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East European liberals’ accommodation of ethnic nationalism has left the region’s democratic institutions vulnerable

Sean LHanley18 March 2019

Photo: Akron/ Wikipedia Commons

East Central Europe’s democratic deterioration is as much  about the limitations of mainstream liberal forces as the rise of illiberal populists argue James Dawson and Sean Hanley.

Less than a decade ago the newer EU member states of East Central Europe (ECE) were considered the great success story of post-communist democratisation. This success was held up by scholars as a textbook illustration of how the EU, through the attractiveness of its political and economic model, and the toughness of accession conditions, could make a decisive difference by empowering pro-European liberals in the region’s shakier democracies to push their countries firmly on track to liberal democracy (and EU membership).

While poorer and more corrupt than the EU’s West European core, ECE was assumed to be a region safe for democracy with good long-term prospects for economic and political catch-up. Today this narrative of democratic progress is dead, replaced by one of democratic backsliding – and even sliding into authoritarianism – under the auspices of populist and nationalist politicians.

What has been especially disconcerting is that it has been the early frontrunners of democratization – Hungary and Poland – where such democratic backsliding has gone farthest and fastest: after winning decisive election victories (Fidesz in Hungary in 2010, Law and Justice (PiS) in Poland in 2015) conservative-nationalist governing parties have moved rapidly to dismantle liberal checks and balances, capturing or neutralising constitutional courts, state agencies, public (and in Hungary private) media and NGOs.

More strikingly still, Fidesz and PiS were not radical outsiders emerging from the fringes, but large right-wing parties once considered part of a pro-Western centre-right mainstream, whose representatives still sit with German Christian Democrats and British Conservatives in the European Parliament. (more…)

Beyond Borders: Sexuality and Cold War: On Łukasz Szulc’s book ‘Transnational Homosexuals in Communist Poland: Cross-Borders Flows in Gay and Lesbian Magazines’.

Lisa JWalters28 February 2018

Dr Ula Chowaniec (Impacts of Gender Discourse Series)

Transnational Homosexuals in Communist Poland: Cross-Borders Flaws in Gay and Lesbian Magazines. Pelgrave, London 2017.

The Myths, the Archives and the Impact of Community Makings

Łukasz Szulc’s Transnational Homosexuals in Communist Poland is not only about Poland and not only about Communism. It is a carefully executed study on the gay and lesbian movement in the so-called Eastern Bloc, it is a thought-provoking analysis of somehow mythical thinking of what is the “East,” and what kind of myths of the Central and Eastern Europe are particularly harmful, such as the myth of homogeneity; myth of the essence of the region; the teleological myth of good transition from communism into better kind of democracy and the right kind of ethics. Łukasz Szulc discussed all the just mentioned myths as based on one, more general myth of separation of the CEE countries from the West. Łukasz deconstructs those myths taking into account the stories of the emerging queer culture. This book is also an interesting debate on what “queer” means today and how it shapes our global identity and how those identities are used in geopolitical discourses, directly linked to the actual political decisions. The book actually starts with claiming that “we live in the age of ‘queer wars’”, where the issues of body politics, namely position on abortion, divorce and homosexuality divide the countries and people.

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The First East European Mainstream Film About Lesbians History of Sexualities, Politics and Cinema under Communism in Eastern Europe

Lisa JWalters28 February 2018

Dr Ula Chowaniec (Impacts of Gender Discourse Series)

The LGBT History Month, February is almost over, but it is never too late to talk about equality, justice and LGBT issues, especially in regions such as Eastern and Central Europe, where many issues, like same-sex marriage, are still to fight for. This text is based on my Lunch Hour Open Lecture,  that I delivered at UCL on the 5th of December, 2017 (See below).

(more…)

Queering Poland in London

Lisa JWalters20 October 2017

Starting from the century of Polish women’s movement, and the LGBTQ politics to Polish art in London and Brexit.

Dr Urszula Chowaniec, Senior Teaching Fellow in Polish Language (Impacts of Gender Discourse Series)

Emancipation now seems to be in a backlash. In October, Polish women again demonstrated  to commemorate October 2016, when the whole of Poland was dressed in black; when thousands of Polish women and men demonstrated against a proposal to radicalize already one of the most radical abortion laws in Europe. This was also part of the London story; many Polish women also honoured October 2016 a few weeks ago in front of Polish Embassy. The story of women’s emancipation, gender politics and migration was a leading theme of many SSEES’ seminars and talks. Let’s recall some facts….

