Why are Central and Eastern European countries reluctant to take in North African and Middle East migrants?
In 2015, Ms. Merkel’s 2015 impulsive decision to take ‘all the migrants’ in provided incentives to hundreds of thousands of prospective migrants to try their luck. According to various estimates only a few percent of the migrants are Syrians with a valid claim to receive a refugee status (I saw estimates ranging from 2% to 6%).
The rest of them are economic migrants who are looking for welfare payouts. Now the EU, influenced by Germany, tries to share the problem with all EU-member countries. It’s a purely political issue that the EU tries to convert into a ‘legal obligation’ in order to increase the pressure on its politically weaker members.
The CEE countries such as Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Slovakia, Czechia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia and Slovenia are quite different from their Western European counterparts. Similarly to Israel or Australia, they are more or less reluctant to open their countries to mass migration.
What could be a sensible policy for WE, CEE countries may find to be completely unreasonable. There are many reasons here. The CEE countries do not have any colonial past that, by associated guilt, motivates France, Belgium, Italy or even Germany to take migrants from their former colonies. They do not have any sizeable Muslim minority that would lobby local politicians. They are also still pretty poor by WE standards. The welfare that an unemployed person receives in CEE is about 1/5 (or closer to ¼-1/3 in purchasing power terms) of what the same person would get in Germany.
This means that practically all migrants coming to the CEE countries immediately leave for Germany. A well-publicized story in Poland was about a Syrian family brought by Catholic Church. They received asylum and then quickly escaped to Germany where they filed a lawsuit to cancel their asylum status in Poland (because they wouldn’t be able to get any similar status and welfare benefits in Germany).
Moreover, countries such as Slovakia, Czechia or Poland house big numbers of well-educated migrants from Ukraine and Belarus (estimated in Poland at 1.3 million) who easily learn Polish, Czech or Slovak. While most migrants are temporary workers, some are political refugees from a war zone in Donbas. They assimilate easily and drive salaries for entry-level jobs down.
North African or Middle East migrants, 80% of whom are estimated to be functional analphabets, would be virtually unable to compete against the Ukrainians. On top of everything, there is a fear that assimilation of people coming from culturally distant countries would fail the same way it failed in culturally closer France, Belgium or Germany, and that the migration would increase crime rates and create no-go zones ruled by sharia law.
Are Central and Eastern European countries becoming more authoritarian?
I do not think so. I see, with professional sadness, that the media and even some comparative research institutions are biased in reporting and show little understanding of the developments in Central and Eastern Europe. They often equate Mr. Trump’s victory in the United States with the shift to right in CEE, especially in Hungary and Poland.
In reality, the disillusionment with globalization contributed to the victory of anti-establishment forces in many countries and elevated to power quite different political forces. In both Poland and Hungary the winning center-right parties got decisive electoral support from those whom we can call ‘the losers of globalization’ against a diverse coalition of those more successful, foreign corporations, eurocrats and former communist apparatchiks-turned-entrepreneurs.
I think that there are more differences than similarities with Mr. Trump’s platform and policies. While both Polish and Hungarian governments are socially moderately conservative (close to the Republicans), they are economically very liberal (closer to Bernie Sanders’ platform rather than the median Democrat).
For instance, the Polish center-right government launched:
- massive poverty-fighting programs that include a “500+” scheme supporting the families with 2+ children
- lowered the retirement age
- voided various residual outrageous privileges for former members of the communist secret services
- a successful crackdown on organized tax-avoidance and tax-fraud schemes that were notorious with the misconceived EU’s VAT system
They are presently working on a universal, red-tape-free healthcare system and inexpensive rental housing for poor families.
The main criticism, unjustified in my opinion, is how they deal with the media and the courts. The problem, swept under the carpet by their predecessors, was that the media and the judicial system have been the last relics of communism.
For instance, the two main private TV stations in Poland were founded by former communist propagandists or secret police agents with the use of misappropriated resources. Also, a large part of the print media (including an estimated 80-90% of local newspapers) was cheaply bought in hastily done privatization by German media concerns. Since the media are rightly considered the ‘fourth branch of government,’ all mature democracies have strong laws restricting foreign ownership of the media.
The hard-to-solve dilemma is how to reform the present system without tampering with property rights. Developed democracies do not face such problems and offering easy solutions with sermons referring to past experience is what I would call bad social science.
Are Proportional Representation systems better than Single-Member Systems?
I should start with a warning. Voting theory tells us that no single voting system is the ‘best’, i.e., under certain circumstances all voting or electoral systems may display weird properties, or be vulnerable to paradoxes and manipulation. In short., all are flawed.
Such a message is carried by Arrow’s Theorem, Gibbard-Satterthwaite’s Theorem, Balinski-Young’s Theorem and many other results of social choice theory.
Having this caveat in mind, we can safely say that Proportional Representation (PR) typically produces many parties while Single Member District (SMD) systems tend to create a two-party (or near-two-party) system with a ‘manufactured’ majority.
The choice between PR and SMD is then the choice between ‘better representation with coalitional cabinets’ versus ‘efficient and accountable’ government. Or at least this is what we thought in the past.
New research suggests that in SMD systems parties also take minority interests into account and may represent them via incorporating minority politicians or via other non-direct channels. An example is the past nomination of Barrack Obama as a presidential candidate of the Democratic Party.
