and economy are securely under control, society can be kept on a much looser leash.
As various in-the-field projects written by SSEES students about St Petersburg punks and Moscow football hooligans attest, marginal sub-cultures happily flourish on the fringes of contemporary Russian society.
It is independent political activity and political protest that brings a sharp, brutal tug on the leash. For while they might share some of their avant-garde aethetics and style, unlike the Plastics, Pussy Riot are clearly in the business of overt, provocative political opposition – opposition intended to be seen and heard as widely as possible.
The two trials also highlights changes in the breadth, gender and social composition of those involved in anti-regime protest in Eastern Europe. While the Plastics of 1970s - like the later Czech dissident cultural and intellectual elites their trial helped give rise to- were exclusively male, with wives and female partners very much in the background. Pussy Riot’s identity, impact and elan, by contrast, stem from the fact that its members are young, female and feminist – although the Western media, well accustomed to kick-ass punk heroines, doesn’t dwell on the gender politics.
Where the two historical moments seem to touch, however, is in highlighting the underlying continuties of an over-powerful (post-)communist power apparatus accountable neither to law, nor society.
Pussy Riot’s commitment to
… horizontal political activity, self-organization and the capability to be aware of oneself as an equal participant in civil politics, to understand one’s rights and fight for them to develop…
would be immediately comprehensive to even the most non-hip, conservative Chartist of the 1970s or 80s, as well as to those like Havel with more obviously Bohemian cultural leanings, although its feminism, anti-sexism and libertarian leftism and in-your-face political militancy would probably be less palatable. Also deeply familiar across the the gap of decades and countries is the absence of the rule of law, facade of independent legal process and the obvious political pliability of judges and courts.
Whatever the sentences next week, the final unanswered question is if and how the Pussy Riot trial will have the politically galavanising effect similar to that of the Plastics forty years ago. Putin’s Russia is not Communist Czechoslovakia whose apparent strength eventually proved so brittle, but a far more adaptable and multifaceted regime whose hard to grasp mix of concession, repression and regression may be altogether tougher to crack.
Radicalism and extremism, especially of the far-right variety, hold an enduring hypnotic fascination for political scientists and journalists.
Extremist populism and illiberal movements more generally, we are told, relentlessly on the rise in both Western and Eastern Europe.
In countries such Austria or Flanders radical right parties have stacked up sufficient votes to become as major political players and contenders for government office. Elsewhere in countries such as France, Norway, Denmark they have sufficient electoral clout to influence the parliamentary arithmetic and help make the political weather.
And just look the electoral breakthroughs in the past couple of years of the True Finns, the Sweden Democrats or Hungary’s Jobbik.
Or the illiberal leanings of mainstream parties of the right in Poland, Hungary and Latvia. Remember the brouhaha about the British Conservatives’ East European allies?
Indeed, instability, populism and extremism Central and Eastern Europe is surely where it’s at – or where it will be at. Authoritarian nationalism traditions, high unemployment, vulnerable open economies, rampant corruption, the end of EU conditionality and minority nationalities and Roma minorities acting as functional substitutes for the multiculturalism Western Europe.
But, of course, it isn’t
Social conditions and ethnic make-up in CEE region as a variable as they are in Western Europe, if not more so. And, if far right and illiberal populists have recently broken through big time in Hungary and (slightly smaller time) in Bulgaria with the rise of the Ataka bloc in Bulgaria, they are so far going nowhere electorally most other countries in the region.
National Parties in Slovakia and Slovenia have a maintained marginal parliamentary presence, based on a vote share of around 5% the Greater Romania Party is out of parliament despite a bounce in the 2009 Euro-elections and the Polish populist-nationalist right (or left, I’m never sure) collapsed.
As Cas Mudde shrewdly observed in 2002 extremist movements in Central and Eastern Europe have tended – and this trend has, interestingly, so far endured even in the difficult political and economic times we now live in – to bite the dust as often as they have risen from the deck to sock it to established parties.
But there is a spectre of populism haunting Central and Eastern Europe, which should give us pause,
But this one isn’t a scary monster, but a political will-o’-the-wisp that often gets missed: a new breed of anti-establishment party lambasting the political class in time honoured style but which combines mainstream, moderate, modernising priorities with a potent and uneven cocktail of appeals embracing anti-corruption, political reform, e-politics, ethical government, novelty or sheer entertainment value.
