“Eastern Europe’s New Conservatives: Varieties and Explanations from Poland
Freie Universität Berlin
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News vom 28.04.2016
News about post-communist Europe have been dominated, ever since the 2000s, by the coming to power of political forces rejecting the “consensus” surrounding market reforms, democratization, and rule of law that has — at least normatively — paved the way for politics moving towards an “open society” in the 1990s. These political forces — from the “Law and Justice” party in Poland, through “Fidesz” in Hungary, to Vladimir Putin’s “United Russia” — have been described in various terms, ranging from right-wing “populism” and “backsliding” regimes (to describe the dominant trend in Central Eastern Europe), to “authoritarianism”, “dictatorship”, and “one-man regime” in the case of Russia.
From Poland to Hungary and Russia, these actors prefer to call themselves “conservatives”. They locate themselves within their countries’ conservative traditions and at the very same time as part of a global political, social and intellectual movement against a globalization driven by financial markets. In the case of Russia, even a takeover of the leading role in this movement is envisioned (Bluhm 2016).
Various authors have tried to explain the rise of illiberal politicians in post-communist Europe. Some connect their rise to the lacking institutionalization of political party systems (Ucen, 2007; Kriesi, 2014). Other contributions trace the deterioration of democracies back to the ways in which economic reforms were carried out in the 1990s (Csillag and Szelényi, 2015); to “hollow core” democracies (that is, political parties with evaporating membership and embeddedness in civil society; Greskovits, 2015; Bohle and Greskovits, 2012); and to the “elite-focused, incentive-driven democratization and reform in ECE implemented under the oversight of the EU” (Hanley and Dawson, 2016). Scholars who situate the phenomenon in a wider context usually point to the rise of “populism” in response to the liberal integration project in Europe and the technocratic handling of the Eurocrisis in particular (Müller, 2014a; 2014b); or as a reaction to “cosmopolitan capitalism” and the plummeting living conditions it brought, first in the 1990s, and again in the late 2000s, following the World Economic Crisis (Kalb, 2015).
However, there have been few endeavors so far that systematically investigate the new conservatism in Eastern Europe and Russia in this wider context. As a “positional ideology” (Huntington 1984), modern conservatism emerges as a countermovement to the modern “progressive” ideologies (communism and liberalism) (Freeden 1996). It is not a coherent theory but an amalgam of socio-economic, political and cultural schemes. Hence, what conservatism means varies greatly over time and space.
The major goal of the planned conference is to explore the communalities and varieties in the new conservatism of Eastern Europe and Russia. We argue that in spite of the increasing global and European attractiveness of the new nationally-oriented social conservatism, the post-communist realm still presents a specific bundle of ideas, political recipes, drivers and causes that needs to be better understood precisely because it is an influential part of a greater development. We ask about what conservatism here means, under what circumstances conservatism becomes (and under which ones it doesn't) a front for illiberal thinking and policies, about how conservative ideologies translate into politics, and why it has become mainstream ideology in some countries, while in others, not. And, to what extent historic path dependencies and the transition paths towards market economy and democracy matter.
Within this conceptual framework we seek papers helping to clarify the following questions in particular:
Please send us abstracts of up to 600 words to Katharina.Bluhm@fu-berlin.de or Mihai.Varga@fu-berlin.de by July 15, 2016. The paper-based conference will be scheduled for two days on February 9 and 10, 2017 at the Institute for East European Studies of the Freie Universität Berlin. The conference language will be English. Travel and accommodation costs for invited speakers will be covered on the usual academic terms by the organizers of the conference. A collection of the papers will be published by a renowned publishing house.