Families in Eastern Europe: Volume 5

Cover of Families in Eastern Europe

Table of contents

(19 chapters)

In order to develop our understanding of the diversity of family processes, social scientists require research on a wide range of national settings and ethnic groups. However, systematic scholarship regarding families in Eastern European countries has been lacking, due primarily to dramatic changes in their socio-political systems. This has impeded the elaboration of cross-cultural comparisons essential to a more complete family social sciences.

Eastern Europe has been recognized as a region that has experienced major socio-political and economic changes in the last decades. The impact of these transitions on families and their functioning has also been significant. Although understanding of families in different cultures in the last years has considerably increased, little has been written on Eastern European families. This book fills the void in literature and provides a timely and comprehensive analysis of family issues in Eastern Europe. It brings together scholars from fourteen Eastern European countries. The authors explain family processes in that particular country focusing on the historic, social and economic contexts and the impact they have on families. The scholars also provide demographic information about families and discuss cultural traditions, marital and gender roles, parenting processes, family policy and programs within the society, and the state of research on family issues. The first chapter provides both an overview of family changes in Eastern Europe and an introduction to the subsequent chapters.

Among the Eastern European nations East Germany occupies both a typical and a unique position. It is typical in the sense that it was part of the Soviet-dominated Eastern Bloc, and as such its political, social and economic structure resembled that of other state socialist countries. Nevertheless, due to its geographical, cultural and socio-historical proximity to West Germany, the GDR evolved into the most advanced Eastern European socialist state, and served as model for the rest of the region. This special status also entailed numerous problems, such as the high social and economic cost associated with maintaining the East-West German border, preventing the intrusion of capitalist cultural (media) influences from the West, and counteracting differences in living standards to the West and other Eastern bloc nations.

Both the Czech family and the institution of marriage have gone through certain changes during the period of transformation for Czech society in the nineties. This has been influenced by the changed political, economic and social situation in our country. This chapter focuses on revealing these changes affecting the family and showing their relationship to the transformation of Czech society.

Life in Slovakia, as in most European countries, was formed under the strong influence of Christianity. It influenced the standards of society and determined general behaviour, relationships among people, and especially family life. Christianity emphasised long-term low mobility, resulting in a strong traditionalism that persists in many spheres of life today.

In the 19th and at the beginning of the 20th century, the role and character of the Polish family was prescribed by specific political conditions. Because of the repressions against Poles (especially in the parts of Poland which were under Prussian and Russian occupation) and the lack of a national education system and other specific social institutions, the family took over some functions that, under normal conditions, would have been fulfilled by these institutions (Bojar, 1991). This occurred over the past 120 years, after the loss of nationhood in 1795. It is assumed that next to the Church, the family played the deciding role in the transmission of many values and skills that are necessary for sustaining national identity. “Poland became a family” (Łoziński, 1958) not only because “occupants did not manage to control the Polish home” but also because, after 1945, the family was the basic reference group for Polish society.

Among the social changes that cause distress today, the most important are those involving partnerships, relations, family life, and parenthood. In contemporary society, it is difficult to speak of the family within a traditional framework. Like elsewhere in Europe, people in Slovenia are confronted with new challenges and risks. They are living in a country that appears to be relatively successful and stable, at least within the East European context. Furthermore, Slovenia offers an individualized social and cultural climate that has been gaining ground, and providing new options. However, there are risks involved. It is no longer possible to lean on past sources of security and reliance (e.g. values, systems of social security). Young people and their parents are compelled to make choices not only earlier, but also from a better informed position. This means that individuals are forced to shift responsibility for their own lives, almost from the period of childhood.

The Republic of Macedonia is a small country on the Balkan Peninsula, comprising 25,713 square kilometers and a population of two million. For 45 years it functioned as one of the six constituent republics of the Yugoslav Federation. It was declared an independent and sovereign state in 1991. The new Constitution established the Republic not only as independent and sovereign, but also as a civil and democratic nation-state. This guaranteed complete equality and coexistence of the Macedonian people with the Albanian, Turkish, Vlach, Romany and other minorities living in the country. It also initiated the process of recognition by other states throughout the world, as well as the establishment of diplomatic relations. Macedonia was accepted as a member of the United Nations in 1993 and is currently involved in a large number of European and International associations.

