Legacy of division : East and West after 1989 9789633863749, 9633863740

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Legacy of division : East and West after 1989
 9789633863749, 9633863740

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Ferenc Laczó is an assistant professor in European History at Maastricht University.

Andrea Pető, Central European University, Budapest

The days when 1989 was simply seen as the triumph of liberal democracy and western capitalism are long gone. This timely collection of essays is extremely useful for understanding today's Europe, whose new fault lines often reflect the legacies of division as well as contemporary transnational and global connections. Kiran Klaus Patel, Ludwig Maximilian University Munich


The Legacy of Division East and West after 1989

This volume examines the legacy of the East–West divide since the implosion of the communist regimes in eastern Europe in 1989. In a series of original essays, authors from the fields of European and global history, politics and culture address questions fundamental to our understanding of Europe today: How have perceptions and misperceptions between the two halves of the continent changed over the last three decades? Can one speak of a new East-West divide? If so, what characterizes it and why has it reemerged? Conversely, how have the hopes expressed in '89 of reunifying Europe been fulfilled?

Edited by Ferenc Laczó and Luka Lisjak Gabrijelčič

With contributions from Aleida Assmann, Florian Bieber, Robert Brier, Dorothee Bohle, Holly Case, Niall Chithelen, Barbara J. Falk, Luka Lisjak Gabrijelčič, Simon Garnett, Diana Georgescu, Béla Greskovits, Owen Hatherley, Bogdan Iacob, Ivan Krastev, Jarosław Kuisz, Ferenc Laczó, Claus Leggewie, Zsófia Lóránd, James Mark, Jill Massino, Jannis Panagiotidis, Réka Kinga Papp, Igor Pomerantsev , Peter Pomerantsev, Joachim von Puttkamer, Tobias Rupprecht, Richard Sakwa, Karl Schlögel, Ondřej Slačálek, Julia Sonnevend, Marius Stan, Philipp Ther, Vladimir Tismaneanu, James Wang and Jan Zielonka.

East and West after 1989

Luka Lisjak Gabrijelčič is a Slovene historian, political analyst and translator.

This volume is a brave attempt to tackle the complexity of problems facing Europe today. The annus mirabilis of 1989 has not delivered the promised miracle to everybody. The incomplete convergence of Europe's two halves has resulted in a lack of institutional transparency and in inequality of opportunity and material insecurity for too many. These analyses help us to respond to the increasing threat to the liberal democratic order and the European project.

The Legacy of Division


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The Legacy of Division East and West after 1989

Edited by Ferenc Laczó and Luka Lisjak Gabrijelčič

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Acknowledgements ix Introduction The legacy of division: East and West after 1989 Ferenc Laczó and Luka Lisjak Gabrijelčič Staring through the mocking glass: Three misperceptions of the East-West divide since 1989 Dorothee Bohle and Béla Greskovits



Back to Cold War and beyond Richard Sakwa


The price of unity: The transformation of Germany and East Central Europe after 1989 Philipp Ther


Thirty years on: Germany’s unfinished unity Claus Leggewie


This mess of troubled times Karl Schlögel


The mythology of the East-West divide Jan Zielonka


Anxious Europe Florian Bieber


‘But this is the world we live in’: Corruption, everyday managing, and civic mobilization in post-socialist Romania Jill Massino



The Legacy of Division

The end of the liberal world as we know it? Two walls in 1989 97 James Wang Wests, East-Wests, and divides Niall Chithelen


The Great Substitution Holly Case


The struggle over 1989: The rise and contestation of eastern European populism 123 Bogdan Iacob, James Mark and Tobias Rupprecht Beyond anti-democratic temptation Marius Stan and Vladimir Tismaneanu


Dissidence – doubt – creativity: Revisiting 1983 Joachim von Puttkamer


Gendering dissent: Human rights, gender history and the road to 1989 Robert Brier


Creating feminism in the shadow of male heroes: That other story of 1989 Zsófia Lóránd


Legacies of 1989 for dissent today Barbara J. Falk


Of hopes and ends: Czech transformations after 1989 Ondřej Slačálek


Just because the map says so, doesn’t mean it’s true: Thirty years after 1989, from an island perspective Owen Hatherley The East in you never leaves Julia Sonnevend



Contents VII

Freedom of movement: A European dialectic Jannis Panagiotidis ‘The Romanians are coming’: Emerging divisions and enduring misperceptions in contemporary Europe Diana Georgescu



The two faces of European disillusionment: An end to myths 254 about the West and the East Jarosław Kuisz Go East! Aleida Assmann


‘The future was next to you’: An interview with Ivan Krastev on ’89 and the end of liberal hegemony


‘The distorting mirror’: A conversation between Igor Pomerantsev and Peter Pomerantsev



298 317


This volume would not have been possible without the continuous support of the Eurozine team in Vienna, especially the generous help we have received from editor-in-chief Réka Kinga Papp and editors Simon Garnett, Max Feldman and Ben Tendler. We would also like to thank the CEU Press team in Budapest for their willingness to consider our project on a short notice and the smooth cooperation ever since. We are grateful to the journal L’Homme for giving us permission to reproduce Robert Brier’s article and to journals Merkur and Focus on European Economic Integration for allowing us, respectively, to translate to English Aleida Assmann’s and Philipp Ther’s German-language articles. All remaining shortcomings of the volume are solely our fault. Ferenc Laczó and Luka Lisjak Gabrijelčič

Introduction The legacy of division: East and West after 1989

Ferenc Laczó and Luka Lisjak Gabrijelčič

To counterbalance the clichés that overwhelm the celebration of so many historical anniversaries, intellectuals tend to deconstruct grand narratives, venturing into unexplored territory to extract gems of insight from seemingly obscure details. Such exercises may satisfy the erudite, but leave the broader public seeking clarification over more fundamental issues. On the 30th anniversary of the collapse of communist regimes in eastern Europe, we have organized a discussion among spectateurs engagés that addresses precisely this demand. Our aim is to combine the scholarly knowledge accumulated over the past three decades with an essayistic style. Contributions demonstrate a variety of approaches, perspectives, emphases and arguments in addressing a single underlying question: how has Europe’s East-West division been overcome, transformed or reproduced since 1989? That 1989 is a key date in contemporary European history is uncontested. The utterances and politics of key participants, the resulting memorial practices and dominant historical interpretations have generally pointed to the same conclusion: the achievement of the revolutions of ’89 was to have ended the division of Europe. The recovery of political freedoms has often been treated as a mere corollary of this fundamental fact. Certainly, the consequences of the upheavals were far from uniform or uniformly positive – after all, 1989 was also the year of Slobodan Milošević’s infamous Gazimestan Speech in which he outlined the programme of resurgent Serbian nationalism, and it was also the year of the violent suppression of the Tiananmen democracy movement. We should be wary of trying to integrate all the various developments originating in 1989 into a single narrative. However, it is rare that a historical event of such diversity comes to be defined by a single image as closely as does ’89 with the fall of the Berlin Wall.


Ferenc Laczó and Luka Lisjak Gabrijelčič

It would be a mistake to see the narrative of European unification as a conscious and exclusive effort of canonization on the part of western European elites. This is not to say that the project of further integration was not catalysed by the downfall of communist regimes and the widely (and anachronistically) feared ‘reunification’ of Germany. But the power of the European narrative was more the result of convergent aspirations. When the Cold War suddenly ended, both halves of the continent declared in unison their intention to overcome the legacy of division. Eastern Europeans were eager to condemn their recent past, though not necessarily to examine it, and were especially keen on asserting their ‘Europeanness’. Westerners, too, hoped to see the former Eastern Bloc transformed and then absorbed into an enlarged and ever closer Union. Mutual ignorance and deepseated misperceptions were believed to be no more than temporary obstacles along this path. After 1989, a conviction took hold that the Cold War had been an anomaly in European history. The Iron Curtain may have contributed to a perception of basic differences between the two halves of the continent, and for more than a generation turned these differences into facts, but the East-West divide was said to have been an artificial construct. In the optimistic mood of the times, it was repeatedly asserted that the former boundary dividing Europe had always been fluid, even at the height of the Cold War. This was to ignore that, despite being restricted to one side of the Iron Curtain, the supranational integration projects launched from the early 1950s onwards increasingly claimed to represent Europe as a whole. They drew on long-standing traditions in western European thought that marginalized and even excluded the experiences of the continent’s eastern half. In the euphoria following 1989, it was also overlooked that structural differences between the macro-regions of Europe had a history stretching back much further than the postwar decades. If European integration was to stand any chance of success after the end of the Cold War, a more inclusive narrative of the past was required. Not only was it necessary, as post-colonial authors argued, to decolonize Eurocentric visions of the world; as critical scholars from eastern Europe added, there also needed to be a de-provincialization of western Europe in order to avoid reproducing developmental-civilizational hierarchies and stigmatizations within the continent.

Introduction 3

Today, former hopes for a swift and successful merging of Europe’s East and West seem unrealistic at best. The financial and economic crisis of 2008 led to a crisis of the eurozone, which – beyond reopening a North-South divide – halted the process of economic convergence in the East, and may even have reversed it. The worsening of relations between Russia and the West in recent years has challenged Europeans’ confidence in a peaceful future. Several eastern European states are associated with the global revival of authoritarianism, while nationalistic forces and xenophobic politicians enjoy growing support across the continent. The idea of a ‘social Europe’ – a constitutive part of the ideals of 1989 – has largely been frustrated by the crises and turmoil of the past decade. Warning signs appeared as early as the mid-2000s, when the liberal consensus of the previous decade first began to be challenged. In eastern Europe, grievances were directed against the prevailing narratives of transition, which relegated the societies that had been on the ‘wrong side’ of the Iron Curtain to the role of imitating the West. A new political discourse gained hold that incorporated the legacy of division into exploitable grievances. In recent years, these controversial projects have come to be perceived as potential models by counterparts further west – an unexpected reversal in the direction of transfer of political ideas and styles. As a result, the possibility of convergence between Europe’s two halves has been reconceived as a threat to the liberal democratic order and the European project. In western Europe, voices regretting the EU’s supposedly careless and premature expansion eastwards began to appear on both sides of the left-right and liberal-conservative divides. In eastern Europe, nationalist forces have continued to assert their ‘Europeanness’, however with ever clearer ethnic-racial undertones and in opposition to a supposedly post-national and multicultural western Europe. Europe, that fluid signifier that served as a centripetal ideal in 1989, has re-emerged as a contested notion. Professional and personal contacts across the line that once divided the continent are more frequent and intimate than ever. However, these entanglements have also played a part in various backlashes: today, there exists a curious mixture of greater mobility and sustained ignorance. Notions of ‘western decadence’, reminiscent not only of the propaganda of communist regimes but also of far-right discourses from before 1945, have been revived


Ferenc Laczó and Luka Lisjak Gabrijelčič

across large swathes of eastern Europe. At the same time, potent tropes with similar Cold War echoes have been used to warn against authoritarian threats from ‘the East’. The presence of eastern Europeans in British society played a major part in the Brexit campaign, while the Union’s faith in the prospect of further enlargement appears to have largely eroded. Such complex, often paradoxical trends make it all the more urgent to ask what has happened to Europe’s East-West division since the end of the Cold War and the implosion of communist regimes. How have the perceptions and misperceptions between the two halves of the continent changed since 1989? Is there reason to talk of a new East-West divide? If so, what characterizes it and why has it re-emerged? Conversely, how have hopes of overcoming the divide been realized over the past three decades? As guest editors of Eurozine, the online magazine and network of European cultural journals, we posed these questions to authors with an intimate and nuanced understanding of East-West relations and a reputation for original insights into contemporary European and global history, politics and culture. This anthology offers a selection of their responses, some of which have been revised and updated for this publication. All the essays as well as the two conversations were published between February and December 2019 on the Eurozine website (www.eurozine.com). The first four contributions probe the realities of East-West differences after 1989 and the various misperceptions at their root. Dorothee Bohle and Béla Greskovits inquire into the hopes for the development of east central Europe after 1989 and local misperceptions of the European project. They reflect on how misplaced expectations explain the fragility of the post-89 order in eastern Europe and the emergence of a more contentious period in East-West relations. Similarly, Richard Sakwa highlights the role that incompatible agendas have played from the very beginning in a relationship that has gravely deteriorated in recent years. His essay focuses on the tensions between continued Western dominance of an expanding ‘historical West’ and Russia’s early post-Cold War preference for founding a ‘Greater West’. Philipp Ther shows that German discussions have rarely addressed the economic policies that the country’s eastern neighbours pursued after 1989. This is regrettable, since such a comparison would have demonstrated how shock therapy in eastern Europe was not the cause of all subsequent economic successes.

Introduction 5

This absence of engagement is ironic, since the post-89 transformation did not actually stop at Europe’s former East-West divide: the economic policies implemented in eastern Europe also had repercussions in the West. Also focusing on Germany, Claus Leggewie shows that, despite the hopes and ambitions of the transformation period, the eastern Länder did not seamlessly merge into a larger national society. Policies in post-unification Germany have rather resulted in a new wave of ‘debourgeoisement’ in the former East and continue to hinder the activities of civil society in these parts of Germany. If these four essays show how East-West differences have been reproduced after 1989, other authors challenge basic assumptions and emphasize the new complexities. Karl Schlögel argues that the post-Cold War decades have given rise to novel phenomena in the East which Weberian ideal types could not capture. Schlögel’s essay, while historically contextualizing the limits of Western perception of and sensitivity towards the East, also expresses more general scepticism whether intellectuals have been able to interpret a world changing at an unprecedented rate. Contradicting the aforementioned authors, Jan Zielonka argues that the East-West divide has lost its relevance; Europe today is instead a complicated maze with many fault lines. The continued use of such labels hinders our understanding of complex and everchanging realities. What is worse, emphasizing a divide nourishes biases and facilitates demagoguery. As Europe has become more multi-directional, writes Florian Bieber, it has become a more dangerous marketplace of ideas. The open-ended ‘transition’ in the western Balkans, Bieber argues, has created an elusive present and a near permanent sense of anxiety that is deeply harmful to liberal democratic consolidation. Similarly, Jill Massino shows how institutional transparency, equality of opportunity and quality of life have remained elusive prospects for many eastern Europeans, just as material security and what is perceived as ‘normality’ have slipped away for many in other parts of the continent. Europe’s East and West have thus converged in a negative as much as in a positive sense. James Wang places the discussion in a global context, interpreting the Cold War as a confrontation that made it difficult, if not impossible, to conceive of political alternatives beyond the communist-liberal binary. The decades since 1989, he argues, have shown that it is possible to separate capitalism from liber-


Ferenc Laczó and Luka Lisjak Gabrijelčič

alism and to embrace elements of the free market without political liberalization. Contrary to Francis Fukuyama’s famous predictions in 1989, the end of communist regimes has re-introduced a world of alternatives. Continuing Wang’s reflections – and engaging with Richard Sakwa – Niall Chithelen shows how overcoming the East-West divide was understood as the replacement of one side by the other. If that failed, it is because the global victory of the liberal democratic West was largely illusory. The narrative of a global spread of illiberalism originating from the East, however, merely reverses the direction of supposed replacement and can easily sound conspirational. Also reflecting on illiberal nationalism, Holly Case argues that analysing political strategies can be far more revealing than looking for common historical causes. She points out how in the past decade, right-wing populist politicians in east central Europe have substituted large parts of the ethno-nationalist agenda formerly associated with their region by a more racialized and exclusionary nationalism of western origins with its obsessive focus on the ‘threat of immigration’. At the same time, politicians like Jarosław Kaczyński or Viktor Orbán, activating east European political legacies, might well be more aware than their right-wing counterparts in the West that they do not need to command a majority, so long as they are able to conflate their respective parties with the state. The essay by Bogdan Iacob, James Mark and Tobias Rupprecht largely complements Case’s analysis and adds several insights to it. First, Iacob, Mark and Rupprecht show that the recent rejection of western liberalism in eastern Europe can be viewed as the latest manifestation of a longer history of shifting symbolic geographies and ideological frames. Contrary to popular perceptions, they argue, the 1989 revolutions were not a resounding victory for liberalism, but were in fact littered with authoritarian, populist and socialist visions. This is not to deny that ‘1989’ remains a powerful mobilizing symbol for a new generation of East European activists committed to liberal democratic values. Ma­rius Stan and Vladimir Tismaneanu warn that, even though the East is closer to the West than it was a few decades ago, collectivist and egalitarian fantasies of salvation have re-emerged. And yet there are also grounds for optimism: the comeback of ethno­c­entric populism could turn out to be a short-lived return of repressed emotions and phobias, rather than the end of liberal engagement. Invoking the spirit of the 1989 revolutions, Stan and

Introduction 7

Tismaneanu stress that political outcomes ultimately depend on citizens’ choices. The divide between Europe and Russia – conceived by Milan Kundera in the 1980s as more fundamental than the Cold War division of Europe – is far easier to recognize today than any kind of divide between central Europe and the West, writes Joachim von Puttkamer. Indeed, the very idea of controversy is essential to the European political tradition and thinkers from Eastern Europe have bestowed us with an intellectual tradition of dissent that can help us rethink our common values today. Robert Brier’s contribution critically re-examines some of the same traditions of dissent to account for their gender-related biases and inequities. Exploring the vernacularization of human rights discourses in eastern Europe and the resulting concurrence between communist regimes and their similarly male-dominated oppositions, He develops an important corrective to celebratory narratives of 1989. Zsófia Lóránd in turn discusses the dissident tradition of radical feminism and its connections to westernization and Europeanization before and after 1989. While gender mainstreaming in post-89 Europe brought about many of the policies that feminists in eastern Europe had been demanding, the process ended up undermining many of their efforts at substantial change, even triggering an anti-feminist backlash, Lóránd argues. Barbara J. Falk expands the scope of reflection by asking how the agenda of east European dissent and the revolutions of 1989 have travelled to other regions of the world, and what their legacy might bring when addressing democratic deficits and re-invigorating civil societies today. Falk suggests that the triumphalist narrative of 1989 with its misleading emphasis on spontaneity and speed is partially to blame for the ruinous post-89 journey ‘from Berlin to Baghdad’. She also shows how another reading of 1989 focused on participatory democratic processes grounded in social trust could open up new possibilities. Focusing on the Czech tradition of dissent, Ondřej Slačálek shows that, despite their contradictions and illusions, the hopes of 1989 have remained influential. He argues that younger generations would be well-advised to approach the ideas of ’89 with critical distance, and develop new and more existentially relevant stories for the twenty-first century. ‘Impossible encounters’ with eastern European intellectuals feature in Owen Hatherley’s account of British images of eastern Europe. The way in which central and eastern Europe is discussed


Ferenc Laczó and Luka Lisjak Gabrijelčič

in British intellectual life remains dubious at best and downright racist at worst, he writes. This is all the more disappointing given that there were massive similarities between the UK and eastern Europe in the 2000s and early 2010s, especially regarding the neoliberal degradation of public spaces. Also drawing on her personal biography, Julia Sonnevend offers insights into intergenerational communication across the former East-West divide. While the East-West division in the Cold War sense is largely incomprehensible to young people today, the prevalence of wall building in the twenty-first century means that division and forced separation have actually been defining experiences for them – acute fears at borders have only become more widespread since the fall of the Berlin Wall.  Rethinking the history of migration, Jannis Panagiotidis shows that the Cold War constellation of closure in the East and openness in the West – the self-declared ‘free world’ – constituted an exceptional moment. Historically speaking, eastern Europe has not been associated with hostility to immigration: if anything, it was western nations that repeatedly felt threatened by the immigration of culturally distant and supposedly inferior aliens. Today, free movement in the European Union may cause controversies, but migration contributes to the interweaving of European societies; indeed, hostility towards immigrants from outside the EU could become a ‘unifying’ factor between East and West. Diana Georgescu shows that whereas the hard borders erected during the Cold War have disappeared, poverty and xenophobia are frequently essentialized as matters of culture and identity. In the UK, perceptions of Romanians are tied up with longstanding prejudices about eastern Europeans generally and Roma people in particular. What is new, though, is that eastern Europeans have increasingly returned the gaze, contributing to a salutary demystification of an imaginary West of democracy and plenitude. According to Jarosław Kuisz, willing imitation of the West has largely given way to defiance, yielding a whole new set of political challenges. Persuasive though it may be, the ‘imitation’ thesis – most clearly articulated by Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes1 – downplays the ideological substance of the new authoritarianism, argues Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes, ‘Explaining Eastern Europe: Imitation and Its Discontents’, Journal of Democracy 29, no. 3 (July 2018): 117–128.


Introduction 9

Aleida Assmann. The recollection of the semantic and ethical differences between liberal democracy and neoliberal economics, as well as the contribution of eastern European dissidents to Europe’s culture of human rights, may help Europe overcome this fatalistic narrative, she argues. The volume closes with two wide-ranging conversations that reflect on several major themes of the previous essays. In the first of them, Ivan Krastev offers insights into ‘imitation by invitation’ and its discontents in central and eastern Europe and, more generally, the post-89 moment of liberal hegemony and the confounding political reversals of more recent years. The final conversation between Igor Pomerantsev and Peter Pomerantsev, father and son, examines the troubled relationship between Russia and ‘everything west of it’ in the light of multiple – political, literary and psychological – theories. They ponder how this mutually constitutive and disadvantageous relationship could be improved. When we envisioned this enquête on the ‘legacy of division’ in the cafeteria of the Central European University (CEU) in Budapest back in the summer of 2018, our intention was to initiate a discussion on issues rooted in the decades of acute divergence in European history. The setting for our conversation – an American-Hungarian university under threat of expulsion from Hungary, without effective support from European institutions – offered a melancholy symbol of some of our larger concerns. Given that cultural and intellectual exchanges across Europe have greatly intensified in recent decades – to which Eurozine and the Central European University have both made significant contributions of their own – we were confident that the responses would add up to a meaningful corpus. At the same time, we are fully aware that the volume might reflect the preoccupations of intellectuals more than those of European societies at large. Paul Veyne compared the moment of historical reflexivity to travellers on winding road who, moved to pause at a bend, look back upon the road with all its arbitrary meanderings, and provide an account of them. When the shape of the future appears less clear than at any previous anniversary of 1989, such moments of retrospection may help us find urgently needed orientation for our continuing journey.

