Civil Society, Democracy and Social Trust in East Central Europe before and after 1989 – In the context of global transformation

Course requirements

  • 40% for class attendance and activity,
  • 10% for short midterm essay (cca. 3,000 words)
  • 10% for presentation,
  • 40% for academic essay (7,000-8,000 words).

Assigned weekly readings are listed below.

Course description

Starting from the late ‘70s, in some of the East Central European countries – like in Poland Czechoslovakia and Hungary – democratic movements of workers, students and intellectuals such as Solidarnosc, Charter ’77 or the Hungarian democratic opposition,  were able to accumulate not only political solidarity, but also a significant amount of social trust based on self-organization and self-mobilization. Voluntary participation in a wide variety of civic activities spread throughout the region. Trust in gradual democratic transition, as well as in emerging public actors and democratic institutions, reached its peak by the time of the Velvet Revolutions. Civil society throughout the region became a key concept for nonviolent and democratic social and political change. The need for a “new social contract” became manifest as a metaphor for increased social trust. Civil society became an indispensable part of the process of democratization. Expectations concerning the expansion of participation in democratic decisionmaking were high at the beginning of the transition period.

The new democratic institutions, however, became dominated and controlled by the old/new political classes, often referring to themselves as the “political elite.”

Most of the civil society initiatives turned into professional NGOs and/or became marginalized, co-opted or controlled by the political parties, governments or big business. As a consequence, a vibrant  civil society has faded away and  civil participation  has decreased to a large extent by the mid-1990s.

Social as well as public and institutional trust in democratic governments and institutions receded and reached a dangerously low level by the turn of the new millennium. One of the paradoxes of transition is that the price of freedom in former Soviet bloc countries is the loss of public, social and institutional trust.  As a consequence, many of the countries of the region again find themselves in a social trap.

Against all of their known differences, individual countries of East Central Europe share common characteristics and trends. This became most visible after the 2004 Eastern enlargement of the EU.
Some of the major characteristics are:

  • Growing corruption,
  • Eroding institutions,
  • Decreasing public trust in democratic institutions, politicians and political parties,
  • Low level of participation in elections,
  • A low level of predictability of political actors,
  • Emerging populist and extremist movements, the politics of “values”,
  • Scapegoating, with special regards to the Roma population
  • Increased anomie,
  • etc.

Erosion of trust in democratic institutions is one of the most fundamental common denominators. As the most recent surveys demonstrate, anomie has become a virulent characteristic  of the societies in question.

On the other hand, there are new emerging  tendencies for revitalization of social networks and participation on the local level. New forms and frameworks of democratic participation and civic engagement have appeared and are spreading, promoted by ICT and the legal framework of the European Union. The spirit of civil society has not been completely eroded and the potential for further democratization can be identified. The results of regional cooperation and networking by governments such as the Visegrad countries (V4) have recognizable effects in  the sphere of politics and cultural life. In other words, premodern, modern and postmodern aspirations and values are in collision and create complexities in political and social life which need deeper insight and analysis.

This course will try to analyze and explain these complex and interrelated trends and seek to identify the alternatives for deeply divided societies characterized by the lack of trust. It will try to identify the necessary conditions for possible escapes from social and political traps in order to “reinvent” democracies and civil society in the countries and the region of East Central Europe in the context of the present global crisis.

Although some important common characteristics of the transition period are obviously present, there are important dfferencies between the countries of the region concerning their democratic performance. Comparative analysis of different countries of the region will be provided by case studies and survey analysis.

During lectures and seminars, the bottom-up approach of civil society, and the top-down approach of institution-building will be employed, keeping in mind Jean Monnet’s warning that “everything starts with the people but ends up with institutions.” Students will study the post WWII history of  East Central Europe, as well as theories of transition, democratization  and civil society including global and European civil society.

Office phone: 8450619

Office hours: Tuesday 1-3 PM

Contact: fmiszlivetz(-at-)


Week 1

Introduction (1).  A short history of the concept of civil society and its ‘Renaissance’ in East Central Europe during the 1980s. The origins of the concept. Its significance and novelty in relation to democracy and democratization.


Miszlivetz, Ferenc: The Injuries of East Central europe: is The autho-therapy of civil society possible? In: Miszlivetz, Ferenc: Illusions and Realities : The Metamorphosis of Civil Society in a New European Space. – Szombathely, Savaria University Press, 1999. (pp 49-71)

Miszlivetz, Ferenc: The Unfinished Revolutions of 1989: The Decline of the Nation-state. In: Miszlivetz, Ferenc: Illusions and Realities : The Metamorphosis of Civil Society in a New European Space. – Szombathely, Savaria University Press, 1999. (pp 103-125)

Michnik, Adam: The Rebirth of Civil Society: Public Lecture on the London School of Economics. 20 October 1999.

