Thirty years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, how are post-communist nations changing their relationship with the west? Are right wing populists in Central Europe successfully proposing a new philosophy of governance? In this episode of the Governance Podcast, Roger Schoenman (UC Santa Cruz) sits down with Tomas Maltby (King’s College London) to discuss the ever-shifting political and economic trajectory of post-communist Europe. 

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The Guest

Roger Schoenman is an Associate Professor of Politics at UC Santa Cruz. Prof. Schoenman’s work explores three related topics: 1) the varieties of capitalism in the post-socialist countries, 2) the role of networks in political organization and 3) the conditions under which large and long-term political projects become possible.

Recent publications investigate the impact of party-competition on the politicization of the economy and institutional development. He has recently published a book titled Networks and Uncertainty in Europe’s Emerging Markets (Cambridge University Press 2014), that examines the impact of party systems and cleavages, business-elite origins, and the structure of business networks on institutional development in the evolving market democracies of the post-socialist area.

Current research examines the development of post-communist party systems after the financial crisis, the role of new media in mass protest and the politics of renewable energy across the European Union. Using computer assisted text analysis, he has also explored patterns of political debate in post-communist Europe.

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0:58: Let’s begin with your 2014 book Networks, Institutions and Europe’s Emerging Markets. Where did the interest and motivation come to study this topic and region? 

6:35: I think it’s very interesting that at least some of the literature suggests there is much more homogeneity among some of these countries and what your book has found is that there are actually significant differences in those varieties of capitalism within this region… In a country like Poland… one of the most successful examples of these post-communist countries in terms of developing these institutions… would you have a similar view of the country today given that we’ve had constitutional reform, attempts to change and pack the Supreme Court? 

12:48: Your more recent work has taken that regional and institutional focus and looked at how a series of regional governments have come to power and addressed these quite popular frustrations… they’ve come to power, they’ve said we need to do something about foreign direct investment, the value and redistribution of this wealth, and they’re also saying it has an impact on local businesses, local capital. How has FDI become a focal point of your research? 

15:40: So we have this puzzle, this real openness and real encouragement of FDI throughout the mid-late 1990s and through quite a lot of the 2000s, and there’s this change your article identifies around 2010 (not equally across the region) where suddenly there is this anti-globalisation discourse of the governing parties. 

21:45: It also seems that there are bursts of anti FDI policies and re-nationalisation of industries. In both Poland and Hungary, the years 2015 and 2016 seem to be marked by a matching of the rhetoric and the policy, but this seems to have dropped off in 2017-19. And you point out that some of those policies like bank and corporation taxes have been reversed. Why the reversal? 

28:01: It seems like the governing parties have rolled back some of their extreme positions to something more moderate but do you get the impression that they’ve managed to achieve a broader national consensus? 

30:46: It’s remarkable that both Fidecz and Law and Justice are both doing so well in the polls and at least in parliamentary elections—and it seems hard to envision a time when they’re not going to be in power… do you think the anti-FDI policy had an effect on local business that may have translated into economic benefits or electoral support? 

34:49: Particularly in Hungary, in the midst of the anti-FDI measures and rhetoric there was still a necessity to coopt FDI, and I’m thinking of this massive investment from Russia into the nuclear power plants back in 2014. More recently you see Orban saying the Chinese belt and road initiative is fully in harmony with Hungarian interests. It’s never been as extreme as to say all policies we’re going to enact are anti-FDI. 

40:23: On a more methodological point, how open have interviewees been in discussing these issues – network ties, political connections, both in private firms and government? In some ways this is something the governing parties want to project as a positive vision and yet in the past I can imagine there were controversies around the topic.