Led by a diverse array of anti-politicians – aristocrats, academics, artists, technocrats, bankers, businessmen, bloggers, journalists, entertainers – such parties have scored a series of sometime spectacular electoral victories, which can put even the best performing far-right ethno-populists distinctly in the shade, and lead directly to government office: New Era in Latvia in 1998, the Simeon II National Movement in Bulgaria in 2001, Res Publica in Estonia in 2003 and last year TOP09 and Public Affairs (VV) in the Czech Republic.
While often fissiparous and short-lived such ‘centrist populist’ protest parties, to borrow Peter Účen’s phrase, seem to spreading and growing phenomenon: Lithuania has no fewer than three such coming up through the political mainstream in successive elections: the New Union (2000), the (mis-named) Labour Party (2004) and in the 2008 elections the National Resurrection Party founded by former TV presenter and producer Arūnas Valinskas, who seems to have been a mix between Chris Tarrant and Simon Cowell.
As Kevin Deegan-Krause observed the new breed of anti-political mainstream protest party is a slippery and multifaceted thing.
…. not exactly a new party family (though in their cultural liberalism and anti-corruption emphases they share significant elements) and not exactly a new party type … but with strong and intersecting elements of both. Nor is it unique to Central Europe alone but elements of it have emerged also in the West
My UCL colleague Allan Sikk and I nevertheless decided to have a go at pinning down this new phenomenon more precisely, focusing in the first instance on Central and Eastern Europe, presenting some of our findings in a paper (downloadable here) at last month’s ECPR General Conference in Reykjavik.
Analysing elections in the region since 1998 using Charles Ragin’s Qualitative Comparative Analysis technique we found no single story.
But we did find that these Anti-Establishment Reform Parties, as we called them, broke through electorally in three distinct sets of circumstances:
- When relatively narrow core of established mainstream parties, flanked by strong radical outsiders, faces a deteriorating social situation characterised by rising corruption and/or rising unemployment.
- When established governing parties of the mainstream pro-market right fail to engage new or re-mobilised voters.
- When the left or market sceptic conservative-nationalist are in office and opposition mainstream pro-market right – and the party system generally – is weakly consolidated and/or fragmented
Sometimes these circumstance overlap, sometimes they run in sequence, but – while radical outsiders have walk on part – what matters, unsurprisingly, is the abilily of mainstream, big tent governing parties to hold together and retain a grip on corruption and the economy to stem electoral insurgencies, which are likely to be angry, anti-political, often offbear but decided – destabilisingly - mainstream.
And like the patchy rise of the far-right, such trends - as Kevin Deegan-Krause notes above and shrewder journalists have also already spotted are not be confined to the rarified political climate of Central and Eastern Europe. When Silvio Berlusconi and Forza Italia burst onto the Italian political scene in 1994, people could have been forgiven for thinking it was just a strange denouement to Italy’s unique corrupt post-war politics.
Now you could be forgiven for wondering if varieties of personality-centred, broadly liberal sometimes) neo-liberal anti-establishment poilitics might gradually be infiltrating in way into more established democracies andbecoming a more Europe-wide phenomenon.
The Pirate Party has just entered the Berlin legislature with 8.5% of the vote and when we met them in a break in the ECPR conference, Iceland’s anarchic Best Party (see trailer for forthcoming documentary) founded by comedian Jón Gnarr which emerged as the city’s largest party last year (33%), turned out to be among the more focused and serious political outfits we had come across professionally.
When UEA’s Sanna Inthorn and John Street rhetorically titled a paper on young citizens and celebrity politics ‘Simon Cowell For Prime Minister?‘ they may perhaps not have been so far behind the curve.
I’m always happy to help people working on CEE politics, especially our former research students. And forecasting and analysis for real world organisations concerned with political risk is always an interesting challenge.
But then I rather hesitate. Trouble is, I sense the kind of book this person really wants has not actually been written.
Sure, there are introductory histories and guides, but SSEES graduate with a background in the regions knows all this kind of stuff.
And there are some fine academic books (usually comparative) about the Czech party system, or cleavages, or privatisation or lustration, or national identity or whatever. But these are academic in the bad as well as the good sense: oriented towards theoretical and comparative problems; wordily anchored into numerous literatures; clearly written but dry and colourless.
Immodestly, I think of some bits of my own book, which has, after all, just come in paperback. When not trying to critique Herbert Kitschelt’s concept of regime legacies or fit new models party organisation to Czech parties, it has some (I hope) some quite informative and readable passages.
