CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition

1The Annales de démographie historique has accustomed its readers to full-fledged books rather than traditional journal issues. This second, 2014 publication follows that rule. From diverse and always interesting angles, the issue studies the role played by population sciences in Europe’s major totalitarian entreprises, taking into account the most recent advances in our knowledge on the subject. In fact, those advances are the unifying thread in the book’s investigations: in each we are given not only a professional historian’s perspective on demography under dictatorship but also an analysis of the demographic impact of institutional actions.

2For the authors, the main stumbling block to be avoided – without neglecting or ignoring it – is Foucauldian emphasis on the concept of biopolitics, a historiographical fashion that, as they see it, should, like all fashions, be resituated in the context in which it was produced and flourished, in this case the 1980s. The vulgate holding that the population’s “body” is under hegemonic state control does not take fully into account what we know of individual behaviour: individuals in a dictatorial regime have shown, at least in some cases, that they know how to slip the grip of the precepts, orders and collective representations imposed by the powers-that-be. And it is precisely such pockets of autonomy in the area of demography that the studies in this volume focus on. Analysed in these terms, the population and family policies found in dictatorships are no longer mere reconstructions developed out of an exclusive belief in Foucault’s “panoptic state”.

3The point, then, is to discuss how individuals responded to the demographic policies of dictatorships in Romania under the communist regime (1948-1989); Uruguay under the authoritarian governments that followed the military coup d’État (1973-1985); Spain during the Cold War, when the United States had military bases in the country; Biscay under Franco; Italy during the fascist period; and Portugal under Salazar – varied contexts, different situations, but all involving the implementation of authoritarian policies.

4The study of Romania takes a long-range historical perspective and disqualifies the notion that communist policy radically changed or degraded the traditional family. The authors show that the dictatorship was not a uniform bloc during the period under study and therefore was not always “identical to itself”. The new Family Code adopted in 1954 was a specific piece of legislation that went together with a process of social modernization linked in turn to urbanization and industrialization as well as progress in education. It was Nicolae Ceaucescu’s natalist obsessions that explain the impact of the Communist dictatorship’s demographic policy, whose measures included tighter regulations on divorce, prohibiting abortion for women under 45 who had not already had at least four children, and various directly pro-birth measures.

5The situation in Uruguay resembled Romania’s only in its active combat against mortality. The economic crisis of the 1960s led a country that stood as a paragon of democratic life in the eyes of its neighbours to question a population growth model based on immigration. In the state terrorism that followed the military takeover of 1973, massive imprisonment, torture and exile of opponents became commonplace. Uruguay therefore underwent two radical upsets over a short period: the end of the European migration cycle and the country’s transformation into an emigration zone. Of particular interest is the fact that in this country the powers-that-be had no clear-cut demographic agenda; demographic variables were most strongly affected by political and economic measures.

6The case of Spain is different once again. As early as 1939 the military junta launched a raft of policies to protect the family as a Christian, patriarchal institution understood as the only form that conformed to nature. The Francoist dictatorship therefore prohibited civil marriage, divorce, contraception and abortion. The understanding was that the “Spanish race” could only be regenerated through natalist measures. Hopes of obtaining advantages through an alliance with the “American friend” were soon disappointed. Various situations described in this chapter on the installation of the American military base at Rota, near Cadiz, expose the contradiction between government policies and reality.

7The second contribution on Spain discusses the demographic behaviour of individuals in the north of the country (ria of Bilbao) in conjunction with dictatorship policy, which did not have the intended effects, actually resulting in a fall in large families from 1940 to 1960 and in informal labour participation by married women.

8Similar to the two Spanish studies is the chapter analysing four towns in different regions of Fascist Italy. Mussolini’s population policy, first implemented in 1927, set the goal of 60 million inhabitants by 1950, to be attained by combating the decline in fertility – an approach used by several European states at the time. The battle was on against infant mortality, and to improve conditions for achieving maternity, encourage births, curb emigration and control internal migration. But even though the Catholic Church approved those measures, particularly the ones promoting maternity and large families, the demographic results were long in coming, and a new set of measures was implemented in 1937. What was their impact on the towns studied? The authors observe, for example, that not only did fertility fail to rise but it actually fell as a function of the woman’s social stratum. They conclude that the Fascist pro-birth policy had little impact at the individual level and were statistically non-significant.

9The book’s last contribution focuses on Portugal under Salazar. As in Spain and Italy, the Portuguese regime’s first priority was to protect the family and stimulate population growth. But its particular vision of the “demography problem” brought about a hiatus between maintaining the traditional oligarchy, church and army, and citizens’ behaviour, behaviour that in turn called into question the political-ideological foundations of the Portuguese rurality myth and contradicted the regime’s family policy, as attested by the early fall in fertility in the 1950s in the southern part of the country and considerable migration to the cities.

10The coherence and value of this volume is clear. Despite the different methodological approaches used to apprehend what accounted for the harmony or dissonance between local individual behaviours and state population policies, despite the differences in areas studied, the diversity of their histories and their contrasting political-economic situations, we can only conclude that overall, those population policies – nearly all of which aimed to defend the traditional family, high birth rates and populationism – had limited impact on individual behaviours. Individuals, then, clearly showed a degree of resistance to the authoritarian measures decreed and applied with considerable brutality in some cases.

11These contributions raise a general question: Could the conclusion regarding demographic policies apply under other regimes, those, for example that claim to follow democratic principles? Would we find the same kind of resistance, the same discrepancy between individual behaviours and the norm or law? That general question – fundamental in demography – concerns population policies, their nature, semantics and pragmatics. Though it is not raised here, the dossier remains extremely interesting.

12In addition to the “Démographie des dictatures” file, this issue includes an article on the internal contradictions in and exclusions from France’s family reunification policy from the post-War years to 1984. As well as the usual set of book reviews and substantial bibliographies – always precious information sources.

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