When I start my Polish classes, I ask my students about any Polish people; Copernicus, Fryderyk Chopin, Lech Wałęsa… Women hardly ever appear in the list, so I mention, usually to my students’ surprise, Marie Curie. (more…)

Recycling Future or Free Painting

Lisa JWalters19 October 2017

Oskar OK Krajewski, Polish Artist in London, on art, recycling, and migration

Dr Urszula Chowaniec, Senior Teaching Fellow in Polish Language

Thousands of small objects… hundreds of fragments linked together in a seemingly random way create an ideal shape; a colourful space  interlaced with light and flickering glimpses, as if just for this sculptured form all the tiny items were intended. Was it only by accident or misunderstanding that they used to be a piece of computer, toy, or TV remote? They really meant to be Recycled Future.

Recycled Future is Oskar OK Krajewski’s centre sculpture presented during his exhibition at Oxo show (1-5 November, 2017). It is an amazing piece made of over 25,000 parts of old broken everyday objects. As a central piece, the whole exhibition is called Recycled Future. OK admits that this piece is representative to all his recent artworks. It took Oskar about 5 years to complete the whole show. He never works on one project at the time, rather he distracts himself over many works, and therefore it gets slower to complete the piece. But this is how ‘OK’ creates.

Recycled Future by Oskar OK Krajewski

Recycled Future by Oskar OK Krajewski

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Reproductive Justice and Discourses of Childbearing in the Fringes of Europe: Ongoing Discussions with SSEES and Partner Researchers and Activists

Lisa JWalters19 May 2017

Dr Nevila Pahumi,  Alexander Nash Fellowship in Albanian Studies

Over the past year, a group of us SSEES researchers have actively engaged questions of reproductive justice and discourses of childbearing in Eastern and Western Europe. Given the commonality of challenges women face in both ends of the continent to practice reproductive choice over their bodies, we have joined forces to give voice to some of the key concerns behind pro-choice and reproductive justice abortion debates now raging across the continent and beyond.

Choice (more…)

Will Brexit affect growth prospects in the EU Members of Central and Eastern Europe?

BlogAdmin26 May 2016

Chiara Amini – Teaching Fellow in Economics and Business and Raphael Espinoza – Lecturer in Economics
UCL SSEES Centre for Comparative Studies of Emerging Economies

It is a common view that a UK exit from the European Union would cause significant damage to the UK and to the EU.  The Treasury claims that Brexit would make Britain significantly poorer and could result in GDP contracting by as much as 6%. Such a significant impact would not be so surprising, given that trade and investment between the UK and Europe has grown significantly in the last 40 years. In 2014 a study by Ottaviano et al showed that Brexit trade losses would amount to 3.6% of UK GDP, as a result of an increase in taxes, quotas and regulatory legislation. What’s really striking is the fact that these losses have the potential of reaching 10% of GDP, if we consider the dynamic effect of trade on innovation and competition. Earlier this year, JPMorgan estimated that Brexit could reduce GDP growth by as much as 1% between 2016-17. At the same time the bank also warned that Brexit could decrease Eurozone GDP by 0.2-0.3%.

Policymakers in the EU countries of Central and Eastern Europe have been vocal in expressing their concerns about Brexit. The countries this specifically refers to are: The Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.  Recently Poland’s President, Andrzej Duda, warned that Brexit could have dramatic consequences for the Polish economy. However, formal analyses estimating the impact of Brexit on the region number on the fingers of one hand. Erste Bank argues that direct economic consequences on the region would be relatively minor as UK trade amounts to only 3-6% of total trade. However, countries such as Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia, that run trade surpluses with the UK, are predicted to be most affected. After looking at the macro data, we can argue that Central and Eastern Europe would not only be affected by Brexit directly via a fall in flows from the UK, in terms of migration and remittances, trade and financial flow, but also indirectly through its effect on the Eurozone. As economic shocks spread easily from one country to another, a phenomenon known as ‘financial contagion,’ the impact of Brexit on the Eurozone would further reduce inflows to Central and Eastern Europe.

 

Financial flows from the UK to Central and Eastern Europe appear moderate (see Figure 1).  The median of UK financial flows to GDP is less than 1%.  Trade flows (import and export) are much more important, and they represent around 2.5% of GDP in Central and Eastern Europe.

Figure 1– Median Flows UK- Central and Eastern Europe

 

fig 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

However, taken together, UK trade and financial flows make up a sizeable share of the total flows to the region.  The proportion of UK remittances to total remittances in Central and Eastern Europe is as high as 8%. As far as trade is concerned, this ratio is 4%. Inevitably, some countries in the region have even stronger links with the UK; for instance, in the Czech Republic, foreign direct investment from the UK constitutes 14% of its total foreign direct investment.  Also in the Czech Republic, bank loans from the UK represent 2.5% of GDP. UK remittances also constitute an important part of total remittances sent to Latvia and Lithuania, over 20% of the total.

