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Contentious Politics in New Democracies: East Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia, 1989–93

  • Grzegorz Ekiert (a1) and Jan Kubik (a2)


The article reconstructs and explains the patterns of collective protest in four Central European countries: former East Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia during the early phases of democratic consolidation (1989–93). The method of event analysis of protest behavior is employed. Content analysis of six major newspapers in each country provides empirical evidence. The examination of data reveals striking contrasts in the magnitude and forms of protests. In each country the policies of the new democratic regimes were contested by different groups and organizations, employing different repertoires of contention. The authors consider propositions derived from four theoretical traditions—relative deprivation, instrumental institutionalism, historical- cultural institutionalism, and resource mobilization theory—to determine which provides the best explanation for the patterns observed in the data set. Three main conclusions are reached. First, the levels of "objective" or "subjective" deprivation are unrelated to the magnitude and various features of protest, which are best explained by a combination of institutional and resource mobilization theories. Second, democratic consolidation is not necessarily threatened by a high magnitude of protest, since the two seem to be unrelated. Third, if the demands of collective protest are moderate and the methods routinized, then protest may contribute to the robustness of a new democracy.



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1 See House, Freedom, Freedom in the World: The Annual Survey of Political Rights and Liberties, 1994–1995 (New York: Freedom House, 1996).

2 Gray, for example, argued that “the human and social costs of transition to a market economy are for most of the post-Communist states so great that it is foolish to suppose that the transition can be conducted under liberal democratic institutions.” Gray, John, “From Postcommunism to Civil Society: The Reemergence of History and the Decline of the Western Model,” in Paul, Ellen Frankel, Miller, Fred D., and Paul, Jeffrey, eds., Liberalism and the Economic Order (London: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 44.

3 See Ekiert, Grzegorz, “Rebellious Poles: Political Crises and Popular Protest under State Socialism, 1945–1989,” East European Politics and Societies 11 (Spring 1997).

4 For the most recent assessment of these theories and their mutual relationships, see McAdam, Doug, McCarthy, John D., and Zald, Mayer, eds., Comparative Perspectives on Social Movements (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996). The nature of our data (events) is such that we need to use macrotheories (historical-sociological), rather than microtheories(game-theoretic), of collective action. For the discussion of the significance of both perspectives, See Lichbach, Marc, The Rebel's Dilemma (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995), esp. chap. 10.

5 These ideas are developed by Ragin. The concept of conjunctural causation serves to indicate that in the social world causes work in interaction with each other and their effects on the dependent/explained variable are not merely additive. The concept of multiple causation indicates that there may be several combinations of independent variables (conditions or factors) that produce the same outcome (dependent variable). See Ragin, Charles, The Comparative Method: Moving beyond Qualitative and Quantitative Strategies (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987).

6 For the elaboration of this point, see Ekiert, Grzegorz and Kubik, Jan, Collective Protest and Democratic Consolidation in Poland, 1989–1993, Pew Papers on Central Eastern European Reform and Regionalism, no. 3 (Princeton: Center of International Studies, Princeton University, 1997).

7 O'Donnell, Guillermo and Schmitter, Philippe, Transitions from Authoritarian Rule: Tentative Conclusions about Uncertain Democracies (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), 3739.

8 Diamond, Larry and Linz, Juan, “Introduction: Politics Society and Democracy in Latin America,” in Diamond, Larry, Linz, Juan, and Lipset, Seymour Martin, eds., Democracy in Developing Countries: Latin America (Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner, 1989), 14.

9 Higley, John and Gunther, Richard, eds., Elites and Democratic Consolidation in Latin America and Southern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), xi.

10 See Kitschelt, Herbert, “Comparative Historical Research and Rational Choice Theory: The Case of Transition to Democracy,” Theory and Society 22 (1993).

11 Lijphart, Arend and Waisman, Carlos H., eds., Institutional Design in Neiv Democracies (Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 1996), 2.

