>When postgrads draw blood

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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.
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