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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 (). 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

Abstract

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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Editorial

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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Tadashi Hirai

Abstract

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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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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Laurent J.G. van der Maesen

The challenge of sustainability of all forms of life on this planet concerns directly the actors, agencies, and other forms of the sociopolitical/legal dimension of societies. This has been confirmed by all members of the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) in the past decade, who said to follow the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development of the UN (2015). As argued by Marco Ricceri (2019), with the Paris Agreement in mind, these member states presented a self-imposed and relevant assignment, which will or should function as their frame of reference. His analysis of the recent history of this platform was also based on the current characteristics of the social quality approach which also are relevant for this editorial (IASQ 2019).

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Laurent J.G. van der Maesen

This issue is dedicated to two general topics that play a central role in social quality thinking and its policy application. The first is how to sharpen the social quality approach (SQA) as an intellectual instrument to understand the nature and rationale of political/legal, economic, cultural, and environmental processes in societies that aim to cope with their interpretations of mainstream contemporary challenges. The distinction between these processes concerns the main subject of the procedural framework of the SQA (IASQ 2019). The second is how to use social quality indicators for conceiving of the consequences of these processes in communities and cities. This concerns a main subject of the analytical framework of SQA. The connection of these main themes of the SQA is increasingly becoming the crucial challenge for, in particular, the theoretical reflection on thinking and acting for the increase of social quality in communities, cities, and countries. Instead of old and new ideas about individual happiness, the crucial challenge is inspired by ideas about “a good society,” as discussed by antique Greek philosophers.

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Editorial

Social Quality, Environmental Challenges, and Indicators

Laurent J. G. van der Maesen

The first three articles of this issue are dedicated to aspects of the current debate about and the praxis of environmental questions, and thus of the ecosystems. The fourth article concerns the application of social quality indicators in China. The gaining hypothesis is that a disconnection of the social quality approach of daily circumstances in Japan, Russia, China, Europe, the Americas, Africa, or India from environmental processes results into anachronisms. Without a global consciousness of the unequal consequences of these environmental processes, people in rich countries may be tempted to positively judge the nature of the social quality of their localities or country “as such.” Unknown remains that, seen from a global perspective, macrodetermined reasons for the positive outcomes in rich countries may go at the expense of ecosystems. They may cause, also because of the exportation of substantial elements of problematic (and partly environmental) aspects of the dominant production and reproduction relationships, serious forms of exploitation. Under the same conditions (ceteris paribus), this attack on ecosystems, as well as this exportation and exploitation cause increasingly declining social quality of daily circumstances in poor countries and regions. This will also result into an increase of “climate refugees.” Because of advancing technologically driven transformations—especially regarding communications systems—the interdependencies of countries between the West and the East, as well as between the North and the South, accelerate. Autarkic situations are becoming, or have already been for a long time, a myth.

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Editorial

The Evolution of 20 Years of Social Quality Thinking

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Editorial

The Rule of Law—A Heuristic Perspective?