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Archive for January, 2014

Unstable Platform? Poland’s ruling party struggles on

By Blog Admin, on 30 January 2014

A series of on-going political crises in 2013 saw support for Poland’s centrist ruling party, Civic Platform, slump. Despite a number of initiatives to revive its fortunes, public hostility may have passed a tipping point argues Aleks Szczerbiak.

 2013 was a year of on-going political crisis for Civic Platform (PO) party, he main governing party in Poland,. The approval ratings of both the Civic Platform-led government and prime minister and PO leader Donald Tus, slumped to their lowest levels since they came to office in 2007. A December 2013 poll by CBOS found that the number who declared themselves to be government supporters and were satisfied with Tusk as prime minister fell to 21% and 26% respectively – compared to 33% and 35% a year earlier.

 Another December 2013 CBOS poll found that only 31% trusted Mr Tusk, a slump of 10% over the past year and just 1% higher than the number trusting Jarosław Kaczyński, leader of the right-wing Law and Justice party (PiS), the main opposition grouping. Civic Platform also suffered a series of local by-election defeats and has, since May, trailed Law and Justice by around 5-10% in the polls.

 With the economy sluggish and unemployment remaining high, Poles have become increasingly gloomy about their future prospects. There has also been a growing sense of government drift with ministers appearing to spend too much of time on crisis management and failing to undertake long-term structural reforms. The Tusk government appeared to revert to the cautious policy of ‘small step’ reform that characterised its first term in office. This approach worked fairly well while the economy was strong but began to come unstuck when the tempo of growth slowed and unemployment increased.

 Divisions and tensions within the ruling party both contributed to and were exacerbated by the sense of crisis. This reached its peak during the summer when Mr Tusk was challenged for his party leadership by Jarosław Gowin. (more…)

Will the West become the East?

By Blog Admin, on 23 January 2014

Toy Trabant on map

Photo: MPBecker BY-NC-ND 2.0

Politically speaking Western Europe is a far more anomalous region than Eastern Europe argues Seán Hanley. However, the ‘advanced democracies’  of the West may, soon catch-up with the fluid, elite-driven politics of the East he suggests.

“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’? (more…)

Discovering Dombrovsky

By Blog Admin, on 17 January 2014

Yuri Dombrovsky © Gregory Lindsay-Smith. Reproduced with permission of the artist

Yuri Dombrovsky by Gregory Lindsay-Smith.
© Gregory Lindsay-Smith.
Reproduced with permission of the artist.

Jekaterina Shulga reflects on the work of an extraordinary Soviet writer, Yuri Dombrovsky, and the limitations of formal literary analysis for dealing with such an unusual figure.

I remember the first time I read Yuri Dombrovsky’s novel The Keeper of Antiquities well. I was exploring writers to research for my thesis on trauma and narrative. Trauma seemed to be absent from this novel, but it had something else and I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what. And this is how Dombrovsky writes, always with a surplus, making us feel that there is forever more to it than meets the eye. That convinced me that he is one of the greatest Russian writers of the 20th century, but he has never achieved the attention or recognition he deserves. Although most Russian literature scholars will nod their heads and smile when you mention Dombrovsky, usually followed by “I really like The Keeper” or “he’s really interesting”, very few have researched or written about him. Most of what we know about Dombrovsky comes from a small number of sources and often it is based on anecdotal evidence. People want to talk about what he was like, not where he lived or what he did.

This is because Dombrovsky really was a fascinating character. He lived during the most repressive time in 20th-century Russia, and yet he remained rebellious, defiant and a lover of freedom. Born in 1909 in Moscow, he became interested in literature as a young boy, a passion would sustain him throughout his life, giving him the strength to fight for what he believed was right, even though it came at a great cost to himself. However, his righteousness was also infused with a large portion of rebelliousness and defiance. He often referred to himself as a gypsy and a hooligan. This is no Solzhenitsyn-like prophet.

In 1932, soon after starting his studies in literature he was arrested and exiled to Alma-Ata (now Almaty), where he lived until 1956. During his exile he worked at the remarkable Zenkov Cathedral, which had been turned into a museum, and taught literature and drama at various institutions. He was arrested a further three times, spent several years in the hard labour camps of Kolyma and elsewhere, and was released as an invalid. It took Dombrovsky many years to recover from these experiences, but he rarely writes about the Gulag. It is only in his poetry that we catch a glimpse of this dark period in his life. But even here there is a contrast between the terrifying subject of the camps and a light and cheerful rhythm and rhyme. Similarly, his fiction represents the darkest period of Stalin’s oppression in a surprisingly colourful and engaging manner.

His two major novels, The Keeper of Antiquities and The Faculty of Useless Knowledge, are both set in Alma-Ata and depict the life of a museum keeper working for the central Kazakhstan Museum in the Zenkov Cathedral. The novels are largely based on Dombrovsky’s life, yet they are fictional and blend his own experiences with his artistic expression. Dombrovsky suggested that some things are difficult to speak about oneself, so it seems that fiction allowed him to delve into his experiences in a deeper way. (more…)