12 Haggard, Stephan and Kaufman, Robert R., The Political Economy of Democratic Transitions (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995), 370; Pridham, Geoffrey, ed., Securing Democracy: Political Parties and Democratic Consolidation in Southern Europe (London: Routledge, 1990); Juan J., “Change and Continuity in the Nature of Contemporary Democracies,” in Marks, Gary and Diamond, Larry, eds., Reexamining Democracy (Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage, 1992); Kitschelt, Herbert, “The Formation of Party Systems in East Central Europe,” Politics and Society 20, no. 1 (1992).

13 See, for example, Przeworski, Adam, Democracy and the Market (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991);Ekiert, Grzegorz, “Prospects and Dilemmas of the Transition to a Market Economy in East Central Europe,” in Research on Democracy and Society 1 (1993); Pereira, Luiz Carlos Bresser, Maravall, Jose Maria, and Przeworski, Adam, Economic Reforms in New Democracies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).

14 See Offe, Claus, “Capitalism by Democratic Design? Democratic Theory Facing the Triple Transition in East Central Europe,” Social Research 58, no. 4 (1991); Sztompka, Piotr, Dilemmas of the Great Transition: A Tentative Catalogue, Program on Central and Eastern Europe Working Paper Series, no. 19 (Cambridge: Center for European Studies, Harvard University, 1992); Armijo, Leslie, Biersteker, Thomas, and Lowenthal, Abraham, “The Problems of Simultaneous Transitions”, Journal of Democracy 5, no. 4 (1994).

15 For the most recent examples of this growing interest in the role of civil society in democratization, see Tarrow, Sidney, “Mass Mobilization and Regime Change: Pacts, Reform, and Popular Power in Italy (1918–1922) and Spain (1975–1978),” in Gunther, Richard, Diamandouros, Nikiforos, and Puhle, Hans-Jurgen, eds., The Politics of Democratic Consolidation: Southern Europe in Comparative spective (Baltimore; Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995); Perez-Dias, Victor, The Return of Civil Society (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993); Bermeo, Nancy, “Myths of Moderation: Confrontation and Conflict during Democratic Transitions,” Comparative Politics 29 (April 1997); Schmitter, Philippe, “Civil Society and the Consolidation of Democracy” (Manuscript, Stanford University, 1996); Fish, Stephen, Democracyfrom Scratch: Opposition and Regime in the New Russian Revolution (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995); Oxhorn, Philip D., Organizing Civil Society: The Popular Sectors and the Strugglefor Democracy in Chile (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995).

16 See, for example, Tilly, Charles, Tilly, Louise, and Tilly, Richard, The Rebellious Century, 1830–1930 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1975); Tilly, Charles, The Contentious French (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986). This regularity is confirmed by all systematic studies of protest in contemporary societies.

17 See, for example, an impressive series of studies produced by the Center for the Study of Public Policy, University of Strathclyde, and coordinated by Richard Rose; Peter McDonough, Barnes, Samuel H., and Pina, A. Lopez, “The Growth of Democratic Legitimacy in Spain,” American Political Science Review 80, no. 3 (1986); Zagorski, Krzysztof, “Hope Factor, Inequality, and Legitimacy of Systemic Transformations: The Case of Poland,” Communist and Post-Communist Studies 27, no. 4 (1994).

18 Tarrow, Sidney, Democracy and Disorder: Protest and Politics in Italy, 1965–1975 (Oxford: Claren-don Press, 1989), 78.

19 For the review of methodological issues and various applications of the protest event analysis, see Franzosi, Roberto, “The Press as a Source of Socio-historical Data: Issues in the Methodology of Data Collection from Newspapers,” Historical Methods 20 (1987); Tilly, Charles, Popular Contention in Great Britain, 1758–1834 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995); Rucht, Dieter and Ohlemacher, Thomas, “Protest Event Data: Collection, Uses and Perspectives,” in Diani, Mario and Eyer-man, Ron, eds., Studying Collective Action (London: Sage, 1992); Olzak, Susan, “Analysis of Events in the Study of Collective Action,” Annual Review of Sociology 15 (1989); Rucht, Dieter, Koopmans, Ruud, and Neidhardt, Friedhelm, eds., Protest Event Analysis: Methodological Perspectives and Empirical Results (Berlin: Sigma Press, 1998).

