After the fall of state socialism in Eastern Europe, the liberal capitalist socio-economic formation was adopted by countries in the region. This panel discussion will focus on class differentiations as they have been formed during capitalist restoration in Macedonia, Bulgaria and Romania.
The presentation dedicated to Macedonia will consider the correlation between the structural reforms of the Macedonian society and the vast class differences that have emerged after these reforms were implemented on the Macedonian way to the so-called European integration. The case of Bulgaria will address the relationship between the reproduction of the neoliberal consensus and the formation of the so-called creative class in contemporary Bulgaria. Finally, the Romanian road to liberal capitalism will be viewed in its historical context, highlighting the class and capitalist character of the communist societies themselves in keeping with their developmentalist logic.
This panel discussion aims to provide in-depth analyses of class relations for the three countries. The purpose of the presentations is to unveil the class antagonisms and inequalities in these societies in order to help create the conditions for progressive political practice.
Kire Vasilev – Macedonia, the ‘Non-Integrated’ Periphery of Europe
In my paper, I will discuss the devastating effects of the structural redistribution of the state financial and political power in the Republic of Macedonia during the world economic crisis of 2008–2014. I will focus on the enormous class differences in the Macedonian society by outlining an empirical analysis of class relations.
I will suggest that the so-called European integration and the race for foreign investments pushed Macedonia into a series of reforms that created the biggest class differences in Europe and the former SSSR with Gini index of 43,2. In recent years, the riches 20 % increased their wealth for 12 % in comparison to other classes; as a result, the minimal monthly salary is 130 Euros while the biggest recorded monthly salary was 82.590 Euros. Macedonia has a flat personal income tax of 10 % and poor people pay the biggest percent from their income in VAT (18 %), which is the main source of finances in the budget. Macedonia has an unemployment rate of 30,2 %, youth unemployment of 55 % and 24 % of children that live in families without an employed parent. During the crisis, Macedonia has also decreased the recipients of social assistance for 40 %, from 55.105 households to 37.312, which officially puts Macedonia in the countries that made a rapid cut of all elements for redistribution in order to satisfy the European neoliberal market.
Kire Vasilev is a political activist participating in grassroots initiatives and left organisations. He obtained his MA in European Studies from the University of Flensburg. His main research interests are the effects of globalisation on democracy, with a special focus on the effects of the global crisis on democracy in South-East Europe. He is currently a researcher at the European Policy Institute in Skopje.
Florin Poenaru – Class Struggle in Romania in Historical Perspective
The typical mistake in discussions of class relations in post-communist societies is to trace their emergence and struggle after the fall of communism. According to the main narrative, which is still very strong after twenty-five years, after the collapse of communism between 1989 and 1991, the post-communist period brought about the transition from plan to market, from state ownership to private ownership, in short, from communism to full-scale capitalism. Class and class relations were circumscribed to this transformation and were analysed sui generis in this narrow historical horizon and theoretical compass. In my paper, I aim to challenge this perspective. While I still acknowledge the period from 1989–1991 as an important moment that decisively marked the dynamic of class struggles in this part of the world – especially regarding the fate of the communist working class – I nevertheless put these transformations in a wider historical and theoretical perspective by highlighting the class and capitalist character of the communist societies themselves in keeping with their developmentalist logic. Therefore, in the particular case of my investigation, I show how the Romanian class relations after 1989 were characterised by an uncanny class alliance between the second echelon nomenklatura and the communist technical intelligentsia in order to disband the former working class in keeping with the neoliberal imperatives, but also by factional struggles inside the technical intelligentsia which unexpectedly enabled more critical and even leftist ideas to emerge.
Florin Poenaru has a PhD in Anthropology from Central European University, Budapest. He works on problems of class, historical representations and ideology. He is a co-editor of CriticAtac and LeftEast.
Madlen Nikolova – The ‘Creative Class’ and the Reproduction of the Neoliberal Ideology in Bulgaria
In my paper, I will addresses the relationship between the reproduction of the neoliberal consensus and the formation of the so-called creative class in contemporary Bulgaria.
The last couple of years saw the political organisation of various groups of cognitive workers employed in the IT sector, the marketing industry, cultural workers, the media as well as a number of liberal and environmental NGOs, in a coalition with important sectors of capital. More often than not, they stood on neoliberal positions and have managed to further entrench the neoliberal hegemony by, for instance, supporting austerity in 2013. Enjoying the symbolic and cultural capital in their engagement in networks such as TED, online and offline media, liberal NGOs, a number of politicians and businesses, they have managed to partly set the agenda for the protest movement in terms of the ‘creative class’ against an imagined alliance between the super-rich and the poor.
In order to explain that situation, I will briefly analyse the anatomy of the formation of the ‘creative class’. Moreover, I will trace the internal tensions, inconsistencies and inequities within the ‘creative class’ and its complex relationship with the ‘creative industry’ in order to explicate the concrete material conditions that lead their political formation to facilitate the reproduction of the neoliberal ideological hegemony. Finally, I will map the creative class within the rest of the working class and try to assess the potentials for (and limitations to) a wider class alliance able to challenge the current hegemony. In other words, I will look into those class antagonisms and inequalities within the creative class that might be a stepping stone for alternative and leftist political formation of some of its segments and hence a counter-hegemonic practice.
Madlen Nikolova is a student of Cultural Studies. She is а founding member of the Haspel social centre in Sofia and of New Left Perspectives collective. She also writes for Hysterical Parrhesia, a blog of Marxist critique of ideology.