Balkan and other questions

Developments in West European Politics - Developments in Central and East European Politics - European Democracies - Politics in Western Europe
June 4, 1999

Europe has experienced tremendous changes over the past decade and this is clearly reflected in these four recently published textbooks, which all relate to the area of politics and European studies and are mostly, though not exclusively, multi-authored.

Developments in Central and East European Politics focuses upon the political systems that have emerged in 16 states during the transition to post-communist rule and their aims to join or rejoin the European mainstream. Divided into four sections, the first is subdivided into three further groups: East-Central Europe, the Balkans and the post-Soviet states. The first subsection includes Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, countries that have historically played a role in western Christendom and have been open to the influences of the Renaissance, Reformation and Enlightenment. With the exception of Slovakia, these countries are considered to be "front-runners in the post-communist transformation", with every likelihood of being in the first round of entry into the European Union at the beginning of the next century. It is the subsection of the "Balkan states" that poses a problem, since it includes states that no longer consider themselves to be "Balkan", namely Slovenia and Croatia, given that they consider themselves to have stemmed from different traditions from those of Albania, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia-Montenegro (Yugoslavia) and Macedonia. The problem is that whenever scholars seek to define the region of Central and Eastern Europe they are always confronted as much by its wide diversity as by any sense of similarity. As George Schopflin wrote in The Politics of Eastern Europe (1993): "To every generalisation about Eastern Europe there is at least one exception, if not actually eight." Today they would number more.

Clearly there has been an erosion of traditional political values, certainties and beliefs in the past decade. Developments in West European Politics sets this against the background of the political and economic integration of the European Union; the end of the cold war bipolar cleavage; the issue of supranationalism; the role of the nation-state and the rise of regionalism, alongside the emergence and impact of globalisation, and trans-nationalism upon Europe. One chapter argues that the nation-state continues to play a large part in the process of European integration, and that it is not being subsumed by the process of supra-nationalism. Another chapter on European security and defence demonstrates how developments in Bosnia and Herzegovina since the Dayton peace agreement have emphasised once again that American leadership through Nato remains crucial to European security.

European Democracies , now in its fourth edition, is designed from a more pedagogical perspective and oriented towards American first-year students. My only criticism is the lack of guidance to further reading, which would assist students when working on their own. Each issue is analysed first from an American perspective and then the similarities and differences with European situations are considered. This can lead to some rather strange analogies, as demonstrated by the following: "Just as the American colonies liberated themselves from British domination, the Croats liberated themselves from Serb domination... In an analogous way, the Yugoslav federal authorities in Belgrade tried to prevent the secession of Croatia. Lincoln was successful; the Yugoslav federal authorities were not. Could it be that this is the reason that Lincoln is seen as hero (sic), the Yugoslav federal authorities as villains? Does history side with the winners?" The language of the book is simplified and very student friendly; the other books reviewed demand much more of students. Although it is clearly directed at the US market, it could be useful for access students, prior to embarking on undergraduate courses in either European studies or politics.

One good point about European Democracies is that it provides an overview of European issues, and does not just limit itself to three or four of the more influential countries in Europe, unlike the second edition of Politics in Western Europe , which concentrates on the UK, France, Germany and Italy, with the addition of Sweden and the EU. Clearly there is plenty of in-depth detail here, but no real sense of the wider perspective. For example, why miss out on a country such as Spain? Nevertheless I am sure that this will prove to be a major textbook on the political institutions and developments of the four major European democracies and the EU.

Robert C. Hudson is senior lecturer in European studies, University of Derby.

Developments in West European Politics

Editor - Martin Rhodes, Paul Heywood and Vincent Wright
ISBN - 0 333 651 8 and 65128 6
Publisher - Macmillan
Price - £47.50 and £15.50
Pages - 363

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