Hungary is situated in east central Europe with an area of 93 thousand square kilometers and a population of 10.2 million. Its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita was 5,669 Euro in 2001 (Statistical Yearbook, 2001). Ninety-seven percent of the country’s population is Hungarian. The ethnic minorities, comprising 3% of the population, are German, Slovak and Romanian. The minority with the highest population, and of a peculiar status, is the Gypsies. Their proportion of the population of Hungary is estimated at 5–6% (Hablicsek, 2000). Gypsies are linguistically divided, with 70% speaking Hungarian as their maternal language. Their recognition as a separate ethnic group is currently a matter of political debate.

Romania is located in the southeastern part of Europe and has a population of 21.68 million, with 52% residing in urban areas. Ninety percent of the people identify themselves as Romanian, 7% Hungarian, and 3% belong to other ethnic groups (Census, 2002; Government White Book, 2001). In 100 AD., the Roman Empire conquered the local population, the Geto-Dacians, and established a province covering a large part of the current Romanian territory. Following hundreds of years of foreign influence and organization into smaller principates, present-day Romania took shape in two stages, through the union of Moldavia and Wallachia Provinces in 1859, and with the annexation of Transylvania in 1918. Following World War II, Romania fell under Soviet influence and a communist regime was established.

Bulgaria is a Balkan country, established in 681. It is one of the East European countries to be experiencing the transition from a centrally planned economy and a totalitarian regime, to a market economy and democracy. The current population is nearly 8 million of which 83.93% are ethnic Bulgarians, 9.41% are Turks, 4.68% are Gypsies and there are relatively small numbers of Armenians, Jews, Russians, and Greeks (Census, 2001). Historically, all ethnic groups have lived in peace, free from severe conflicts. At the community level, different religions and cultures celebrate all their holidays together. The current Bulgarian ethnic model offers a way for people striving to live together to be tolerant of difference, and a unique culture and religion.

The contradictions of the transition period in Moldova promoted transformations of the structure and functions of the family. Today the term “family” is more extended, including new forms in comparison with previous generations. Under current conditions there is an increased need to understand family issues. The family is not considered as a separate cell and closed system; rather it represents a problem of national interests. Strengthening the family is important, but its realization is not easy. Problems have to be solved at the society and family level. At the society level, there is a need for systematic research on family issues, for development and implementation of family support strategy, family consultations, and family life educational programs for youth. At the family level, the focus needs to be on increasing the quality of relationships, developing a democratic style of childrearing, and restructuring the gender roles.

The experience of the first decade of state independence changed the mood of the Ukrainian people from hope and enthusiasm to frustration and apathy. The reasons for this are manifold, including widespread corruption and the evident failure of Ukrainian democracy. For most families, the major challenge was the severe economic crisis of the 1990s. A combination of factors led to economic decline and stagnation, a dramatic decrease in the standards of living, and economic and social insecurity. Firstly, the Soviet system and its common economic space of which the Ukraine was a deeply integrated member, collapsed. Following this downfall, there was a persisting dependence on Russia in terms of oil and gas supplies. What is more, Ukrainians lacked a clear strategy for economic reforms and a political will to enforce them. Finally, a business elite, interested in suspending privatization and in blocking the implementation of a viable rule of law, was formed. Although the official unemployment rate is rather low (3.8% in 2002), the estimated rate according to the ILO (International Labour Office) methodology is over 9.8% (Uryadovy Kuryer, 28.02.2003). Estimations including those who are employed but on “administrative leave” raise the total unemployment rate to almost 24% (ILO, 2001). Permanent delays in the payments of salaries, pensions and social allowances became normal practice during the 1990s. Moreover, inflation and monetary reform devaluated the saving of most families. Economic insecurity forced many to look for low wage jobs and to enter informal and often illegal businesses. Between 1.5 and 2 million Ukrainians are working abroad, most of them in the low-skilled labor force.

