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Divide and Pacify
Strategic Social Policies and Political Protests in Post-Communist Democracies

Pieter Vanhuysse, Professor of Comparative Welfare State Research, University of Southern Denmark

Despite dramatic increases in poverty, unemployment, and social inequalities, the Central and Eastern European transitions from communism to market democracy in the 1990s have been remarkably peaceful. This book proposes a new explanation for this unexpected political quiescence. It shows how reforming governments in Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic have been able to prevent massive waves of strikes and protests by the strategic use of welfare state programs such as pensions and unemployment benefits. Divide and Pacify explains how social policies were used to prevent massive job losses with softening labor market policies, or to split up highly aggrieved groups of workers in precarious jobs by sending some of them onto unemployment benefits and many others onto early retirement and disability pensions. From a narrow economic viewpoint, these policies often appeared to be immensely costly or irresponsibly populist. Yet a more inclusive social-scientific perspective can shed new light on these seemingly irrational policies by pointing to deeper political motives and wider sociological consequences.


"Pieter Vanhuysse…is a political scientist, an economist and a sociologist in one person. Through his original synthesis of insights from these various disciplines, he shows how an interdisciplinary perspective can help to make better sense of phenomena that appear to be puzzling, or that remain unaddressed, from the point of view of any one discipline. …Divide and Pacify…suggests that extensive social policies can be politically efficacious strategies, while never forgetting that such measures are needed to alleviate people’s suffering in the midst of traumatic social changes. …the core message of this book is important, and it has a larger relevance across many settings in which democratic governments face the task of implementing costly reforms in complex and uncertain policy environments." János Kornai

"Divide and Pacify contains a provocative thesis about the manner in which political strategy was used to consolidate democracy in post-communist Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic. Pieter Vanhuysse develops a tight argument emphasizing the strategic use of welfare and unemployment compensation policies by a government to nip potential collective action against it in the bud. By breaking up social networks that might otherwise facilitate protest, through unemployment and induced early retirement, governments were able to survive otherwise difficult economic circumstances. This novel argument linking economics, politics, sociology, and demography should stimulate wide-ranging debate about the strategic uses of social policy." - Kenneth Shepsle, Professor, Harvard University and Fellow, American Academy of Sciences

"In post-communist Europe, international advice—for example from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank—to reforming governments focused heavily on economic policy. The political imperative, in contrast, was a set of policies generous enough to maintain continuing support for the overall reforms. The great value of this book is that it addresses both strategic policy directions simultaneously. Specifically, it analyzes how policies that are sub-optimal in economic terms (work in the grey economy, easy access to unemployment benefits, fiscally expensive early retirement) can be argued to be optimal (or at least roughly so) when considering economics and politics together. As such, the book offers a rich political economy perspective on post-communist reforms." – Nicholas Barr, Professor of Public Economics, London School of Economics and Political Science

Contents

Foreword by Janos Kornai; Acknowledgements; Chapter 1 Introduction; Chapter 2 The Unexpected Peacefulness of Transitions; Chapter 3 Political Quiescence despite Conditions for Conflict; Chapter 4 Preventing Protests: Divide and Pacify as Political Strategy; Chapter 5 The Great Abnormal Pensioner Booms: Strategic Social Policies in Practice; Chapter 6 Peaceful Pathways: The Political Economy of Post-communist Welfare; Chapter 7 Conclusions; References; Index

This book has been nominated for the American Sociological Association's Award for Distinguished Contribution to Scholarship 2006, Section on Political Sociology.