A big problem with the American SMD system is gerrymandering, i.e., the manipulation of district shape and magnitude for political gains. However, in many countries taking redistricting out of politicians’ hands and creating independent redistricting committees solved this problem.
In my opinion, in democratizing countries, SMD systems have distinct advantages over PR. Such countries need swift and deep reforms, and a decisive cabinet is preferred to a coalitional cabinet with diluted responsibility. Democratizing countries are also vulnerable to corruption of its representatives and abuses of power. Under most PR systems party leaders nominate candidates in districts and thus become decisively powerful.
This feature of PR facilitates quick deterioration of moral standards of representatives. Another argument in favor of SMD systems is that they are associated with greater pluralism than PR systems. In a famous article by Arend Lijphart, PR countries, such as Germany, scored poorly in pluralism against SMD countries, such as the United States or Great Britain.
Weak pluralism leads to greater control of the media and economy by politicians and makes societies more vulnerable to authoritarian takeovers such as Hitler’s NSDAP victory in Germany in 1933. When a SMD system would be inappropriate? Whenever we have stiff social cleavages and there is a threat of the ‘tyranny of majority’ (e.g., in Iraq with a Shia majority and Sunni minority) then PR may prevent the majority from a total and repeatable victory.
What is the most interesting story in your academic career?
This is an easy question. As an undergraduate student of sociology I was in charge of the described earlier underground Solidarity’s publishing house STOP.
On March 12, 1985, I had been arrested by communist secret police and then spent five months in communist jail, mostly with ordinary prisoners. I quickly learned that I will be “swimming” (police jargon for doing time in jail) for a long time.
Since at that time I was looking for a topic for my M.A. thesis in Sociology, I immediately decided that I want to research prison subculture. I worked out the methodology of collecting information and the methods of smuggling the fruits of my research outside of prison.
The prison life was in fact incredibly interesting, offering a willing student a secret language governed by ingenious rules, games and tests that were played on you before you could join the highest caste of grypsmen or many techniques of manipulation.
In the course of my imprisonment I faced a rape attempt, witnessed seemingly cruel initiation ceremonies and learned enough on fake-suicide attempts and other self-injuries to become an expert. After leaving prison – being released due to ‘poor health’ thanks to my own faking game and the help from Solidarity physicians inside and outside of the prison – I searched for three years to find a theoretical key to my findings.
I finally found Game Theory as the best language to describe my experience. It turned out that all those seemingly irrational events can be explained when we fully understand the private knowledge of inmates and their goals. I wrote my thesis in Sociology that included an introductory analysis but I needed fifteen more years to write a complete and satisfactory account of prison life.
Princeton University Press published it as “Games Prisoners Play” in 2004. To my surprise the Polish translation became the main textbook on prison subculture.
Why did you gravitate toward studying democratization, and how did your interest develop over your career?
As a child I wanted to be a scientist and consequently started my academic studies as a prospective mathematician. At about the same time the Solidarity trade union was created in Poland and later the communist authorities introduced the Martial Law.
At 19, I decided to found an anti-communist organization that quickly evolved into one of the underground Solidarity’s publishing houses with 25+ full-time workers and 100+ collaborators. We published books that the communist censorship forbade to publish, underground newspapers disseminating free information, and anti-communist memorabilia such as calendars or stamps.
The fundamental assumption shared by us in Solidarity was that democracy works better than Soviet-style socialism and that we, Poles, have the right to a democratic country. My underground work made me attracted to social sciences and my interests quickly focused on authoritarian versus democratic forms of government. I got graduate degrees both in political sociology and mathematics. After the fall of communism in 1989 studying democratization was a natural choice. And these studies I decided to pursue in the United States.
What would the layman find most interesting and accessible within your research?
I think that my book on “Games Prisoners Play” is most accessible.
It describes various types of con behavior that we hear about but we don’t understand. Better understanding allows us to see such behavior from a completely different angle. Let me describe two instances of such surprising con games.
Many initiation tests have a deceptive structure and are designed in order to mislead the rookie. The most drastic test applied to some rookies is called “fagotization.” In this test, his cellmates treat a rookie harshly during the day but at night one of the inmates offers the rookie a following ‘deal’: “Suck my cock and in exchange you will get my protection.”
In fact, this is just a test not a real offer. Accepting the humiliating chore is the worst possible choice that sends a rookie into the lowest caste of ‘fags’ while a simple refusal ends the harsh treatment.
Another example of a con game is suicide by hanging. An inmate attempts in the night to take his own life, then one of his cellmates notices that he is hanging and cuts him off the rope. He lies on the floor unconscious waiting for the emergency services. What can be less strategic and more sincere than an attempt on your life that was almost successful?
In fact, the word ‘almost’ provides the key to the understanding of fake suicides. The two partners rehearse their number for many days. The trick is based on the observation that after one loses consciousness there is a few-minute-long window before one dies. When an inmate makes a suicide attempt, his partner watches him carefully and cuts him off just after he loses consciousness.
Then his ‘determination’ and ‘frustration’ sends a credible signal to a prosecutor or warden, and gives him an upper hand in plea-bargaining or other negotiations.