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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2001, Vol. 4 No. 1 .

East Central Europe in the Modern World: the Politics of the Borderlands from Pre-to Postcommunism
Andrew C. Janos

Stanford, CA and Cambridge: Stanford University Press, 2000
488pp. Biblio. Index. Hb.: £37.50/$65.00; ISBN 08047-3743-6.

This volume is a formidable work of scholarly synthesis, weighing in at just under five hundred pages and boasting a forty-five page bibliography. The author's arguments are presented clearly and developed cogently, and his use of evidence convinces if not by deft deployment of the 'telling fact', then certainly by attrition. In terms of the author's intentions, this work succeeds with aplomb. The book, as he states in the first sentence of the 'Introduction', represents "political history written by a social scientist" (p1). Its aim is to formulate a cogent theoretical framework to elucidate the last two centuries of political and economic development among the states of East-Central Europe. The model which the author adopts is derived from a world-systems approach with its three-tier functional and structural differentiation of 'core', 'periphery' and 'semi-periphery'. This enables him to engage in lucid and persuasive comparative histories, based largely on secondary sources, of the small states of the region in relation both to their neighbours and to more distant centres, and to identify a dynamic of frustrated development in the persisting "relative deprivation" of peripheral states. Within this system, the motive force of modernisation on the periphery is provided by the "demonstration effect" of material progress in the core. In the nineteenth century, for example, the striving of élites of peripheral states to emulate the material progress of their peers in western nations resulted in a pact with the devil, whereby the political classes renounced liberal political aspirations in return for an assured place in the state apparat and support for their rent-seeking activities. In the twentieth century, the states of the borderlands continued to develop in the thrall of regional hegemons and imperial powers which defined the aspirations of the politicised masses and dictated the objectives of corrupt state machines.

The author convincingly describes the consequences of this system both in spatial terms - expectations diminish over distance and are mediated by diverse cultural perceptions in different places, and in temporal terms - the modalities of change within the whole system and its constituent states vary according to historical conjuncture. In particular, he stresses the enduring imprint of historical experience on the states under survey, attributing in part the divergent development patterns of the northwestern tier of societies, such as Poland, Bohemia and Hungary, and the southeastern societies, such as Romania, Bulgaria and the Balkans, to their distinct traditions of Western Christianity, legalism and elective authority as opposed to Byzantine Orthodoxy, commonality and autocratic paternalism. Throughout, a balance of analysis and narrative serves to mitigate the social scientific impulse to generalise with close attention to the specificities and idiosyncrasies of geography and history.

The reader finishes this work with a sense of both its grand design and painstaking detail. Inevitably, some specialists will notice the occasional inaccuracy (for example, the statement on p. 155 that the Finnish uprising, which occurred in early 1918, was "fomented" by the Comintern, although this organisation was established only in 1919), but this does not detract from the achievement. What does, to some extent, is the author's leaden prose and the relentless, encyclopaedic density of the book. Because the value of this work resides in its analytic framework and argument, its impact would have been greatly strengthened if the narrative had been cut by half. Nevertheless, this volume can be strongly recommended for readers with stamina, and for those without, the clear and comprehensive index, combined with precise citations of secondary sources and the extensive bibliography, makes it invaluable for reference.

Nick Baron
Research Associate

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