Week 2

Introduction (2).  Social trust and social capital. The importance of institutionalized associations in the development of democracies. Their relation to the concept of civil society. Historical examples from different regions of the world.


Dahrendorf, Ralf: After 1989. Morals, revolution and Civil Society MacMillan, London, 1997. (pp 1-77, and 78-168 ) Chapters 1-7.

Putnam, Robert (ed.): Democracies in Flux: The Evolution of Social Capital in Contemporary Society, Oxford University Press, 2002

Mihaylova, Dimitrina: Social Capital in Central and Eastern Europe: A Critical Assessment and Literature Review. Policy Studies Series, Central European University, 2004.

Tocqueville, Alexis de: Democracy in America. University of Chicago Press, 2000. Volume II. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. (recommended)

Week 3

Globalizing human rights and the spirit of 1968. The Prague Spring and new social movements in different parts of the world. Charta ’77 and the beginning of crossborder solidarity in East Central Europe


Havel, Vaclav et al.: The Power of the Powerless – Citizens Against the State in Eastern Europe, London, New York, M. E. Sharpe, 1990. – ISBN-13: 978-0873327619 (pp 11-65, 66-96 and 134-151)

Miszlivetz, Ferenc: The Traces of Civil Society in a new European Space. In: Miszlivetz, Ferenc: Illusions and Realities : The Metamorphosis of Civil Society in a New European Space. – Szombathely, Savaria University Press, 1999. (pp 219 – 243).

Week 4

A new alliance between the working class and intellectuals. The birth and growth of Solidarnosc in Poland. The re-emergence of civil society as an umbrella concept in East Central Europe.


Michnik, Adam: The Rebirth of Civil Society: Public Lecture at the London School of Economics 20 October 1999.

Havel, Vaclav et al.: The Power of the Powerless – Citizens Against the State in Eastern Europe, London, New York, M. E. Sharpe, 1990. – ISBN-13: 978-0873327619 (pp 11-65, 66-96 and 134-151)

Miszlivetz, Ferenc: The Traces of Civil Society in a new European Space. In: Miszlivetz, Ferenc: Illusions and Realities : The Metamorphosis of Civil Society in a New European Space. – Szombathely, Savaria University Press, 1999.  (pp 27 – 95)


Week 5

Alternative social movements and civil initiatives in ECE during the ‘80s. The peace movement, the European Network for East-West Dialogue, ecological and ‘green’ movements (the Danube Circle), students’ initiatives, crossborder human rights movements, etc. Accumulating social trust, experimenting participation.


Howard, Marc Morjé: Postcommunist Civil Society in a Comparative Perspective. In M.M. Howard: The Weakness of Civil Society, Cambridge University Press,  2002.

Sztompka, Piotr: The ambivalence of social change. Triumph or trauma. Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung, discussion paper, 2000.

Marody, Mira: Social Non-Accountability. Honesty and Trust Project background publication, 2000.

Alexander, Jeffrey C. – Sztompka, Piotr (eds.): Rethinking Progress : Movements, Forces, and Ideas at the End of the 20th Century, New York ; London : Taylor and Francis, 2005. ISBN 0-04-445753-7 (recommended)

Week 6

New tendencies of crossborder cooperation: Central European, European, global. Reinventing Central Europe. The significance of East-West dialogue.
The emergence of new visions and concepts such as European and global civil society.


Miszlivetz, Ferenc: Why Should We Reinvent Central Europe? Volume 1. Central European Political Science Review 6:(20) pp. 6-11. (2006)

Bunce, Valerie – McFaul, Michael – Stoner-Weiss, Katyhryn (eds.): Democracy and Authoritarianism in the Post-Communist World, Cambridge ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 2010. – Part I-II.

Galasinska, Aleksandra – Krzyzanowski, Michal (eds.): Discourse and Transformation in Central and Eastern Europe, New York : Palgrave Macmillan, 2009. – (Language and globalization ). – ISBN 978-0-230-52102-5 (Recommended)

Week 7

The unexpected 1989 “the year of miracles”. The changing geopolitical constellation. who ended the Cold War? Discussing the role of social movements and the emerging civil society in systemic change within the Soviet bloc.


Miszlivetz, Ferenc: Lessons of 1989 for European Democracies Today: Outlines of a New Paradigm. In: Archibugi, Daniel and Montani, Guido (eds.) European democracy and Cosmopolitan Democracy. The Altiero Spinelli Institute for federalist Studies, Pavia, 2011. (pp 187 – 203)

Ekiert, Grzegorz and Foa, Roberto: Civil Society Weakness in Post-Communist Europe: A Preliminary Assessment. Carlo Alberto Notebooks. No.198. January 2011.