Staring through the mocking glass Three misperceptions of the East-West divide since 1989

Dorothee Bohle and Béla Greskovits

When the Cold War ended, the direction of central and eastern Europe’s transformation seemed to be clear: building capitalist democracies in the framework of the region’s ‘return to Europe’. The high point of return was achieved in the first decade of the 2000s, when eleven former socialist countries managed to adopt key institutions of market economy and democracy and joined the European Union. Yet, soon after the enlargement, old fault lines have re-opened and new ones emerged. In some countries that were, earlier, most eager to return to the West and embrace its values, economic nationalism and political illiberalism have taken hold. Hungary and Poland are the prime examples. Other countries, which on the surface have retained the image of poster-children of ‘Europeanness’, succeeded in this endeavour against the background of unsavoury procedures and questionable democratic credentials. Corruption and oligarchic state capture in the Czech Republic and Latvia are cases in point. Finally, some countries of the western Balkans have never quite entirely broken with their authoritarian past, which facilitated their turn to hybrid regimes without a detour to capitalist democracy. Some of these symptoms are not unique to the East but crisscross the former Cold War borders. Still, we see the remaining differences between the two halves of the continent significant enough to ask: does the fragility of the new order also have to do with inflated expectations and misperceptions concerning the roads open to the region and the nature of the European project? We think it does. We will highlight three such misperceptions – two related to the capitalist and one to the democratic aspects of transformation – which have profoundly shaped the choices of the 1990s and concealed existing conflicts and power relations. As such, they have also contributed to the recent, more contentious period in East-West relations.


Dorothee Bohle and Béla Greskovits

Western-style capitalism on the periphery The first misconception was that the return to Europe would foster Western-style capitalism. This view was influential among international advisors, local reform elites, and, at least initially, also shared by significant groups of electorates in the region. Accordingly, in the early 1990s, Harvard economist and economic advisor Jeffrey Sachs asserted that to ‘clean up the shambles left by communist mismanagement, Eastern Europe must [...] reject any lingering ideas about a “third way” […] and go straight for a western-style market economy.’ If, in turn, western Europe would do its part in opening its markets and offering financial assistance, there was no reason to doubt that the region would thrive economically and stabilize politically.1 Indeed, even those analysts who were more sceptical about the outcome of transformation saw the carrots and sticks of Western assistance as enabling factors. Why did then the promise of Western-style, that is, advanced and wealthy, capitalism prove to be an illusion? The possibility that due to the combination of domestic reform efforts with multifaceted external assistance Europe’s regained periphery would eventually join its developed core (or make at least significant advances to that end) could not be excluded. After all, in the past, accession to the EU had indeed led to rapid convergence (for example in the Southern periphery or Ireland). What advocates of encompassing reforms under the tutelage of the EU have not appreciated enough is the concrete nature of the European capitalism into which the newcomers’ economies were to be integrated. They overlooked that when the Socialist system collapsed, Western capitalism was in the midst of fundamental transformation itself. Nationally embedded and regulated market economies were giving way to leaner and meaner transnational capitalism. European integration has played a major role in shaping this process through enforcing radical liberalization, deregulation, and privatization. All this has had profound consequences for the prospects of transforming central and eastern European economies as well. The demanded restructuring was much deeper and more Jeffrey Sachs, ‘Eastern Europe’s Economies: What Is to Be Done?’, Economist, 13 January 1990, 19. https://www.economist.com/europe/ 1990/01/13/what-is-to-be-done.


Staring through the mocking glass


far-reaching than it would have been the case had the Socialist system collapsed a decade or two earlier. The region’s firms were exposed to the harsh competition of Western companies early on, while its governments’ capacities or willingness to mitigate the resulting dislocation were insufficient relative to the needs. As a consequence, foreign rather than domestic companies were quickly occupying the commanding heights in the new capitalist system. Foreign penetration ran also deeper than in other regions of the globe. While the region’s manufacturing production has been revitalized through combining skilled but cheap Eastern labour with Western technology and market access, transnational corporations also took over the banking, energy, and retail sectors, and even the media. All in all, what emerged in the East was dependent capitalism that differed significantly from its Western counterpart. To capture its specificity, scholars stressed the unusual degree of one-sided reliance on external resources and dependence on foreign control.2 The mixed blessing of the free movement of capital and labour But is strong dependence on the single market with the free movement of capital and labour at its core necessarily an obstacle to, rather than an asset for, the latecomers’ efforts to leave the periphery? While the impact of capital and labour mobility is complex, controversial, and context-dependent, in our case the dominant perception proved to be illusory in that it exaggerated the blessings and downplayed the inherent risks of rapid integration between advanced and less-advanced economies primarily through free markets. Accordingly, backers of the EU’s neoliberal restructuring argued that the mobility of capital and labour brings benefits for the economies and workers of the ‘old’ and ‘new’ member states alike. They asserted that outsourcing production would help labour by creating more employment and faster growth in the 2

Andreas Nölke and Arjan Vliegenthart, ‘Enlarging the Varieties of Capitalism: The Emergence of Dependent Market Economies in East Central Europe’, World Politics 61, no. 4 (October 2009): 670–702. Dorothee Bohle and Béla Greskovits, Capitalist Diversity on Europe’s Periphery (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2012).


Dorothee Bohle and Béla Greskovits

East, while it frees resources for new activities and improves the standards of work and living in the West. Compared to this optimistic vision, the actual record of foreign-led capitalism in the East has been mixed. On the one hand, there were impressive accomplishments: external management, control, and finance have served as substitutes for initially scarce local factors of modernization. On the other hand, over time these short-cuts might have marginalized existing or stunted the emergence of new domestic entrepreneurship, capital accumulation, and governance, and thus perpetuated one-sided dependence. As aptly characterized by Vera Šćepanović, the resulting tension entails that even if central and eastern Europe has been quite successful in catching up, this has come at the expense of true convergence, that is, the achievement of similar social and entrepreneurial standards as seen in advanced capitalist countries.3 It is not surprising, then, that especially after 2008 pessimistic visions of the consequences of neoliberal EU capitalism have come back with a vengeance. The most ardent critics claim that both the West and the East tend to lose from capital mobility, because the cut-throat competition for foreign direct investment (FDI) brings about a ‘race to the bottom’ of wages, work conditions, and labour relations, and/or a ‘race to the top’ in the generosity of incentives offered to investors. Alternatively, reviving the old concerns of dependency theory, nationalist politicians and policy makers in the East fear that while outsourcing of production might be beneficial for the rich capital exporters, foreign dominance keeps host countries trapped in an economy characterized by low technology, low skilled, and cheap labour. Finally, similar conflicting views have been expressed concerning the impact of free movement of labour, ranging from perceptions of mutual benefits to Western accusations of social dumping and welfare parasitism of migrant labour (the ‘Polish plumber’ discourse), and the Eastern concerns about brain drain and the consequences of population loss. It is not that some of these perceptions are correct and others are necessarily false. Our point rather is that each of the identified problems did have a base in fact, and therefore could and did 3

Vera Šćepanović, ‘FDI as a Solution to the Challenges of Late Development: Catch-up without Convergence?’ (PhD diss., Central European University, 2013).

Staring through the mocking glass


serve as real-world reference points for rival political projects. The tension among the competing views came into the open with remarkable intensity after the global financial crisis. The turbulences after 2008 exposed the drawbacks of dependency and launched a new era of hierarchical economic surveillance in the EU. It is against this background that some governments in the East and beyond have started to revolt against economic and political liberalism and embrace nationalism. In turn, their enduring contention has raised serious doubts about the EU’s reputation as a defender of last resort of the continent’s political freedom. The European rescue of the illiberal state4  The third misperception has been that the EU is a guarantor of liberal democracy in the region, and as such is willing and able to reign in political backsliding. Some observers see the EU as a ‘normative power’.5 In this account, the EU is different from other great powers in that it ‘has gone further towards making its external relations informed by, and conditional on a catalogue of norms’ such as principles of human rights, democracy, rule of law, and social solidarity. Scholars of Europeanization have also argued along these lines. They see the EU’s mixture of carrots and sticks it applied during the accession process as stabilizing the new capitalist democracies and in some cases tipping the balance in favour of pro-democratic forces.6 These scholars did not find it entirely surprising that some East European countries started to backslide on their political and economic reforms after accession, as the stick of compliance cannot any longer be sweetened by the carrot of membership. In this This subtitle alludes to one of the most important contributions on the origins of European integration by the late Alan S. Milward: Alan S. Milward, The European Rescue of the Nation State (London: Routledge, 1992). We thank Waltraud Schelkle for inspiring our re-use of Milward. 5 Ian Manners, ‘Normative Power Europe: A Contradiction in Terms?’, JCMS: Journal of Common Market Studies 40, no. 2 (June 2002): 240. 6 Milada Anna Vachudova, Europe Undivided: Democracy, Leverage, and Integration after Communism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005). Frank Schimmelfennig and Ulrich Sedelmeier (eds.), The Europeanization of Central and Eastern Europe (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2005).



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view, tendencies towards political illiberalism and populism are thus homegrown, located in Eastern Europe’s distant or close past and its domestic politics, while the EU acts as a catalyst of change through deploying its normative power. Today, it is easier to see that there are some flaws in this benign view of the EU. While the EU did talk the talk of normative power, it has walked a somewhat different walk. Indeed, there are reasons to believe that, far from being the antithesis to illiberal politics, the EU proved to be an integral part of its reassertion. We do not claim that this was a deliberate choice. Yet, with the benefit of hindsight, it seems that, had keeping illiberal tendencies alive in Eastern Europe been one of the EU’s purposes, it could hardly have done a better job. The European rescue of the illiberal state has played out in a variety of ways, starting with the accession process. Early on, critics have questioned the democratic credentials of the EU’s conditionality. Accession conditionality was tight and its scope far larger than in earlier episodes of enlargement. Thus, the newcomers’ governments were left with very limited choices as to policy substance. This ‘has preempted much of the public debate over the nature of policy in the region. As a result, it has had not only the benign effect of foreclosing the basic debates over desirable regime types (democracy and its alternatives), but it has eradicated both detailed and ideological debates over many areas of public policy.’7 The marriage between rapprochement to the EU and political illiberalism is even more visible in the western Balkans, where this process has been managed in the settings of competitive authoritarian rather than weakly established democratic regimes. While the opening of a ‘European perspective’ for the western Balkans had initially been accompanied by political liberalization, this trend has reversed over the past decade. This can be accounted for with the fact that the EU and other Western actors have prioritized stability over democracy by supporting governments that promised to secure Western geopolitical, economic, 7

Anna Grzymala-Busse and Abby Innes see in the suppression of substantive ideological debates one of the reasons for the rise of populist and demagogic forces. Anna Grzymała-Busse and Abby Innes, ‘Great Expectations: The EU and Domestic Political Competition in East Central Europe’, East European Politics and Societies 17, no. 1 (Winter 2003): 64–73.

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security, and energy interests. More often than not, the EU and other Western actors have turned a blind eye on violations of democratic norms and rule of law, preferring to interact with strong leaders that could provide stability – hence the term ‘stabilitocracy’ for the political regimes that have emerged in the western Balkans.8 The European rescue of the illiberal state is inextricably linked to the European People’s Party (EPP), the political force that has dominated the EU for the last two decades. Since the 1990s, facing the challenges of the EU’s possible eastern enlargement and the ascendance of centre-left forces, the EPP had been on a ‘political mergers and acquisitions spree’, which made it the biggest party in the European parliament, occupying most of the strategic positions in the EU.9 The price EPP was willing to pay for ruling the EU in an enlarged Europe was to be much less selective in respect to the ideology or democratic credentials of their members. Italy’s Forza Italia, Croatia’s HDZ (Croatian Democratic Union), and Hungary’s Fidesz were all admitted into the broad tent of the EPP. While being members of the EPP, the leaders of these three – and many other – parties were also busy with either dismantling democracy, engaging in large-scale corruption, or both. Hungary’s Viktor Orbán has arguably gone farthest in embracing an openly farright and anti-European agenda while staying under the protective umbrella of the EPP. EPP leaders have justified this by arguing that Orbán’s excesses are easier controlled inside rather than outside of the party. Whether this is cheap, cynical talk, or genuine belief, EPP’s strategy has offered Orbán a highly visible stage to spread his illiberal democracy. Srđa Pavlovic, ‘West Is Best: How “Stabilitocracy” Undermines Democracy Building in the Balkans’, EUROPP(blog), 5 May 2017, https://blogs. lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2017/05/05/west-is-best-how-stabilitocracy-undermines-democracy-building-in-the-balkans/. Florian Bieber, ‘The Rise (and Fall) of Balkan Stabilitocracies’, CIRSD, accessed 24 June 2019, http://www.cirsd.org/en/horizons/horizons-winter-2018-issue-no-10/ the-rise-and-fall-of-balkan-stabilitocracies. 9 Alex Barker, ‘European Elections: Is the Party over for the CentreRight?’, Financial Times, 15 May 2019. https://www.ft.com/content/ dbebc290-7589-11e9-be7d-6d846537acab. See also R. Daniel Kelemen, ‘Europe’s Other Democratic Deficit: National Authoritarianism in Europe’s Democratic Union’, Government and Opposition 52, no. 2 (April 2017): 211–38. 8


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There are other ways in which the EU has come to support political backsliding. Tight economic surveillance and moralizing renationalization during the global financial crisis and the Eurozone crisis has opened an opportunity structure for illiberal governments to legitimate a nationalist and sovereigntist political agenda. In contrast to its harsh economic surveillance, the European Commission lacks effective instruments and the fantasy of how to use the few instruments it has in a more effective way when it comes to political surveillance. Emigration, enabled by the EU’s free movement, can act as stabilizer of illiberal regimes. While the younger, more educated, and critical exit, the less skilled, older, and less entrepreneurial, who are more easily attracted by an illiberal political agenda, stay behind to express their voice. Finally, political illiberalism is being subsidized by the EU’s Structural Funds. None of this is easy to reconcile with the view of the EU as a normative power. Conclusion: from political construction to political consequences What have been the political consequences of the three popular misperceptions that we identified in this brief essay? The power of the idea that building Western-style capitalism had been a realistic option is best illustrated by its impact on public disaffection with the transformation. Witnessing that the region’s dependent poor capitalism is a far cry from the promised developed rich variant, citizens often resolve the conflict by questioning altogether that the new system is capitalism worth the name. Hence the popularity of blames on the ‘simulated’, ‘mimicry’ or ‘virtual’ nature of post-Socialist capitalism; the enduring faith in the superiority of the missed ‘real thing’ over the existing ‘Ersatz’; and the boiling anger about the fake or stolen transformation and its thieves – all of which is in line with a long historical tradition in Eastern Europe. A related example of one misperception breeding another is found in the early loud politicization of subsidizing the nascent national bourgeoisie as promotion of rent-seeking and corruption, in contrast to the almost unanimous approval of generous subsidies to foreign investors – at least until the advent of economic nationalism. Why waste scarce public resources on pro-

Staring through the mocking glass


tecting non-competitive local firms when the free movement of capital allows a superior short-cut: the entry of foreign firms willing to share the benefits of their activity with their hosts? Yet, even if a related question – are foreign investors competitive because they are subsidized or vice versa – is put aside, the opponents of economic nationalism might be criticized for their own misperception: the illusory model of a cohesive and stable society in which, however, all the important propertied positions are held by foreigners. Finally, the EU’s self-stylization as a normative power that talks the talk and walks the walk has had an impact on political actors in Eastern Europe. The ‘return to Europe’ has been hugely important for the political transformation, but it has also been a shortcut where neither governments nor the opposition needed to invent their own political agenda. Also today, illiberal political forces are mostly railing against the interference of Europe, while one of the most striking features of the democratic opposition is that ‘once again the rules and values of the European Union serve as a focal point for cooperation among pro-democracy groups.’10 Rejecting these values unites illiberal forces; invoking them, the democratic opposition. Both sides of the camp are however united in their belief that the EU will come to the rescue of those values. While the opposition hopes for EU support, illiberal leaders fear it, hence their adamant defence of national sovereignty. A more realistic understanding of the EU would start by acknowledging that walking the walk is not high on the EU’s priority list. This would force the opposition to invent its own agenda. At the same time, the EU’s self-stylization as normative power also contributes to the re-enforcement of the East-West cleavage. The West often indignantly points to the illiberal East that supposedly bites the hands that fed it; thereby conveniently overlooking its own responsibility in stabilizing autocratically-minded leaders.


Milada Anna Vachudova and Jan Rovny, ‘In Prague, Protesters Demand the Resignation of Prime Minister Andrej Babiš’, Washington Post, 25 June 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/06/25/ prague-protesters-demand-resignation-prime-minister-andrej-babi/.

Back to Cold War and beyond

Richard Sakwa

The East-West divide is back. The happy hopes at the end of the First Cold War in 1989 for the historic reconciliation of the continent came to naught. Worse still, an ‘Iron Curtain’ is once again being built across the continent, no longer running from Stettin on the Baltic to Trieste on the Adriatic (as Winston Churchill so graphically described it), but from Narva in the north to Mariupol on the Sea of Azov. The physical frontier is reinforced by militarization, as well as the psychological and political intensification of hostilities that in many ways surpasses that of the original Cold War. There has also been a major shift in perceptions. In the late Soviet years the West came to be considered the home of development and ultimately the best model of modernity. The countries trapped in the Soviet bloc anticipated a ‘return to Europe’, representing the political and ideological reunification of a continent that was perceived to have been artificially separated. However, this model of the West as the only viable model of progress has given way to disillusionment. For Russia, Europe is no longer considered a desirable model, although this does not mean that there is a desire to break all ties. Equally, the belief that Russia after communism could join the Western fold has now given way to disappointment. The country stubbornly, and for some irrationally, seeks to maintain its independent status as a great power and refuses to adapt to the exigencies of the Atlantic system as historically constituted in the postwar years. This new East-West divide is increasingly taking on the characteristics of a Second Cold War. Just as the Second World War differed in its geopolitical and ideological postulates from the First, so the Second Cold War is not just the continuation of the First. As with both twentieth-century world wars, the unresolved problems at the end of the first gave rise to the second. In the

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three decades since 1989, hopes of overcoming the East-West divide have not been fulfilled, and in many ways the gulf today is wider than it has ever been.1 1989 as a false dawn Europe in 2014 once again entered a period of confrontation and division. For some, this represents the onset of a new Cold War, a period of entrenched confrontation accompanied by the rhetorical condemnation of the opponent. Others are sceptical, arguing that the appropriation of the term ‘cold war’ is an abuse of history that misunderstands the realities of the present situation.2 There is no longer the old ideological division between capitalism and communism characteristic of the First Cold War, and Russia is just a shadow of the superpower that was once the former Soviet Union. However, it is clear that elements of a cold war have returned to Europe, although this does not mean the return of the Cold War.3 This is why the idea of a Second Cold War is useful, since it both seeks to identify the elements of continuity while revealing what is different. The continuities include the militarization of the frontier between the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and Russia in the Baltic, military exercises to prepare for conflict between the two, a nuclear stand-off based on the classic postulates of deterrence (above all mutually-assured destruction, MAD), accompanied by intense propaganda designed to delegitimize and undermine the other. The entire arms control mechanism is being dismantled and replaced by the language of ultimatums. In many ways this renewed confrontation is more dangerous than the original conflict.4 How did we manage to reproduce a conflict that so many agreements had vowed to prevent? My basic argument is that the See Richard Sakwa, Russia against the Rest: The Post-Cold War Crisis of World Order (Cambridge University Press, 2017), from which this article draws. 2 Andrew Monaghan, ‘A “New Cold War”? Abusing History, Misunderstanding Russia’, Chatham House Research Paper, May 2015. See also Jonathan Marcus, ‘Russia v the West: Is this a new Cold War?’ BBC News, 1 April 2018, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-43581449. 3 Robert Legvold, Return to Cold War (Cambridge: Polity, 2016). 4 Stephen F. Cohen, War with Russia: From Putin and Ukraine to Trump and Russiagate (New York: Hot Books, 2018). 1


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25 years of the cold peace between 1989 and 2014 failed to resolve any of the fundamental problems of European security and political identity. For Russia, NATO enlargement represented not only a betrayal of the verbal assurances apparently given at the time of German unification in 1990 that the alliance would not move ‘one inch to the East’ of the former East German territory, but above all represented a reckless provocation that only intensified the security dilemma that it was intended to avert. From this perspective, NATO’s existence is justified by the need to deal with the consequences of its own existence.5 From the perspective of the Atlantic powers, the enlargement of the zone of peace and security would ultimately work to Moscow’s benefit too, avoiding a return to the endless inter-war conflicts between small states and the tensions between the great powers. By contrast, Russia remained loyal to a Yalta-type vision of great power politics managed by the UN Security Council, although this did not imply an attempt to reconstitute something akin to the old Soviet bloc. It did mean, however, recognition of Russia’s great power interests in the eastern part of Europe and continued status as a great power in world affairs. There have been three major periods of postwar European history. The original Cold War lasted from the late 1940s to 1989; followed by a quarter century of the cold peace, in which the European Union and NATO enlarged, but in which Russia became increasingly disgruntled; and then after 2014 the full-scale onset of a Second Cold War, in which we now find ourselves. This is an era of renewed confrontation, marked by sanctions imposed on Russia by the Western powers, while Russia seeks new alignments and partnerships in the East. The Ukraine crisis of 2014 was just the catalyst that brought out the underlying tensions. Today the militant anti-Russian regime in Kyiv, embittered above all by the loss of Crimea, acts as a powerful wedge driving Russia and the West even further apart to exacerbate the East-West divide. The combination of geopolitics and democratization since Ukraine became independent in 1991 means that tensions were there from the start, paving the way for the dominant model of Ukrainian state building. This entails the fundamental rejection

Richard Sakwa, Frontline Ukraine: Crisis in the Borderlands (London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2016).


