Pieter Vanhuysse: Divide and Pacify: Strategic Social Policies and Political Protests in Post-Communist Democracies

25. 9. 2006

Seminář Sociologického ústavu AV ČR se koná 5.10. 2006 v 15 hodin v místnosti č. 207.

Divide and Pacify

Strategic Social Policies and Political

Protests in Post-Communist Democracies


Pieter Vanhuysse, PhD (LSE)

University of Haifa




The book proposes a theoretical explanation for the comparative political quiescence of the post-communist transitions in Hungary and Poland between 1989 and 1996, with ample references to other countries in Central and Eastern Europe. Contrary to prior expectations and to earlier democratic reform experiences in Latin America, the early 1990s in Central and Eastern Europe have been decidedly non-violent, and comparatively non-disruptive as well. Emphasizing the ways in which welfare state programs can be used to influence aggregate protest levels in the polity, I specify a political strategy that could reduce the capacity of selected groups of working-age individuals to organize disruptive collective action. The crux of this strategy was to split up well-networked and formally organized groups of workers in precarious jobs, by sending some of them onto unemployment benefits and many others onto 'abnormal' pensions -- early retirement and disability retirement. The latter groups were likely to have a decreasing capacity to mobilize for collective action due to less advantageous social networks combined with increasing distributional conflicts over scarce state resources. Moreover, at a time of strongly declining living standards, the unemployed and the abnormal pensioners had stronger economic incentives to earn informal private sector incomes, instead of pursuing public goods through collective protests. A number of social policies consistent with such a 'divide and pacify' hypothesis have been adopted in post-communist Hungary and Poland, though not in the Czech Republic. Most dramatically, between 1989 and 1996, both Hungary and Poland experienced Great Abnormal Pensioner Booms -- unprecedented increases of up to fifty percent in the numbers of non-elderly pensioners.


Key words: welfare states; post-communist transitions; political protests; pensions; unemployment; policy reforms; social policy; generational politics; Hungary; Poland; Czech Republic.