Probably, the best academic book I’ve read on Czech politics in the sense I think the questioner means was Martin Horak’s study of Prague politics Governing the Postcommunist City. As well as riffing very skillfully with some unconventional ideas path dependency and punctuated equilibria, it manages to give a holistic view of the city’s post-communist politics of 1990s and in your mind’s eye you can sense political processes unfolding across offices , dodgy new developments, half finished motorway projects and crumbling historic buildings.
But even this only goes so far. The basic problem is that there is a gap between academic treatments of Czech politics, which focus on formal rules and institutions, but can’t quite integrate the the corruption and sleaze, and journalistic accounts which is nigh on obsessed with – and well informed – but lacks perspective. The CR for all its faults is not Russia and is actually one of CEE’s better functioning democracies.
Speaking at the Central European Symposium, the Czech journalist Jan Macháček summed up Czech politics rather nicely as the political leaders staying on the top floor of their part’s conference hotel with lobbyists, dodgy sponsors and informal power brokers safely esconced in the suites one floor below. He meant it as reportage , but it works equally well as a metaphor for the limitations of different styles of political analysis.
In the end, I recommended a different book altogether where the Czech Republic barely features in the index.
In the early-mid 1990s - along with a chain of momentous social and political consequences- the fall of communism also triggered soul searching and crises in the academic world among specialists on Soviet and East European politics: Why, with the possible and belated exception of Zbigniew Brzenzinki, had no one seen the speed and completeness of the Soviet collape coming?
Breast beating self-examination and self-criticism among wrong footed USSR and Eastern European specialist soon gave way to academic spats between proponents of Soviet/East European area studies and comparativeists more closely plugged in to the political science mainstream, who argued that the (ost-communist world should be seen along with Latin America and parts of Africa and Asia as just one more newly democratizing region.
As anyone who takes my comparative politics courses knows, the most famous expression of this was Bunce/Schmitter & Karl polemic played out on the pages of Slavic Review which still makes informative and interesting reading today, although the polemical positions expressed have since softened, become more complex and the dabtes has generally moved on.
Indeed, two decades of research on post-communist systems have, in broad terms, yield a pretty thorough and sophisticated understanding of the various paths taken by the former socialist world. So much so, that come the Arab Spring East European politics specialists have moved play the role that Latin Americanists twenty odd years ago, offering interpretations of events in North Africa and the Middle East based on analogies with Eastern Europe and the former USSR, while specialists on the region are bogged down trying to make sense of unfolding events and fight off requests for TV studios and journalists. Is Egypt closer to Romania in 1989 or East Germany? Or Yugoslavia in 2000? And so on. As you know, in a minor way, even I have been at it.
But, of course, as with Eastern Europe in 1990s, the inevitable question comes – why did specialists on the region failed to see the wave of protest and regime change coming? F. Gregory Gausse takes up this challenge in an article in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs (many thanks to the person who forwarded me a copy of the article). The answer he gives is threefold :
1) that they misread the natire of regime institutions, failing to see the political importance of armies and secuirty forces and their ability, in some case, to detach themselves from authoritarian rulers:
2) that they ignored ‘Pan-Arabism’, the extent to which people in one Arab country would take events in others as template and inspiration for protest; and
3) that they under-estimated the ability of de-mobilised societies to spring into life over night and over-estimated the effectiveness of regimes’ ability to stabilise themselves, and especially their the extent of their (admittedly often limited) social constituencies and their abilities to co-opt better-offsocial groups.
Parallels with the misreadings and mistakes of (post-)Sovietologists of the 1980s and 1990s? Well, yes and no. A clear commonality is the over-estimation of authoritarian stability and failure to sense that there was potential for ‘Now Out of Nothing’ mass mobilisation (but how can you tell when such mobilisation will occur?) and the critical role of demonstration effective across a culturally similar region. East Europeans in 1989 may not have spoken a common language, but saw themselves culturally as European and as historically belonging to West not East.
Moreover, for communist Eastern Europe there is one single lynchpin, the USSR: misunderstand the unravelling but genuine reform politics of the Gorbachev period and you would be likely to miss everything else. I still can’t get away from the feeling that Central and East European democracy is ultimately just a side effect of perestroika .
