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A Contentious Popular History of Post-Communism: The Case of Bulgaria, 1996-2005
Unformatted Document Text:  2 By studying protest activism in Bulgaria from 1996 to 2005, this paper seeks to examine the possible transition to movement society in Eastern Europe as a way of assessing how civil society is reflected in protest organizing in the region. The paper argues that protest activism in the country, and possibly in Eastern Europe in general, has become institutionalized as part of the standard repertoire of political participation. Contentious politics has stabilized in magnitude and even expanded within the countryside. Disruptive and violent activism was rare and on the decline while conventional tactics grew steadily and fast. However, because of the growing number of protests organized without leadership by civic or political elites but through informal personal connections within the local community and the workplace, there was no clear relationship between tactics and organizational involvement. In addition, there has been some spatial diffusion of protest related to the localization of protest activism, which involved not just traditionally contentious groups but also the political, economic, and social establishment of the country. Lastly, while the police was intervening in fewer and fewer cases and even then rarely taking action, political and civic actors were increasingly engaging in and negotiating with protesters, who seems to have contributed to at least some policy changes over the decade. The paper begins by surveying the literature on civil societies in Eastern Europe in an effort to understand the structural preconditions for protest activism. Then, the movement society arguments are presented and evaluated in the context of the Bulgarian data. The paper concludes by briefly placing the findings in comparative perspective and discussing some possible implications for civil societies in the region. Eastern European Civil Societies In what is probably the most influential study of civil society in Eastern Europe, Mark Howard argues that post-socialist countries have consistently lower levels of civic organizational membership both in absolute terms and relative to other regions. Moreover, he adds that these membership rates have been dropping consistently since the collapse of the state-socialism, even in the once mandatory unions. 1 Thus, even though East Europeans demonstrate interest in politics and a general regard for the common 1 The post-socialist mean of 0.91 organizational memberships per person is exactly half of the post- authoritarian average of 1.82, and well under the older democracies mean of 2.39. Even when membership in different organization types is reviewed separately, the post-socialist mean is much lower than the means of older democracies and of post-authoritarian countries for all types of organizations, except labor unions, where East European countries rank higher than post-authoritarian ones. Post-socialist states, however, have particularly low membership levels in organizations with political (political parties and movements and environmental groups) and religious nature but have a wider variation in membership in leisure and charitable organizations. Howard, M. M. (2003). The Weakness of civil society in post-communist Europe. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Authors: Petrova, Tsveta.
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By studying protest activism in Bulgaria from 1996 to 2005, this paper seeks to
examine the possible transition to movement society in Eastern Europe as a way of
assessing how civil society is reflected in protest organizing in the region. The paper
argues that protest activism in the country, and possibly in Eastern Europe in general, has
become institutionalized as part of the standard repertoire of political participation.
Contentious politics has stabilized in magnitude and even expanded within the
countryside. Disruptive and violent activism was rare and on the decline while
conventional tactics grew steadily and fast. However, because of the growing number of
protests organized without leadership by civic or political elites but through informal
personal connections within the local community and the workplace, there was no clear
relationship between tactics and organizational involvement. In addition, there has been
some spatial diffusion of protest related to the localization of protest activism, which
involved not just traditionally contentious groups but also the political, economic, and
social establishment of the country. Lastly, while the police was intervening in fewer and
fewer cases and even then rarely taking action, political and civic actors were
increasingly engaging in and negotiating with protesters, who seems to have contributed
to at least some policy changes over the decade.
The paper begins by surveying the literature on civil societies in Eastern Europe
in an effort to understand the structural preconditions for protest activism. Then, the
movement society arguments are presented and evaluated in the context of the Bulgarian
data. The paper concludes by briefly placing the findings in comparative perspective and
discussing some possible implications for civil societies in the region.

Eastern European Civil Societies
In what is probably the most influential study of civil society in Eastern Europe,
Mark Howard argues that post-socialist countries have consistently lower levels of civic
organizational membership both in absolute terms and relative to other regions.
Moreover, he adds that these membership rates have been dropping consistently since the
collapse of the state-socialism, even in the once mandatory unions.
1
Thus, even though
East Europeans demonstrate interest in politics and a general regard for the common
1
The post-socialist mean of 0.91 organizational memberships per person is exactly half of the post-
authoritarian average of 1.82, and well under the older democracies mean of 2.39. Even when membership
in different organization types is reviewed separately, the post-socialist mean is much lower than the means
of older democracies and of post-authoritarian countries for all types of organizations, except labor unions,
where East European countries rank higher than post-authoritarian ones. Post-socialist states, however,
have particularly low membership levels in organizations with political (political parties and movements
and environmental groups) and religious nature but have a wider variation in membership in leisure and
charitable organizations. Howard, M. M. (2003). The Weakness of civil society in post-communist Europe.
New York: Cambridge University Press.


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