20 We define the protest event as collective action by at least three people who set out to articulate specific demands. Our database includes also extreme, politically motivated acts such as self-immolation, hunger strikes, or acts of terror carried out by individuals. In order to qualify as a protest event, such action cannot be the routine or legally prescribed behavior of a social or political organization. Strikes, rallies, or demonstrations are considered to be protest events for the purpose of our analysis because of their radical and disruptive nature. For various definitions of events used in event analysis, see Olzak (fn. 19), 124–27. From 1989 to 1994 none of the four countries experienced the sort of governmental censorship that would systematically distort information on protest activities.

21 Tilly, Charles, From Mobilization to Revolution (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1978), 162-64.

22 More than 50 percent of the values are missing in our Polish, Slovak, and Hungarian databases for several calendar years.

23 The validity of a synthetic construct or category can be improved by increasing the number of independent measures on which it is based and finding such measures as strongly correlate with each other; see Weber, Robert Philip, Basic Content Analysis (Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage, 1990), 1821. Since our index of magnitude is based on only one measure (duration), its validity is weak. But we traded validity for higher accuracy.

24 Another index of magnitude, based partially on the “numbers of participants” variable (whose missing values were estimated), produced almost identical approximations of protest dynamics between 1989 and 1993.

25 Tarrow, Sidney, “Cycles of Collective Action: Between Moments of Madness and the Repertoire of Contention,” in Traugott, Mark, ed., Repertoires and Cycles of Collective Action (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1995).

26 New social movements organized 36.1 percent or protests in France, 73.2 percent in Germany, 65.4 percent in the Netherlands, and 61.0 percent in Switzerland. See Duyvendak, Jan Willem and Kriesi, Hanspeter, “National Cleavage Structures,” in Kriesi, Hanspeter et al. , New Social Movements in Western Europe (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995), 20.

27 See Ost, David, “The Politics of Interest in Post-Communist Society,” Theory and Society 22 (August 1993); Bunce, Valerie, “Should Transitologists Be Grounded?” Slavic Review 54 (Spring 1995), 121.

28 See Dahrendorf, Ralf, Reflection on the Revolution in Europe (New York: Random House, 1990).

29 In the words of Gissendanner and Wielgohs:

The transformation of east Germany differed from the post-socialist norm because of three particular circumstances: (1) east Germany received a well-balanced and proven institutional system with unification; (2) the east German transformation was dominated by external (west German) actors who were empowered by their experience with this institutional system; (3) eastern Germans benefited from massive financial transfers which compensated for the social costs of economic reforms and which financed infrastructure investment.

See Gissendanner, Scott and Wielgohs, Jan, “Einheit und Differenz: The Transformation of East Germany in Comparative Perspective,” German Politics 6 (August 1997), 181.

30 See Kitschelt, (fn. 12); and idem, , “Formation of Party Cleavages in Post-communist Democracies: Theoretical Propositions,” Party Politics 1, no. 4 (1995), 447-72.

31 See Sachs, Jeffrey, Poland's Jump to the Market Economy (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1993); Slay, Ben, The Polish Economy: Crisis, Reform, and Transformation (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994); and Poznanski, Kazimierz, Poland's Protracted Transition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996).

32 See Jenkins, J. Craig and Schock, Kurt, “Global Structures and Political Processes in the Study of Domestic Political Conflict,” Annual Review of Sociology 18 (1992).

33 Relative deprivation is “a perceived discrepancy between men's value expectations and their value capabilities. Value expectations are the goods and conditions of life to which people believe they are rightfully entitled. Values capabilities are goods and conditions they think they are capable of attaining or maintaining, given the social means available to them.” Gurr, , Why Men Rebel (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970), 13.

34 McCarthy, John D. and Zald, Mayer N., “Resource Mobilization and Social Movements: A Partial Theory,” in Zald, and McCarthy, , eds., Social Movements in an Organizational Society (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction, 1987), 17. See also Lichbach (fn. 4), 4.

35 Rose, Richard and Haerpfer, Christian, Change and Stability in the New Democracies Barometer: A Trend Analysis (Glasgow: Center for the Study of Public Policy, University of Strathclyde, 1996).