Lithuania has had a long and tumultuous history. Balts, an Indo-European ethnic group, was the first civilization to live in this territory, dating back to the 10th-3rd centuries BC. The first written mention of Lithuania appeared in the German historical documents “Annals Quedlinburgenses” in 1009. In 1236, Mindaugas became the first Grand Duke of a region encompassing Lithuania, Kaliningrad and part of Poland. Mindaugas converted to Christianity and was crowned king of Lithuania in 1252. In 1323, the capital city of Vilnius was mentioned for the first time. For the first 200 years of its existence, Lithuania was under attack from both the Teutonic and the Livonian Orders. Despite this, by the end of 14th century, it managed to become one of the most powerful states in Eastern Europe. Grand Duke Vytautas the Great, who ruled from 1392 to 1430, extended the great empire from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea. At the Union of Lublin in 1569, the Polish-Lithuanian kingdom was merged into a Commonwealth headed by a monarch. It was weakened by the wars against Russia, the Ukraine, and Sweden during the 16th–18th centuries. The end of the 18th century was marked by three partitions of the Commonwealth. In 1795, after the Third Partition, Lithuania lost not only tangible traits of statehood, but also its name. As a result, it became part of the Russian Empire.

Latvia is situated on the Eastern Coast of the Baltic Sea – on the shipping route between North-West Europe and Russia. Because of its location, this territory has been conquered and re-divided by crusaders from Germany, Poland, Sweden, and Russia. As a result of repeated wars, Latvians were enslaved for seven centuries and partly mixed with warrior populations. Only after World War I in 1918 was the independent state of Latvia established. Its peaceful development was interrupted by the beginning of World War II. On the basis of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact between Stalin and Hitler, Latvia was forcibly annexed by the Soviet Union. The country suffered enormous population losses. During the first year of Soviet rule, the subsequent years of Nazi occupation, military pursuits, people seeking refuge in the West (around 200,000), and the Stalinist repressions and deportations to Siberia, Latvia’s net loss in population amounted to 30% of the prewar population. It is doubtful whether any other nation, except for the Jews, ever suffered such enormous population losses as a consequence of World War II. Only a third of them returned to Latvia after 10–15 years’ exile in Siberia.

During the first two decades of the 20th century, the Russian family went through some institutional transformations. Peasant migrations (from European Russia to more distant destinations, and more importantly, from the countryside to the cities), World War I, the upheavals of the revolutionary period and the Civil War years all changed the country’s demographic situation. This led to more women (at least in the cities) being employed outside their households. Their sub-standard living conditions and legal vulnerability attracted the attention of intellectuals (Engel, 1991) and helped reformulate the women’s question, which had by then become one of the central issues of the political and intellectual life of the country. Alongside the quest for equality from upper and middle-class women, which was manifested in the burgeoning public and literary life of the Fin-de-Siécle Russia (Engelstein, 1992), emerged “Marxist feminism.” This movement assumed the task of promoting the rights of working women and the destruction of (bourgeois) gender inequality. It also played a decisive role in shaping scholarly discourse on the family and state policies towards it. Despite the dramatic social changes, they did not readily bring about alterations in popular mentality, particularly in popular attitudes towards the roles played by men and women within the family. Barbara Engel (1991, p. 147) has observed that: Revolutionary transformation did not end most women’s loyalty to the family and especially to their children. However, food shortages, poor housing, lack of job opportunities, and especially family instability made women’s traditional responsibilities considerably harder to fulfill. The deserting husbands and short-term unions that led some women to seek abortion prompted others to demand more conservative family policy to ensure their ability to provide for their children. Instead of unions easily contracted and dissolved they wanted strong and stable marriages.Meanwhile, during the first post-revolutionary decade, some representatives of the new elite regarded the family as holding the most strength within the ancien régime, which was doomed to collapse as new relations between the sexes and among generations were getting stronger.1 A great deal of writing produced in the 1920s by Communist theoreticians discussed questions related to the pace, social context and forms in which the withering away of the family might manifest itself (Preobrazhenskii, 1923; Trotsky, 1923). It also examined the problems of sexual ethics and the upbringing of genuinely collectivist-minded people (Kollontai, 2003a–c; Lunacharsky, 1927; Zalkind, 1923 (reprinted in 2001)). “There are reasons to believe,” argued Bukharin (1921, p. 170) “that in the Communist society, as the private property vanishes for good, the family and prostitution will follow suit.” He also stated his opposition to the family’s rearing of the younger generation: “The future lies with the communal upbringing. The communal upbringing will enable the Communist society to bring up the young in the way it deems appropriate, minimizing efforts and expenses” (Bukharin, 1920, p. 197).

Cover of Families in Eastern Europe
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Contemporary Perspectives in Family Research
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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