Bernik, Ivan: Political Culture in Post-Socialist Transition: Radical Cultural Change or Adaptation on the Basis of Old Cultural Patterns? Frankfurter Institut für Transformationsstudien. Discussion Paper 09/00.

Dahrendorf, Ralf: After 1989: Morals, Revolution and Civil Society. London: Macmillan, Oxford: St Antony’s College, 1997. Chapters 8-15

Week 8

After the ‘Golden age’ of civil society: the professionalization of NGOs and the evaporating spirit of civil participation and solidarity in public life.
Did intellectuals betray their ideals? An introduction to the ongoing debate about the role of intellectuals in civil society.


Lomax, Bill: The Strange Death of Civil Society in Postcommunist Hungary, The Journal of Communist Studies and Transition Politics. Vol. 13., 1997

Miszlivetz, Ferenc: Participation and democracy: the metamorphosis of Civil society in Hungary. In: Miszlivetz, Ferenc: Illusions and Realities : The Metamorphosis of Civil Society in a New European Space. – Szombathely, Savaria University Press, 1999. p. 159-182.

Ekiert,Grzegorz and Kubik, Jan: Civil Society in Poland: A Case Study. Prepared for international conference The Logic of Civil Society in New Democracies: East Asia and East Europe, Taipei, June 5-7

Week 9

Who speaks? The different languages of civil society. An attempt at occupying the civil society discourse by Big Business and Big Politics.


Jensen, Jody and Miszlivetz, Ferenc: Global Civil Society: from dissident Discourse to World Bank Parlance. In: Wagner, Peter, ed. The Languages of Civil Society. berghahn Books, New York, Oxford, 2006 (pp 177 – 206)

Illner, Michal: Post-Communist Transformation Revisited. Czech Sociological Review, 1996, Vol. 4. (no. 2), 157-169.

Week 10

The Prince, the Merchant and the Citizen: the Nerfin–triangle reconsidered
Is a new balance between major players feasible? New political participation in Europe.


Nerfin, Marc: Neither Prince, nor Merchant: Citizen – an Introduction to the Third System. Development Dialogue, No. 1., 1987, pp. 170-195

Edwards, Michael: Civil Society. Polity, 2004 (pp 1-72)

Spanning, Reingardd et al. (eds.) Youth and Political Participation in Europe. Barbara  Budrich Publishery, Opladen, 2008 (pp 9-121)

Week 11

The powerful fourth player: the role of the media in shaping public trust. The emergence of alternative and social media


Shane, Peter M: Democracy Online. The Prospects for Political Renewal Through the Internet. Routledge, New york, London, 2004 (recommended) Chapters 1-10 Chapters 11-18

Galasinska, Aleksandra – Krzyzanowski, Michal: Discourse and Transformation in Central and Eastern Europe, New York : Palgrave Macmillan, 2009, (Language and globalization). – ISBN 978-0-230-52102-5 (Recommended)

Week 12

Social trust in East Central Europe: numbers and tendencies. A comparative analysis based on empirical research


Sztompka, Piotr: Trust, Distrust and Two Paradoxes of Democracy, The European Journal of Social Theory, vol. 1, No. 1/199

Møller, Jørgen: Post-Communist Regime Change : a Comparative Study, London : Routledge, 2009.- (Routledge Research in Comparative Politics). – ISBN 978-0-415-48339-1  Part I. Part II.

Pehlivanova, Plamena: The Decline of Trust in Post-communist Societies: The case of Bulgaria and Russia. Contemporary Issues (2009) Vol.2 No.1

Miszlivetz, Ferenc: Tunnel at the End of the Light: the Crisis of Transition. Transition Studies Review. 15:(4) pp. 623-635. (2009)

Week 13

New and old forms of democratic participation and social networking: The role of new legal and political frameworks and technologies. The potential of the V4 cooperation for the larger region of East Central Europe and the European Union. Summary of the course.


Konoridos. S.M.: Networks, Trust and Social Capital: Theoretical and empirical investigations from Europe. Aldershot, England: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2005 (recommended) Chapters 1-6 Chapters 7-12

Marinova, Dani M: When Government Fails Us: trust in post-socialist civil organisations. Democratisation, Vol 18, Issue 1,, 2011

Swain, Nigel: A Post-Socialist Capitalism. Europe-Asia Studies, Special Issue: 1989 and Eastern Europe. Vol. 63, Issue 9, 2011