36 David Mason, “Attitudes towards the Market and the State in Postcommunist Europe” (Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Chicago, 1992), 14. The index of alienation, reported by Mason, is the mean response (for a sample of respondents from each country) on four five-point scaled questions. Hungary's index was the highest in the whole sample: 3.61. Poland's was the fourth highest (3.27); East Germany's, ninth (2.94); Czechoslovakia's, tenth (2.91). The study was conducted in the spring and summer of 1991.

37 Ferge, Zsusa, “The Evaluation of Freedom, Security, and Regime Change” (Paper prepared for the Euroconference on Social Policy, organized by ICCR-Vienna, Lisbon, November 8–11, 1995). Ferge presents results of the Social Consequences of the Transformation Survey administered in 1994.

38 Kopstein, Jeffrey, “Weak Foundations under East German Reconstruction,” Transition 26 (January 1996), 64. Cumulative transfer of funds into the former East Germany reached $494,039,000 by 1995, while Hungary received $10,634,000 of foreign investment, Poland $6,459,000, and Slovakia $483,000.

39 Only in 1990 and 1989 did the Polish economy have a lower GDP growth rate than the Hungarian and Slovak economies, and it was only minimally lower. Moreover, its economy began growing already in 1992, while the other two economies kept declining (negative growth rates) throughout the entire period under study. See Svejnar, Jan, “Economic Transformation in Central and East Europe: The Task Still Ahead” (Paper presented at the meeting of the Per Jacobsson Foundation, Washington, D.C., October 8, 1995); and World Development Report: From Plan to Market (New York; Oxford University Press, 1996), 173.

39 See, for example, Kriesi, Hanspeter, “The Political Opportunity Structure of New Social Movements: Its Impact on Their Mobilization,” in Jenkins, J. Craig and Klandermans, Bert, eds., The Politics of Social Protest: Comparative Perspectives on States and Social Movements (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995).

40 The most salient changes in opportunity structure are four: the opening up of access to participation, shirts in ruling alignments, the availability of influential allies, and cleavages within and among elites”; Tarrow, Sidney, Power in Movement (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 86.

42 See debates on cycles of protest and especially Doug McAdam, “‘Initiator’ and ‘Spin-off’ Movements: Diffusion Processes in Protest Cycles,” in Mark Traugott (fn. 25).

43 For an analysis of the significance of such mechanisms, see Kriesi (fn. 40), 173–79.

44 This constitutes a corroboration of Eisinger's thesis, which posits that protest is most likely “in systems characterized by a mix of open and closed factors.” See Tarrow (fn. 41), 86.

45 This explanation draws on the logic of historical institutionalism, as defined by Hall and Taylor. Historical institutionalists, while searching for explanations of group conflict, began paying “greater attention to the way in which institutions structure political interactions” and “began to argue that other [than state] social and political institutions could also contribute to political outcomes by structuring conflict among individuals or groups over scarce resources.” Hall, Peter A. and Taylor, Rosemary C. R., “Political Science and the Three New Instirutionalisms,” Political Studies 44, no. 3 (1996).

46 Schmitter, Philippe C., “Interest Intermediation and Regime Governability in Contemporary Western Europe and North America,” in Berger, Suzanne, ed., Organizing Interests in Western Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 287; Michael Nollert, “Neocorporatism and Political Protest in the Western Democracies: A Cross-National Analysis,” in Jenkins and Klandermans (fn. 40). Michael Wallace and J. Craig Jenkins, “The New Class, Postindustrialism, and Neocorporatism: Three Images of Social Protest in Western Democracies,” in Jenkins and Klandermans (fn. 40).

47 Wallace and Jenkins (fn. 46), 134.

48 See Hethy, Lajos, “Tripartism in Eastern Europe,” in Hyman, Richard and Ferner, Anthony, eds., New Frontiers in European Industrial Relations (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1994); Thirkell, John, Scase, Richard, and Vickerstaff, Sarah, Labor Relations and Political Change in Eastern Europe (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1995); Wiesenthal, Helmut, “Representation of Functional Interests in West and East European Democracies: Theoretical Coordinates and Empirical Assessment” (Berlin: Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, Humboldt Universitat, 1995).