Misinterpretation of institutions offers few parallels: no East European armies acted as midwives of revolution and well placed and savvy communist party-state apparatus at best negotiated themselves off the political stage. Perhaps, howver, the underlying commonality is of failing to grasp the sheer adaptability of authoritatarian institutions, both in the good sense (accomodation to democracy) and the bad (‘stolen revolutions’, surreptious denial of popular aspirartions for far reaching change).
But does Area Studies have some fatal flaw? Some of the accusations of parochialism and disconnect from wider comparative and theoretical development in political science were perhaps true in the case of Soviet and East European Area Studies during late communism – I am. let’s admit it, a fan of Schmitter, both generally and on this point – but it seem hard to make the same charge even half stick for Middle East studies.
Perhaps the real point is that even being comparatively and theoretically well tooled and having the language, cultural and historical background are insufficient to waves of regime change until they are upon you. Social and political science is not about prediction, but the ability to make accurate anticipations (even retrospectively?) of major historical developments is a reasonable test.
The jury’s still out, but trouble is peering into the dock, I’m not actually sure who the accused is.
Update: Martin Brown (via Facebook) helpfully points out the following roundtable discussion between US Sovietologists on H-net.
The Centre for East European for Language Based Area Studies (CEELBAS) research consortium which has brought researchers interested in various aspects of Russia and CEE at UCL, Birmingham, Oxford and beyond together in a variety of events and networks over the last few years is moving into its concluding phase, at least as far as social science are concerned – it will continue as a slightly different form dealing with culture and humanities. To mark its achievements the Centre held a conference which saw me chairing a politics panel trying to paint a big picture overview of post-communist transformation, as well as providing characteristically generous support for a series of more specialised workshops, including one I co-ran with Birmingham’s Tim Haughton and my SSEES colleague Allan Sikk on changing patterns of party stability and instability in CEE.
The bigger picture conference panel, slightly to my surprise at the time – although in hindsight it is perhaps less surprising – assumed the form of kind of clash between David Lane’s pessimistic and critical view of the trajectories of post-communist states, which he saw as having been set back or impeded in socio-economic and developmental terms by the attempted creation of market societies and market democracies. He anticipated new projects of statism and/or state corporatism with echoes of interwar Europe.
Other panel members – and at at least one questioner from the audience taking a social democratic perspective – questioned both some of the statistics and some of the assumptions: simple measures of output and development were surely misleading and increases in choice and personal freedom (both economic and – sometimes – political) had to be factored in. Moreover, where were the strong organised social interests required for experiments in (neo-)corportatism to come from?
The more optimistic strand of the discussion, from panelists who it must be said tended to foreground the experience of CEE, centred on the role of the EU and domestic elites in delivering relatively successful outcome, although there were some differences of emphasis about the nature of Polish politics – were the divisions between liberal and national-conservative camps that currently structure the party politics of CEE’s largest democracy legacies of Solidarity or a more durable and contemporary culture war?
I, alas, had to close the proceedings to avoid melting down the conference schedule. A rather good panel on post-communist social networks, which I caught the end of after rushing off to discuss a student’s dissertation plans with her, was waiting in the wings.
The theme of party politics , as well as some of the surplus biscuits from the conference, were, however, taken up in our smaller workshop the following week, where a dozen or so party specialist pondered the fact that – with the recent breakthough of new parties in previously stable-seeming party systems in the region – CEE party politics could no longer be understand as a weak, partical approximation of West European party systems.
The first panel centred on Stephen Whitefield and Robert Rohrscheider’s findings on the different forms ‘representational strain’ generated by party-voter relationships in CEE and Western Europe by parties trying to accommodate voters with different levels of partisanship. Interestingly, they find, Western Europe offers a tougher and more complex environment for parties than CEE, highlighting (perhaps) the gap in organising and campaigning capacities in the two halves of the continent. Their forthcoming book promises to be a real highlight.
Panel two saw Allan Sikk and I presenting our current work in progress on the emergence of anti-establishment, pro-reform parties in CEE. Like our fellow presenters, Andreas Bågenholm and Andreas Johansson Heinö (who has a very readable – even via Google translate – blog here dealing mainly with Swedish politics) we see the politicisation of corruption and the (party) politics of anti-corruption as an important party of the story, but we are also fans of Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) and causal complexity as our preliminary work suggests that not only are there other factors are also in play and that are several ways for these parties to break through.
