Looking back to the future? Or: (what) can we learn from unemployment in former state-socialist societies for understanding citizenship relations in the economic crisis?
Institute of Sociology University of Bremen Bremen, Germany
Less than two decades before the financial crisis of autumn 2008 and its aftermath began to challenge the very principles of liberal market economies, a shock wave of similar scope hit the societies of the eastern half of Europe ending the era of socialist realities. The collapse of state socialism in Europe turned the lives of more than 300 million people in the area upside down and shattered long established expectations associated with the system of state planning and control. Differently from the gradual withdrawal of the state in the political economies of the west during the years before the crisis, the post-communist east suffered an abrupt loss of the state as part of the prescribed ?shock therapy? towards democratic market capitalism. Sudden mass unemployment was in most countries initially largely disembedded from public forms of social security. It brought an end to decades of the socialist right and obligation to labour, established new life course risks, and altogether changed the relationships between the state and its citizens as well as among citizens themselves. Against this background the paper reconstructs the triangular citizenship relationships between the individual, the unemployed and the state under conditions of mass unemployment in post-communism. On the basis of a qualitative-empirical study of young people conducted in the post-Soviet, neo-capitalist context of Lithuania in 2004 the paper discusses the perceived relational responses to unemployment, a societal problem that establishes novel criteria of membership and exclusion. The paper concludes by exploring the relevance of these effects of unemployment in a situation of system change and state loss for the analysis of unemployment in the current system crisis where, instead, the role of the state comes to the fore.