Reviews:

"In the countries of Central Europe, postcommunist politics turned out to be surprisingly subdued. ... This was not the only odd thing about the region. In another strange turn of events, in Hungary and Poland during the early 1990s, hundreds of thousands of people suddenly became disabled and retired or simply vanished from the labor market. … Pieter Vanhuysse, in his lucid and brilliantly argued slim book Divide and Pacify, shows how the second oddity goes a long way toward explaining the first one. By connecting two puzzles he solves them both. … Vanhuysse does not confuse clarity with reductionism. His explanation is neither overly deterministic—the Czech case shows that governments had choices—nor does it rule out other factors. … Anyone who wants to write a more complete history of the Central European transition will have to read Divide and Pacify … Vanhuysse's work is a major contribution to the study of the postcommunist transition, and as it builds its case by carefully marshaling evidence from sociology, political science, and economics with lucid prose, it speaks to a wide audience." – American Journal of Sociology

"A great book: smart, densely argued, tightly analysed and informative. We learn here a great deal about recent East European political history from what is a very original contribution. … We learn a great deal about governance. ... Governments in Eastern Europe after 1989 have generally not benefited from overwhelming respect, but here a record is laid out that shifting governments have been effective and enlightened. We learn a great deal about social policy. This story is a confirmation of the proposition that social policies are always an instrument of rule, order and legitimacy. … And we learn a great deal about political economy as an art of analysis. Vanhuysse presents theory, methodology and empirical analysis with equal force, blends them into a powerful and very interesting narrative…. Highly recommended" European Sociological Review

"One of the most challenging and provocative publications that has appeared so far on the transformation of Central and Eastern European (CEE) welfare states…Of crucial importance … [is] not only the argument according to which welfare provisions can play a functional social pacifying role, but also, and this is the extremely innovative element proposed by Vanhuysse, dividing functions which do not necessarily lead to system-instability. …a must read." – Acta Politica

"A double transition of momentous proportions has characterized the face of modern Central and Eastern Europe. The first is the shift within communist countries to post-communist societies; the second is the recent membership of the European Union of ten of these nations. [Divide and Pacify] provides intriguing insights into both of these changes. … Vanhuysse seeks to marshal empirical data on industrial disputes to demonstrate that collective unrest was defused by the ‘divide and pacify’ strategies … The use of the literature on collective action and protest, and the ‘politics of contention’, by the author is especially welcome. It is to Vanhuysse’s credit that he, in contrast to certain other sociologists, openly acknowledges his debt to Tilly, as well as to other writers, and seeks to adapt their insights in order to develop the analytical framework. … [This book makes] welcome contributions to the debate and this reviewer, for one, sincerely hopes that more authors will shortly follow suit." Social Policy & Administration

"Vanhuysse explores the reasons for the low level of labor strikes and reform protests in postcommunist Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland. His time frame is 1989-96, and he utilizes quantitative data in a useful way in generating his conclusions. Summing up: Recommended." – Choice

"Vanhuysse is clearly on to something with his main argument - that 'strategic social policies' explain the relative weakness of protest politics in Eastern Europe. He identifies a governing strategy of 'divide and pacify', by which the workers who were most likely to unite in protest were instead turned against one another in a contest for limited economic resources. He shows how policies promoting early retirement enabled post-communist governments to remove older workers with with more protest experience and more social ties from the traditional arenas of state-labor contestation. The book makes an important connection between the strategic allocation of welfare benefits and political consolidation of liberal market democracy - something you do not hear much about from the neo-liberals, who like to take credit for east-central Europe's historic transformation". – Political Science Quarterly

"A fine first book by a young scholar who has entered forcefully into the conversation about dual transitions and comparative welfare states. It can profitably be read by specialists on the region as well as on labor and welfare politics, sociologists, political scientists, and economists and will be accessible and interesting to students of these topics at all levels." – Slavic Review

"A strikingly novel interpretation ... with solid methodology and intelligent conclusions. ... Vanhuysse shows that the legacy of applying informal solutions to the imminent problems has been an instinctive aspect of politics in East Europe. I consider … [this] an original contribution to methodology literature as well as the literature of East European politics … also presents clues to interpret some of the current economic and political problems in the CEE states. .. In order to understand the background for what is likely to come in East Europe, I would highly recommend Vanhuysse’s book as an immaculate contribution to regional studies, political economy theories, and methodology." – Umut Korkutu in Europe-Asia Studies

