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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 1 .


Emerging Democracies in East Central Europe and the Balkans
Attila Ágh

(Chelenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 1998)
359pp. Index. Bibl. Hb. £59.95; ISBN 1 85898 817 9.



Attila Ágh is Professor and Head of the Political Science Department at the Budapest University of Economics and Director of the Hungarian Centre for Democracy Studies, Hungary, and a careful student of political change in this complex, volatile region. The heart of the book is lengthy, skilfully written sections on the Central European success stories: Poland (The Early Comer), Hungary (The Long Transition), and the Czech and Slovak Republics (The Velvet Transformation). And the less-successful: Yugoslavia (The Disintegration of...) Bulgaria, Romania, and Albania.

This book is like a Baedecker's guide through the recent politics of East Central Europe and the Balkans. The main roads are there, the distances between them carefully measured, the political parties enumerated, and movements toward parliamentary democracy chronicled with precision and astute analysis. And like such a guide, one can thumb through succinct passages on the growth and decline of Solidarity in Poland, the role of Vaclav Havel in the Czech Republic, and of free elections and the emergence of the National Assembly in Hungary. A skillfully-written narrative could have gained from a wider discussion of the role played by the constitutional courts in each of these countries, as described in works like Mark Brzezinski's, The Struggle for Constitutionalism in Poland (St. Martin's: New York, 1998). At several key points it is hesitant (but who but outsiders or village square analysts dare make general statements about Central Europe?). Example: in the concluding section the role of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is described as being "rather successful" in places. In reality, OSCE has become a late Hapsburg Empire Viennese bureaucracy mit schlag "institutionalized with a secretariat, and control mechanisms such as a conflict-prevention centre in Vienna and an election-monitoring centre in Warsaw." (p. 306) Alas, the pooled resources of the conflict prevention centre could not resolve a bar room brawl on the Kärntnerring and the election-monitoring capacities of the Warsaw-based Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights remain in their infancy a decade later, despite the glittering hopes and admirable proposals laid out in the 1990 Charter of Paris.

The book does not discuss ethnic issues, except tangentially, nor does it treat conflict resolution, and the proliferation of conflict resolution mechanisms that have sprung up like mushrooms in the soil of post-Communist times. There is a reason for this: in my view, most such efforts will not succeed because they are cut off from the sources of power which can effectively deal with conflict. One needs a Richard Holbrooke, backed by troops, money, and diplomatic clout, rather than a social anthropologist (part of my professional training was in anthropology) to broker the agonizing issues the author cites. It is fairly easy to negotiate, as anyone who has ever bargained for trinkets in a Central European marketplace knows, and the social, ethnic, religious, gender, historical, attitudinal, and geographic components of any conflict need to be identified and made part of the power dynamics of international negotiation. But absent their inclusion by the power brokers, these insights wither on the vine, the neutered subjects of a hundred marginal research studies. Agh's book, however, is not among them. It is a sturdy work, of real value to the traveller who makes a political voyage through today's East central Europe.


Frederick Quinn, Chevy Chase, MD.



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