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Reviewed by:
  • Démographie des dictatures [Demography under dictatorships] Annales de démographie historique ed. by Dubert Isidro
  • Jean-Marc Rohrbasser
Dubert Isidro (ed.), 2014, Démographie des dictatures [Demography under dictatorships], Annales de démographie historique, 2, 256 p.

The 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.

For 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".

The 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.

The 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.

The situation in Uruguay resembled Romania's only in its active combat [End Page 168] 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.

The 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...


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