As Andreas and Andreas’s paper, which dealt with the impacts of the same set of moderate anti-corruption protests parties, suggests, however, ‘corruption’ may be as much a stand-in for more inchoate dissatisfaction and disgust with politics than bribe taking and –making. Some workshop participants think that a certain mix of high and low real-life corruption is needed for this kind of party to step onto the political stage, but I am swept away by the idea of corruption of a political metaphor.
There is more political metaphor in panel 3 in which Tim Haughton and Kevin Deegan-Krause lead off with an outline of their work on larger, more enduring mainstream parties (‘hardy perennials’) and, less horticulturally, suggested a threefold recipe for survival (effective leadership, organisational capacity, meaningful programme/identity) in the electoral jungle. Although like me a fan of his children’s dinosaur books, Kevin resisted my suggestion that such large, well evolved beasts called for more of a Jurassic Park analogy.
The surprise package of the workshop – and a theme running through discussion across the workshop – was the role of party organisation and specifically its role in anchoring enduring parties in CEE, nicely highlighted by Raimondas Ibenskas’s presentation on Lithuania and – as Mazen Hassan’s presentation on party institutionalisation showed – new democracies generally. As these – and David Art’s book (reviewed in an earlier post) – suggest from being something of niche interest in party studies the study of party organisation (and what ‘organisation’ in fact means) may be moving centre stage.
A slow train wends it way through the tower blocks of South London to get me to plusher territory near Runnymede, where Birmingham University’s Centre for Russian and East European Studies (CREES) is holding its annual research conference. As ever this takes place in the Cumberland Lodge in Windsor Great Park.
Cumberland Lodge was built by a Roundhead during the English Civil War, but smack bang in the middle of the royal estate it has had strongly monarchist associations ever since. The interior also features in the The King’s Speech as George VI’s bedroom. I always half expect to see Hercule Poirot coming round the corner or to hear that Colonel Mustard has been done in With the Candlestick, In the Library, but bar a brief mention of Ian Rankin, most of the conversation during my day stays off the subject of royalty and crime fiction and stay strictly political science – gardening.
The early morning panel I’m on features and interesting three-way discussion of the breakthroughs made by market populist parties in Central and Eastern Europe (my jointly authored contribution); Tim Haughton’s presentation on the reasons some(mainly larger) parties in the same region have doggedly hung on and prospered as ‘hardy perennials’ ; and the changing role of parties in the (now) decidedly different context Russia (more ‘electoral authoritarianism’ than ‘competitive authoritarianism’). Tim’s presentation is interesting – beyond the nice horticultural graphics and the underlying issues of party stability – for its self-conscious use of metaphor.
The academic literature on parties is replete with metaphors mostly (as Tim and co-author Kevin Deegan Krause) note, of geological or meteorological inspirations: the ‘freezing’ of party systems, ‘earthquake elections’ and so on. Other sub-genres of the literature, mostly those dealing with individual party organisations, rather than party systems, use a biological type of metaphor: references to party ‘birth’ and ‘death’, the ‘life cycle’ of a party or its ‘genetic’ character are not hard to come by.
I used to think that such reliance on metaphor was a weakness of the literature and an inveterate bad habit: organisations are not organisms still less geological formations and, if you’re going to write about processes and structures write about processes and structures without lazily reaching for analogies. Our presentation had (we hoped) nothing more florid than pink and green Tosmana visualization, that might distantly have looked like some kind of exotic orchid to people sitting at the back,
But tracking down an old conference paper by Jernej Pinklo on ‘Metaphors of Nature in Political Science’, I realised I was my first take far too dogmatic. Shaking loose from metaphor was in reality damn near impossible, so what mattered was their conscious and creative use and application.
Chewing this over quick walk among the royal Rhododendrons, I realised, however, Central and Eastern Europe’s toughest and most aggressive enduring parties were perhaps not Chelsea Flower Show material, but instead exactly what their anti-establishment challengers accused them of being: political dinosaurs. Understood, of course, that dinosaurs were the most longlasting and dominant life forms the ever: usually big, capable of continual adaption in changing environments, sometime aggressive and usually pretty much top of the food chain.
Do party specialists need to put down the garderning gloves and reach for their copy of Charles Darwin or Stephen Jay Gould? Ideas of population ecology seems already to become established in the literature on interest groups and, as Ian Lustick’s recent paper suggests, political scientists generally might gain a lot from doing so.
|‘Denocracy’: 1800 – 2000|
|‘Marxism’: 1800 – 2000|
|‘Stalin’ (blue), Lenin (red) and Trotsky (green): 1920-2000|