Peter Meusburger and Heike Jöns (Editors): Transformations in Hungary. Essays in Economy and Society. Heidelberg, New York 2001. 382 p.
The closing decade of the 20th century was a special period in the history of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe: one of a radical change in their political and socio-economic systems. The socialist, one-party system with its command economy was replaced by a democratic multiparty one based on a market economy. The social and economic consequences of this change have been the subject of many discussions, analyses, and assessments which are now gaining in importance in view of the anticipated EU enlargement.
A book that fits perfectly this 'transitology trend' is Transformations in Hungary edited by Peter Meusburger and Heike Jöns. Hungary has made significant progress in the transformation and is considered one of the leading candidates for EU membership. That is why its experiences, both positive and negative, are closely observed in the other countries changing their political and social systems. That is also why the potential range of readership of Transformations in Hungary is wider than just specialists on Hungarian affairs, because the book may provide an interesting and challenging inspiration for comparative studies. This comparative perspective has already been employed in some of the contributions it presents. The authors of the collection of 14 essays are geographers, sociologists, and economists affiliated with the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (Budapest and GyOEr), universities in Hungary (Budapest and Székesfehérvár) and Germany (Heidelberg and Trier), as well as the Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies. Such a wide set of authors ensures the book not only an interdisciplinary character, but also complementarity of 'internal' and 'external' viewpoints.
The book opens with a contribution by Peter Meusburger on the role of knowledge in the socioeconomic transformation of Hungary in the 1990s. This is a very important issue which has been given too little attention so far. In the course of his inspiring theoretical reflections, the author makes a critical assessment of the disputes on the topic to date, and points out three mistakes which should be avoided: - focusing too much on readily available indicators (e.g., educational attainment) while neglecting such questions as the quality of professional skills, experience with a market economy, or embeddedness of knowledge in social networks and social values;
- underestimating the influence of the historical dimension of knowledge acquisition; and
- assuming a linear relationship between knowledge and economic performance while forgetting that this relationship can be hindered by, e.g., the postponement of necessary legal reforms, nepotism, clientism, the failure to replace incompetent members of the former nomenklatura, corruption, organised crime, and systems of values which do not promote entrepreneurship and innovativeness.
One of the main theses of this chapter is that the point in time when the communist system relinquished its rigid ideology and opened to external influences (as it did in Hungary) was highly significant for the success of today's transformation process. Meusburger also gives his attention to centreperiphery disparities in knowledge (which increased in the 1990s) and to their causes. One of them is the lack of formal education connected, for example, with the ethnic structure (the proportion of gypsies in the population). In a broader context, the author emphasises the importance of strong international networks, including academic institutions and foreign enterprises, in the transfer of knowledge (his analysis of the latter falls short of the reader's curiosity, especially as far as high technology is concerned). The second chapter, by József Nemes-Nagy, provides a comprehensive description of new regional patterns in Hungary taking into consideration the relevant historical background. The analysis is based on several socio-economic indicators at both the macro- and microeconomic levels. It identifies the 'winners' and the 'losers' of the transformation, and concludes with prospects for regional development in Hungary. However, the author's final statement that "the increasing speed of economic growth since 1996-97 will hopefully diminish regional disparities, and its positive effects will also reach the stagnating and less developed regions" (p. 62) seems a bit of wishful thinking to me. One has been hearing this thesis for years in many transition countries, but actual positive regional effects are hardly visible. Let us hope that the future EU membership and the implementation of EU regional policy (with its assistance programmes and heavy subsidies) will change this unfavourable situation.
The next three contributions tackle different economic aspects of the Hungarian transformation. The chapter by Heike Jöns is a very detailed study of changes in the banking sector in the years 1987- 1999. It is largely based on a single measure: the number of bank branches (possibly because others were hard to obtain). Its strongest point is an attempt at creating a regional transformation theory of banking employing the actor-network theory. This kind of generalisations and their graphic presentation (as in figures 15-17) are very useful and much needed when analysing the economies in transition. A comparative perspective within Central and Eastern Europe is employed by Gábor Hunya in his chapter on foreign direct investment (FDI) and by Tibor Kuczi and György Lengyel in that on the spread of entrepreneurship. FDI is understood here basically as a competitiveness factor considered at two levels: of industries and countries. The analysis of the spread of entrepreneurship embraces two major issues: (1) the ways of recruiting entrepreneurs, and (2) people's entrepreneurial inclinations. The latter is based on an OMNIBUS survey of 1993. Unfortunately, the paper gives too little information about the methodology of this survey (e. g., the way of sample selection), which is crucial for comparative studies.
The next three chapters explore differences in selected (but interconnected) social phenomena in a dynamic and a regional approach. These are: employment and income (Peter Meusburger), unemployment (Zoltán Dövényi), and poverty (Zsolt Spéder). Another chapter, by Zoltán Kovács, describes the electoral system in Hungary, the geography of voting, and the factors affecting electoral preferences. It concludes in a condensed form with a diagram of the political-geographical profile of Hungary in the 1990s (Fig. 8).
The remaining articles but last are studies of the Hungarian urban system. Zoltán Cséfalvay presents the new role of Budapest in the European city hierarchy (e.g., as a financial and communications centre) and a few scenarios of how the Hungarian capital can become the main centre of Central and Eastern Europe in the context of the various models of regional pattern. Éva Izsák and Ferenc Probáld deal with recent differentiation processes in Budapest's suburban belt, whereas Éva Izsák and József Nemes-Nagy, with the changing Hungarian cityscape. The latter study is based on four sample cities: two districts of Budapest, Gy_r (which is the 'western gate' to the country located close to the Austrian border), Salgótarján (a city in the grip of an industrial depression), and Dunaújváros (a relic of a socialist city). What deserves special attention in this 'urban' part of the book is Ulrike Sailer's contribution on residential mobility in six Hungarian cities. This in-depth empirical study has a very good methodological background (e.g., factor and cluster analyses) and offers an interesting comparison of intra-urban moves into housing estates prior to and during the transformation.
The closing chapter of the book, written by János Rechnitzer, addresses cross-border co-operation in Hungary, its various forms (institutionalised, informal) and prospects.
The editors intended the English publication under review "to contribute to a multiple transgression of language barriers within the 'scientific community'. It seeks to serve as a gateway to work on Hungary's recent transformation processes done in the Hungarian and German speaking worlds" (pp. VII-VIII). In my opinion, the book has fulfilled this task perfectly and is, in accordance with the title of the series, a valuable contribution to economics, especially in its spatial dimension. Its major advantages are an interesting selection of issues, comprehensive statistical and cartographic documentation, and careful editorial work. As any collection of essays, it contains a great variety of viewpoints and approaches, and sometimes even conflicting opinions (e. g., concerning the assessment of trends in regional development or the essence of competitiveness). What raises some doubt is the frequent emphasis on the uniqueness of the Hungarian transformation. Proving it is sometimes stated explicitly as the aim of the given contribution (e.g., by Hunya on page 125 in relation to FDI). As a reader from Poland, another transition country (which also has its 'national uniqueness'), I could note many similarities, too, in the course of the transformation processes in the two states. It seems to me that this kind of 'national atomisation' of viewpoints on the post-communist transformation results from a deficiency of international comparative analyses and the weakening of contact among the states of the former Soviet bloc after 1990. That is why, in my opinion, of special importance to the international readership are those fragments of the book that offer innovative applications of different theoretical approaches to transformation studies.
Autor: Tadeusz Stryjakiewicz