East European Communities: The Struggle for Balance in Turbulent Times

By David A. Kideckel | Go to book overview

since these are the micro-strategies that will eventually show up on the economists' charts. Land, of value not only in the material but also symbolic sense, holds a promise of control, autonomy and independence and is now sought for these reasons, rather than to restore old style peasant farms. But it is only through a reshaping of the micro-strategies of family labor allocation that land now obtained can realize any of the promise it holds.

Although the prospects for the emergence of a new stratum of entrepreneurial small farms is at present unlikely, other forms of interconnections between family, community, land, and labor are at least a possibility. I refer here to the middle-range associations between small farmers, part-time farms, entrepreneurs and collectives, the development of which can already be seen. I agree with Hann ( 1993) that property ownership per se may be of far less importance than the social relations it engenders and the potential of the social over the legalistic cannot be over-stressed. Certainly such relations are confronted and shaped by new limitations of the current period: unemployment, inflation, lack of rural capital, and so on. But glancing back at the socialist period when only the social means of the judicious allocation, dispersal, and regrouping of a family's labor power made it possible for the rural population to carve an economic niche for itself, one might expect similar forces to start operating again, under the changed conditions of the present.

The present transition is undoubtedly a crisis but it is difficult to gauge its true nature. 15 Crisis, in fact, might just be a routine concomitant of the massive realignment of resources, labor, and land into a new configuration. Or perhaps it is possible that Hungary is rushing headlong towards the same problems that West European agriculture is experiencing with which we are all too familiar, if from nowhere else than from the pictures of French farmers regularly paving city streets with potatoes. The much vaunted family farmers in the EC survive at the cost of vast state subsidies and concessions which Eastern Europe at present cannot afford. Perhaps the transformation of Hungary and Eastern Europe at large is not so much a dash to the riches of agriculture in a market economy but rather its troubled waters, which might be closer than expected.


Notes
1.
This metaphor is a recurring one. In socialist times there was also talk about "the maze effect," which referred to the difficulty for people to foresee where any chosen path might lead since the rules were prone to change without warning, causing immense insecurity and caution in all undertakings ( Baric 1965).
2.
The number of people involved in agriculture represent a staggering proportion of the population and the choices made will be of more than passing interest. Although only 35,000 full time agriculturalists were counted in 1991, about 1.5 million in the adult population are involved with small-plot farming.

-21-

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