Gerd Meyer (Ed.), Formal Institutions and Informal Politics in Central and Eastern Europe Hungary, Poland, Russia and Ukraine

By Dinescu, Ana | CEU Political Science Journal, April 2010 | Go to article overview

Gerd Meyer (Ed.), Formal Institutions and Informal Politics in Central and Eastern Europe Hungary, Poland, Russia and Ukraine


Dinescu, Ana, CEU Political Science Journal


Gerd Meyer (ed.), Formal Institutions and Informal Politics in Central and Eastern Europe Hungary, Poland, Russia and Ukraine. 2nd revised and updated edition, (Opladen & Farmington Hills: Barbara Budrich Publishers, 2008)

The fall of communism increased the interest of the political scientists in the formation and functioning of totalitarian regimes. But, despite an impressive number of books, studies, direct interviews with main political actors, they are still many gaps regarding the level of transformation of those systems and the old patterns of behaviour resumed in the nascent democracies. Through a series of studies outlining the theoretical framework as well as the specific cases of Hungary, Poland, Russia and Ukraine, Gerd Meyer is making in elucidating the relation between formal institutions and informal politics in Central and Eastern Europe between 1989 and 2005.

The four countries took aftermath different democratic paths and the degree of communist heritage differs significantly. But, for the political science by the exploratory and pioneering character of the analysis, the diversity of the cases is contributing in a significant way to clarifying the concepts as well as the practical implications as a step forward in understanding the current situation. Meyer delineates the concepts and their contextual translations, while the other authors are centred on the relation between formal institutions and informal politics in Hungary (Andras Bozoki and Eszter Simon), Poland (Aleksandra Wyromzumska and Gerd Meyer), Russia (Aitalina Azarova, case-study with information at the level of 2005, before the Putin's new political position) and Ukraine (Kerstin Zimmer, until 2004/2005, mostly focused on the situation during Kuchma's term in office).

Starting from the character and main mechanisms of informal politics as enacted by power elites, the authors are evaluating the degree of personalization in the daily politics, for documenting the ways in which national political cultures succeeded--or not--in establishing the minimum degree of legitimacy, required in democracies.

One important asset of the book relies in the use of the extensive qualitative researches. The opinion polls and the extended country-wide studies are not only a rich basis for designing future evolutions, but are also extremely resourceful in providing suggestions concerning the past behaviours. The data offered in the communist times were at least defective in offering accurate answers and evaluations.

Meyer is cautioning from the very beginning (p.15) the study exclusive focus on the political elite level, less attention being paid to actors as civil society or NGO and other interest groups. But civil society, in its various local translations, played an important role in the new political representations of the post-communist societies. Even if its voice is not always took into full consideration or, as in the Russian case, doing it could involve various--informal and formal--political retaliations, the networks of trust designed by the civil society as the role of reservoir for political leadership in many post-communist regimes, are of great importance. For the accuracy of the whole evaluation, not addressing this aspect could be the missing link.

The analysis is following four main hypotheses (pp.16-17): First, the political process follows both formal and informal patterns. Second, the state institution and formal rules are "moulded" or even "privatized" by leaders and elites groups. Third, old and new patterns persists and are to be found in the constitutional building, institutions and ways in which the political actors are using the resources and opportunities. Last, it is a big difference between the popular support for "democracy" claimed by the leaders and the use and composition of democratic institutions and the current practices.

If the formal dimension of the political processes are mostly easy to define, analyse and with measurable effects--rules and stables norms (mostly written as laws, constitutional provisions etc. …

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