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of partnership with Russia in favour of a putative ‘European choice’. The collapse of the state socialist model of modernity represented by the Soviet system did not mean Russia’s seamless return to what Gorbachev-era intellectuals called ‘the main highway of history’. It turned out that history has many highways and byways. At the end of the Cold War Russia aspired to join the Historical West, but believed that its very act of joining would change its character and that through a process of transformation a Greater West would emerge. Russia asserted that it was a senior constitutive member of international society, a founding member of the UN and a permanent member of its Security Council, and sought to lever this to transform the Historical West into a reconstituted order. Moscow argued that it had done more than any other state to end the futile Cold War, and therefore deserved some sort of special status in a reconstituted Greater West. The self-willed disintegration of the Soviet bloc represented a pledge of Moscow’s bona fides as a member of the expanded Western order. This also applies to the regional context, where Mikhail Gorbachev’s idea of a ‘common European home’ (today called Greater Europe) would have established a co-operative pan-European community. Instead, Moscow was offered guest membership of the existing enterprises – the Historical West and the smaller Europe represented by the European Union. For historical, status, geographical and security reasons, this type of membership was not acceptable – Moscow was not ready to enter into some sort of neo-colonial apprenticeship to ultimately join the Historical West. From this foundational difference all the rest flows. There was a fundamental incompatibility in perceptions. Moscow claimed a reward for ending the Cold War, but that is not how international politics works. From the Western perspective, the Soviet Union and then Russia was a failing power. The country had exhausted itself in the arms race and its economic and political order was dysfunctional. A victory discourse was at first eschewed, but it soon made itself felt. More than that, the countries recently liberated from the Soviet yoke sought to hedge against a revival of Russian imperial power, and hence clamoured to join Western institutions. The West as a whole saw no reason to make concessions to what appeared to be a spent power, and


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it made sense to secure its positions while the going was good.6 This did not mean that Russia was treated as a defeated power, and numerous initiatives, ranging from the NATO-Russia Founding Act on Mutual Relations of 1997 to the establishment of the NATO-Russia Council in 2002, sought to create a framework for interaction. As far as Russia was concerned, these were palliatives, intended to soften the failure to transform European inter­ national relations after the Cold War, and to mitigate the consequences of what appeared to be the inexorable advance of the Atlantic power system to Russia’s western borders. There are understandable reasons why the Historical West refused to transform itself through Russian membership. There were fears about norm dilution, especially concerning human rights; institutional incoherence if Russia joined or became affiliated with such bodies as NATO; and concern about the loss of US leadership, especially in crisis situations (as in the various conflicts in the former Yugoslavia). At the theoretical level, the US-led liberal international order effectively claimed to be synonymous with international society. In this conception, world order emerges not out of cooperative (solidarity-based) inter-state practices regulated by international society, but out of American leadership of the liberal international order. The institutions of international society and the liberal international order are effectively fused. This does not mean that the US-led coalition gets its way all the time – in fact, the UN, as a product of the Yalta order, remains a recalcitrant body because of the veto powers wielded by Russia and China, as well as their allies in the global South. This is what gives rise to divergence between multilateral processes and the western hegemonic formation. Relations between the US and the UN have been far from easy, prompting complaints by US legislators about the disproportionate burden assumed by America. The US contributes 22 per cent of the main UN budget and nearly 29 per cent of peacekeeping costs. As a result, there have been various attempts to bypass the UN’s authority through various ‘coalitions of the willing’, as in Iraq in 2003. The establishment of the Community of Democracies

William C. Wohlforth and Vladislav Zubok, ‘An abiding antagonism: Realism, idealism, and the mirage of Western-Russian Partnership after the Cold War’, International Politics 54, no. 4 (July 2017): 405–19.


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in 2000 was also intended to achieve a similar autonomy from international society in the normative sphere. From East-West to North-South Elements of the Cold War have been restored, but that only describes part of the current situation. The Second Cold War is part of a broader shift of power in international politics away from the Historical West, and is a symptom of that shift. The renewed division of Europe is ultimately only a relatively minor, and undoubtedly archaic, part of a global shift in the balance of power and ideology. Although the Second Cold War dominates Europe, something far bigger is taking place at the global level. There is a shift towards what some call multipolarity but which in practice is broader than that – the transition to a world of multiple spatial and temporal orders (multi-orderness).7 Amitav Acharya calls this a ‘multiplex world order’.8 Thus it is fair to talk of a new East-West divide, but only if we confine ourselves to Europe. Recent shifts in international politics reflect deeper changes in global affairs. There is a slow but ineluctable structural shift of economic power from the Atlantic to the Pacific basin. In particular, the return of China as one of the world’s top economic powers cannot but change the structure of global power, reinforced by India rising up the index of economic powers. China has now emerged as the only potential peer competitor to American hegemony, and for that reason John Mearsheimer predicts that the two will inevitably come into conflict. The US will do everything in its power to contain China’s rise, while China will consistently push back against the US in the South China Sea and elsewhere.9 The new final chapter describes the inevitable conflict. If the focus is on brute military power, then those who dismiss ‘declinist’ interpretations of America’s status are undoubtedly right. The US remains overwhelmingly the predominant global Trine Flockhart, ‘The coming multi-order world’, Contemporary Security Policy 37, no. 1 (March 2016): 3–30. 8 Amitav Acharya, ‘After liberal hegemony: The advent of a multiplex world order’, Ethics and International Affairs, 8 September 2017, https:// www.ethicsandinternationalaffairs.org/2017/multiplex-world-order/. 9 John Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (New York: W. W. Norton, 2014). The book was originally published in 2001. 7


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power, and this is unlikely to change soon.10 However, we are now witnessing an acceleration of the long-term decline of American and Atlanticist ideational hegemony, within the West and beyond. The emergence of social movements dissatisfied with the neoliberal hegemony established since the 1970s is reflected in the ballot box, including the Brexit vote of 23 June 2016. Often described as ‘populist’ challenges, Ernesto Laclau is right to note (drawing in particular on Latin American experience) that in conditions of political closure, populism becomes the vernacular in which new ideas are articulated to challenge the failings of the ruling system.11 National populism represents a challenge from both the left and the right to the economic and political relations consolidated after the end of the Cold War.12 On a global scale the old East-West divide no longer makes much sense, since there are major new players. The developed North, as politically constituted in the form of the Historical West, no longer enjoys its former primacy. If hopes of overcoming the East-West divide have in part been fulfilled, then it is not in the way envisaged by idealists at the end of the Cold War. Instead of Europe overcoming the division by becoming whole, accompanied by a pan-continental vision of European unity and leadership in the world, the Historical West has expanded and radicalised its vision of itself; while in the East Russia is now at the heart of the creation of an alternative world order. This is based not so much on anti-Western positions as on the view that the hegemony of any single order leads to distortions and ultimately hubris. The demand is for pluralism in the international system, and on this basis Russia and China have forged an anti-hegemonic alignment. The unipolar moment is giving way to the clash of political orders. This is why the Eastern pole in Europe is assuming a Greater Eurasian dimension, and even more broadly, becoming part of Greater Asia. The traditional East is becoming part of a southern anti-hegemonic alignment. The outlines of such an alternative order were apparent at the meeting of the RICs powers (Russia, India and China) on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Stephen G. Brooks and William C. Wohlforth, America Abroad: The United States’ Global Role in the 21st Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016). 11 Ernesto Laclau, On Populist Reason (London: Verso, 2007). 12 Roger Eatwell and Matthew Goodwin, National Populism: The Revolt against Liberal Democracy (London: Pelican, 2018). 10

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Buenos Aires (30 November to 1 December 2018), the first such trilateral meeting for twelve years. Russia has advanced the principle of multipolarity since at least the mid-1990s, and it was a central idea of Yevgeny Primakov as foreign minister between January 1996 and September 1998, and then when he was prime minister until May 1999.13 In fact, the idea of a RIC alignment belongs to him, as part of his ‘competitive coexistence’ model of post-Cold War international relations (harking back to Nikita Khrushchev’s idea of ‘peaceful coexistence’). It must be stressed that multipolarity and multiorderness are not the same. Multipolarity refers to multiple centres of power – poles – in the international system, all operating according to the same model of politics. Typically, multipolarity is examined through a realist, or even geopolitical, lens, with all states seeking to maximise their relative position in the anarchical system. This can at times be achieved through some sort of concert of powers as established after the Congress of Vienna, and in a rather more attenuated form, at Yalta and Potsdam at the close of the Second World War. A multi-order system is one where there is a different dyna­ mic to the international politics of the different orders. The different orders represent different paradigms of the international system, with different views about the structure of the system and the appropriate behaviour and logic of action. Today we have the US-led liberal international order as well as a putative anti-hegemonic alignment encompassing to varying degrees Russia, China, India and others states in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) association, as well as the revived NonAligned Movement. Some may even add political Islam as a possible third order, with the attempts to recreate a Caliphate in the form of an Islamic State as the most vivid manifestation of a radical alternative order. A number of different ‘new world orders’ represent different ideas about how political space should be organised on a global scale. The emerging anti-hegemonic alignment refuses to accept the claim of the liberal international order that it is synonymous For a discussion of Russian views, see Martin A. Smith, ‘Russia and multipolarity since the end of the Cold War’, East European Politics 29, no. 1 (March 2013): 36–51.



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with order itself. Instead, Moscow, Beijing and their allies in what used to be called the ‘Third World’ (a putative world order in itself) stress the autonomy of the institutions of international society. Issues of human dignity, fairness in international trade and finance, and indeed the survival of the planet itself belong to all of humanity, and although the major multilateral institutions were shaped by the victorious allies at the end of the Second World War, they represent a universalism that cannot be the property of any one order.14 For the new global South (the post-Western world), there can be order without hegemony. Conclusion The Russian leadership under Boris Yeltsin asserted that Russia would transform itself into a liberal and market democracy, but it would do so in its own way and at its own pace. Above all, it argued that the transformation should be mutual, including a transformation of the system of European international relations. The West insisted that Russia had to transform itself; while Russia riposted that it would do so, but as part of a broader transformation. Russia hoped that its membership would transform the Historical West (with the Atlantic powers and institutions at its core) into a Greater West in which Russia would be a constituent member and thus enjoy all the rights of a co-founder. The idea of Greater Europe displaces the idea of the EU as the sole representative of Europe in favour of a more plural model, in which the EU would be part of a broader pan-European community. Both the Greater West and Greater Europe ideas are based on a dialogical approach to politics – the view that engagement transforms both subjects. Instead, the West tried to stay the same and enlarge (a monological perspective); while Russia was to change and assume a new power and normative identity. The fundamental process at the end of the Cold War became enlargement of the Atlantic community. By contrast, Gorbachev and his successors in Russia sought transformation, a negotiated end to the institutional and ideational structures of the These issues are explored in a historical context in Tim Dunne and Christian Reut-Smith (eds.), The Globalization of International Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017).


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Cold War in which Russia would become a founder member of a new political community. Instead, all that was on offer (and as far as the Western powers were concerned, it was quite a lot) was associate membership in an existing concern. No one really believed that Russia could join NATO without changing the character of the organization and of the whole Atlantic system. There were understandable fears that Russia’s membership would lead not to the positive transformation proclaimed by Gorbachev but to a degradation of institutional coherence and normative principle. Fully-fledged Russian membership would have meant constituent authority and veto powers. In the postCold War era there were simply not enough western leaders, let alone military planners, ready to take the risk and weaken (from their perspective) a functioning enterprise in favour of an uncertain and possibly dangerous alliance with Russia. Hence there appeared to be ‘no place for Russia’ in the post-Cold War order, giving rise to the cold peace.15 Once it became clear that there would be no transformational politics at the end of the Cold War and that the logic of enlargement would prevail, Russia was faced with the choice of either adapting to the Historical West and the smaller Europe as a subaltern, or of asserting its autonomous great power and normative identity. Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin at first tried to finesse the question by finding some sort of middle course, but in the end Putin unequivocally advanced the view that Russia would be an independent sovereign power in the international system. This gave rise to a neo-revisionist foreign policy: one that remained committed on the vertical axis to the institutions of international law and governance, above all the UN; but in horizontal relations with other states it challenges the hegemony of the US-led liberal order. This inevitably brought Russia into confrontation with the Atlantic system, but now balanced by the creation of an antihegemonic alignment with China and some other states. The East-West divide is back, but it no longer determines international politics. East-West divisions are now only a relatively small part of the global clash of world orders.

William H. Hill, No Place for Russia: European Security Institutions since 1989 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2018).


The price of unity The transformation of Germany and east central Europe after 1989 Philipp Ther

Anniversaries of historic events make us look at history from a perspective shaped all the more by the present. In 2009, and even in 2014, reviews of the transformation and of the ‘shock therapies’ of the 1990s were still mostly or overwhelmingly positive. The global crisis of 2008–2009 and recent electoral successes of rightwing populists and nationalists have, however, put into question neoliberal narratives of economic success and even the – in Hannah Arendt’s words – liberal revolutions of 1989.1 In 2009, the German government organized a huge Festival of Freedom in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the presumed annus mirabilis. On this occasion, artists were invited to design plastic replicas of pieces of the Berlin Wall, which were lined up and then made to collapse, creating a staged domino effect that symbolized the end of communism. What it rather looked like, however, was an involuntary reference to the global financial crisis. In the end, a domino effect of the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers on other banks has been prevented, as has the collapse of entire economies in central, eastern and southeastern Europe after the end of communism. Although a new depression like that of 1930s was averted, the financial crisis and the subsequent Euro crisis delegitimized the order created in 1989. Eastern and southern Europe were hit particularly hard, thereby calling into question European integration – a project that may, in a way, be considered globalization on a Of course, Arendt could not yet discuss the events of 1989 in her book On Revolution, but they lie in her pattern of constitutional or liberal revolutions. See Hannah Arendt, On Revolution (New York: Viking Press, 1963). An earlier version of this article was published in Focus on European Economic Integration, no. 3 (August 2019), which is published by the Austrian National Bank.


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smaller scale. Against this background, the 2014 review of European transformation was – yet again – surprisingly positive. Harvard economist Andrei Shleifer and Californian political scientist Daniel Treisman chose ‘Normal Countries’ as the title of their 2014 review of the transformation process.2 Anyone who experienced the ‘normalization’ era in Czechoslovakia that followed the suppression of the Prague Spring would have severe doubts about the term ‘normal’. What is considered ‘normal’ always depends on the prevailing social and political order. Shleifer and Treisman referred to the synchronous development of former communist countries into free market economies and liberal democracies, confirming Francis Fukuyama’s thesis of the ‘end of history’.3 Thanks to comprehensive modernization, the authors argued in the journal Foreign Affairs, the post-communist countries ‘have become normal countries – and in some ways better than normal.’ Shleifer and Treisman praised radical reforms – and not gradual reforms – as the best variant of transformation. The present article discusses a case of post-communist transformation that was mostly omitted from the English-language literature on eastern Europe but which, nonetheless, can be regarded as another testing ground for shock therapies: the former German Democratic Republic (GDR). The example of the GDR is particularly interesting because it shows that transformation did not stop at Europe’s former East-West divide but that the underlying economic principles and the economic policies they informed had strong repercussions on the West. In the following, we will refer to this type of feedback as ‘cotransformation’ – a phenomenon that had a particularly heavy impact on Germany because of its reunification. In this sense, Germany is a special case all the more deserving of closer examination. Germany was rather swift in overcoming the global financial crisis and its aftermath, and has since been internationally perceived as a model of economic success. A look back to the late 1990s, however, shows how quickly an upswing can turn into a decline – and vice versa. In 1999, the Economist referred to Ger Andrei Shleifer and Daniel Treisman, ‘Normal Countries: The East 25 Years after Communism’, Foreign Affairs 93, no. 6 (November–December 2014): 92–103. 3 Shleifer and Treisman, ‘Normal Countries’. See also Francis Fukuyama, ‘The end of history?’, National Interest 16 (Summer 1989): 3–18. 2


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many as ‘the sick man of the euro’.4 At that time, Germany seemed to be caught in a vicious circle of low growth, rising unemployment and government debt.5 Germany’s crisis at the time was not least a result of economic policy decisions taken in 1990. In the subsequent decade, the bankrupt GDR and the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) were blamed all the time for the economic problems in eastern Germany. What is often ignored, however, is that the main actors of German transformation came from the West. This had to do with the course of German reunification, which entailed an extensive exchange of elites in eastern Germany. The electoral success of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) in eastern Germany and, most recently, Bochum historian Marcus Böick’s 2018 history of the East German privatization agency the Treuhandanstalt have triggered a long overdue debate about the reform policies in the early 1990s and, particularly, in privatization. Historians should be wary about the wisdom of hindsight. However, they also need to be very critical towards the Thatcherite slogan ‘there is no alternative’. As the comparison between postcommunist countries shows, there were alternative reforms courses, in general and in detail. The economic reforms in the five neue Länder – this was the slightly paternalistic term, to be repeated with the “new EU members” after 2004 – aimed at a swift alignment with the West. Not only the Federal Republic of Germany but the entire western world saw the outcome of the Cold War as a confirmation of the superiority of their political and economic system. ‘Socialism has lost, capitalism has won’, is how economist Robert Heilbroner put it in the New Yorker in early 1989.6 Not much later, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, and the US Department of the Treasury adopted the ‘Washington Consensus’. This economic standard prescription for crisis countries, arranged as a decalogue very much like the Ten Commandments, was first intended for debt-ridden Latin American countries but ‘The sick man of the euro’, Economist, 3 June 1999. www.economist. com/node/209559. 5 See Philipp Ther, Die neue Ordnung auf dem alten Kontinent: Eine Geschichte des neoliberalen Europa (Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2016). 6 Robert Heilbroner, ‘The triumph of capitalism’, New Yorker, 23 January 1989, 98.


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was then applied, above all, to post-communist Europe. It starts out with the objective of macroeconomic stabilization – which has, not necessarily in theory, but in fact, always meant austerity programs – and leads on to the triad of liberalization, deregulation and privatization. By way of conclusion, the Washington Consensus makes a case for foreign direct investment (FDI) and global financial capitalism.7 The year 1989 from a global perspective The Washington Consensus was part of the global transformation that took place in 1989, as was the democratization of Chile. Chile is important in this context because of the activity of advisors associated with the Chicago School of Economics. International observers therefore mostly attributed Chile’s long recovery after the 1982 Latin American debt crisis to radical privatization, internal and external liberalization, and deregulation (only the profitable copper mines remained in state ownership). Chile marks the beginning of the neoliberal ‘success stories’ that later had a strong impact on post-communist Europe. On closer examination, it is questionable whether Chile’s upswing, which lasted until the Asian financial crisis of 1998, can be attributed to the neoliberal economic policy stance under Pinochet or rather to the Christian and social democrats’ economic policy after 1989, which strove for ‘social equilibrium’8 by actively fighting poverty and increasing purchasing power. For details on the Washington Consensus, see Philipp Ther, ‘Neoliberalismus, Version: 1.0.’, Docupedia-Zeitgeschichte, 05.07.2016, docupedia.de/zg/ther_neoliberalismus_v1_de_2016. 8 The phrase was coined by Alejandro Foxley, Chile’s first postdictatorial finance minister, whose views were influenced by Catholic social teaching. For details on his reform concepts, see various documents that can be found in the World Bank archive’s files on Chile; in this context, see in particular an 11-page manifesto from 1988 and the records of conversations on the occasion of Foxley’s visit at the World Bank in 1989 stored in the World Bank archive, World Bank File 16435 (Chile – Lending, Economy and Program (LEAP) – General – Volume 2), the annex to the World Bank report of 18 October 1988, and World Bank File 16436 (Chile – Lending, Economy and Program – General – Volume 3), and the report of 30 October 1989 (all World Bank files quoted here are without pagination). On Chile’s economic policy and the his-



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The ideas of the Washington Consensus were taken up in Europe faster than its authors could have anticipated. In June 1989, Solidarność won a landslide victory in the first free elections in Poland, and the communists were happy to let the opposition take over the government so it would be blamed for the economic malaise (which is exactly what happened in the 1993 parliamentary elections). In the summer and autumn of 1989, the country’s first postcommunist finance minister, Leszek Balcerowicz, developed a reform plan which was soon to be named after him. What came first in the Balcerowicz Plan was macroeconomic stabilization, as Poland was suffering from high inflation that began to show signs of expanding into hyperinflation, unsustainable external debt (more than 70 per cent of GDP, with repayment being impossible given the country’s trade deficit alone), and other consequences of its dysfunctional planned economy. The Polish version of perestroika, the Wilczek Reforms, failed. Prominent experts had already turned toward radical reforms at the end of 1988 as a result. As early as 1988, the weekly paper Polityka reported on the growing influence of ‘Eastern Thatcherites’.9 Much like the Washington Consensus, the Balcerowicz Plan aimed at comprehensive privatization and the swiftest possible liberalization of the internal market, including opening it to the world market. Though it was clear that the reforms would lead to massive social cutbacks and dismissals, accompanied by a wage limitation law, the majority of the left-wing of Solidarność, and the followers of Catholic social teaching, approved. We can thus speak of a ‘Warsaw Consensus’. This was, like its role model, arranged as a decalogue.10 torical changes of 1989, see also Ricardo Ffrench-Davis, Economic Reforms in Chile: From Dictatorship to Democracy (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010). 9 See Marek Borkowski, ‘Sprzedać, oddać, wydzierżawić’, Polityka 32, no. 49 (December 1988): 1 and 4. 10 For details on the contemporary rationale behind the reforms, see Leszek Balcerowicz and Jerzy Baczyński, 800 Dni Szok Kontrolowany (Warsaw: Polska Oficyna Wydawnicza, 1992). In this book, Balcerowicz uses the word ‘shock’, which he had prudently avoided in 1989. Leszek Balcerowicz, ‘Albo szybko, albo wcałe’, Polityka 33, no. 48 (December 1989). For details on the American consultants’ view of the design of these radical reforms, see Jeffrey Sachs and David Lipton, ‘Poland’s economic reform’, Foreign Affairs 69, no. 3 (Summer 1990): 47–66.

