Project B06

External reform models and internal debates on the new conceptualisation of social policy in the post-Soviet region

Project B06 focuses on the dynamics of state social policy in the post-Soviet region which it will systematise by analysing the reform discussions and the resulting legislation. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991 all of the newly-founded states had to simultaneously reconceptualise their entire welfare system from the same starting point of the Soviet model. This provides an ideal opportunity for a comparative study of the influence of concepts of social policy originating in the OECD world on processes of reforming social policy in the nation states of a non-OECD region.

The focus will be on vertical interdependencies, because during the deep economic crisis the neo-liberal reform model championed by international organizations such as the IMF and the World Bank (often referred to as the “Washington Consensus”) offered an obvious alternative that is perceived in the literature as a defining element of state social policy in this region of the world. The main aim was to significantly reduce the generosity and degree of inclusion of social policy measures in order to consolidate public finances.

A decade after the start of the reforms, the picture changed. On the one hand, several states in the post-Soviet region emancipated themselves from international lenders and on the other hand, the international financial organisations changed their guiding principles in the 2000s to a new “post-Washington Consensus”. The academic literature on this region has hardly touched upon these developments.

Therefore, taking the example of the policy-making reform debates in the policy fields of basic income security (alleviating poverty) and health care in selected countries in the post-Soviet region (Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine) for the initial reform phase of the 1990s and the following second reform phase at least a decade later, the project asks how the underlying social policy concepts are to be evaluated and, in particular, which role political decision-makers and the public ascribed to Western reform models.

Firstly, studying the various research areas in the Ukraine will facilitate a systematic comparison of the Washington Consensus with the post-Washington Consensus. Secondly, national debates on social policy during a phase of high vertical interdependence (i.e. a high level of dependency on international organisations to provide ideas and, above all, money) can be compared with those during an ensuing phase of emancipation (Kazakhstan) from or express refusal (Russia) of the influence of international organisations. A working hypothesis in the subproject is that although the international organisations became less important this did not necessarily lead to changed conceptual priorities since influential national actors also shared corresponding policy ideas.

The project is designed to focus on areas of research that involve tangible reform debates. It is based on an analytic instrumental understanding of discourse in which discourses are a medium and indicator for exercising power in political decision-making. Consequently, the focus of the analysis lies on the main actors and their discourse strategies during the (still ongoing) redesign of the post-Soviet welfare systems. Policy outcomes will also be included in the analysis. The impact path to be investigated runs from the reform concepts promoted by international organisations, over the strategies of relevant national actors (perception) and the national reform debates (interaction) to political decisions on tangible social policy reform projects (legislation).

The project makes three assumptions as it follows this path:

  • Social populism: National reform proposals are oriented more towards the expectations of the population than their feasibility or Western models.
  • Necessity to make savings: Which reform proposals prevail in the political decision-making process is determined centrally by the financial leeway in the budget. Western models are only adopted when the need for savings is high.
  • Corruption: The social policy reform debate is often overshadowed by a corruption discourse encompassing this region of the world, which calls into question the effectiveness of any state policy.