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Concluding Remarks

A “Social Quality Observatory” for Central and Eastern European Countries?

Laurent J. G. van der Maesen

The Amsterdam Declaration on Social Quality, 1997

More than twenty years ago many European scholars started with the development of a new theory and its application with a declaration, the first paragraph of which follows here:

Respect for the fundamental human dignity of all citizens requires us to declare that we do not want to see growing numbers of beggars, tramps and homeless in the cities of Europe. Nor can we countenance a Europe with large numbers of unemployed, growing numbers of poor people and those who have only limited access to health care and social services. These and many other negative indicators demonstrate the current inadequacy of Europe to provide social quality for all its citizens.

At that time, it was signed by one thousand scholars from Western, Central, and Eastern European countries (IASQ 1997). Since then societal relationships have changed, also due the radical new techniques for communication and also miscommunication. This thematic issue of the International Journal of Social Quality tries to explain the new challenges for, among other things, the contemporary state of affairs of the theory and application of social quality. In this case, we are talking about the SQT and the SQA as they apply to Central and Eastern European countries. With this in mind, how can we interpret this declaration of more than twenty years ago?

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The Curious Case of Slovakia

Regime Preferences Thirty Years after the Velvet Revolution

Zuzana Reptova Novakova


A singular focus on the formal institutional reforms and economic variables misses the mark when it comes to explaining the decreasing support for liberal democracy in Central and Eastern Europe. This article suggests that over thirty years after the beginning of the “transition to democracy,” a closer look at the conditional factors of social quality can shed a different light on the transformation of societal realities. In particular, it pays attention to the extent to which people are able to participate in social and societal relationships under conditions that enhance their well-being, capacity, and individual potential. Slovakia is chosen as a case study, as it is both representative of some of the wider malaises characteristic of the younger European democracies and as it is a rather interesting example of liberal democracy within the region.

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A Thematic Issue about Central and Eastern European Societies

Zuzana Reptova Novakova and Laurent van der Maesen

Days after the European Union resolved a dispute with Poland and Hungary over a rule of law mechanism that threatened to halt the bloc's €1.8tn budget and coronavirus recovery fund, the clash between the two sides is widening. Both countries saw opinions go against them in the EU's top court yesterday. What began as a confrontation over democracy and the law, moreover, is fast becoming a culture war. … Despite having a liberal-minded urban youth, Poland and Hungary remain, overall, more socially conservative than many western European societies. For both ruling parties, appeals to family values are popular with their rural, older voter base. But evocations of traditional values also create a narrative that obscures the true nature of the showdown with Brussels and western EU members. This is over democracy and rule of law: judicial reforms, restrictions on media and erosions of checks and balances that help PiS and Fidesz to entrench themselves in power. Instead, the two parties can claim to be fighting back against alleged EU attempts to impose “alien” liberal values on unwilling societies.

Financial Times, 17 December 2020

Over the past decade, the Hungarian leader has boasted of creating an “illiberal democracy” and has faced allegations of cronyism and corruption. Poland's ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has only been in power for five years but has also mounted an assault on judicial independence and rule of law in that time.

The Guardian, 9 December 2020

Bearing this division over central values in mind, this special issue steps toward an exploration of the contested region that is Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), shedding light on some of the ongoing complex societal developments that make it noteworthy.

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The Impact of the Changing World Order on the Situation of Central and Eastern Europe

Gracjan Cimek


This article presents the impact of the changing world order on the situation of Central and Eastern Europe, paying particular attention to Poland. It looks at the geopolitical and economic conditions during the regional superpower rivalry between the United States, China, Russia, and the European Union within the emerging multipolar order, which is manifested in the 17 + 1 format and the Three Seas Initiative. Poland, trying to get out of the peripheral status resulting from the neoliberal shock doctrine, is currently losing its ability to balance between China and the United States, is antagonizing Russia in the process, and weakening ties within the European Union. Changing its peripheral dependence requires a reevaluation of its stance toward Eurasian integration and its openness to China.

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The Impact of Trust on the Quality of Participation in Development

The Case of Ukraine

Tadashi Hirai


Participation is essential in societal development. Nevertheless, it still tends to be implemented unsystematically, and to be interpreted loosely without attention to context. For effective implementation, trust needs to be taken more seriously. The nexus between participation and trust plays a key role in societal processes toward democracy. Highlighting it is particularly relevant to the political, economic, cultural, and environmental transition in Ukraine, where participation is encouraged while the level of trust is fragile, resulting in multiple adverse effects on everyday life. Accordingly, this article investigates the significance of effectively implementing participation and the impact of trust upon its quality, depicting Ukraine as a counterexample. While participation is vital, it needs to be managed with care, according to the level of trust in society.