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The reforms had mixed effects. Inflation was brought under control, but GDP decreased by a total of 18 per cent in 1990 and 1991. Industrial production declined by almost one-third, and wage limitations dampened demand over a sustained period. Another effect was a huge increase in unemployment. In 1992, 2.3 million people in Poland were unemployed – 13.5 per cent of the labour force.11 Critics like Grzegorz Kołodko, later post-communist Minister of Finance, therefore spoke of a ‘shock without a therapy’.12 While some international experts would have approved of an even more radical course, Balcerowicz made certain concessions. For instance, he reduced the speed at which large enterprises were privatized. Ultimately, he acted rather pragmatically. In 1992, the economy started to pick up again, and Poland was the first of the former Eastern Bloc countries to recover from the deep recession of 1989–91. Thus, the shock therapy was internationally perceived to be a success.13 At the political level, it was not. The parties that had evolved from Solidarność lost the 1993 elections against the post-communists. These, however, did not take back the reforms as previously promised but only mitigated them. Turning to Germany, Theo Waigel, West German Minister of Finance in 1989, and Wolfgang Schäuble, one of the main authors of the Unification Treaty, were neither among the followers of the neoliberal Chicago School of Economics, nor in favour of a ‘shock therapy’. Both ministers of the centre-right governments were Christian Democrats and adherents of ordoliberalism and the German model of the ‘social market economy’. But apart from social cushioning, stronger government regulation, and a system of collective wage agreements, the neoliberal and ordoliberal reform concepts were largely congruent. See the figures in Alexandra Bykova et al., wiiw Handbook of Statistics 2012: Central, East and Southeast Europe (Vienna: wiiw, 2012), table II/1.7. In December 1989, Balcerowicz had expected a slight decrease in demand and a limited rise in unemployment. See Balcerowicz, ‘Albo szybko’, 1 and 5. 12 For details, see also Grzegorz Kołodko, From Shock to Therapy: The Political Economy of Postsocialist Transformation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000). 13 As mentioned, Balcerowicz initially did not label his radical reform program as a shock therapy. The term probably goes back to an article on Poland in the New Yorker. 11


Philipp Ther

In Czechoslovakia, the Chicago School had direct influence. Nobel Memorial Prize winner Milton Friedman, for instance, toured east central Europe in 1990 and found a particularly enthusiastic supporter in Václav Klaus, then Czechoslovakian Minister of Finance.14 The latter’s model of voucher privatization was, in turn, taken up in Russia. It did not work there, however. Rather, it led to the emergence of oligarchs, who bought up most of the vouchers, distorted the privatization through insider deals, and have dominated the Russian economy to this day. The German shock therapy Radical economic reforms can be pushed through most easily if the economies concerned are on the brink of collapse. This was the case, without doubt, in the last year of the GDR. The exchange rate of the East German mark (DDM) to the Deutsche Mark (DEM) declined to 7 to 1 in the autumn of 1989 and, at times, went even lower the following winter. This meant that East Germany’s high foreign debt could no longer be serviced. The asymmetry of power between West and East was reflected, inter alia, in the type of reunification that was chosen: German reunification was executed as an ‘accession’ of the five ‘new Länder’ pursuant to Article 23 of the Basic Law and not Article 146, which was actually intended for such a scenario. This means that what we are dealing with here was in fact an enlargement of West Germany and not a unification of two equal states. The sharp fall of the East German mark mirrored the economic problems of the GDR and the gloomy expectations of its future. However, depreciation had already started much earlier. While, in the 1980s, the GDR insisted on the parity of the East German mark – both officially and in the compulsory exchange of currency for West Germans traveling to the GDR – the GDR’s foreign trade bank halved the internal clearing rate to the Deut14

See also the television documentary called Free to Choose, which Friedman produced in 1990 for the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), a U.S. public television broadcaster. In episode 4 on ‘Freedom and Prosperity’, Friedman traveled to eastern Europe. The episode also features Václav Klaus, who readily confirms Friedman’s teachings. The program is accessible online at www.youtube.com/watch?v=l2h5OR1QX3Y (accessed on 7 October 2019). Klaus appears as of minute 20.

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sche Mark (like the other currencies of the communist countries, the East German mark was not convertible). In 1988, the foreign trade bank’s internal exchange rate, which was kept strictly secret, came to no more than DDM 4.40 to DEM 1, because the GDR was not able to sell its goods at a higher exchange rate. Illegal moneychangers in the backyards of East Berlin or Leipzig paid roughly the same rate; the black market thus reflected the economic situation more accurately than official exchange rates. When the East German mark depreciated after the ‘fall of the Berlin Wall’, wages and salaries in the GDR, which were low at any rate, depreciated even further. As in Poland or Czechoslovakia, a tank of fuel or a broken washing machine often were enough to strain a household’s budget. This economic crash, together with the general uncertainty, explains why the call Wir sind ein Volk (We are one people) grew louder and louder in the fall and winter of 1989–90. By the spring of 1990, a new slogan had taken hold: Kommt die D-Mark, bleiben wir, kommt sie nicht, geh’n wir zu ihr! (If we get the Deutsche Mark, we’ll stay; if we don’t, we’ll come get it). The last part of the slogan referred to the threat of mass emigration from the GDR to escape economic misery. In the East German election campaigns of 1990, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) offered an obvious way forward: quick reunification and, en route, economic and monetary union with West Germany. The CDU kept this electoral promise. On 1 July 1990, the Deutsche Mark – symbol of prosperity – became the official currency of East Germany, prompting celebrations in Berlin, Leipzig, and other cities. But how come a one to one exchange rate was applied, given the rapid depreciation of the East German mark after the fall of the Berlin Wall? The Deutsche Bundesbank cautioned against the economic risk of too strong appreciation, arguing the case for a two to one exchange rate. Representatives of the State Bank of the GDR even called for a seven to one exchange rate as this would have corresponded to the country’s economic power and would thus have enabled eastern German companies to compete with West German industry.15 For details on the calculation of the exchange rate, see Gerlinde Sinn and Hans-Werner Sinn, Kaltstart: Volkswirtschaftliche Aspekte der deutschen Vereinigung (Tübingen: dtv, 1992). For details on the proposal by the State Bank of the GDR, see the 28 February 2015 interview ‘Eine



Philipp Ther

In the end, however, the West German government under Federal Chancellor Helmut Kohl took a political decision and opted for the one to one exchange rate (the only exceptions being large savings deposits and company debts, where a rate of one to two or one to three applied). The threat of a mass migration from East to West was a frequently used argument that indeed distinguished the situation in Germany from that of the other postcommunist countries.  The German Sonderweg Given the focus on national unity and the traditional orientation toward the West, the western German elites turned a blind eye to what was happening in their immediate neighbourhood. In Czechoslovakia, which was almost as wealthy as the GDR, the koruna (CSK) also dropped dramatically in the winter of 1989–90. Its exchange rate declined to the three-times lower black market rate, i.e. to around CSK 15 to DEM 1. Unlike the German government, the Czechoslovak government accepted this depreciation. Following the example of Poland and Hungary, Minister of Finance Václav Klaus intended to keep the national currency cheap in order to boost exports, save the large, formerly socialist enterprises, and keep unemployment down. This strategy worked well until the Czech banking crisis of 1997. While the currency depreciation made Czechoslovak exports cheaper by a factor of around three (that is, when taking the official exchange rate as a point of reference), the German monetary union meant a fourfold price increase for East German exports compared with the 1988 clearing rate. This automatically meant that eastern German products – a Wartburg car, to name a typical example – would never be able to compete with a Škoda, or any other Czech product, and that production shifts in industry would most likely pass by eastern Germany. After the currency union, very many east European customers cancelled their orders from East German companies, because they had to pay in Western currency, and on top of that the 1:1 exchange made the produce einzige Schweinerei’ by Deutschlandfunk with the bank’s vice president Edgar Most, see www.deutschlandfunk.de/25-jahre-treuhandanstalt-eine-einzige-schweinerei.694.de.html?dram:article_id=312882. Last accessed: 7 October 2019.

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much more expensive in their currencies. It was not the breakdown of the Comecon and then of the Soviet Union which was the most important factor leading to the rapid plunge of East Germany’s eastern exports, but the homemade economic policy. Monetary union was followed by a second shock to the eastern German economy: the quick liberalization of foreign trade. When East Germany joined the Federal Republic of Germany and, by doing so, the European Community, all trade barriers fell – a step that is laid down, in principle, in the Washington Consensus. The eastern German economy was not able to cope with this competition. From this perspective, not joining the EU before 2004 was an advantage for the other post-communist countries. But still, the conditions for integration into the European single market and the world market were a lot less protective than in the three decades after 1945, when western Europe was reconstructed and West Germany experienced its Wirtschaftswunder. The third particularity of the German transformation was radical privatization, which disregarded a basic market mechanism. There were times when Treuhandanstalt, the German government agency responsible for privatization, was in charge of 12,534 enterprises with more than four million employees. More than 10,000 enterprises were sold by the end of 1992 alone, i.e. in a period of only two years.16 If such huge numbers of enterprises are put on the market, it is clear that their sales prices will drop dramatically. And indeed, instead of the expected profit of around DEM 600 billion, the Treuhandanstalt recorded losses in the amount of DEM 270 billion, i.e. more than DEM 15,000 per (former) GDR citizen. At the end of 1994, Germany’s federal government proudly announced the dissolution of Treuhandanstalt, stating that privatization had been completed. But with most privatized enterprises, production was simply discontinued. In the enterprises sold by Treuhandanstalt, only every fourth job was preserved according to Böick’s calculations. To this day, many mostly medium-sized towns whose prosperity had depended on a small number of large factories have not been able to cope with this structural break.

For details, also on data provided in the following, see Marcus Böick, Die Treuhand: Idee – Praxis – Erfahrung 1990–1994 (Göttingen: Wallstein, 2018).



Philipp Ther

These critical remarks on Germany’s shock therapy – which, unlike Poland’s, never became known by that name – lead to the question of whether there would have been any alternatives. This was, of course, denied in the early 1990s, when ‘there is no alternative’ was the prevailing attitude toward the reforms. Maintaining a realistic exchange rate during monetary union would have disappointed many voters in the East and created an even wider pay and pensions gap. Would this have been enough for even more people to move from eastern Germany to western Germany, as had been feared? This question cannot be answered ex post. It is a fact, however, that despite the cushioning of the reforms and despite high transfer payments from western Germany to eastern Germany, 1.4 million people moved from the eastern to the western Länder in only four years.17 In this respect, the wider objective of monetary union, namely to keep the people in eastern Germany, was not achieved. When we look beyond Germany, we see that there were indeed alternatives to privatization. In Poland, the Czech Republic, and especially Slovakia, for instance, large enterprises of strategic importance were continued to be run under state management and sold only at the end of the 1990s. This did not mean that these enterprises continued to make losses like they did before 1989. They had to work for profit, at which some of them actually succeeded. A measure to which there most likely was ‘no alternative’ was the liberalization of foreign trade and the opening of the eastern German market. Slowing down these processes would probably have been possible only within a special customs area, with different import restrictions or within a special economic zone. The People’s Republic of China applied such measures in a number of regions. In the EU, however, these would have been difficult to enforce. Moreover, a special economic zone in eastern Germany, or in parts of the eastern Länder, would have entailed stronger economic competition for West German producers – in which neither politicians nor enterprises in western Germany had any On East-West migration, see Bernd Martens, ’Zug nach Westen – Anhaltende Abwanderung’, www.bpb.de, accessed 15 October 2019, www.bpb.de/geschichte/deutsche-einheit/lange-wege-der-deutscheneinheit/47253/zug-nach-westen?p=all.


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interest. Tough competition from the West also hit those former GDR citizens who had started their own businesses. They fared worse compared to other professional groups and new entrepreneurs in Poland and the Czech Republic. The self-employed often experienced a social decline. In the worst cases, their businesses went bankrupt.18 The professional group that suffered the least were civil servants – unless they lost their positions for having had secretly collaborated with the State Security Service (Stasi) or having held a prominent position in the SED. Through the monetary union, and the expansion of collective wage agreements to include the five new Länder, eastern German civil servants saw their salaries climb substantially. This was all the truer for the many western German civil servants that were sent to work in eastern Germany. They even received special bonus payments, which were at the time originally labelled as ‘jungle complementary’ (Dschungel­ zulage). However, the German federal government lacked further visions about which social classes and elites, apart from imported civil servants, were to carry eastern Germany forward. The price for this mixture of national self-centeredness, neoliberalism, and a lack of vision for society was an unprecedented economic downturn. By the mid-1990s, industrial production in eastern Germany had dropped to 27 per cent of its 1988 level. No other post-communist country in Europe, not even war-torn Bosnia and Herzegovina, saw a comparably dramatic decline.19 As a result, 1.4 million people from the new Länder left their homes by 1994. This number corresponded almost exactly to that of newly established businesses in Czechoslovakia – the CSSR had almost as many inhabitants as the GDR, which allows for their comparison. In Poland and Hungary, too, many people started their own businesses. Altogether, around 4 million businesses were established in the Visegrád countries in the first five years after 1989.20 In the GDR, the number of newly founded businesses was significantly lower. See Martin Diewald, Anne Goedicke and Karl Ulrich Mayer (eds.), After the Fall of the Wall: Life Courses in the Transformation of East Germany (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006). 19 See Zenonas Norkus, On Baltic Slovenia and Adriatic Lithuania: A Qualitative Comparative Analysis of Patterns in Post-Communist Transformation (Budapest–New York: CEU Press, 2002), 80. 20 See the figures on enterprises provided in Iván T. Berend, From the 18


Philipp Ther

The collapse of the eastern German economy strained the government budget and, in particular, social security funds which, directly or indirectly, had to provide for the millions of unemployed. The government issued early retirement programs, the cost of which was mostly imposed on pension funds, and health insurance providers had to make high transfer payments as well. But pacifying the eastern German ‘losers of transformation’ by social benefits could not be financed in the long run.21 The continuous rise of social security contributions, taxes, and government debt continued in the 1990s at the expense of economic growth throughout Germany. Reunited Germany had reached a dead end. Federal Chancellor Helmut Kohl lost the elections and Gerhard Schröder won the 1998 elections by promising reforms. Second stage reforms and co-transformation Schröder’s centre-left coalition government formed by the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) and Alliance ‘90/The Greens then took a series of measures implemented in east central Europe earlier on. These included the partial privatization of pension funds and labour market liberalization. For some time, Germany saw lively discussions about introducing a flat tax on wages and income and an otherwise simplified tax system as well as about collecting healthcare contributions instead of incomerelated health insurance contributions.22 Soviet Bloc to the European Union (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 61. It should be added, though, that many of these newly self-employed persons took this step because they had lost their jobs. Many of these one-person businesses in trade and retail went out of business, when western supermarkets began to spread. 21 For details on the crisis of the German welfare state, see Gerhard A. Ritter, Der Preis der deutschen Einheit: Die Wiedervereinigung und die Krise des Sozialstaates (Munich: C.H.Beck, 2006). 22 After the turn of the millennium, the flat tax was introduced in all the other post-communist countries; however, in the aftermath of the 2009 crisis, it was discontinued in many countries. See Hilary Appel and Mitchell A. Orenstein, From Triumph to Crisis: Neoliberal Economic Reform in Postcommunist Countries (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), 90–116. On pension reforms at the global level, see Mitchell A. Orenstein, Privatizing Pensions: The Transnational Campaign for Social Security Reform (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009).

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With regard to post-communist Europe, we may speak of a cotransformation that originated in the problems of running eastern Germany which eventually impacted on the former West of the country. Of course, reforms and policy models in the West were also a point of reference, especially the social reforms enacted by Tony Blair’s New Labour. What was new about the red-green labour market and social reforms was that they hit people in western Germany as hard as in the east, though the latter were affected more by the cutbacks because of the high level of long time unemployment. Moreover, lower wage growth (in some years below the level of inflation) caused ‘internal depreciation’. This situation, however, had rather resulted from the negotiations between employers and trade unions under the Bündnis für Arbeit (Alliance for Work), in place between 1998–2002, than from the reforms. Even before then, compromises were frequently made at enterprise level in line with the slogan ‘keeping jobs through pay restraints’. This was the contribution corporate Germany, though much condemned at the time, made to ensure that German industry could later regain its competitiveness. Most mainstream economists have lauded the long term effect of the Hartz reforms, but it had a negative effect on social and regional disparities. Social inequality in Germany rose from its original level, which almost matched those observed in Scandinavia, to levels comparable with those recorded in other postcommunist countries, such as Hungary or Poland. Germany’s Gini coefficient (the international standard measure of income inequality) went up from 0.25 in 1999 to 0.29 in the 2009 crisis year.23 While these developments cannot be traced to one single factor such as Hartz IV, it is indisputable that the social and labour market reforms increased fears of social decline. This was, in fact, the intention. The threat of poverty was to motivate people to take on poorly paid jobs for which they had to commute much further. 23

The data quoted here for Scandinavia and CESEE are accessible at www. gini-research.org/articles/cr. Last accessed 15 October 2019. The respective country reports also provide information on the type of data collection. For details on the social impacts of the Hartz reforms, see i.a. Klaus Dörre et al., Bewährungsproben für die Unterschicht? Soziale Folgen aktivierender Arbeitsmarktpolitik (Frankfurt a.M.: Campus, 2013).


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This negative mobilization, which took on an even greater dimension in the poorer post-communist countries, may have contributed to the subsequent ‘German job miracle’, but at the same time, it caused uncertainty among broad segments of society. This is where we find the underlying reasons for the high numbers of votes for the right-wing populist party Alternative for Germany (AfD) in eastern Germany. In Saxony, the AfD even came in strongest in the 2017 parliamentary elections, beating the CDU by a narrow margin. For Germany, this was a political shock which, however, comes as less of a surprise when comparing the former GDR with Poland, the Czech Republic, or Slovakia. Both here and there, it was not only the ‘transformation losers’ who voted for populist parties, but middle class voters who were better off than before but remembered former unemployment and social decline and were afraid – not least because of the so-called refugee crisis and its instrumentalization by right-wing populists – that things might change and they might have to face social cutbacks yet again.24 The fundamental problem here, as with the EU as a whole, is that the current economic order is particularly beneficial to those countries, regions, and social groups that are already wellpositioned. Other parts of Europe and its societies are, by contrast, falling behind and have poor economic prospects. In some ways, Hartz IV meant a reversal of the 1990 strategy. While monetary union aimed for a swift westernization, Hartz IV and, above all, the newly introduced low-wage sector (e.g. through the ‘Ein-Euro-Jobs’, which pertained to an hourly rate of one Euro) led to an adjustment of labour costs to wages that were common in Poland and the Czech Republic at the time. This is yet another example of a cotransformation of the united Germany. However, the very concept of a low-wage sector was developed by Chicago School economists and tested in the 1980s in ‘Rust Belt’ states of the US. Later, the experiment was discarded because it did not bring the desired results. The Hartz reforms, however, did little to ease the predicament of the five new Länder. This was, among other things, due to the For details, see one of the most perceptive books published recently among the many contributions on populism: Philip Manow, Die politische Ökonomie des Populismus (Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2018), 94.


The price of unity 45

fact that labour market activation – the unemployed were now called ‘job seekers’ – did not help much in regions where there were few jobs. The government had no option but to support the unemployed, send them into early retirement, or occupy them through job creation measures. This continued to be costly. In total, net transfers payments from western to eastern Germany in the 25 years between 1989–2014 came to EUR 1.6 trillion.25 In record years, net transfer payments amounted to up to EUR 100 billion, which were spent on modernizing infrastructure, privatization and, above all, social benefits. Despite these flows of funds, the new Länder only generated roughly two-thirds of western German GDP per capita in 2015 (these figures are based on collated economic data for the five new Länder).26 The Czech Republic, which had to cope without the support of a ‘big brother’ in the West, reached almost the same In this case, ‘net’ means that return flows from eastern to western Germany and transfers to the federal budget, e.g. through taxes collected from eastern Germans, are taken into account). The figure of EUR 1.6 trillion is quoted from Jürgen Kühl, ‘25 Jahre deutsche Einheit: Annäherungen und verbliebene Unterschiede zwischen West und Ost’, www.bpb.de, accessed 15 October 2019, www.bpb.de/politik/innenpolitik/arbeitsmarktpolitik/55390/25-jahre-deutsche-einheit?p=all. The problem with these estimations is that the German federal government has not collected exact statistical data on transfer payments since 1999. Transfer payments also comprise reconstruction aid (which, in some cases, could also be applied for in western Germany) and special benefits, e.g. special economic promotion programs. A comprehensive calculation of all individual types of payments and return flows can be found in Ulrich Blum et al., Regionalisierung öffentlicher Ausgaben und Einnahmen – Eine Untersuchung am Beispiel der Neuen Länder (Halle: Halle Institute for Economic Research, 2009). 26 For details, see the extended new edition of Philipp Ther, Die neue Ordnung. The calculations provided, in turn, are based on data on the so-called NUTS2 regions, which are available from Eurostat at ec. europa.eu/eurostat/tgm/table.do?tab=table&init=1&language=en&pcode=tgs00006&plugin=1. Last accessed 7 October 2019. Eurostat data are updated regularly; the last census in Germany, for example, entailed adjustments as population figures were corrected downward and thus GDP per capita had to be corrected upward. Of course, there are other economic data that are more comprehensive than GDP data, e.g. the Human Development Index (HDI); but only GDP data have been collected regularly also at the regional and local level (according to NUTS3 regions, inter alia) since 1989; this is why my Die neue Ordnung auf dem alten Kontinent: Eine Geschichte des neoliberalen Europa and this article refer mostly to GDP data. 25


Philipp Ther

GDP per capita (adjusted by purchasing power parity) – without the transfer payments mentioned earlier. Summary and conclusions Germany’s history since the fall of the Berlin Wall gives rise to critical questions on various topics – the neoliberal reform concepts of the early 1990s and early 2000s on the one hand, and the effectiveness of government spending programs on the other. Moreover, any critical examination should also deal with the longterm consequences of the massive uncertainty that was created within society by mass unemployment, the high rates of EastWest migration and the way the German public has dealt with these issues since 1990. This applies not only to the former GDR, but to all new EU Member States where economic reforms – irrespective of their economic assessment – came at a price, both politically and socially. Obviously, not enough people have profited from the reforms.27 One consequence of these disparities has been a drastic increase in labour migration from East to West. It would be too simple, however, to trace any later successes or problems to the ‘shock therapy’ Germany went through. Moreover, countries that hesitated to implement reforms in the early 1990s (like Romania, Bulgaria, or Ukraine) did not fare any better. Still, the argument by Shleifer and Treisman that there was a direct causal link between the radical reforms and subsequent economic growth – in terms of cause and effect – cannot be upheld.28 Other factors played a decisive role in economic transformation. Timing is one example. The forerunners of reform had an enormous initial advantage, as had those countries that had already permitted private businesses to a greater extent in the 1980s. Another equally important factor was the geographical proximity to western European markets. Production moved to post-communist countries located closer to western Europe than See Branko Milanovic, ‘Reform and inequality in the transition: An analysis using panel household survey’, in Gérard Roland (ed.), Economies in Transition: The Long Run View (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 84–108. 28 Shleifer and Treisman, ‘Normal Countries’. 27

The price of unity 47

countries further away. Irrespective of these factors, educational levels were comparably high across all post-communist countries (a fact woefully ignored during the time of transformation); experts were well-trained and wages low. This is not to say that ‘good’ or ‘bad’ economic policies did not play a role, but the argument that shock therapy was the root of all subsequent economic success does not hold, as the examples of eastern Germany and Poland show. Moreover, if we only told a success story, we would disregard the problems that occurred when building democracies, as exemplified in the populist revolt that took place in the 2001 and 2005 elections in Poland, or the protest votes for the post-communist Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) in eastern Germany. The global financial crisis of 2008–2009 and the euro crisis of 2011 called into question the teloi of transformation: the pure doctrine of market economy, liberal democracy, and the desired convergence with the West. With the annus horribilis of 2016 (Brexit, Trump, defeat of the reformatory left in the Italian constitutional referendum), we have entered a new era. Since then, the West as a relatively homogeneous ‘community of values’, in place since the end of World War II, has ceased to exist. In this respect, transformation – which, after 1989, had been understood to be teleologically designed – has come to an end. The core countries of liberal capitalism, the UK and USA – have become protectionist; parliamentary democracy and the rule of law have been weakened; European integration has almost come to a standstill or is being scaled back; even the word ‘reform’ has widely fallen into disrepute. All this is happening in a generally buoyant global economy. We do not know what might happen politically if there were a recession or a strong rise in interest rates. But, as we have seen from the ‘1989 experience’, each transformation holds an opportunity.

