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ECPR Press > Monographs > Democratic Institutions and Authoritarian Rule in Southeast Europe

Democratic Institutions and Authoritarian Rule in Southeast Europe Democratic Institutions and Authoritarian Rule in Southeast Europe

Danijela  Dolenec (Author)
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Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781907301438
Page Extent: 254 pp

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About the Book

Recipient of the 2013 National Science Award in the Field of Social Sciences, conferred by the Parliament of Croatia.

Josip Broz Tito's saying that 'one should not hold on to the law like a drunken man holds on to a fence' remains a valid piece of popular wisdom today, encapsulating the problem of weak rule of law in Southeast European societies. This book poses the question of why democratisation in Southeast Europe disappointed initial expectations, and claims that it is caused by the dominance of authoritarian parties over regime change. Their rule established nondemocratic governance practices that continue to subvert rule of law principles, more than twenty years after the collapse of communism.

The unique contribution of this book is in providing empirical evidence for the argument that post-socialist transformation proceeded in a double movement, whereby advances to formal democratic institutions were subverted through nondemocratic rule. This misfit helps explain why improvements to formal democratic institutions did not result in expected democratisation advances.

'Why is Southeast Europe lagging behind? In a broad-based study combining comparative analysis and case studies, Danijela Dolenec explains the rule-of-law conundrum that impedes democratic consolidation in this region. Essential reading for anyone interested in the politics of Southeast Europe and democratisation.'
Professor Frank Schimmelfennig, Professor of European Politics, ETH Zurich, Center for Comparative and International Studies

'Danijela Dolenec's study of democratisation and the rule of law is a major contribution to the study of Southeastern Europe and post-communist democratisation due to its sophisticated methodology, rich empirical research and comparative scope. The book shows convincingly that semi-authoritarian regimes in Serbia and Croatia during the 1990s have a lasting imprint on democratisation in both countries and makes the case, without falling into the trap of historical determinism, that the past matters for democratisation processes.'
Professor Florian Bieber, Director of the Centre for Southeast European Studies, University of Graz, Austria

'Danijela Dolenec has written an important, original and well-crafted book to answer the question of why, after two decades of transformation, countries of Southeast Europe remain trapped in low quality, underperforming political systems. She offers a compelling comparative approach and rigorous empirical analysis that identify the rule of law deficit as the main problem. In the best tradition of historical institutionalism she shows persuasively how historical legacies, modes of transition, and patterns of European integration interact to produce powerful path dependent dynamics. This book is admirable in scope, ambition and in methodological self-awareness. It represents comparative research in political science at its best. Democratic Institutions and Authoritarian Rule in Southeast Europe significantly advances our understanding of the post-1989 transformations in Europe and is certainly a must read for all students of comparative politics'
Grzegorz Ekiert, Professor of Government and Director, Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies, Harvard University

'Danijela Dolenec has written an outstanding, groundbreaking book exploring how states struggle to democratise after authoritarian parties have presided over regime change, colonised the state and exploited the economy. Historical legacies matter - and states that are more authoritarian, more repressive and more criminalised have a tougher time establishing the foundations for liberal democracy, especially a strong rule of law. For scholars of comparative politics, this ambitious book on Southeast Europe is of great value: Dolenec brings theoretical innovation and rigorous empirical analysis to bear on explaining the abiding variation in political outcomes across post-communist Europe after more than two decades of transformation.'
Milada Anna Vachudova, Associate Professor, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Review by Tom Gallagher in the journal International Affairs 89: 6, 2013

'A low-intensity process of democratization has stalled in south-east Europe in recent times due to the failure to secure the rule of law in the region. This is the core argument advanced by Danijela Dolenec in a study that combines methodological depth and sophistication with probing cross-national empirical research. Political forces, whether reformist or postcommunist, prefer to concentrate power rather than impose mutual limitations on their ability to manipulate the justice sphere. This is crucial for understanding why democratization has not reached levels comparable to much more intensively studied countries in ‘Central East Europe’.

Long-term developments are not overlooked in seeking to explain the dominance of authoritarian forces in shaping political rules inimical to the functioning of the rule of law. The level of socio-economic development, the previous regime legacy and the militarization of state and society in much of the former Yugoslavia are seen as key explanations for the stalled democracies in the eight countries that feature in the comparative regional analysis. Policy failures in the 1980s resulted in economic decline. Socio-economic inequalities were exploited by demagogues or adaptable wings of the party apparatus and, in the case of Serbia and Croatia, this led to war.

After formulating a theoretical framework designed to facilitate a complex crossnational analysis, the author concentrates mainly on these two countries. She shows how conditions of national emergency enabled hybrid regimes to maintain a shell of democratic procedures while entrenching authoritarian practices. In Croatia, the accomplishment of full sovereignty and the restoration of peace led to a retreat from authoritarianism overseen by the ruling party. In Serbia progress was more halting and, ironically, further democratic advance depends on the successor of the most extreme party in Slobodan Milosevic’s former ruling alliance, which was electorally victorious in 2012.

Across the region, economic and political power were merged as the public sector became an arena enabling patronage and clientelistic relationships to prevail. Helpful light is shed on how fragile and illiberal democracies fell victim to state capture that enabled wellplaced informal networks to influence the shape of laws and regulations in order to extract rents from the state. After 2000, the EU became more prominent in the region, but it is not hard for Dolenec to find evidence of its reliance ‘on the very elites who could be expected to undermine its policies’ (p. 101). Brussels showed resolve over the apprehension of war criminals, but it was prepared to exaggerate the extent of political normalization even in the face of evidence that cynical local elites were mimicking reforms while persisting with retrograde practices… refreshing and insightful.'