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A Mistrustful Society?

The Lack of Trust in Government Institutions in the Czech Republic

Nicole Horáková


The level of trust in politicians also in government institutions is taken as an indicator of the state of society in general. Various studies have shown that the population of the Central Eastern European countries, and especially the citizens of the Czech Republic, lack trust in state institutions and democratic structures. The trust of the Czech population in government institutions is, compared to other (Western) European countries, at a relatively low level. This article aims to discuss different factors that are currently influencing this lack of trust: the historical, cultural, and institutional. The empirical data for this article is based on the European Values Study and Czech surveys of public opinion concerning trust in government institutions.

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Note from the Editorial Board

The Challenges of Brexit and COVID

Around Christmas 2020, a deal featuring the “reasonable” divorce between the United Kingdom and the European Union was announced by representatives from both sides. This far-reaching political event—based, from the British side, on an ideology for regaining sovereignty, not shying away from ostentative falsehoods, and taking advantage of sophisticated communication techniques—will cause socioeconomic, sociocultural, and socioenvironmental damage. It contradicts the vision of many British academics who have played a decisive role in the initiation and development of the theory of social quality and its approach worldwide over the past decades. They focused on social justice and the equitable participation of citizens in societies that are sustainable, fair, inclusive, open, and economically vibrant, thus following the contours of the 1997 Amsterdam Declaration on Social Quality. This deal consists of a complex web of incalculable agreements that have not been fully negotiated. It is a hastily crafted recipe for a further breakdown of UK–EU relationships.

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Sociocultural Change in Hungary

A Politico-Anthropological Approach

Ferenc Bódi and Ralitsa Savova


Although Hungary joined the European Union in 2004, it seems that it has not yet been able to catch up with its Western European neighbors socioeconomically. The reasons for this are numerous, including the fact that this former historical region (Kingdom of Hungary), today the sovereign state of Hungary, has a specific sociocultural image and attitude formed by various historical events. And the nature of these events can explain why Hungary's economic development and overarching political narrative differ so markedly from Western Europe. The aim of this article is to present the unique location of Hungary in the context of Central and Eastern Europe, and to address such factors as urbanization and industrialization, migration, population, politics, economic development, and social values crisis. We argue that these factors, including the European status quo that emerged after 1945, have influenced the existing sociopolitical, socioeconomic, and sociocultural differences between Hungary and Western European EU states.

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Support for a Populist Government in Poland

A Few Notes about Its Economic and Cultural Divides

Michał Gulczyński


In the recent years, one of the most popular subjects of research in political science has been the rise of populism. In Poland, an anti-establishment government has won a second electoral cycle in a row. However, unlike in Hungary, the opposition received a comparable share of the vote. In this article, I try to show how a country with a seemingly homogeneous population could have become so divided. I argue that the current polarization is based on the lack of social recognition of the less well-off citizens and areas, and on the lack of social cohesion: deeply rooted cultural and moral divisions in society overlapping with differences in economic situation. Those underlying causes explain why civil society in Poland is still able to mobilize, but they also let us predict that the divisions will not disappear soon. Although the political preferences of the youth suggest a strong demand for more pluralism, the new gender cleavage may deepen with time, based on a similar logic: diverging life courses and a lack of social cohesion and recognition exploited by polarizing parties. The explanations offered here contribute to the understanding of not only the success of anti-establishment parties in Poland but also of the differences between the Western and Central and Eastern European political mainstream.

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Corporate Sustainability

An Academic Review

Varghese Joy


This is a review of the concept corporate sustainability. Being the most widely discussed and deliberated topic in the management and corporate literature, this concept has been defined by many academic scholars with their own specific approach. This article makes an attempt to review these approaches and will examine them in the context of the principles of the social quality approach (SQA). The progress and relevance of the United Nation's 2030 sustainable development is also reviewed. The conceptual and methodological redefinition given by SQA scholars and the reasons for their rejection of the tripartite approach to defining sustainability provided in the UN Brundtland Report is also discussed in order to provide a basis for further research into the issue of sustainability and how it relates to the SQA.