Thirty years on: Germany’s unfinished unity

Claus Leggewie

The Berlin Wall, and the Iron Curtain bisecting Germany were the most striking and deadly aspects of the division of the European continent agreed by the Allies at Yalta. First and foremost, Germany’s families, friendship groups and social relations were rent apart. And although this dismemberment could be understood as a logical consequence of the crimes of the ‘Third Reich’, it wasn’t seen that way in Eastern Europe. From Riga to Sofia, one totalitarian foreign occupation had replaced another. Any hint of dissent was brutally crushed or cynically normalized by Soviet power and its satellites. There, the lack of state autonomy gave new life to the concept of national sovereignty, whereas in the west it was becoming easier to accept the passage of sovereignty over to a supranational European community. And it was here that the ambiguous role of the German Democratic Republic acquired a particular significance. Although a part of the Warsaw Pact and the most industrially and technically advanced country in Comecon, the GDR was the object of suspicion amongst its peers both due to its particular loyalty to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and on anti-fascist, anti-German grounds. At the same time, the GDR had a love-hate relationship with the Federal Republic of Germany: both radically estranged from it as the ‘other Germany’, and longing to be reunited with it, whether under the banner of socialism or not. A (still largely implicit) GDR nationalism only arose in the 1970s: otherwise, East Germans were silent partners in ‘Deutschmark nationalism’ and the EU. Ivan Krastev has advanced the theory that the Eastern Europeans who so enthusiastically joined the European Union for reasons of economics and security policy at some point began to regard it as a new ‘prison house of nations’, a kind of soft Soviet

Thirty years on


Union.1 While that was something of an exaggeration, it is a fact that people in countries of the former Eastern Bloc have become more estranged from the EU, and this sentiment exists in East Germany too, more strongly than in the west of the country. In the former GDR, too, the name ‘Brussels’ often inspires a postcolonial aversion, nostalgia for the Deutsche Mark, a yearning for greater representation, a nationalistic reserve. In autumn 2019, elections have taken place, and it came even worse in parts of East Germany. While the European relevance of these elections ought to be clear enough, the established parties, including the post-communist Left, are fretfully watching Alternative für Deutschland draw level in the polls with the CDU, SPD and die Linke, now and then looking like the party set to leave its mark on the ‘new states’. People are rubbing their eyes in disbelief: how could the völkisch-authoritarian right be the successor to the SED’s one-party state? For others it is no surprise, given the racist pogroms of 1991 in Hoyerswerda and 1992 in Rostock-Lichtenhagen during the early phase of ‘transformation’. Today, still the majority of acts of xenophobic hatred are committed in East Germany, which is also the home to the Pegida movement and an identitarian think-tank, the Institut für Staatspolitik. But that shouldn’t be seen as the East’s shame: Turkish families were murdered in West Germany, in Mölln in 1992 and in 1993 in Solingen; and the AfD originates from the western half of the country and cashes in considerable electoral success even there. And when one sees the far right, anti-Islam sentiment and hatred against foreigners in the Ruhrgebiet, in the Swabian Alps and on the North Sea coast too, then the New Right in the east looks more like a warning about a failure of integration. Those living in the east in 1990s, or those visitors who kept their eyes and ears open, got a sense of the dissatisfaction that was welling up; one could tell that protests were on their way, and there was also a hint that a future people’s uprising wouldn’t be coming from the left.2 Since the early 1990s, every-day racism has become entrenched, and has become a part of the narrative that underpins the identity of a part of East German society. As a significant chunk of Party of Democratic Socialism (successor to the GDR’s ruling Ivan Krastev, After Europe (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017). 2 See Claus Leggewie, Druck von rechts: Where is the Federal Republic going? (Munich: C.H. Beck, 1993).



Claus Leggewie

SED party) voters migrated over to AfD, xenophobia and racism became the vectors of an anti-democratic societal critique.3 Failures of integration In order to understand this rightward drift, we have to look back into the immediate post-reunification period. Driven on by the ‘Chancellor of Unity’ Helmut Kohl, 1990 saw the ‘rapid absorption’ option win out as the GDR joined the FRG. The somewhat threatening slogan of the day was: Kommt die D-Mark, bleiben wir, kommt sie nicht, geh’n wir zu ihr! (If we get the Deutsche Mark, we’ll stay; if we don’t, we’ll come get it). The alternative to the swift procedure provided for under the Federal Constitution’s Article 23 would have been the expensive and time-consuming convocation of a Constituent Assembly under Article 146. In such an assembly, the East German citizens’ movement would have been politically stronger and more numerous than under the party system imported from the West, which imposed the phenomenon of ‘party blocs’.4 At the time, most considered a Constituent Assembly utopian and risky: but today we are counting the cost of the failure to consider winding up the economically bankrupt and morally decrepit GDR in a way that went easier on its 16 million inhabitants. Kohl promised ‘blossoming landscapes’ meaning some renovated highways and stylish tourist hotspots, but what happened first was a veritable bloodbath of deindustrialization, under the aegis of the Treuhandanstalt which was so widely-detested by new Federal citizens. From a commercial point of view there was no choice but to wind these firms up; but the process provoked an exodus, and feelings of impotent rage amongst those who stayed behind. As of this year, Germany has been united for a longer time than the Wall and its barbed wire stood. And this is to be the last year in which money from Solidarpakt II is spent in East Jana Hensel und Wolfgang Engler, Wer wir sind: Die Erfahrung, ostdeutsch zu sein (Berlin: Aufbau, 2018). 4 See, based on the Arendtian notion of foundation (Gründung), Claus Leggewie, ‘Der Mythos des Neuanfangs – Gründungsetappen der Bundesrepublik Deutschland: 1949–1968–1989’, in Helmut Berding (ed.), Mythos und Nation: Studien zur Entwicklung des kollektiven Bewußtseins in der Neuzeit (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1996), 275–302. 3

Thirty years on


German states. The end of an era? At first – and second – glance, the balance-sheet seems straightforwardly positive: living conditions – meaning infrastructure, wealth and the welfare state – have converged to a great extent. And what’s more, for many years now Germany has been ruled by former GDR citizen Angela Merkel, and in Joachim Gauck the country even had an Eastern Federal President. The SED regime was wound up swiftly; gaps and potholes found themselves filled. In many places, memorials have been erected to the repression carried out by the SED/Ministry of State Security and the history linking persecutors and victims whose paths now cross every day is passed over in ‘communicative silence’ (to employ a bon mot coined by philosopher Hermann Lübbe in reference to the Nazi period). The generation born after 1980 live, work and study either side of the old wall and no longer notice much of a difference. Fundamentally they grew up after the wall: they have digested their parents’ and teachers’ adjustment problems, and now regularly travel across Europe’s disappearing borders. And while the GDR was mentally bound up with the West before 1989, from 1990 onwards its westernization raced on apace. The Bonn Republic’s institutional architecture was grafted wholesale onto the ‘new states’; only a few achievements of Actually Existing Socialism remained, whether in full or in part, like the amended abortion legislation. The initiatives of the East German citizens’ movement in democratic politics were largely ignored; the post-communist left struck anti-western postures and preached a socialist tradition which had never been practised in the GDR. The resulting weak party ties and distance from political, economic and intellectual elites paved the way to the expansion of the political system from three parties to six or more.5 Changes to the structure of society accompanied this easternization: the Berlin Republic became more Protestant and at the same times more atheist; it took on more of a national and Eurosceptic character; and in the east of the country a national-neutral outlook persisted, as did a Russophilia unruffled by Vladimir Putin’s aggressive policies. After 1990, thousands tumbled from the GDR’s ‘working society’ (Arbeitsgesellschaft), with its full employment and high pro Claus Leggewie, ‘Die Zukunft der Veröstlichung’, Blätter 61, no. 10 (October 2016): 1244–54.



Claus Leggewie

portion of women in work, into unfamiliar unemployment and early retirement, or else fell back into the role of a housewife or migrated west in great numbers. Since then, the labour market has evened itself out, first and foremost thanks to a higher level of women in employment. But at the same time, inequality has increased, with a widening gap between the income and wealth of the richest and that of the rest of society. Inequality was expressed in subjective assessments of one’s own share in the general wealth and comfort of society. For many of East Germany’s disproportionately numerous unemployed people, for ordinary workers and staff, and for specialists and bosses, it was found that ‘[i]n general, East Germans of almost all strata were much less likely than West Germans to consider their standard of living as fair.’6 There hardened a feeling of not having made it in the new Germany, of not being respected there. Integriert doch erst mal uns! (First off, integrate us!) was the title of a 2018 polemic published by a politician who grew up in the GDR, and which spoke to the hearts of many ‘Ossis’.7 The central contradiction of the post-reunification experience of East Germans, according to essayist Wolfgang Engler, was that ‘in the same moment that they achieve the thing they were striving towards, that is, political and civil rights, they suffer an untold loss of social security. That means that one part of the dream comes true, but on a very fragile basis, one where the ground easily shifts under their feet: and so the experience of democracy gives way to this other experience.’8 That creates a powerful cognitive dissonance: ‘now we have made a revolution; now we have risen up; now we have done something that has rarely been done on German soil, namely an

See Roland Habich and Mareike Bünning, ‘Soziale Lagen in Deutschland’ in Datenreport 2018, www.bpb.de/nachschlagen/datenreport2018/sozialstruktur-und-soziale-lagen/278297/soziale-lagen-indeutschland. 7 Petra Köpping, Integriert doch erst mal uns! Eine Streitschrift für den Osten (Berlin: Ch. Links, 2018). 8 ‘“Der Kollaps der ostdeutschen Gesellschaft war umfassend”: Jana Hensel und Wolfgang Engler im Gespräch’, Deutschlandfunk Kultur, accessed 15 September 2018, https://www.deutschlandfunkkultur.de/ jana-hensel-und-wolfgang-engler-im-gespraech-der-kollaps.1270. de.html?dram:article_id=428203. 6

Thirty years on


uprising, and a successful one at that, with real achievements. Yet at the same time, at the very same time, one’s life falls apart.’9 A shortage of opportunities This is the fatal counterpart to the parallel progress made in terms of both liberal democracy and the market in West Germany after 1949. Awareness of the issue crystallised in the Federal Government’s annual reports on the situation in the new states,10 in the creation of ‘Eastern Commissioners’ in governments and parties, and in the continuation of the Soli (the solidarity tax) and the Solidarpakt, through which the East was able to enjoy structural and regional assistance from the EU. The ideal of convergence is logical for a supra-national, extended welfare state, which works towards equal conditions within an internal market and progressive levelling-up of conditions of life. The most recent report of 2018 underlined where this hadn’t worked, and how a levelling-up could be achieved. The biggest remaining differences fell under the heading of lower gross domestic product per capita; few cities like Jena and Leipzig were able to match the economic power of West German regions. The compartmentalisation of the East German economy and a lack of headquarters of large companies are major reasons for these differences. Not a single East German firm is registered on the DAX-30 index of leading companies. Almost no large company has its headquarters in East Germany. Many East German businesses belong to West Germans or foreign firms. That doesn’t just reduce opportunities for development in the region. One impact of this structural difference is a lower rate of research and innovation activity, as well as less marked internationalisation. Lower productivity and a small number of top earners are also in evidence.11

Ibid. Der Beauftragte der Bundesregierung für die neuen Bundesländer Wirtschaft (ed.), Jahresbericht zum Stand der deutschen Einheit 2018 (Berlin: Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Energie, 2018), 10 et seq. 11 Ibid., 10. 9



Claus Leggewie

The core problem still is the internal migration, above all, of young, well-qualified people from East to West Germany, which led to a dramatic fall in numbers of children in the early 1990s. Although the birth rate has risen again since, the population, and especially the working population, is still falling in East German Länder, and the average age is rising faster than in the West of the Republic. On this trajectory, the ratio between age groups in the east of Germany in the years to come will change to an even greater degree than in the west; the proportion of working-age people will drop markedly, while the proportion of those over 65 will rise considerably. For these reasons, East Germany is in the grip of a serious labour shortage that cannot be compensated by migrant labour because of latent or acute xenophobia. In social terms, the adjustment was relatively successful. The recently-concluded convergence of pension levels was symbolically significant, because it implied recognition of lifetime contributions made under the GDR. East German wage rates are currently around 98 per cent of what they are in the west, despite the fact that certain economists initially wanted to establish the eastern part of Germany as a temporary low-wage zone (which in many respects it did become). However: ‘The average level of actually-paid wages, determined by the structure of the economy as well as wage scales, and not determined by remuneration components read off from the scale, is 82 per cent of the western level.’12 The legal and social-political adjustments have largely come to an end, in particular concerning infrastructure, environmental quality, city and village landscapes, and healthcare. But while cities like Berlin, Potsdam, Leipzig, Dresden, Rostock, Magdeburg and Erfurt are growing and developing research and further education infrastructures, cultural and leisure facilities and tourist pulling-power, their hinterlands are often stagnating. And it is precisely in those hinterlands that the AfD is profiling itself as a home for the dissatisfied, and as the ‘party that cares’. It is possible that East-West relations could even out as a knock-on effect of the increasing cost of living in West German metropoles: low rents, attractive landscapes, well-resourced childcare and a good education system would draw West Germans. However, this would call for more professionals in health care, nurseries and

Ibid., 10.


Thirty years on


schools in regions with weak infrastructure, and an expansion of broadband provision. ‘Completing unification’ is a topic in every Sunday speech. But structural inequalities are in some regards growing deeper, and, above all, East Germans’ subjective perceptions of their situation are growing worse, and their forecasts for the future are more pessimistic than those made by westerners.13 Germany has made extraordinary investments in infrastructure, and well-created (blossoming) landscapes, but the people who live in them are offered little hope. But it would be fatal for this to instil a victim complex and establish ‘East German’ as a quasi-ethnic marker of identity in people’s hearts and minds. It would be no less fatal to conflate the East German experience with the phenomenon of Af D/Pegida. The distinction between them can be seen in the fact that the slogan (stolen from the GDR citizens’ movement) Wir sind das Volk (We are the people) is only being wielded by a vocal minority, which cannot speak for the German people, and still remains a minority even in the Pegida stronghold of Dresden. The rallying of the Wutbürger (angry, reactionary citizens) draws its power first and foremost from the passivity or indolence of the majority, and secondly from secret sympathy for the xenophobic movement in bourgeois circles.14 It is also fuelled by major political missteps on the part of the Berlin government and the administrations of the five East German Länder, all of which are made up of various coalitions of mainstream centre-left (Thuringia, Brandenburg, MecklenburgWest Pomerania) and centre-right (Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt) parties, whose voter bases are dwindling and whose leaders rule out grand coalitions. ‘Wagging the dog’ might be a fitting expression when the weaker part of a society moves the stronger part. The East may have shown the West its own future In those parts of Germany where the fewest migrants and refugees live, the mobilization was catalysed by exaggerated reports of a This emotional attitude can be discerned in literature, in the works of such varied authors as Ingo Schultze, Clemens Meyer, Anna Hüniker, Jana Hensel, Lukas Rietzschel and Eugen Ruge. 14 An example of this is the Common Declaration of 2018, which was brought to the Bundestag as a mass petition.  13


Claus Leggewie

‘refugee crisis’ resulting from the acceptance of several hundred thousand refugees from Asia and Africa. The East German defensive reflex was similar to that seen in former Eastern Bloc states like Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic, where humanitarian aid was opposed with arguments about how Muslims would not adapt to Christian culture – a cynical argument in light of the de-Christianization of the whole region, for which Pegida is overcompensating with its politicised and affected ‘defence of the Christian West’. But this refusal of European solidarity didn’t in any way reduce anyone’s willingness to accept structural and regional aid from the EU. In terms of GDP per capita, East Germany is miles ahead of most of the transition regions in central and eastern Europe, and indeed many southern regions of the EU. Because the EU’s economic power is surely set to fall after Brexit, statistically, the EU will become poorer on average, and Germany richer by comparison. That means that German regions will receive less from European structural assistance funds than before. In summary: the distinct circumstances of the two German states haven’t quite been done away with in the post-reunification period. The six East German states (including Berlin) with around 16 million inhabitants did not seamlessly merge into a larger German society; the East-West difference remains marked and if anything greater than that between North and South. In the post-Soviet transformation process, the GDR was privileged above other former Eastern Bloc states in that it was placed under the social-economic guardianship of the West German elites, and underwent an intensive economic transfer, which alas resulted in substantial problems for East Germans’ collective self-image and identity. The opportunity to establish a new Germany in the fire of the East German Bürgerrevolution will not come again. The status quo is a widespread feeling of alienation, which has become all the more entrenched in recent years in spite of advances in material wellbeing and social cohesion; and this feeling will be difficult to address through social-political redistribution. While infrastructure in the East German states has improved greatly, a subjective feeling of second-class citizenship is rife, as some areas really have been left behind in terms of healthcare, entertainment facilities, digital connectivity and offline shopping opportunities. This is the result of a major fall in population and increase in the

Thirty years on


average age, which could create a vicious circle. This cycle cannot be broken through large-scale investment on a scattergun basis, but only through surgical interventions targeted at particular deprived spots. Such initiatives cannot be left to administrations or parties alone: they require active and engaged citizens. And therein may lie the seeds of a second vicious circle: the ‘debourgeoisement’ of the GDR and the maintenance of welfare-statecentred passivity dampen the life of civil society. But civil society flourishes in many places15; fostering it further and initiating democratic experimentalism is the most important political task of all, and not only in East Germany.16

Thomas Olk and Thomas Gensicke, Bürgerschaftliches Engagement in Ostdeutschland: Stand und Perspektiven (Wiesbaden: Springer, 2014); Julia Simonson, Claudia Vogel, and Clemens Tesch-Römer (eds.), Freiwilliges Engagement in Deutschland: Der Deutsche Freiwilligensurvey 2014 (Wiesbaden: Springer, 2017). 16 Claus Leggewie and Patrizia Nanz, No Representation without Consultation: A Citizen’s Guide to Participatory Democracy, trans. Damian Harrison and Stephen Roche (Toronto: Between the Lines, 2019). 15

This mess of troubled times

Karl Schlögel

Strolling Berlin on the thirtieth anniversary of the fall of the Wall, one is reminded of what Guy Debord half a century ago called ‘the society of the spectacle’ – tourists in masses, son et lumière at every turn. But we have gathered here today not to celebrate 1989, but because we are concerned about the here and now. This is an opportunity to remember, to ask questions and to rethink what has happened since that annus mirabilis, to use the ancient European lingua franca. I don’t intend to tell the story of 1989, of what it was supposed to be or what has become of it, three decades later – others are far better qualified to do that than I. Instead, my approach will be personal and biased, full of distrust for generalizations and the certainties that theoretical models and paradigms offer. I wish to brainstorm or – to use one of Hannah Arendt’s favourite terms – to ‘think without a bannister’. I must confess that I feel deeply uneasy about trying to give an outline of the last thirty years, even in the most general terms. And yes, I even despair about what people like us – writers and analysts, participants in the public debate – have to contribute to an understanding of the societies that have emerged before our eyes. I feel helpless in finding a language to describe a world in the making – post-Cold War or pre-New-Cold-War, polycentric, post-liberal, authoritarian post-postmodern… I prefer phenomenological analysis to working with systems or models, and am well aware of the risks inherent in my approach and the disappointments it might cause.


