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22 February 2011

Noted Political Scientist Lectures at JMSC Cohosted Event

Eastern Europe has yet to fully adopt the democratic model established by the Polish dissidence movement of 1989, said leading political scientist András Bozóki during a lecture at the University of Hong Kong.

András Bozóki lectures at HKU

The Department of Politics and Public Administration and the JMSC cohosted noted political scientist, András Bozóki, to discuss the human rights movement and democratisation in Eastern Europe, on February 21, 2011.

An hour was devoted to lecture, while half an hour was left at the end for a question and answer session. The event was well-attended by members of both the journalism and politics departments.

To successfully evaluate the hopes and disappointments of the Eastern European revolution for democracy – which can be traced to movements in Poland at the tail end of the 1980s – Bozóki began by introducing a history of social resistance against the Communist party state. According to Bozóki, both internal and external factors sparked the transformation of the Eastern nation states to move away from Communism. However, such optimism for change was often quashed by Soviet force. “Social resistance to Communism cannot be undermined, but of course the might power of the Red Army made very little hope for any effective resistance,” he said.

Bozóki noted that although Hungary and Czechoslovakia failed to mobilise against Soviet Communism, Poland met success by learning from these countries’ mistakes and began “velvet,” or non-violent, revolutions. “It was sort of a contradiction in itself to introduce a new politics that does not touch power, it is difficult to imagine politics without power, but the idea is that with the power of words they can exercise influence,” he said. Non-violence, universal human rights, and the drive to adopt a free market economy rose to the forefront throughout the 1980s.

Poland succeeded, Bozóki explained, because the process of revolution favoured a fundamental change in social climate over bureaucracy. He said, in the instance of Poland, “If you want to change the Communist party or want to change the state, it is maybe very difficult because it is controlled… but why not to turn away from the state, and focus on society?” Social circles of solidarity – groups devoted to charity, spiritual guidance, and pro bono legal work, for example – formed and dramatically undermined European dictatorship.

Intellectual discourse provided for the spread of democratic ideals present in the Polish dissidence movement, Bozóki addressed next. Intellectuals were the “makers of strategy, but also creators of culture and of critical discourse,” he said. Many of these intellectuals, who were proponents of neo-liberalism, moved on to become politicians and policy makers, “elevated from the café to the top of power.” Bozóki commented that in Eastern Europe, a poet, a writer, and a musician were all elected president during the turn from dictatorship to democracy. Today, many of the intellectuals from that time are noted journalists and bloggers.

Students of the JMSC and Department of Politics listen to András Bozóki

Bozóki progressed to evaluate whether or not the political model adopted at the turn of the eighties promises hope for Eastern Europe today: the crux of the lecture. “There was a lot of hope that local entrepreneurs would be rich and everyone would benefit from the rise of capitalism – instead, there is an elite bourgeoisie,” he said.

Because Eastern Europe did not become the wealthy constituency of nations promised by three decades of adopting democracy, the focus has shifted from universal human rights to economic priority. Many who wished for economic independence instead became financially dependent, namely factory workers or other blue-collar professions that rely on orders. Bozóki reflected, “At the moment, human rights seem to be on the losing side.”

The result of this disillusionment with democracy gave rise to the multiparty system dominant in Europe today. Internationalist and Populist political forces, as Bozóki said, maintain that human rights are not fundamental to life. Such parties favour economic security over individual freedoms.“It’s partly true,” he said, “but I also find it partly dangerous.” Europe has seen a sharp rise in consumption culture from this ideology; meanwhile, impoverishment lies in the periphery. Bozóki explained that the delivery of full-scale democratisation is sub-par to the original hopes of the dissidence movements, because the multiparty system currently places strain on neo-liberal values. “Political parties increasingly control the economy and culture – it is difficult because [parties] are the hotbed of corruption,” he said.

According to the Freedom House Index, however, these nations are still considered liberal democracies.

This talk was preceded with a research sharing session in which Bozóki proved the absence of a European public sphere, on February 18. During the session, Bozóki similarly asserted that issues of human rights consistently take the backburner to economic gain in Eastern Europe. Consequently, Europe is in the midst of democratic deficit.

“As a teacher and professor, I really believe that democracy is a learning process and therefore people can learn from their mistakes…in Eastern Europe, we need to have more time for that,” Bozóki concluded.