“Transition” as a Technology of Power – Environmentalities

by bojanboric

The new post-socialist authorities perceived that the total break with the Soviet past was necessary especially in terms of dissolution of the Soviet system of spatial organization, ideological, institutional and social structures. This notion which may be summarized in one sentence as “throwing away the heavy weight of the past” (StanilovK. 2007) is in essence similar or could be viewed as a parallel process that occurred in the West during the 1980’s and preceded the revolutions in most Eastern European countries when neoliberal doctrines conducted by Thatcher and Reagan dominated the other “transition” – a shift from the Fordist system of production organized within the Keynesian welfare state system to a much more geographically open entrepreneurial system of governance and market based society (Harvey D. 1989). The lessons learned in the West during this process were soon implemented even more radically by IMF, the WTO and the World Bank (Stanilov 2007) in the process of institutional restructuring of societies in CEE countries through privatization, deregulation, decentralization, weakening of the state, strict monetary controls, austerity measures, etc. This time the most radical version of transformation was implemented as a form of “Shock Therapy” and directed by economists, such as Jeffrey Sacks who believed that only radical measures could achieve positive results in the long term. In this context the remains of the socialist system were metaphorically compared to a “ cancerous growth” (Stanilov 20007) that needed to be severed and uprooted in the shortest possible time.

This overall institutional transformation has enabled local governments to engage directly with the international and local investors and business and this also transformed the role of the institutions in urban planning. This kind of new role of government as a facilitator of business interests rather then the defender of public interest reveals an essential conflict between two main components of the post socialist transition, the economic shift to market economy and the political process of democratization of society. According to Vaclav Belohradsky who refers to American sociologist Daniel Bell, there is an inherent conflict in late capitalism that he refers to as “the disjunction of realms”. For Bell, economy, politics and culture are the most important aspects of modern capitalism and if any of the three aspects become extremely dominant in society they negatively affect the other two. For example, the “imperative of maximum efficiency and profit” causes subjugation of society and shifts the balance of political power hugely in favor of those forces whose sole interest is profit making.

Thus, “the imperative of equality” as a democratic ideal becomes threatened by growing economic powers and in such case the coexistence of market economy and democracy lie on the shaky grounds. Another notable disjunction in the transition is that of two kinds of transitions: The first is the imaginary transition represented as a populist post-modern and utopian concept reflected in the belief in the life in desire driven consumerism visible in the images on urban billboards and in the media and the other type of transition is the actual bureaucratic process of admission to the European Union. This bureaucratic kind is perhaps the only “real” transition consisted of the relentless machinery of standardisation, seen as the essential to the process of EU accession. According to Alexander Kiossev, “every single sphere of social reality” needs to be synchronized through the implementation of EU standards and by involvement of variety of experts, auditors, controllers, etc. Every single aspect of life is to be adjusted to the new standards and those countries that do not comply with such procedures face severe sanctions. By replacing the Soviet version of biopolitics aimed to produce the new utopian society through centralized system of planning within a given state apparatus, the EU driven biopolitics introduces the process of shaping desirable populations on global scale by imposing norms on their local environment, interacting directly with their cultural habits, influencing daily life and not merely interacting with the classical state as a single center of power (since there is no such thing). Thus, new more acceptable forms of culture, which assures compliance with EU’s own apparatuses of security aims to produce new citizens.