"From the first word to the last, this well-written book is one straight line of thought, which makes it a pleasure to read and easy to capture and remember (and summarise). … drawing mainly on political science, sociology and psychology, Vanhuysse constructs an innovative explanatory framework in which the strategic use of social policy and the role of local social
networks are key variables. … With his empirical analysis Vanhuysse not only confirms his thesis, but also presents an interesting account of how these early social policy choices led to different paths of social policy reforms within East Central Europe." – Journal of European Social Policy

"Vanhuysse’s thought-provoking study takes as its starting point the question…: why did widespread early predictions that post-communist democracies would be convulsed by Latin American-style waves of social protest prove so wrong? ... Divide and Pacify develops a coherent, wide-ranging and persuasive re-interpretation of the politics of post-communist transformation, which smartly integrates work on comparative democratization, social movements, the sociology of unemployment, and the political economy of pension reform. As such, it offers both considerable food for thought and a powerful springboard for future research." – Seán Hanley in Slavonic and East European Review

"Vanhuysse's analysis is underpinned by robust examination of a range of data. … In collective action terms, abnormal pensioners did not represent 'disruptive dynamite' that had to be defused in the short-term. Rather they became a medium-term time bomb undermining welfare-state finances. All in all a very interesting, methodical analysis of how strategically informed socio-political strategies helped to institutionalise democracy and the market while leaving a heavy price tag in the form of belated macro-economic instability." – Jacqueline Hayden in West European Politics

"Pieter Vanhuysse has written a fascinating book on the phenomena of governmental policies and mass political behavior … an important addition not only to the literature on transitional democracies, but to the larger body of democracy scholarship … a fascinating theory that ties together governmental policies and mass political behavior. … a vibrant synergy of political science, economics, and sociology rife with insights … Vanhuysse significantly contributes to theoretical development in the field of democratic transitions and economic reforms as well as the field of comparative political economy of welfare states." – Tatyana A. Karaman in Comparative Political Studies

"Pieter Vanhuysse’s book takes a fresh look at social policies in post-communist Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic. It addresses the question of why, despite the severe social hardship of post-communist transformation, East European societies hardly engaged in distributive struggles and protest. The book’s main claim is that policy makers in the region clearly understood the potentially explosive situation and strategically adopted social policies to ‘divide and pacify’ the working population. Thus Hungary and Poland, amid a steep transformational recession, adopted generous pension policies which allowed an important share of the working population to exit from the labour market by means of early retirement or disability pensions. … This stands in contrast to the Czech development, where reformers initially prevented layoffs through softer budgetary constraints and therefore were able to avoid the pitfalls of a pensioners’ welfare state.. …The book is well structured and written, and it adds an original argument to the literature on postcommunist social policies."Dorothee Bohle in Political Studies Review

Divide and Pacify ... not only offers a novel and provocative approach to the problems of policy and politics in transition, but also opens up an innovative research agenda for understanding the formation of political cleavages in East Central Europe today. … There are several advantages to this approach, which render it an important contribution to scholarly inquiries into post-communist transition. For one, Vanhuysse emphasizes the strategic and purposeful action on the part of the governments, rejecting the accounts that see the development of social policies in the region as a byproduct of ad hoc, “emergency responses”, or alternatively as a continuation of policies already laid out under socialism. ... [this is] what gives the book its provocative edge and broaches an interesting research agenda … Vanhuysse’s arguments … outline a potentially very fruitful venue of inquiry: exploring the political decisions and cleavages of early transition politics in order to trace the ways in which these resulted in specific political configurations and potentials for conflict we observe today. As the second decade of transition unravels a lot less peacefully than the first, for anybody interested in the fate of East Central European democracies, this is a challenge that must be taken up." – East Central Europe / L'Europe du Centre-Est

2006
190 pages
978-963-7326-79-0 cloth $45.00 / €39.95 / £35.00

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