Karl Schlögel

An ‘annus mirabilis’: In defence of kairos Looking and listening around today, one sometimes gets the impression that the ‘historical moment’ of 1989, with all its excitement and happiness, never occurred – that the event witnessed by many of us has vanished under a mountain of interpretation and reflection; that ‘in fact’ all that happened on the streets of Berlin, Prague, Warsaw, Bucharest and elsewhere was mere self-deception, an illusion, surreality. Despite all the documentaries, the newsreels and interviews, the experience of people appears to have largely been forgotten – people who first crossed the open border, striding enthusiastically or strolling, exploring a world that had been closed to them their entire lives, the thrill of liberty, of the freedom of movement, of reading newspapers they never had access to before, of visiting relatives in the West. This ‘historical moment’ had its illusions, but it was not illusory. It cannot be ‘deconstructed’ or undone. It was part of a great movement of European liberation. Of course, ‘historical moments’ are prone to mythologization – and indeed, 1989 has since become an icon, a caesura between yesterday and tomorrow, a divide between past and future. Everyone had his or her own experience of the ‘great break’ – experiences that do not necessarily coincide with a precise date or place. In my memory, the ‘break’ did not coincide with the fall of the Berlin Wall, although the house I was living in back in 1989 was surrounded by the Wall on three sides, and I could witness the unfolding of events from my own window. For me, the ‘break’ began several years earlier, in 1985 and 1986, when a previously unknown functionary of the Communist Party of the USSR declared that Soviet society needed glasnost and perestroika. Every evening, the news broadcasted things unheard up to this moment. We had no words and no explanations for what was happening and were suspicious – a bit like Helmut Kohl, who early on called Gorbachev ‘a new Goebbels’. We were simply not prepared for this ‘hero of withdrawal’, as Hans Magnus Enzensberger called him. The new era dawned at a different moment for different people. For some, the caesura was the Solidarity movement in Poland in the 1980s; for others it was the outbreak of war in Yugoslavia in 1991. The ‘big bang enlargement’ of the EU in 2004 was the watershed for many, for others it was 9/11 or the financial

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crash in 2008. There was a series of breaks; the focus on one moment and one place ignores the interrelationship of temps d’événements and the longue durée, the overlapping of different layers of time. I do not share the view that the western response to what was happening in eastern Europe was enthusiastic or ‘triumphalist’. On the contrary: there was surprise and relief that ‘Armageddon had been averted’, as Stephen Kotkin put it.1 As usual, we claim in retrospect to know better what really happened, but all historical moments have their own weight and importance, independent of post festum interpretations. To cite Leopold von Ranke, they are ‘immediate to God’. They need to be told and retold. Transformation, transition: Teleology in ‘troubled times’ The notions of transformation and transition only insufficiently grasp the processes taking place towards the end of socialism and after its collapse. The notions imply a hidden linearity. Transformation and transition were not only theories, but also an idiom. The terminology dates back beyond Karl Polanyi’s famous book The Great Transformation2 to the Soviet debate about ‘transition from capitalism to socialism’ (Yevgeni Preobrazhensky, Nikolai Bukharin and others). This was a highly ambitious theory and a tool for replacing anarchic modes of capitalist production with a planned economy. But for transition in the opposite direction there was neither theory nor experience. How, then, to think through and steer the process? I do not believe that the concepts of any given thinker or school – whether Jeffrey Sachs in Harvard or Milton Friedman in Chicago – were responsible for the path taken in eastern Europe. The spontaneous disintegration of the planned economy, with its basis in collective property, was much more decisive. Different theories and concepts were applied in Poland (Leszek Balcerowicz), for example, than in Russia (Anatoly Chubais, Yegor Gaidar). These differences were due much more to the specifics of national economies than to lessons drawn from developments Stephen Kotkin, Armageddon Averted: The Soviet Collapse, 1970–2000 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001). 2 Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation (New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1944).



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abroad. Factors such as the Soviet Union’s imperial character, countries’ varying size, or how long property had belonged to the state, all mattered acutely. The inherent teleology behind the notion of ‘transition’ was a barrier to finding more appropriate categories and a new matrix of analysis. As always with the cage of categories, it took time to escape the Weberian paradigm of ‘western capitalist society’, which did not correspond to the structures that emerged at the end of socialism, as analysed by Rudolf Bahro and others. The processes that took place after 1989–91 undermined, even exploded the standard analytical frameworks of western academia and think tanks. The post-Soviet era was a time of ‘wild thinking’ – fascinating, inspiring and frightening at the same time. The simultaneity of non-simultaneity (Ernst Bloch), the overlapping and interplay of different historical processes, created a degree of confusion that established disciplines could neither embrace nor integrate. The idea that there was a concept or group of people capable of top-down ‘reform’, of guiding the transformation, is naive. There were no masters able to ‘to ride the tiger’. To use Marx’s terminology, history happened wildly (naturwüchsig); it was elemental, out of control. Just to name just some of these simultaneous and overlapping processes: the decolonization of the Soviet empire, nation-building and the reconstitution of sovereignty; the dismantling of state bureaucracies and the rebuilding of civic life; the disintegration of imperial, transnational infrastructures and the integration of new national economies into the global system; freedom of movement and brain drain; or addressing the past amidst the problems of the present. There were unexpected combinations in a huge and chaotic social fabric: former functionaries alongside newcomers, all acting in a grey zone, under poorly defined rules, in a capitalist game closer to Darwin’s survival of the fittest than a regulated free market. Modernization merged with corruption as a way of life; kleptocracy with professional expertise; religiosity with Hollywood-style aesthetics. The 1990s were an ‘era of wild thinking’ liberating as it was frightening. All ideas were reconsidered, values re-assessed – not in philosophical seminars, but around kitchen tables, in public spaces, where monuments were being taken down and streets renamed, and in the media, both ‘old’ or ‘new’. Those who had the capacity to analyse and conceptualize – those who prepared

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the end of Soviet-style ‘totalitarianism’ – lacked the time to do so and were mostly outmanoeuvred. I think that we are still living through those times of trouble, those years of wild thinking, and I have no words to adequately describe them. Spaces of experience and horizons of expectation: The generational challenge Since the populist and right-wing backlashes in Europe and elsewhere, it has become common to pore scorn on the illusions – about East and West, about liberalism – cherished by the activists of 1989. But to merely denounce illusions – to ridicule the prognoses of Francis Fukuyama – would be too simple. The question is why people thought this way. These were not mere illusions, but thoughts and projections emerging from what Reinhart Koselleck called the spaces of experience and horizons of expectation of different generations living under different conditions at different periods of time. Today, we have the chance to reflect on the lasting impact of these different spaces. We, that imagined community of postpostwar and post-Cold War Europeans, lived in different worlds at the same time, and at different times in the same space. Having been born, raised and educated in the western hemisphere, I can try to understand what happened ‘on the other side’, but it was not my world, and vice versa. It would be arbitrary, not to say artificial, to try to integrate or homogenize these different experiences. All we can do is to tell our stories and listen to those of others. This is Europe as a space of telling, remembering, commemorating and researching difficult stories. Of course, there has always been a significant asymmetry. People in the West are generally unfamiliar with the histories of eastern Europeans. There has been some progress in the last thirty years, but the general deficit – the overall lack of knowledge and empathy – has largely remained. Every country, every society has its own rhythm of coming to terms with its past – there is no golden path. Germans are nowadays regarded as ‘world champions’ in ‘coming to terms with the past’, but they would be well-advised to avoid trying to teach lessons to others. Anyone involved in the politics of history in recent decades knows how delicate and sensitive these matters are. It remains a great chal-


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lenge to tell the stories that at some time in the future might compose a European collection – and that collection would still be far from ‘the definitive history of Europe’. Looking back at how Europe’s intelligentsia has addressed its times can be instructive. We had the generation of 1945 – Hannah Arendt, Franz Neumann, but also Viktor Kravchenko and the authors of The God That Failed3 – people who summarized the epoch of totalitarianism, the experience of war and revolution, of mass destruction, genocide, and exile. And we had the generation of postwar reconstruction, not only people like Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, who returned from exile and developed a new language for a devastated continent, but also a younger generation – people like Hans Magnus Enzensberger and Jürgen Habermas in the West, or Czesław Miłosz, Jerzy Giedroyc and Leszek Kołakowski in the East (or in western exile). Then we have the dissident generation, the rebels who undermined the Soviet Empire and the East–West divide: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Andrei Sakharov, György Konrád, Václav Havel, Milan Kundera, Adam Michnik. They were the pioneers of ‘telling the truth’, of understanding the historical epos, of connecting dissidents on both sides of the Iron Curtain. The avant-garde of ’89, they developed the language and the tone for the new times. What has the post-1989 generation offered in comparison to these earlier generations? My generation – born shortly after the war – was blessed: we could live without the menaces and risks that our parents commonly experienced. Most of ‘us’ – again I am talking of an imagined and maybe illusory generational community – lived in orderly conditions, far from war, violence, atrocity, hardship, in a kind of comfort zone, in a world where welfare, security and foreign travel were taken for granted, along with the effective functioning of the state administration and democratic institutions. The darker side of our lives in the comfort zone was lack of experience, our illusion that this was the scale and way of life for everything and everybody. This partly accounts for the limits of our perception and engagement – for our insensitivity. But it is not sufficient to say that after 1989 we misunderstood liberalism, or failed to understand the ‘national question’, as some Richard Crossman (ed.), The God That Failed (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1949).


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now claim in retrospect. Instead, we need to analyse the intellectual environment in which these misunderstandings were generated. Today, ‘we’ are all the children of Schengen Europe, of the bubble that we live in. Europe beyond dreamland: Thinking without a banister The sense that history has not met our expectations is far from new. After the devastation of WWI and the collapse of empires, people expected eternal peace. Ernst Troeltsch, one of the acutest observers of post-WWI Germany, described the intellectual situation in the early 1920s as ‘dreamland’, where everything was thought possible: a Europe that would recover from its wounds. In ‘dreamland’ there was optimism about the future, projections, grand designs, visions. Generations that have experienced disasters often believe they have become immune to xenophobia, hate, violence, aggression and all the other sins of the past. Then they are forced to learn that there are no clear recipes for solving the conflicts of the present. In order to possess the virtues of decency, courage and solidarity, every generation must learn continuously. And there is no guarantee that ‘we’ will be able to defend these virtues. Only the future will show how ‘our generation’ behaved in times of chaos, during waves of discrimination, persecution and violence. The contemporary world is sometimes harder to perceive and to react to than the cruelties of the past; to fight the fights of the present is sometimes harder than to resume or re-enact the fights of the past. Ideologies, words, slogans all matter, but attitudes and actual behaviour are much more decisive. We, the late born, know about the ends of history without having faced the dangers of being involved. We have the overview, at least so we like to imagine. But resistance is something quite different. The present is, in the words of Ernst Bloch, ‘the darkness of the lived moment’ (das Dunkel des gelebten Augenblicks). Today, we live amidst this mess of troubled times. The challenges we face are well-known: the rise of China as a global player and the emergence of a multipolar world; the radical transformation of the economy under the impact of artificial intelligence; impending climate catastrophe. Under these conditions everything is in flux. There is a Left that fights imperialism,


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aggression and war crimes, while remaining silent on Russian aggression in Ukraine and Assad’s war crimes in Syria. A warmonger – Putin – is posing as a peace-broker, performing a ‘master­piece of international diplomacy’. A US president betrays his most active and effective allies in bringing down the Islamic State. The European Union is unable to find a joint solution to the rush of mass migration. The welfare state is undergoing crisis and social inequality is increasing, without any sign of way to reverse the trend or at least to cope with its effects. Authoritarian strongmen across Europe are supported by a broad social stratum reaching deep into the middle classes. Part of the blame obviously lies with the strongmen themselves, who are unscrupulous and cunning. But blame also lies with the ‘others’ – the opposition, the anti-authoritarians, the anti-nationalists, the liberals – who gave the wrong answers and may even not have listened to the questions. How to regain control over mass migration? How to integrate the hundreds of thousands of new arrivals? Rather than asking what citizenship in the 21st century should look like, they simply preferred to call the insistence on national sovereignty ‘nationalism’. In the 1990s, Ralf Dahrendorf wrote about the emergence of ‘parallel worlds’, of societies divided into ‘ordinary’ citizens and globalized ‘cosmocrats’. We know the latter’s phenotype, since we ourselves belong to them, residing in Berlin today, in Helsinki or London tomorrow, commuting between conferences in L.A., Dubai and Paris, with children in international schools and kinder­gartens. I was shocked on the campuses of the East and the West Coasts of America to meet so many people who had been practically been everywhere around the globe, but not in Gary, Indiana or Akron, Ohio. The victory of Trump has to do with this kind of absence, neglect and ignorance. The same goes for the many German intellectuals who only discovered the East after the AfD landslide. It may also apply to parts of the Warsaw intelligentsia, who are more familiar with the timetables of Brussels Airport than with the train schedules in ‘Polska B’. Time to say farewell to dreamland. Welcome on the ground!

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A new German Sonderweg and the return of Russia There is – or was – a long discussion, especially among German historians, about whether there was a German Sonderweg, or ‘special path’ of social and economic modernization. The discussion might be interesting, but history is made up entirely of ‘special paths’. Of course, some of the peculiarities of German history returned to the surface during the process of reunification: different cultural legacies, different ways of addressing the Nazi past, and so on. Dan Diner even wrote about the return of the ‘German question’, after the formation of an eighty-million strong nation at the centre of Europe. Now that Russia has re-entered the international stage, there is discussion of the ‘comeback of the Russian Empire’. I do not believe in an eternal recurrence of the same, but I am concerned about the role that Germany might play in a European Union likely to erode further, or even disintegrate, under the stresses and strains of the new global situation. Germany is often taken as a pillar of stability but, even without taking into account the potential consequences of the looming recession, it might be much more vulnerable than it superficially appears. A majority of Germans want reconciliation with Russia after the deterioration of relations in the aftermath of the Ukraine crisis. The big companies want to return to ‘business as usual’ and demand the lifting of sanctions. The mainstream wants good relations, in the ‘tradition of Bismarck’, as is often said. When it comes to Russia, Germans feel guilty about the millions of victims of Nazi German aggression, forgetting that Germany’s war of annihilation affected all peoples and nationalities of the Soviet Union. Many Germans feel strongly positive about Russia because of Gorbachev’s contribution to Germany’s peaceful reunification but ignore the impact of the democratic movements in eastern central Europe. Many associate with stereotypes about the ‘Russian soul’. Pro-Russian forces cross party lines, from the AfD to Die Linke, and have prominent proponents – among them the former chancellor Gerhard Schröder, Putin’s man in Germany. Not to forget the large minority of Russian-speaking people in Germany whose loyalties are split between their first and second homelands, rather like the Turkish Germans who prefer Erdoğan over Merkel. There is a growing Ukraine fatigue, with many in favour of pressuring the Ukrainian government to make compromises with Russia.


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This would amount to a triumph of appeasement, paving the road to the further destabilization of Europe. All this is in the context of anti-Americanism, always present but now ubiquitous as a result of Trump’s disastrous politics. In the troubled times ahead, we will need to keep an eye on the vulnerabilities of Europe, and especially of Germany. Paradoxes of Europeanization Wizzair, Easyjet, Ryanair have changed the mental maps of Europeans. These low budget airlines are symbols for the radical changes of the past thirty years: the explosion of mobility across borders, as millions of people learned by doing, exploring and creating new networks of knowledge and experience, connecting neighbours, accelerating time – which today is indeed money. The rebirth of cities after decades of dilapidation and decay means that the ‘places to be’ have also changed: Lviv, thirty years ago the ‘metropolis of Europe’s province’ (the title of an essay I wrote in the mid-’80s), is now a central European hub. New destinations are everywhere: Riga, the city of art nouveau; Warsaw, with its downtown skyscrapers; the new Moscow with its five international airports; Kyiv and Krakow, sites of the European football championship in 2012; Saint Petersburg’s European University and (until recently) Budapest’s CEU as centres of allEuropean academic excellence. Of course, this radical change has brought ‘collateral damage’: mass emigration of the workforce to the West and a brain drain of the best qualified, leaving behind empty landscapes and orphans of globalization; rust belts everywhere, ruins next to supermalls. The massive outflow of knowledge and expertise has resulted in a loss of manpower and civic engagement. Not to forget the wars: the destruction of Yugoslavia, with its tens of thousands of victims and hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced persons; the ongoing war in Ukraine, with more than 13,000 dead and two million displaced, the devastation of an industrial region, new nationalistic myths after a period of discovery and painful search for identity. Is this the ‘new normal’ in Europe after half a century of stability in division? The West is certainly part of the same process of ‘normalization’, even though it has ceased to exist as a homog-

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enous entity. Instead, we might say that the ‘former West’ has embarked on a search for a new equilibrium. There are fusions between East and West that we could never have expected back in 1989. Deutsche Bank and Skanska acting as money-laundering machines for trillions of dollars channelled out of Russia, London and Miami as the best places for oligarchic kleptocrats to invest in real estate. ‘Eastern corruption’ has moved westward, fusing with homemade corruption in harbours like New York – the ‘City of the yellow devil’, as Maxim Gorky called it a hundred years ago. As we know, investigating the traces of this transnational corruption brings deadly risks. To recall just a few who risked and lost their lives in the struggle for truth and justice: Anna Politkovskaya, Natalya Estemirova, Ján Kuciak, Daphne Caruana Gali­zia. They are the heroes of our times. Starting from scratch, again and again We must leave our comfort zones – physical and intellectual – and explore what is happening on the ground. We must be aware of the intellectual challenges in dealing with an entirely new situation and try – in all modesty – to do what others before us have managed to do. We need to heed Marx’s famous words, only in reverse: ‘Philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point however is to change it.’ Now the point is to interpret a world that is changing all too fast. The pre-1989 years were a time of exploring, describing and analysing – the Polish school of reportage was just one example. A key slogan of the era was Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s and Václav Havel’s ‘Tell the Truth’. This message is not outdated. But to insist on ‘the truth’ is to face many risks. To investigate, explore and redraw the mental map of Europeans beyond the old-new fault lines is a very difficult job. In order to succeed, it will be necessary to develop a consciousness of history not as a lesson to be drawn or sermon to be preached, but as a way to face the challenges – now and in the future.

The mythology of the East-West divide

Jan Zielonka

I was born in Silesia, which has changed affiliations several times throughout its history. Silesia was part of Greater Moravia, Bohemia, Piast Duchy, the Holy Roman Empire, the Habsburg Monarchy, and Prussia. In Prussia, Silesia represented the eastern flank, but in Bohemia, the Holy Roman Empire, and the Habsburg Monarchy, it represented the north-western flank. At the Potsdam Conference in 1945, Silesia was given to Poland by Attlee, Truman and Stalin. From then on it was the western flank of the Soviet Empire, and seen from Madrid and Paris it belonged to the other, eastern part of Europe, guarded by Soviet tanks. The Cold War border between the eastern and the western camp was artificial, but it was firm and clear. The eastern camp was ruled by communists, and the western part was ruled by liberals from either centre-left or centre-right parties. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, the unification of Germany, and the EU’s successive waves of enlargement, the East-West divide has lost its meaning. However, one should never underestimate the ignorance and arrogance of some journalists and politicians in attaching simple labels to places and people. A collection of these codes, brands and labels describe a world which is no longer there. They hinder our understanding of the complex and ever-changing reality, nourish unfounded biases, and facilitate political demagoguery. Preordained community Despite the fall of the Wall, eastern Europe continues to be part of a common narrative even though it is unclear where eastern Europe begins and where it ends. Nor is it clear whether citizens, cities and states identified as Eastern European have more in com-

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mon than a short history of Soviet rule. The nature and duration of this Soviet legacy is also mysterious. Why are post-communists more neoliberal than the citizens and politicians in the western part of Europe? Is post-communism something worse than post-fascism? (Consider the Francoist legacy within the People’s Party in Spain.) When does one cease to be post-communist? I never was a member of the communist party, yet I am destined to die as a post-communist according to the East-West narrative. I have several Italian colleagues who were members of Partito Comunista, but they would not see themselves or their country as carrying the stigma of post-communism, which is attached to the eastern part of Europe. Post-communism often implies economic backwardness, inefficient governance and lazy workers. While it is true that eastern Europe represents the economic periphery of countries such as Germany, it is worth noting that over the past decade Poland’s economy has grown twice as quickly as Germany’s. The comparison between Poland and Greece is even more striking. While the economy of the latter contracted more than 20 per cent over the past decade, the former grew more than 20 per cent in the same period. This comparison also suggests that inefficient governance is a relative concept. Post-communist countries have been more vigilant in keeping their accounts in order than many of their western European partners. They have also used European funds more efficiently than some of the older EU member states. If post-communist workers are indeed so lousy and lazy, why are they in such demand across the western part of the continent? Newspapers often use the term ‘Eastern Bloc’ even though most countries allegedly belonging to this Bloc are at odds with each other over history, commerce, borders and political aims. How Hungary can belong to the same bloc as Romania and Slovakia is a mystery to me. What does Bulgaria have in common with Latvia in terms of economic and political culture? So-called Eastern European countries do not even share the same eating and drinking habits, although pizza has recently emerged as the most popular dish in most of them. Europe has always been a diversified polity. Some states were large, while others were small; some were rich and some poor; some were imperial and some peripheral. Each of these states had a period of glory and a period of disarray. Political alliances changed with different rulers and with different geopolitics and


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geo-economics. Experiences of war and foreign occupation have also been different. One of the longest and most bloody wars in Europe was between Catholics and Protestants. We still have Catholics and Protestants in Europe, but it is hard to imagine them going to war with each other again because of different religious views. In the field of family politics, Poland has more in common with Italy or Spain than with post-communist Czech Republic. This is because the Czech Republic is the least Catholic country in Europe, while Italy, Poland and Spain are still relatively Catholic. (Only 21 per cent of Czechs now declare themselves to be Catholics, compared with 44 per cent in 1991.) Nor is it easy to find common ground in Eastern Europe when it comes to respective foreign policies. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Poland together with the United Kingdom and Germany belong to an anti-Putin ‘camp’, but important Hungarian, Austrian, Czech or Italian politicians declare themselves to be admirers of Putin. In short, Europe is a complicated maze with many fault lines, not one single fault line, between the East and the West. Addictive populists Eastern Europe is often seen as the birthplace of populism. Viktor Orbán was the first to publicly declare his support for the notion of illiberal democracy in Europe, and Jarosław Kaczyński coined the term ‘counter-revolution’ to describe his efforts to get rid of the liberal legacy in post-communist Poland. These two politicians were also the first to challenge Angela Merkel’s generous policy towards refugees in 2015. This does not mean, however, that either Orbán or Kaczyński invented populism or pioneered the politics of hate towards migrants. Jean-Marie Le Pen was elected to the French Parliament in 1956 and to the European Parliament in 1984. Jörg Haider’s Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) entered a coalition government led by Wolfgang Schüssel in 2000, to the amazement and irritation of other European leaders. Pim Fortuyn List joined the Dutch coalition government after the 2002 elections, even though its anti-Muslim and anti-liberal leader had been assassinated during the electoral campaign.

