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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1998, Vol. 1 No. 1 .

Transformation from Below: Local Power and the Political Economy of Post-Communist Transitions
John Gibson and Philip Hanson eds,

(Cheltenham UK: Edward Elgar, 1997) 3 44pp. Index. 49.95; ISBN 1 858 98 122 0

This volume is the result of a collaboration between scholars at the University of Birmingham and specialists from other parts of Europe to consider the development of local government in nine countries in East-Central Europe and the former Soviet Union. The contributors focus on the extent of political and economic devolution in the various countries and ask whether the process of devolving power to the local level contributes to or impedes political and economic liberalization.

Although in their introduction the editors identify the interplay between ethnic minorities and devolution as one of the central foci of the book, few chapters address issues related to ethnic minorities, and those which do tend to treat it as one among many problems on the path towards economic and political reform, and not necessarily the most important. Writing about the re-creation of local government in Lithuania, Artashes Gazaryan and Max Jeleniewsk consider the difficulty of ethnic minorities becoming involved in public life. Adrian Campbell's study of local government and the centre in Romania and Moldova contains an excellent discussion of how the Moldovan government has dealt with ethnic separatism. Philip Hanson's chapter on Russian enclaves in Estonia examines the effects of the location of a large and heavily-concentrated minority population in an area dominated by large-scale industry likely to suffer disproportionately during economic restructuring.

Although the book is rather dominated by studies of the former Soviet Union and Russia in particular, it does provide a wealth of detailed information about a range of countries and regions which illustrate the difficulties of creating effective local government in former Communist countries of Europe. The contributors are to be commended on the clarity of their discussions of extremely complex issues and on the attention which they pay to the effect of the legacy of institutions and practices from the Communist period. The book contains much for those interested in the development of local government and in centre-periphery relations as well as in the political and economic transition of former Communist countries.

In the concluding chapter the editors return to the question of the relationship between devolution of power and liberalisation. Although they are unable to draw any definitive connections between economic transformation and either centralised or devolved government, they do see success in economic reform as the starting point of a virtuous circle that eases the resource constraints which can exacerbate centre-region relations, including ethnic tensions.

Jennifer G. Mathers, University of Wales, Aberystwyth

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