49 See Hofer, Tamas, The Demonstration of March 15, 1989, in Budapest: A Strugglefor Public Memory, Program on Central and Eastern Europe Working Paper Series, no. 16 (Cambridge: Center for European Studies, Harvard University, 1991).

50 Ruud Koopmans and Hanspeter Kriesi, “Institutional Structures and Prevailing Strategies,” in Kriesi etal. (fn. 26), 50.

51 However, a very recent tradition of demonstrations developed in some locations. See, for example, Lohmann, Susanne, “Dynamics of Informational Cascades: The Monday Demonstrations in Leipzig, East Germany, 1989–91,” World Politics 47 (October 1994).

52 See, for example, Shafer, D. Michael, Winners and Losers: How Sectors Shape the Developmental Prospects of States (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1994), 3942.

53 See Walton, John, “Debt, Protest and the State in Latin America,” in Eckstein, Susan, ed., Power and Popular Protest in Latin American Social Movements (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991); Walton, J. and Ragin, Charles, “Global and National Sources of Political Protest: Third World Responses to the Debt Crisis,” American Sociological Review 55 (December 1990); and Greskovits, Bela, The Political Economy of Protest and Patience: East European and Latin American Transformations Compared (Budapest: Central European University Press, 1998).

54 See, for example, Valenzuela, J. Samuel, “Democratic Consolidation in Post-Transitional Settings: Notion, Process, and Facilitating Conditions,” in Mainwaring, Scott, O'Donnell, Guillermo, and Valenzuela, J. Samuel, eds., Issues in Democratic Consolidation: The New South American Democracies in Comparative Perspective (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1982), 85; and Pagnucco, Ron, “Social Movement Dynamics during Democratic Transition and Consolidation: A Synthesis of Political Process and Political Interactionist Theories,” Research of Democracy and Society, JAI Press, 3 (1996), 21.

55 Bresser Pereira, Maravall, and Przeworski (fn. 13), 4.

56 For another critique of the Olsonian argument, see Hellman, Joel S., “Winners Take All: The Politics of Partial Reform in Postcommunist Transitions,” World Politics 50 (January 1998).

57 Eckstein, and Gurr, observe that “the risk of chronic low-level conflict is one of the prices democrats should expect to pay for freedom from regimentation by the state—or by authorities in other social units, whether industrial establishments, trade unions, schools, universities, or families.” Eckstein, Harry and Gurr, Ted Robert, Patterns of Authority: A Structural Basisfor Political Inquiry (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1975), 452. “This argument is developed in Kubik, Jan, “Institutionalization of Protest during Democratic Consolidation in Central Europe,” in Meyer, David S. and Tarrow, Sidney, eds., The Social Movement Society: Contentious Politicsfor a New Century (Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlerield, 1998).

59 According to the Freedom House Survey, for 1992–93 Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia were on the same level in terms of “political rights” and “civil liberties”: all scored 2 in both categories. In 1993–94 there was a serious disparity: while both Poland and Hungary scored 1 in “political rights” and 2 in “civil liberties,” Slovakia scored 3 and 4, respectively. See Freedom House (fn. 1).

60 Balcerowicz, Leszek, Wolnosc 1rozwoj (Krakow: Znak, 1995), 372.

* The project was funded by the Program for the Study of Germany and Europe at the Center of European Studies, Harvard University; the National Council for Soviet and East European Research; the American Council of Learned Societies; and the Elfriede Drager Memorial Foundation. We would like to thank Sidney Tarrow for his generous help and encouragement. For their indispensable assistance and advice, our special gratitude goes to Mark Beissinger, Nancy Bermeo, Valerie Bunce, Ellen Comisso, Ela Ekiert, Krzysztof Gorlach, Bela Greskovits, Anna Grzymala-Busse, Samuel Huntington, Kazimierz Kloc, Janos Kornai, Michael D. Kennedy, Martha Kubik, Christiane Lemke, Juan Linz, Darina Malova, Alexander Motyl, Maryjane Osa, Susan Pharr, Dieter Rucht, Anna Seleny, Mate Szabo, Charles Tilly, and Mayer N. Zald.

Contentious Politics in New Democracies: East Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia, 1989–93

  • Grzegorz Ekiert (a1) and Jan Kubik (a2)


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