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It is also true that by the end of 2018 politicians widely labeled as populist controlled governments in only one western European state (Italy) and in seven states of central and eastern Europe (Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Croatia and Bulgaria). This does not mean that the illiberal counterrevolution is a post-communist phenomenon. In Austria, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Finland anti-immigrant right-wing parties are very strong, and influence government policies in many formal and informal ways. (The FPÖ was recently back in the Austrian coalition government, for instance.) In France, the ‘populist’ candidate came second in the last presidential elections, defeating the leaders of all other established parties. In Great Britain, ‘populists’ were able to carry the day in the Brexit referendum and gained ground in both leading parties, Tories and Labour. Even in the prosperous and stable Germany the right-wing nationalist Alternative for Germany (AfD) entered the Bundestag in the 2017 elections with nearly a hundred seats. Populism is a common feature throughout Europe, with local variations, of course. This is partly because of distinct if not bizarre political cultures across Europe: Viktor Orbán does not need to be as funny as Beppe Grillo in order to win votes. This is also because migration has not been spread evenly across the continent. This is also because the burdens of the last financial crisis have affected individual countries differently. Some of them even made money out of the crisis. This last observation leads to the most significant fault lines in today’s Europe. One fault line is between states exposed to refugee flows, chiefly because of their geographic location, and those with no similar pressures. Another fault line is between creditor states and debtor states in Europe. Yet another fault line exists between states governed by illiberal parties, and states where populists are still kept at bay. None of these fault lines have anything to do with the East-West divide. In 2015 Hungary was exposed to refugee flows, while Poland was not. The debtorcreditor drama is chiefly confined to members of the eurozone, and far from all states from the ‘Eastern Bloc’ adopted the single European currency. While populist politicians are doing well in national elections in various post-communist countries, the three Baltic states belonging to the ‘Eastern Bloc’ are strangely immune to the charm of populism.


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President Macron has become the favourite western European leader after he vowed to challenge the bad guys in Eastern Europe. Given the mounting populist pressure in his own backyard this is rather puzzling, not to mention Macron’s own populist tendencies. Timeless stereotypes Stereotypes are part of the symbolic politics of differentiating between friends and foes, good guys and bad guys, aristocrats and barbarians. There is always some truth to all stereotypes. In 1979, Walter Laqueur described France as a case of paranoia (complaints about oppression by the United States and Germany) afflicted by occasional fits of megalomania, overaggression, and defiant behaviour. Britain was for him a case of maladaptation to its surroundings, combined with the relatively rare symptom of claustrophobia, and the wish to insulate itself. Italy was a mixture of severe symptoms of various illnesses, including regression, restlessness, semi-purposive hyperactivity with handwringing, and an inability to sit or lie still, physical and emotional depletion, and fatigue. Some of these comments sound familiar four decades later, but they are too vague to be either correct or false. In any case, it would be wrong to design policies towards these countries based on these stereotypes. The major problem with stereotypes is that they ignore historical change. Certain negative or positive characteristics come and go; they are never timeless. Hungary is now being described as a hotbed of xenophobia, but in the 1990s EU officials saw it as the only post-communist country worthy of EU membership. Poland is now being described as a hotbed of authoritarianism, but in the 1980s it was the key eastern European country able and willing to stand for liberty. Slovenia used to be part of the Balkan ‘hell’ of the 1990s and now it is seen as an oasis of stability in Mediterranean Europe. In the media-saturated world, stereotypes contribute to the general confusion and represent a fertile ground for fake news and post-truth. Politicians should be held to account for their practical deeds, not for their alleged motivations. States are not by virtue good or bad; either they observe international laws or behave like predators. Democracy is not something that cer-

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tain societies are suited to; democracy thrives when people demand liberty and put in place constitutions that regulate political bargaining. Even the most enlightened political leaders can turn autocratic if citizens care little about institutional checks and balances. All this applies equally to various corners of Europe – eastern and western, northern and southern. The Cold War wall no longer divides the continent. Let’s put the ghosts of communism to rest and try to build a united Europe.

Anxious Europe

Florian Bieber

In the midst of the euphoria of the 1990s, the countries that emerged from the breakup of Yugoslavia seemed to be spoiling the party. While Europe was ready to celebrate unification, people were killing each other in the Balkans. It was a tempting moment at which to dismiss this part of the world as an alien region, simply not part of the same club. When the European Union opened its doors to the countries of central Europe, albeit with little initial enthusiasm, no such offer was on the table for post-Yugoslav countries. The end of communism was also different in Yugoslavia. There was no popular uprising and there were no mass protests for democracy. The soft authoritarianism and pluralist competition in the state meant that democracy was not a prime demand. When protests did take place, they were more about national selfrule than self-rule by citizens. But how exceptional, in actual fact, was the Yugoslav exception? In the early 1990s, the Bosnian comedians known as the Nadrealisti (the ‘surrealists’) had a different take. Famous for their black humour and anticipating the path their country would take, they had a skit in which a European observer peeks over a wall and observes the end of a century of Yugoslav wars. The last surviving Yugoslav is invited in to join ‘our small friendly community’. But during a celebratory feast, the Europeans gradually descend into disagreement. As the ensuing argument heats up, the last Yugoslav flees, stuffed with the sumptuous food on offer. In the final scene, an observer from Yugoslavia looks over a wall onto United Europe to monitor the war being waged there. As a precautionary measure, he removes the ladder before going for a beer, just in case ‘one of those fools comes here’. For the Nadrealisti, and many others in Yugoslavia, the prospect of war seemed just as absurd in 1990 as it would to

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most Europeans today. While war still remains unimaginable in Europe, the fracturing of Europe shares some similarities with the fate of Yugoslavia. Slovene economist Jože Mencinger has compared the European Union to Yugoslavia, arguing that both constellations failed to overcome differences among their members. Yet the differences between the European and the Yugoslav stories remain striking. Any country can leave the EU – though of course Brexit illustrates the great difficulty of doing so – whereas there was no clear legal way out for the Yugoslavian republics. The EU is a democratic union that, despite its contentious standing in some quarters, has agreed upon democratically legitimate decision-making mechanisms. Yugoslavia never managed to do this. But apart from these institutional differences, both projects faced a similarly broad challenge in dealing with social and political divergence and convergence. Both were founded to promote prosperity and make war impossible among their constituent parts, while advancing the idea of shared values and promising the more impoverished regions that they would be able to ‘catch up’. This project failed in Yugoslavia, as the more affluent republics grew richer and the most underdeveloped regions fell further behind. In the EU, convergence still works for the countries of central Europe. Every single country except Slovenia has moved closer to the EU’s average GDP per capita, though none has actually reached it; the Czech Republic is the closest, at 89 per cent. Major divergence has come in Europe’s south, where Portugal, Spain, Italy, Cyprus and especially Greece have fallen further behind. In 2006, Greece’s per capita GDP was close to the EU average (96 per cent); by 2017 it was only two-thirds of the average, at the same level as Latvia.1 Thus the idea of North-South convergence has been shattered. It is not just the economic crisis, but also the increasing gap between north-western Europe and southern Europe that has facilitated the rise of left-wing populist parties such as Syriza, and of right-wing parties like the Lega in Italy. There is, however, more to convergence than just economic approximation. During the early years of transformation, many expected central Europe to pursue western models. Nowhere was Eurostat, ‘GDP per capita in PPS’, accessed 15 October 2019 https:// ec.europa.eu/eurostat/tgm/table.do?tab=table&init=1&language= en&pcode=tec00114.



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the import from the West of everything from managers and university professors to companies, media and political parties more visible than in the former East Germany, where the state itself was also imported from the West and little remained at all of previous structures. Elsewhere, the state itself survived, but laws, parties, institutions and the economy were still based on external models. This led to the sovereignty paradox. Most of the democracy movements of 1989–91 focused on regaining sovereignty from the Soviet Union and from small unrepresentative ruling elites. However, once this was accomplished, the multiple challenges of transition seemed to require, the uncritical importing of models from the West. Europeanization also meant that laws and institutions had to be adopted to fulfil EU requirements, without taking the time to figure out how suitable or appropriate they were. Sovereignty was therefore limited, but the only way to restore independence still was as a member of the EU, as the restrictions imposed by the conditionality of accession would then be lifted. This might seem somewhat topsy-turvy to a Brexit supporter, but from the perspective of a citizen in central Europe sovereignty could only be protected from within the EU. Thus, even Eurosceptic populists and nationalists like Orbán or Kaczyński do not seek to leave the union. There are of course economic reasons for this too, but the underlying fear of loss of sovereignty persists, as does the risk of being put under pressure by larger powers outside the EU. The second paradox is that of political import. The import of institutions and laws was an easy way to quickly establish democratic structures and provided a well-tested template. However, it also avoided deliberation and experimentation, resulting in democratic mimicry. The import of institutions has been successful in countries where informal and irregular practices did not subvert them and undermine their independence, as they did in southeastern Europe. But even there, islands of institutional autonomy existed to enforce the rule of law. Here the Romanian anti-corruption agency DNA or its Croatian counterpart USKOK have in some respects been particularly successful. Democratic mimicry has mostly taken place within political parties. After 1991, a plethora of political parties emerged across central, eastern and southeastern Europe that looked largely like their western counterparts, with some calling themselves liberal, others social democrat and others again conservative. These par-

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ties found support in the foundations of German political parties and joined transnational European alliances. Once the respective countries joined the EU, the parties became part of large factions in the European Parliament; at first glance, they ‘became European’. However, this merely disguised the fact that most of the parties actually functioned very differently to their western counterparts. There was often little variation in their programmes, which offered ‘reform’, ‘Europe’ and other similarly vague goals. The main difference was the ideological divisions that stemmed from the legacy of the communist past and, at times, differing social values. Structurally, these parties were driven by elites, as mass politics had a whiff of the communist era about it. Besides, party membership and party-based political activism was declining in the West too. Thus, few parties were able to articulate and aggregate citizens’ views. This was not so visible or important in a time of ‘Europeanization’, where most institutions, laws, and policies came from abroad anyway. Nonetheless, these parties and their elites offered little competence when it came to governing their countries after having achieved EU membership. In some cases, parties in the region were mere employment agencies, especially in southeastern Europe, where joining the ruling party is the way to get a job in public administration. This still remains the most desirable employment option for many citizens in a region where up to ten per cent of the population are members of a political party. In other cases, these parties are one-man or, more rarely, onewoman shows, driven by the popularity of a single figure and often by his or her resources. The European party families have incorporated all of them regardless and have yet expelled none. Fidesz in Hungary has remained part of the European People’s Party, despite rejecting liberal democracy, eroding democratic checks and balances, manipulating the media and running anti-migrant and anti-Semitic campaigns. Similarly, the Party of European Socialists still includes the Social Democratic Party (PSD) in Romania, which over the years has established a kleptocratic control over state resources. And the liberal ALDE group still includes ANO 2011 in the Czech Republic, a party run by the country’s second richest man, Andrej Babiš, who controls the two largest Czech newspapers and has been investigated for corruption by the EU anti-fraud unit OLAF. These parties did not become more accountable or democratic via their membership


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of the European party families. On the contrary, their membership enabled them to protect their positions. Of course, this syndrome is not unique to central and southeastern Europe, as Berlusconi’s stranglehold over the centre-right in Italy during the 1990s and the 2000s highlights. Another case in point when it comes to personality politics is the right-wing populist Geert Wilders, who heads the Dutch Party for Freedom, that has only one member, Wilders himself. However, these are anomalies, and not what typically defines political parties. Igor Štiks, a prominent writer and academic from the postYugoslav space, recently asked whether Europe has Balkanized itself while attempting to Europeanize the Balkans.2 However, the idea that Europeanization can transfer western institutions, values and ways of doing politics to central, eastern, and southeastern Europe has to be challenged. As highlighted by the paradoxes surrounding sovereignty and the import of systems, transformation in these countries did not merely create copies of western models but transformed these very models themselves. Clearly, when such transfers do not work out or are far from being a seamless affair, then a more complex process of negotiation, adaptation, and re-moulding of ideas, laws and norms takes place. But what of the ‘Balkanization of Europe’? We have to be careful about framing things in this way, or in the way that the Bosnian surrealists framed things two decades ago, in terms of observers peering over walls and the subtle contagion of ideas. There is a risk of reducing the Balkans to a stereotypical region that is misperceived as threatening to infect the rest of Europe with intolerance and hatred. Such ‘Balkanism’ tends to project, as the influential writer Robert Kaplan in his Balkan Ghosts, all of Europe’s negative features onto its eastern or southeastern regions. But it is not that the Balkans or central Europe threaten to infect the rest of Europe with the bugs of illiberalism and intolerance; rather, both regions have experienced some of the structural causes of such trends earlier and more intensively than the rest of Europe. Central Europe is post-communist, the western Balkans are post-Yugoslav, post-war, post-socialist; but there is no word to Igor Štiks, ‘While “Europeanising” the Balkans, the EU ‘Balkanised’ itself’, Al Jazeera, 13 August 2018, https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/ opinion/europeanising-balkans-eu-balkanised-181113090929281.html.


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describe what they currently are, as if the present remained permanently elusive. The defining feature of these central, eastern and southeastern parts of Europe is that they are in a place where there is no name for the present. In the western Balkans, the only term to describe the present is ‘crisis’, with minor exceptions. There was the post-Tito Yugoslav crisis, the crises of the wars, of authoritarianism and economic collapse, and finally, the new polycrisis resulting from the global financial collapses, the migration crisis and the EU crises. The only brief period of non-crisis might be during the early 2000s, between the end of the wars and the onset of the global economic crisis. It is no surprise that such a state of permanent crisis makes many people long for a past when the current crisis was yet to arrive, or could be imagined away, whether by retreating to some ‘golden national past’ that needs to be restored, or to the ‘golden era of Yugoslavia’. Thus, nostalgia is an essential feature of everyday life. Though the countries of central Europe avoided war and the violent collapse of their states, recent decades have been characterized by transition, transformation, and change, resulting in what has been termed ‘delayed transformational fatigue’.3 The term reflects the disappointment in a seemingly perpetual process. It is disillusionment that has driven both the illiberal politics promising an end to never-ending transition, as in the cases of Fidesz in Hungary and PiS in Poland, as well as a general withdrawal from politics. Consider that, in 2016, less than 40 per cent of Romanians participated in national elections, and only 13 per cent of Slovaks voted in European Parliament elections in 2014. One final option is to make an exit, as millions of citizens who have left for Germany, Austria and Ireland have done. More than ten per cent of the population of most EU member states in the region live outside their home country – around double the average for western European countries. Nostalgia remains a potent force even though the former socialist regimes offer little to be nostalgic about, unlike the much more liberal and open Yugoslavia. In a 2014 survey, Romanian citizens fell into two groups: those who consider the communist period to have been good and those who consider it to have been See the project description of ‘FATIGUE: Delayed Transformational Fatigue in Central and Eastern Europe: Responding to the Rise of Illiberalism/Populism’ at https://www.ucl.ac.uk/ssees/research/fundedresearch-projects/fatigue/about-fatigue.



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bad for the country. A majority of respondents considered Nicolae Ceaușescu to have played a positive role.4 This longing for the past, as Svetlana Boym has argued, reflects less about history and more about the present.5 Stark inequalities and poverty partly explain why nostalgia is so strong, but it is the uncertainties of never-ending transformation and crisis that are the driving forces of nostalgia and of disillusionment with the present. Continuous crisis and open-ended transition have created a permanent sense of anxiety which is profoundly destructive for liberal democratic politics. This anxiety has caught on in southern Europe, fuelled by its divergence from the EU’s average GDP per capita mentioned earlier. The rise of populism in western Europe is also deeply embedded in the politics of anxiety, including in the context of the Brexit referendum and in the form of far-right parties like Alternative for Germany (AfD) and the Austrian Freedom Party. Meanwhile, post-socialist elites have failed to build parties and countries that put an end to all that is ‘post’, and to bring about a society based on something more solid than an endless process of leaving something behind without ever arriving at an intended destination. This should be seen by European elites as a warning signal. Crises, uncertainty, and the threat of never-ending change are destructive forces. In this sense, East and West are not divided, nor has the East or the Southeast ‘infected’ the West. What has become more visible in recent years is that there is not one model for Europe. Rather, societies and governments are constantly learning from each other across the continent. But this also means that populists from all over Europe are bound to take a look at the current success of Orbán’s populist regime based on ethnic nationalism. At the same time as becoming more multidirectional, Europe has also become a more dangerous marketplace of ideas. The division between East and West is just one of many fissures in Europe’s diverse structural setup. However, the existence of multiple and divergent lines of fragmentation do not rule out coalition building and transnational solidarity. The risks attached Raluca Besliu, ‘Communist nostalgia in Romania’, Open Democracy, 13 April 2014, https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/ raluca-besliu/communist-nostalgia-in-romania. 5 Svetlana Boym, The Future of Nostalgia (New York: Basic Books, 2001).


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only become more acute when these various lines of division become mutually reinforcing, separating centre from periphery, poor from rich, East from West. Rather than focusing on differences, however, I would argue that the greatest threat to Europe is the spread of angst-ridden politics. Societies in permanent states of crisis and transition are bound to struggle. This is the biggest lesson of the past 30 years.

‘But this is the world we live in’ Corruption, everyday managing, and civic mobilization in post-socialist Romania

Jill Massino

In the Romanian film Graduation (Bacalaureat) the main character, a doctor, explains to his teenage daughter why ‘going against the rules’ (i.e. cheating) is justified in some cases. In the ensuing exchange, he urges her to place an identifying mark on her baccalaureate exam so it can be favourably graded, ensuring her matriculation at the University of Cambridge, where she has received a scholarship. The doctor rationalizes such duplicity on the basis of his daughter’s unfitness to sit for the exam as a result of a recent sexual assault. He also emphasizes the sacrifices he has made, including paying for years of private tutoring. Finally, he references the culture of corruption in Romania, where success requires not just merit, but connections, favours, or engaging in ethically questionable behaviour, noting, ‘Sometimes in life it’s the results that count. Don’t get me wrong. We raised you to always be honest. But this is the world we live in, and sometimes we have to fight with their weapons. So, this is a precaution that gets you where you want to go and where you deserve. From then on you can do what you think is best.’1 Accordingly, this ‘ends justify the means’ approach is a response to a system that is not only, or not even necessarily, based on merit, but on who you know or how much you are able to pay. It also reflects a common practice in Romania, a form of ‘managing’ that is often essential for success and, in some cases, survival. Scholars have offered various explanations for eastern Europe’s circuitous and often halting journey to pluralism. While some have emphasized local idealization of liberal democracy, marketization, and western values, others point to an embrace of nationalism, conservatism, and illiberal politics. Some also 1

Graduation, directed by Cristian Mungiu (Romania, 2016).

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stress economic factors, including the adoption of neoliberal and austerity measures, often initiated at the behest of international bodies, as a condition of EU membership or as a consequence of the global financial crisis. Moreover, they highlight local elites’ efforts to secure privileges and consolidate power through deals with foreign investors or in adopting populist strategies, from claiming to defend the ‘true Europe’ by condemning immigration and ‘EU imperialism’ to addressing inequality by enhancing social entitlements.2 Just as elites adopt strategies for managing change, so do ordinary individuals, though often to receive fair treatment or to ensure material security rather than for personal enrichment. These strategies include bribery and favouritism and are responses to the destabilizing effects of neoliberalism and the global economic crisis. They are also responses to institutional dysfunction and corruption, both of which characterized the periods before and after 1989. Democracy, neoliberalism, and choice Increased opportunity for exercising agency in the spheres of politics, economics, and culture are undoubtedly important gains for east Europeans whose civil rights were restricted under socialism, even though they did enjoy certain economic and social rights. With respect to employment in particular, work is no longer a state-mandated duty, but an individual pursuit. At the same time, work is no longer a right guaranteed by the state. Thus, the onus is on the individual to find their place and succeed in the new economic environment. Consequently, for some the shift to a market economy has been empowering and even liberating, while for others it has produced uncertainty and frustration, as choice is not synonymous with boundless opportunities but is rather a function of market forces and public policy. Moreover, corruption has been a central feature of economic transformation, underscoring the role of elites in limiting or undermining choice. Yet, because capitalism has been presented as the only viable economic system, there is no bogeyman (i.e. the state) that can be targeted for social inequality. Holly Case, ‘The Great Substitution’ (in this volume).



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Individuals must sink or swim, adopting strategies for navigating the choppy waters of late (or ‘wild’) capitalism, or descend deeper into poverty. According to this logic, material uncertainty is not the product of a flawed system but of having made poor choices. Choice and agency thus mask constraints embedded in the neoliberal system, the reality that industries collapsed overnight – and with them vital relationships and networks – and that local elites and external bodies dominated economic and institutional change. In Romania, as elsewhere in eastern Europe, individuals employ various strategies to negotiate the capitalist economy, including cobbling together numerous jobs, both formal and informal, and emigrating for work. They also rely on favouritism or bribes in return for a job, promotion, or to secure an offspring’s place at university. These are not novel practices as under socialism people also commuted for work, albeit within the confines of their country’s borders, and worked in the underground economy to supplement low wages and as barter for essential goods and, sometimes, luxury items. In socialist Romania, reliance on informal networks and bribes was a means of ‘solving problems’ and considered a rational response to a system that promised a ‘golden age’ but, by the 1980s, delivered empty store shelves and dark streets. Pluralism, in the form of liberal democracy and marketization, by contrast, promised a transparent and ideologically sound system wherein diligence and merit would ensure at least a decent standard of living. This, however, has not been the reality for many. Indeed, understanding, let alone negotiating, the market economy has been a frustrating and fraught process. So too has expressing dismay with said system because, at least until the global financial crisis, identifying drawbacks of capitalism was regarded as part of a ‘backward mentality’, reflective of nostalgia or even preference for the socialist system. How then does the post-socialist economy differ from the socialist command economy that guaranteed work and promised an ever-increasing standard of living, but failed to deliver? Do capitalism and liberal democracy collectively constitute another utopia that has failed to make good on the promise of a better life? More importantly, how has the shift to a market economy and ongoing corruption affected individuals’ civic identities, everyday practices, and their perceptions of the state and the EU?