Review by Anne Corbett in the LSE Review of Books

'Though historically strife-ridden, Europe is now a continent of democratic states. Even the Croatian and Serbian states which grew out of the former Yugoslavia – and which in the 1990s masterminded ethnic murder and massacres in Bosnia – have been engaged for some time in structured relations with the EU. In July of this year Croatia became the 28th EU member state.

These developments would seem to be powerful symbols of a democratisation process undertaken with the EU’s help, following the fall of communism. Or are they? A new methodologically and empirically sophisticated study, which will be of immediate interest to Southeast Europe specialists and political theorists more generally, suggests optimism is out of order. In the countries of Southeast Europe (SEE) – Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Romania and Serbia – in contrast to those of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) – the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia – anti-democratic practice has become embedded. Further democratisation efforts are not only stalling, in some cases they are slipping back. In Democratic Institutions and Authoritarian Rule in Southeast Europe, Danijela Dolenec, a young Croatian scholar, administers a serious jolt to those who think that widening EU membership implies progress towards a stable functioning democracy in which the rule of law is upheld and citizens’ rights respected.

This enriching study framed in the historical institutionalism tradition of Theda Skocpol, starts from the theoretical assumption that structural conditions shape the constraints which limit the scope for political action in relation to subsequent events. The case is illustrated here by the evidence of authoritarian governance practice from the 1990s coalescing over the subsequent 20 years into obstacles which may prove lasting to democratisation in Southeast Europe. The biggest of the constraining legacies is the weak system of law. This contrast with the situation of CEE countries – though is Hungary now proving an exception? In Dolenec’s account, until 2010 these countries had a distinctly more positive record for tackling corruption and generally upholding the law, whether in respect of civil liberties and the need for an independent judiciary.

The initial part of Dolenec’s study compares the 14 states formerly operating under communist regimes of both the CEE and SEE, through excluding the contested Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina established in 1995. Despite the different levels of democratisation in the two groups there is no clear CEE/SEE split on proxies for democracy such as attitudes to life satisfaction, libertarian sexual attitudes, interpersonal trust and protest potential (religion may be a more potent influence). Ethnic diversity does not appear to have causal implications for democratisation. Most of the 14 states, bar Poland, Hungary and Albania, have ethically diverse populations; their trajectories of democratisation are divergent. Within SEE itself, even membership of the EU, has not changed a pattern of low-level democratic practice as the two states involved in violent conflict. Bulgaria has regressed almost since the day it joined the EU.

Dolenec’s framing of her argument in historical institutionalist terms emphasises the political structural legacies that preceded modernisation, and the potential turning points over time provoked by contingent factors. Building on insights from the theoretical literature of modernisation that emphasises party system dynamics, and that on the role of conflict and impact on state building, she gives a three stage argument to explain how and why authoritarian rule became embedded in SEE states unlike those of the CEE.

The first step, the 14 country comparison, confirms the theoretical predictions that the trajectory of democratisation will be influenced by levels of socio-economic development, communist regime type as measured by levels of independence of bureaucracies and citizens’ value orientations. Striking findings are the lack of relationship across the CEE and SEE between citizens’ expectations of democracy and the actual democratisation of a regime; but the difference between the SEE and CEE in respect to the law is marked. SEE countries all have weak systems.

The second analytic step relates to the significance of political choice. Dolenec examines political party dynamics in the period 1990-2000, extending Schimmelfennig’s work on the distinction between political party competition, where opposition parties can take power, and political party constellations where one-party rule is embedded, and Kitschelt’s typology of communist regimes showing up major differences in relation to socio-economic development and state capacity. In both cases, the SEE countries fall into the least democratised category.

In a third step, Dolenec takes the cases of Croatia and Serbia, to understand not only why authoritarian one-party rule became embedded after democratic structures had been formally brought into existence, but also the impact of violent conflict. She shows conflict as strengthening already strong tendencies to authoritarianism, and delaying EU action. She argues that what might have been a turning point in fact was an example of path dependence. Conflict strengthened pre-existing tendencies to authoritarianism strong, blocking the progress towards a stronger system of law and the alternance of power evolving elsewhere.

Three mechanisms have locked in authoritarianism. These are the legacy of the personalisation of power, epitomised by Franjo Tuđman in Croatia, who died before he could be indicted on war crimes, and Slobodan Milošević in Serbia who died during his war crimes trial; the legacy of political power merged with economic power with the transition to a capitalist economy; and the consequential huge wealth of the elite. In Croatia and Serbia that opened up vast opportunities for abuse of power in terms of insider deals and widespread corruption as already analysed in Bulgaria and other parts of the SEE.

Dolenec’s conclusion is that moving the democratisation process forward requires domestic societal forces, not the external forces of the EU. ‘Political change happens gradually through the strengthening of independent social spheres, which demand fair treatment from the state and grow into endogenous sources of opposition’ and hence offer the possibility of the alternance of power. And that won’t happen until political elite accepts restraint.

My only quibble is with the conclusion. In the higher education sector where my European research interests lie, I regularly meet intelligent, ambitious, and apparently ethical students, researchers, and bureaucrats from the SEE countries. In my experience they have brought a fresh epistemic energy into EU and other forums. They are adept at using the wider stage brought about by European or international education experience. So I read the book with a maybe irrational hope that more change is in store than the Dolenec analysis assumes, and that some of it will come from peer learning – in other words mixed endogenous and exogenous experience.

But that is not to criticise the overall effort. The author should be congratulated for her contribution to SEE studies and for the intellectually wider achievement of providing a sharp and replicable way to understanding the extent to which European diversity is shaped by national choices which, in some parts of the continent, still pit authoritarianism against democracy by politically constraining the legal system.'


  Pub Date:

May 2013


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