Moreover there has been a high degree of correlation in the economic growth between Central and Eastern Europe and the UK. This could be the result of financial contagion via other, third party countries. Alternatively, it could stem from both regions’ high integration with the two largest world economies, the US and the Eurozone.  However, the correlation between growth in Central and Eastern Europe and the UK (at 0.56) is higher than that between the US and Central and Eastern Europe. (0.43, see Figure 2) Disentangling such correlations so as to understand how economic shocks are transmitted between countries has been done in a variety of models.

 

Figure 2 – Real GDP growth (Year-on-Year; source: OECD and IMF)

fig 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our analysis shows that the UK is a significant source of financial contagion for Central and Eastern Europe. If, as a pessimistic example, estimated by PwC earlier this year, UK GDP fell by 5% as a consequence of Brexit, this would reduce GDP growth in Central and Eastern Europe by no less than 2.5%, as a consequence of third party financial contagion. Since the model is linear, if the fall in UK GDP was only 1%, the impact on Central and Eastern Europe would be only 0.5%.

 

Historically, shocks to UK GDP have contributed around 20 % of the variance in growth in Central and Eastern Europe. In our research for this piece, we employed a well-known statistical methodology, Vector Auto Regression, to examine how growth in Central and Eastern Europe relates to the economic performance of the UK, US and Europe. The historical decomposition of growth in Central and Eastern Europe (Figure 3) attributes the good performance of Central and Eastern Europe in the first decade of this century to strong growth in the UK. This occurred at a time when growth in the Eurozone was disappointing.   

Figure 3. Historical decomposition on GDP growth in Central and Eastern Europe (YoY)

 

 

 

fig 3

 

 

 

 

We have come to the conclusion that, although it is uncertain what the short-term impact of Brexit on the UK will be, there are good reasons to think that it will have negative repercussions on Central and Eastern Europe.

 

Please note: Views expressed are those of the author(s) and not those of SSEES, UCL or SSEES Research Blog.

 

SSEES RB logo

 

Poland’s Jewishness: the Polin Museum of Polish Jews and Paweł Pawlikowski’s Ida.

BlogAdmin3 February 2015

Poland’s new museum of Polish-Jewish history and Paweł Pawlikowski’s film Ida are signs of a shift in Poland’s understanding of its Jewish past, writes Uilleam Blacker.

ida_still_02

Still from Ida, source: http://www.ida-movie.com/gallery

The opening, in October 2014, of the permanent exhibition of Warsaw’s new ‘Polin’ Museum of the history of Polish Jews marked a shift in Poland’s memory of the loss of its Jewish population. Until now, the key memorial sites in this regard have been sites of Jewish death, such as the former Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp and the former Warsaw ghetto in Muranów, Warsaw. The new museum has been located in the centre of Muranów, next to the famous ghetto uprising monument, precisely in order to rebalance the commemorative discourse away from the image of Poland as a ‘vast Jewish cemetery’ and towards recognition of it as a place of flourishing Jewish life, which, of course, it was for hundreds of years. As programme director Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett has noted, “We have a moral obligation to remember not only how Jews died but also how they lived.”

The museum is not an isolated phenomenon, but rather the culmination of a long process of the recovery of Jewish heritage and culture in Poland that has its roots in the efforts of activists and intellectuals in the late communist period. Today, there are many small museums in Poland celebrating Polish-Jewish culture and history alongside the many Holocaust memorial sites, as well as countless Jewish-themed cultural events. One of the important achievements of this tendency is to move towards an understanding of Poland’s Jewish heritage not as something alien that needs to be looked after on behalf of someone else, but as part of the Polish story. As Kirshnblatt-Gimblett told the FT last year: “We’re trying to show the history of Polish Jews as an integral part of the history of Poland.” Thus, the museum tells stories such as that of Michał Landy, a Jewish student who was killed during an anti-tsarist protest in Warsaw in 1861 as he lifted a cross that had been dropped by an injured fellow protester.

For decades, memory of Poland’s Jews has, of course, been dominated by the Holocaust. This powerful, transnational discourse inscribed the memory of Polish Jews into a wider Jewish story, in which the different cultural backgrounds and experiences of the victims – among them the Polish-Jewish experience – faded into the background. This situation was compounded by the reluctance of the Polish communist authorities to allow discussion either of the anti-Semitic nature of the Nazi occupation or of Poland’s Jewish heritage, meaning that for decades the traces of that heritage crumbled, and the Polish-Jewish story remained untold.

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