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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 2 .

The Handbook of Political Change in Eastern Europe
Edited by Sten Berglund, Tomas Hellén & Frank H Aarebrot

(Cheltenham, UK: Edgar Elgar, 1998)
395pp. Index. Hb.: £59.95; ISBN 1-85898-840-3.

This is a very interesting reference book of the political changes in Eastern Europe since the demise of communism. It will prove to be of great use for everybody involved in research on Eastern Europe, but it can also offer considerable introductory information to those that haven't followed the most recent developments in the region. Amongst others the handbook provides examinations of elections, governments, electoral systems, and constitutions and offers historical and comparative perspectives on the political and social consequences of the transition. The focal point of all the analyses and approaches are the cleavages in the political systems and societies. Conclusions are also attempted for the existence and salience of these cleavages at the national level and in the region as a whole. Different chapters provide an account of the changes in the political scene for each one of the countries examined. These chapters are probably more of use to specialised researchers. The three chapters compiled by the editors, in which they attempt a comparative analysis and draw conclusions for the region as a whole, are generally the most stimulating ones. In these chapters there are some very insightful discussions about the relevance of transition theories, the role of cleavages in transitional societies, the extent to which there is a link between the cleavage structure and the emergence of party systems, and the prospects of the current effort at democracy in Eastern Europe compared to the previous ones during this century. Various interesting findings are compared and summarised in these chapters. Both historical and contemporary cleavages are deemed important with variations from country to country. Interestingly, and against the established theory, it is concluded that democratic consolidation may occur in a setting of weak cleavage crystallisation.

Among the controversial points of the book is the rationalisation of the editors' for the selection of their "sample" and the exclusion of all the CIS states, Albania and most of the former Yugoslav states. This is no neutral issue or one that the editors can evaluate against some neutral criteria. In return this exclusion reproduces an image of these regions/states as unstable, non-democratic and generally problematic. There is a general tendency, unjustified I believe, in the book for division and sub-division of states into groups, not least for the ones under examination. More often than not these attempts reproduce representations of some regions or states as traditionally less democratic, backward, unstable and the rest. This is much implicated for example in the editors' discussion of the consequences of the fault-lines of empires, religions and cultures or in the discussion about the historical continuity in Eastern Europe. Since categorisation within Central and Eastern Europe is a particularly politicised issue and bears with it grave consequences, not least for the enlargement of the Western institutions much aspired by all the states in the region, such projects if tried should be handled with more care.

Ioannis Armakolas,
INCORE - University of Ulster

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