Post-commmunist contentious politics and the social movements in Central Eastern Europe
Social and Political Sciences European University Institute San Domenico di Fiesole, Italy
For many years researchers were using the label of post-communism (or post-socialism) to explain the phenomena taking place in Eastern Europe and the post-Soviet bloc. Is this tool still useful 20 years after the transformation? Most of the countries in Eastern Europe are now members of the EU and NATO and living standards are heading to match with the Western countries. But still the level of civil engagement, measured in the number of people at demonstrations, voting turnouts or in the number of people belonging to any organization is lower than in Western Europe.
By calling these struggles 'post-communist', one assumes that the ground for their characteristic features must be rooted in the previous regime. But creating a 'history (and culture) of contentious politics' is a difficult issue, mainly because of the lack of generational continuity in Central and Eastern Europe. People that were the elites during the communism switched usually to business and the former dissidents became the new elites, creating a social gap. To fill it, a whole generational turn had to take place and the new activists framed their actions in a different way, linking themselves to the newly emerged alterglobalist movement.
I would like to argue, that the nature of post-communist protests is also formed by the post-transformation period. The outcomes of the new-introduced capitalism (such as unemployment rate, stratification of the society etc.) were an important mobilization factor as well as redefined the political representation of many social groups.
To what extent their actions are a direct 'translation' of the Western models and how they are biased by the post-communist legacy is my focus of interest. Basing on the ethnographic data collected during fieldwork among activists in Central and Eastern Europe I would like to aks a question of how useful the label post-communism is.