Steven Saxonberg: Semi-Civil Society: A Missing Link in Explaining the Democratization of Communist Dictatorships?


6. 11. 2019 10:00


Trainee centre 3.40, Vodární 6, Olomouc


Much has been written about the role of civil society in bringing down communist regimes; however, scholars have largely ignored the officially sanctioned organizations. Using the examples of Hungary and Czechoslovakia, this article shows that when political openings arise, official organizations (which evolve into ‘semi-civil society’) become more autonomous from the state and play an important role in bringing down communist-led regimes. Hungary shows that when a reformist regime begins opening up, semi-civil society turns to the regime and pressures it to reach make farther-reaching reforms, which can lead to a negotiated transition. Meanwhile, Czechoslovakia shows when the regime is less open, semi-civil society turns to the opposition and helps bring down the regime by taking part in an uprising. Semi-civil society by itself cannot bring down a regime, but it provides a missing link that has been absent from previous analyses of the collapse of communist regimes. This article applies these insights to a reformist Asian communist-ruled country: Vietnam (with reference to China). In reforming communist-ruled countries like Vietnam, where the opposition is relatively weak, semi-civil society is already making society more pluralist and we can it expect it to be a driving force for the further pluralization of society and possibly even its democratization. If these countries eventually democratize, semi-civil society will help them follow the Hungarian path to negotiated transitions rather than the Czechoslovak path to change through an uprising.


Steven Saxonberg is professor at the Faculty of Social and Economic Sciences, Department of European Studies and International Relations at the Comenius University in Bratislava (Slovakia). He has published dozens of articles in such journals as Journal of DemocracyParty PoliticsEuropean SocietiesSocial PoliticsJournal of European Social PolicyComparative Policy AnalysisSocial Policy & AdministrationPolitics, Religion & Ideology; International Review of Sociology; Marriage and Family Review; Ethnomusicology; Problems of Post-CommunismEast European Politics and Society; and Czech Sociological Review.

He has authored 7 monographs, the most recent being Pre-Modernity, Totalitarianism and the Non-Banality of Evil (Palgrave, 2019), Gendering Family Policies in Post-Communist Europe: A Historical-Institutional Analysis (Palgrave, 2014) and Transitions and Non-Transitions from Communism: Regime Survival in China, Cuba, North Korea, and Vietnam (Cambridge University Press, 2013). Furthermore, he has co-edited 3 anthologies, including: Social Movements in Post-Communist Europe and Russia (Routledge, 2014); Beyond NGO-ization: The Development of Social Movements in Central and Eastern Europe (Ashgate: 2013); Mýty o péèi o pøedškolní dìti [Myths about Care for Pre-School Children] (Prague: Slon, 2012).

He received his PhD at Uppsala University and has worked at both Uppsala University, Dalarna University College in Sweden. He has also been a guest researcher or guest professor at such universities as Oxford, Hamburg, Leipzig, Graz, Innsbruck, the Jagiellonian University in Poland, and both the Czech and Slovak Academy of Sciences.