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Informality in Eastern Europe

Structures, Political Cultures and Social Practices

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Edited By Christian Giordano and Nicolas Hayoz

This volume deals with different aspects of informal structures and practices in Eastern Europe. Its objectives are twofold. It aims at discovering whether or to what extent informal structures and practices in Eastern Europe have meanings, functions, forms and effects different from those that can be observed in the politics and societies of Western Europe. The authors of this volume – most of them are from the region – have been invited to discuss the scientific relevance of the distinction informal / formal in their respective field of research or discipline. This points to the second objective of this volume which is to encourage a more fruitful interaction between disciplines that often disregard each other and which, despite inevitable and essential epistemological differences, have significant shared interests such as the comparative analysis of political phenomena in terms of elementary forms of social organization. The relation between informality and formality in a more methodologically pluralist and ultimately holistic way can be analysed via regards croisés between the disciplines anthropology, political science and sociology. This allows the extension of this comparative and multidisciplinary approach to other themes and phenomena of mutual interests.
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The Ambiguity and Functions of Informality: Some Notes from the Odessa-Chisinau Route

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1

Introduction: A Running Bazaar

Odessa railway station, 11.30 a.m. The sun is shining on people and trains while a crowd overloaded with luggage has gathered on the last platform, leaving the rest of the station almost empty. Despite the heterogeneity of the crowd, one main type of character is immediately noticeable: the babushka. 2 These old ladies jump back and forth with unexpected vitality, carrying huge quantities of goods. Bags full of coffee, flour, cucumbers and cabbages are tied down on improvised trolleys and thrown onboard. People cry, argue, or even fight for a place. This unexpected phenomenon awoke curiosity in me as a casual observer (which I was at that time) and this only increased as I discovered that it was the train I had to take: the elektrichka travelling from Odessa to Chisinau.

An elektrichka, in Soviet terminology, is a small train, with only fourth class carriages, 3 covering a short distance very slowly. In this case it covers ← 415 | 416 → the 180 km separating Odessa from Chisinau in about five hours. What was an internal train commuting between two Soviet cities is nowadays, as a result of the collapse of the USSR, an international train that several hundred people use everyday. The train goes to Chisinau via the Transdnistrian Republic. For this reason Russian and Romanian speakers are evenly distributed but hardly anybody seems to be travelling for any other reason apart from “business”. Actually, trade is the quintessence of...

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