>The right stuff at SSEES

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The long running working-paper-in-the-making that I have co-written with Aleks Szczerbiak, Tim Haughton and Brigid Fowler on the comparative politics of the centre-right in Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic gets an airing as a talk in at the SSEES European politics seminar series. Despite my hinting that this was not going to be rip roaring exposé of the far right quite a few SSEES students turn and there are some useful questions and comments.

Can Poland’s Law and Justice (Pis) really be classified as centre-right given its homophobia, links with the Catholic ultras and non-membership of the EPP? I stress that, as far as I know, PiS’s estrangement from the European People’s Party and membership of the Alliance for a Europe of Nations (AEN) in the European Parliament is self-chosen and that Hungary’s Fidesz (safely ensconsed in the EPP) is in many ways more radical. PiS is also a broad catch-all grou, which was one of our criteria for defining the centre-right. But, says another questioner, this rather undermines your argument that the Polish centre-right is fragmented as it has two quite large (if antagonstic) parties: PiS and the liberal-conservative Civic Platform (mentioned before in this blog). This is again a good point, although the division of the Polish right into equal sized conservative and liberal-conservative blocs still represents a failure to (re-)create an overarching bloc and both – having been founded in 2001 – are fairly new formations. Did we see the parties as catch in an ideology vs. strategy vs. interests trilemma? Well, sort of, ideology building required political focus that distracts from campaigning (and vice versa) but for us ideology was a kind of organizational glue and solution to collective action probelm more than anything.

More trenchant theoretical criticism comes from my SSEES colleague Felix Ciuta. As a security theorist of a constuctivist inclination, he doesn’t like my reservations about our emerging stress on ideology. It may be unmeasurable in many ways, but so (ultimately) are many things and my preferred stress on the cohesion of party founding elites is arguably an illustration of this. More seriously, he argues our whole analysis despite testing various theoretical explanations is very much geared towards various forms of elite action – the supply side, so to speak of party formation and we ignore (or just assume) electoral demand for centre-right parties of various stripes. This is a perceptive observation, although I felt that the different explanations we look at to explain centre-right party success (legacies and resources, electoral and constitutional incentives, path dependency and critical junctures) cast elites in slightly different roles.

Moreover, Felix noted, my concluding remarks that studies (of the right) in CEE needed to be more aware of the role informal elite networks played in party formation and stabilization and less fixated with formal institutional models, was, from a Romanian perspective, bleedin’ obvious (my paraphrase, not his words). In Romania (and many post-Soviet points East) parties are self-evidently vehicles for elite networks. At the very least, ideology and elite cohesion should really be the starting point not the end point – I was quite sure whether to be pleased or despair at an invitation to write another on a 15,000 word paper, althought there was a certain iron logic to it.

Our rather long and winding road through different explanations of centre-right party success (each wholly or partly ruled out I guess reflected the fact that we approached the topic from very much a Visegrad angle: successful reformers with fairly programmatic (and in Hungary and the Czech Republic) stable) party politics. But the discussion suggests, very interestingly, that in examining the politics in successful Visegrad states, we can learn from work done in relation to reform laggards such as Bulgaria or Romania on post-communist patronage and clientelism. There is I belief some work on clientlism, patronage and networking in relation to Baltic parties, which as I mentioned seem to be almost disposable institutions, but this (at least till now) has been little known among British specialists on wider Central and Eastern Europe. Coincidently enough, Herbert Kitschelt and Steven I Wilkinson have new edited book just out on, Patrons, Clients and Policies (Cambridge University). Being one of Professor K’s fans I naturally rushed out and bought it. It looks very good.

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3 responses to “>The right stuff at SSEES”

  1. Transatlantic says :

    >Is your paper online as well? It sounds very interesting to read. Best wishes,The New European http://transatlanticpolitics.com

  2. Sean Hanley says :

    >Thanks for your interest – it will indeed be online on the working paper site of Sussex Univerity’s Sussex European Institute. I’ll keep you posted.

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