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A vicious cycle: corruption and getting by under post-Socialism Corruption has been a central feature of Romania’s transition to pluralism. While this entailed adopting (and adapting to) a new economic and political order, it did not necessarily include new actors as former second-tier communists and members of the nomenklatura and Securitate (the communist secret police) translated their political capital into economic capital. Accordingly, some Romanians have highlighted continuities between the two systems. As one woman remarked in 2003: ‘The government is not interested. Look at them, the thieves, the corruption, all the villas they built … more and more money in foreign banks and villas on the French Riviera and other places like that. The colour of the party doesn’t matter. There was the PCR [Romanian Communist Party] under communism, at least I knew there was only one. Now, who knows how many PCRs there are? It’s just old wine in new bottles.’3 Numerous elites profited handsomely from privatization. In certain cases, managers purposely drove communist-era factories into bankruptcy, only to purchase them for a pittance and resell them at considerably higher prices, often to foreign investors. Such pilfering of public property, also known as ‘the great post-communist theft’, deviated sharply from the path experts envisaged post-socialist economies would follow, not to mention the one ordinary Romanians hoped their society would follow.4 This practice continued during pre- and post-EU accession periods as ‘local barons’ amassed millions from EU-funded projects, while policymakers justified neoliberal measures with respect to the need to ‘return to Europe’ by integrating into the EU. Yet, corruption is by no means the preserve of privileged elites. Use of bribery and connections is an everyday practice, visible on multiple levels. It has been sustained by poorly paid doctors, some of whom require money in exchange for services, even though healthcare is nominally a universal, state-subsidized entitlement. As one person noted: ‘I’ve paid a lot of money – the equivalent of 5,000 Euros – in the hospital from the doorman to Ecaterina, interview with author, Brașov, 17 June 2003. Emanuel Copilaș (ed.), Marele jaf postcomunist: spectacolul mărfii și revanșa capitalismului (Iași: Editura Adenium, 2017).

3 4


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nurses, assistants, residents, doctors and for medicine for my husband, who had no hope of staying alive. Generally, you have to give bribes to get anything done. That’s how it was in the Ceaușescu times, and that’s how it has remained until today.’5 Bribery is also sustained by the patient or the patient’s family. Indeed, refusal by medical staff to accept bribes or ‘gifts’ has even caused altercations between staff and patients as the latter believe they are essential for receiving high-quality care. While against the Hippocratic Oath, the practice of accepting money for services is a strategy, a form of managing a system that does not – or, until the considerable rise in doctors’ and nurses’ salaries in 2018, did not – adequately remunerate overworked professionals who perform vital services. It is also a continuation of communist-era practices, when it was customary to remunerate doctors for their services. Finally, such ‘gifts’ are part of the moral economy, a form of gratitude for services rendered. Degrees of immorality The education system is also rife with corruption, particularly at the secondary and university level. As one university professor noted in 2017: ‘I have been put under pressure to promote students who never attended class. I have been offered bribes for this and I have been sanctioned because of my integrity […] My colleagues took huge amounts of money from selling graduation papers and grades, also taking homemade products from the ‘candidates’, like cheese, alcoholic beverages, even eggs!’6 Rigging exams or grading them favourably is not uncommon. As in the case of doctors, numerous teachers and professors rely on bribery to supplement low salaries. Corruption is deeply entrenched in the business world as well, and even entrepreneurs who seek to act ethically cannot wholly avoid it. For instance, a bribe is often required to ensure that the paperwork needed for registering a business is processed in a timely fashion or does not ‘get lost’.7 ‘In Romania Corruption’s Tentacles Grip Daily Life’, New York Times, 9 February 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/09/world/europe/ romania-corruption-coruptie-guvern-justitie.html. 6 Ibid. 7 Tim Vorley and Nick Williams, ‘Between petty corruption and criminal


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Just as the nature of the bribe or favour varies so does the impetus behind it. While some rely on bribery and favouritism for personal enrichment or to enjoy certain advantages, others do so to secure goods and services to which they are entitled (e.g. proper treatment in hospital; timely filing of paperwork), or to level the playing field. Indeed, these practices are often considered essential for dealing with everyday uncertainty as well as state institutions, which are underfunded, under-resourced and, to varying degrees, dysfunctional. Thus, ‘gift giving’ ensures a modicum of predictability in a context characterized by institutional dysfunction and precarity.8 Moreover, because merit is often insufficient – and in some cases not even necessary – for securing a place at university or a promotion, bribery is viewed by some as essential for advancement. Thus, while people complain about such practices, they regard them as necessary evils. Or they rationalize them as exceptional—desperate measures born out of circumstance. As the teacher in Graduation, who agrees to favourably mark the protagonist’s daughter’s exam, asserts: ‘But I don’t do such things. This house and everything you see here was earned honestly’, inferring that while he will ‘help’ a friend of a friend in this one, isolated instance, it is not reflective of his overall character. Regardless of the impetus or justification, these forms of managing sustain the very system that necessitates them, undermining equal access to services, resources, and opportunities. That said, some refuse to rely on such forms of managing, one reason why many Romanians, especially young and middle-aged individuals, have chosen to leave the country altogether. Indeed, corruption, alongside lack of opportunity and low wages, has compelled some 3.4 million Romanians to emigrate since EU accession. Currently, Romania ranks just behind war-torn Syria in terms of emigration growth rate.9 extortion: How entrepreneurs in Bulgaria and Romania operate within a devil’s circle’, International Small Business Journal 34, no. 6 (2015): 797–817. 8 Cătălin Augustin Stoica, România continuă: Schimbare și adaptare în comunism și postcomunism (Bucharest: Humanitas, 2018), 167. 9 Craig Turp, ‘New Statistics Confirm Romania’s Demographic Catastrophe’, Emerging Europe, 2 March 2018, https://emerging-europe.com/ news/new-statistics-confirm-romanias-demographic-catastrophe/.


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Challenging corruption Corruption not only poses threats to promoting an ethical and meritorious society but can prove deadly, as has been the case of those who cannot afford to pay for surgeries and other vital treatments. Corruption was also responsible for the death of sixty-four people after a fire broke out at the Colectiv club in Bucharest in 2015. In this case, the club had been granted an operating license despite lacking the required safety permit. The calamity also exposed corporate corruption as it was discovered that hospitals were stocked with diluted disinfectants, supplied by the Romanian company Hexi Pharma, which contributed to a rise in infections, some of them deadly. The public outcry following the Colectiv club fire proved that tragedy can bring about change. In its wake, Prime Minister Victor Ponta resigned and the Corupția Ucide (Corruption Kills) campaign emerged, building on prior anti-corruption protests: in 2012 against the partial privatization of the healthcare system, and in 2013 against a proposed mining project in Roșia Montană. These culminated in the massive #rezist protests of winter 2017 – the largest protests in Romania since 1989 – in response to an emergency ordinance passed by the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) that decriminalized low-level corruption offenses among public officials. Although utilizing new forms of media, protesters also drew on older symbols – such as the communist flag with a hole in it – underscoring the salience of 1989 as a rallying cry for transparent, lawful, and accountable governance. At the same time, they emphasized the threat posed by corruption to personal health and safety.10 Protests continued into the next year, with August 2018 witnessing civic mobilization in response to the PSD’s firing of Laura Codruţa Kövesi from her post as Prosecutor General of the National Anti-Corruption Directorate (Direcţia Naţională Anticorupţie, DNA) and efforts to weaken the judiciary and hinder anti-corruption initiatives. These protests, for which thousands from the Romanian diaspora returned, were peaceful with the exception of those in Bucharest, where they were violently Marius Stan and Vladimir Tismăneanu, ‘Democracy under Siege in Romania’, Politico, 13 August 2018, https://www.politico.eu/article/protest-piata-victoriei-bucharest-democracy-under-siege-in-romania/.


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repressed by police, causing 452 injuries and eliciting national and international outrage. This extreme response dealt a serious blow to the PSD’s legitimacy, evident in their poor performance in the 2019 EU elections and in the widespread support for pro-EU parties and a referendum against the PSD’s efforts to reverse anti-corruption measures and alter judicial legislation. Institutional efforts to curb high and mid-level corruption in Romania have also been impressive, especially under the National Anti-Corruption Directorate. Established in 2002 as a condition of EU membership, the DNA handed down 4,720 final corruption sentences between 2010 and 2017, including the arrest of local and high-ranking politicians, among them ministers, members of Parliament, generals, and former Prime Minister Adrian Năstase.11 The DNA also built the case against then-PSD chief Liviu Dragnea for abuse of office, for which he was convicted by the Romanian Supreme Court and is currently serving a threeand-a-half-year prison sentence. Although the DNA has been criticized as a political tool, especially by PSD supporters who claim PSD officials have been unjustly targeted, its efforts in combatting corruption have restored at least a modicum of faith in the power of some institutions’ capacity to enforce the law. According to a November 2018 INSCOP survey, 39.7 per cent of respondents expressed high or very high confidence in the agency, while these figures for the Parliament and government were 9.8 and 12.8 per cent respectively.12 The DNA’s efforts have been bolstered by the EU-imposed Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM), which monitors and produces public reports on Romania’s application of EU laws and its fight against corruption, organized crime, and judicial reform.13 Moreover, the European Commission has put pressure See Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, ‘Romania’s Italian-Style Anticorruption Populism’, Journal of Democracy 29, no. 3 (July 2018): 104–16. The figures cited appear on p. 106. 12 ‘Sondaj INSCOP: Armata și Biserica, în topul încrederii în instituții: Pe ce loc este Jandarmaria’. HotNews.ro, 14 February 2019, https://www. hotnews.ro/stiri-esential-22973551-sondaj-inscop-armata-bisericatopul-increderii-institutii-loc-este-jandarmeria.htm. Inscop Research, ‘Barometrul: Adevărul despre România’, March 2016, http://www. inscop.ro/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/INSCOP-raport-martie2016-INCREDERE-INSTITUTII.pdf. 13 Vlad Perju, ‘Cazul UE împotriva României: Ce urmează după Raportul MCV’, Contributors.ro, 16 November 2018, www.contributors.ro/edi11


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on Romania, recently threatening the country with sanctions, travel prohibitions, cuts to EU-funding, and the activation of Article 7 procedures after the PSD’s efforts to weaken the judiciary. Yet what of everyday corruption? Rooting out this type of corruption requires monitoring institutional practices to ensure that universal entitlements are available to all and that educational and professional advancement is based on merit. The General Directorate of Anti-Corruption (Direcţia Generală Anticorupţie, DGA, within the Ministry of the Interior) deals with petty corruption and organizes awareness-raising campaigns and educational programs on corruption. It also runs a toll-free hotline for anonymous reporting of corruption offenses. In addition, Funky Citizens, an NGO designed by young adults, promotes public reform by collecting data on government spending and institutional corruption. Their website also lists the ‘cost’ (the bribe required) for accessing various public services, simultaneously advertising the ‘best deal’ for said services and exposing public graft. Divergence, convergence, and the quest for normality As Stephen Holmes and Ivan Krastev assert: ‘In 1989, central and eastern Europeans were not dreaming of some perfect world that had never existed. They were longing for a “normal life” in a “normal country”.’14 This aspiration has changed little in the last 30 years, indicating that Romania still has a long way to go. But what does a ‘normal life’ look like to Romanians? Individuals that I interviewed between 2003 and 2012 emphasized, above all, curtailment of corruption, institutional transparency, equality of opportunity, and the prospect of living decently and in dignity. While normality appears elusive for many in the former Eastern Bloc, this sentiment is not unique to people in the Eastern part of the continent. Normality, or what is perceived as such, has slipped away for people across Europe as a result of the global financial crisis and austerity policies. In some cases, material insecurity and rising inequality have led to a de-coupling of democracy and torial/cazul-ue-impotriva-romaniei-%E2%80%93-ce-urmeaza-duparaportul-mcv. 14 Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes, ‘Explaining Eastern Europe: Imitation and Its Discontents’, Journal of Democracy 29, no. 3 (July 2018): 117–128.

‘But this is the world we live in’ 93

prosperity, increasing the appeal of ‘populist solutions’. Consequently, East and West have converged as a result of both positive and negative developments: EU expansion and the increased flow of goods and peoples, but also social dislocation, populist and isolationist politics, and Euroscepticism. The question might then be: what are the prospects for normality in an era of austerity and uncertainty and in societies characterized by corruption and dysfunctional institutions. Civic mobilization is certainly part of the answer. The election of Zuzana Čaputová as president of Slovakia and the mass protests against Prime Minister Andrej Babiš in the Czech Republic (the largest since 1989) illustrate that many people in the region may recognize that this is the world they live in, however, they refuse to accept it. The same applies to the hundreds of thousands of Romanians who have protested against corruption and austerity over the last decade and continue to do so today. Indeed, anger over corruption and institutional dysfunction once again reached a boiling point in late July 2019, when it was revealed that the Romanian police took nearly a day to enter the house where a 15-year-old girl had been raped and murdered, even though she had phoned the European emergency number three times after she was kidnapped.15 The incident sparked public outcry and a number of high-level resignations. Revelations about police and senior politicians’ links to organized crime and human-trafficking networks followed, further exposing institutional corruption and eliciting mass outrage. This time, high school students also took to the streets.16 Additionally, feminist groups protested in front of the Ministry of the Interior, and men organized a Facebook campaign in which they posted photos of themselves alongside the statement Nu violenței impotriva femeilor și copiilor! (Say no to violence against women and chil-

‘Suspect confesses to killing Romanian teenagers as anger grows at police’, Guardian, 28 July 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/ world/2019/jul/28/thousands-protest-romania-police-child-kidnapping-murder. 16 ‘Imagini impresionante de la Caracal: Colegii Alexandrei protestează în fața Poliției cerând explicații’, Digi 24, 29 July 2019, https://www. digi24.ro/stiri/actualitate/imagini-impresionante-de-la-caracal-colegii-alexandrei-protesteaza-in-fata-politiei-caracal-cerand-explicatii-1166444. 15


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dren!), a hopeful sign given the patriarchal character of Romanian society. In light of the appeal of populism and nationalism in a number of European countries, such mobilization is promising. Indeed, in Romania disenchantment with corruption and austerity has not translated into mass apathy or widespread support for populist or nationalist politics. Nor has it undermined Romanians’ opinion of the EU as the Autumn 2018 Eurobarometer survey found that 52 per cent of respondents had a positive view of the EU compared to the European average of 43 per cent.17 This is not only because the EU has contributed to economic development – the mismanagement of EU funds by local actors notwithstanding – but also because the EU embodies the principles and norms for which Romanians fought in 1989. This is not to claim populism has no resonance in Romania. Support for the PSD, which blends redistributive social policies with nationalism and traditional values, has been strong among individuals from various socioeconomic profiles, including pensioners, state employees, the poorly educated, and the unemployed, largely in response to austerity measures initiated under president Traian Băsescu.18 These measures burdened the population with the costs of the financial crisis, while government officials engaged in corruption. Ultimately, however, populism’s appeal was undermined by the PSD’s efforts to tamper with the judiciary. Romania, among other countries in Europe, has a way to go with respect to institutional transparency and trust. Nonetheless, civic mobilization against corruption or, more aptly, against the twin processes of austerity and corruption is a hopeful sign – one of positive convergence. So too is Kövesi’s recent appointment as European Chief Prosecutor.19 This decision, along with continued ‘Eurobarometru de toamnă 2018: 52% dintre români au o imagine pozitivă despre UE, față de 43% media europeană’, Eurobarometer, 21 December 2018, https://ec.europa.eu/romania/news/20181221-eurobarometru-toamna-romania_ro?fbclid=IwAR0CQHHSxMEtQqj4hpeQk1RScvNOn7st6EE63q5pYPGkQXhHzmo_U6Dh-SM. 18 See Roland Clark, ‘Marching for Liberal Democracy: The Phenomenon of Street Protests in Romania’, Eurozine, 29 August 2018, https://www. eurozine.com/marching-liberal-democracy-phenomenon-street-protests-romania. 19 European Parliament Press Releases, ‘Laura Kövesi confirmed as European Chief Prosecutor’, 17 October 2019, https://www.europarl.europa. 17

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popular mobilization in defence of civil and human rights, can thus be seen as bridging divisions that the continent still experiences. For Romania in particular, reallocation of public expenditures in favour of ordinary individuals (increased salaries and pensions) and social entitlements (healthcare and education), over state security services and the construction of new churches, can help bridge this gap, as well as improve the overall standard of living. It can also promote institutional trust and undermine the culture of corruption. For instance, the increase in doctors’ and nurses’ salaries has contributed to a decline in bribe taking, and doctors have publicly decried the practice of accepting ‘gifts’ as immoral. Indeed, everyday corruption has even been featured on television programs, with ordinary individuals sharing their stories of corrupt practices. These are notable steps toward combatting the culture of corruption, which has a long history that predates socialism and is by no means the preserve of Romanians – or east Europeans for that matter. Nonetheless, changing social norms and practices will be a slow process, as will be fostering institutional trust and forging a more meritorious society. With respect to convergence, then, perhaps it is more productive to think not simply in terms of East and West and of institutional functionality, but also in terms of local perceptions and aspirations; namely, recognizing Romanians’ desire for a convergence between their perception of ‘normal European living standards’ and their enjoyment of them. Many thanks to Dalia Báthory, Bogdan Iacob, Adrian Sorescu, Jeffrey Isaac, and Mia Jinga for their suggestions on this piece.


The end of the liberal world as we know it? Two walls in 1989

James Wang

Walls are perhaps the most iconic and enduring images from 1989. The political imaginary of Americans and Europeans alike centres on one iconic photo: that of exuberant East and West Germans breaking down the Berlin Wall on the night of 9 November that year. The wall was the physical embodiment of Cold War division and authoritarian rule; its destruction reflected liberal aspirations for a world soon to be remade in the image of America and western Europe. Yet, for those of us who care to remember, in China we start with images of another wall. This one culminates not in a story of liberation, however, but in the violent drama at Tiananmen Square on 4 June 1989. This story begins ten years earlier, in 1979, off the Xidan Road, today less than a block from the busy Xicheng subway station, when students and journalists put up critical posters of Mao, his ideological successors (the so-called Gang of Four), and the excesses of the Cultural Revolution more generally. Since these early posters were generally directed against Deng Xiaoping’s political and ideological enemies, while favouring his proposed economic reforms, authorities tolerated this so-called ‘democracy wall’ or ‘Xidan wall’. As China jumped headlong into economic reform under Deng’s leadership, the demands and aspirations articulated by these anonymous postings on the wall changed too. By the mid-1980s, this short block off Xidan Road had become a busy hub for amateur journalists and student publications, which had begun to distribute privately published issues of magazines and newspapers. These publications often included explicit calls for both an end to one-party rule and political liberalization along western lines. The fact that authorities tacitly tolerated this so-called ‘underground press’ highlights the extent to which the Chinese Communist Party itself was divided on the issue of the


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country’s political future at the time.1 In the lead-up to the 1989 student demonstrations in Beijing, the ‘democracy wall’ became a site of activist mobilization. There, the leaders of student organizations mingled with factory bosses and (party-authorized) union heads, exchanged viewpoints, shouting out manifestos, pamphlets, and editorials via loudspeaker to audiences of thousands. All of this is to say that, in many regards, China’s lead-up to the ‘1989 moment’ mirrored that of Eastern Bloc Europe. Chinese demands for liberalization did not, however, end like post-Solidarity Poland. Whereas the wave of popular protest swept away the Soviet satellite governments of east central Europe, 1989 in China ended with the violent removal of student demonstrators from Tiananmen Square by gunpoint. Prophecies of imminent collapse notwithstanding, since 1989, China has emerged as the most significant challenge to the narrative of liberal universalism. Throughout the 1990s, liberal establishments in Europe and America seemed content to integrate nominally communist China into the economic institutions of the world market.2 China’s December 2001 entry into the World Trade Organization reflected a decade-long notion in the west that opening up the Chinese economy, and the rise of a wealthy, educated middle class would necessarily lead to greater demands for political freedoms. In short, Western narratives about China throughout the 1990s hinged on the logic that capitalist development must end with liberal democracy. In hindsight, however, precisely the opposite seems to have occurred in the People’s Republic. Rather than being a political albatross on the Party’s neck, the legacy of Tiananmen, the chaotic aftermath of Soviet collapse, and the difficulties in bridging East-West divisions in Europe, has paradoxically bolstered the Party’s legitimacy in China. Indeed, public opinion surveys in recent years have consistently found that a majority of Chinese citizens are not only content with the Party’s leadership but broadly more optimistic about their personal future and that of their country relative to those polled in the West. The same surveys also found that Chinese people tend to be unsympathetic to proposals for major shifts in China’s current political frame Zhao Ziyang, Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang, trans. by Bao Pu (London: Simon and Schuster, 2009). 2 Nicholas Lardy, Integrating China into the Global Economy (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2001).


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work.3 Moreover, positive opinions regarding one-party rule in China seem to have consistently grown in the last two decades.4 In the Party’s own triumphalist narrative, 1991 and 1999 stand out as two watershed moments. From Beijing’s perspective, the anarchy of the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Yeltsin’s cynical crushing of parliamentary opposition, furnished a perfect counter-narrative to 4 June 1989. As Russia, China’s former Cold War arch-rival, sank into economic freefall, rampant corruption, and a period of geopolitical irrelevancy, China’s communist party leadership was able to guarantee political stability and engineered three decades of uninterrupted economic growth. As one scholar of modern China has stressed, in the aftermath of Tiananmen, and the end of the Soviet Union, the Chinese Communist Party extended to the country’s nascent middle class a kind of Faustian pact. In return for unquestioned political control, the party-state promised to deliver stability, unrestricted economic freedoms, and continued economic growth.5 More recently, this story about China avoiding the ‘chaos trap’ of liberal democracy has received something of a second wind with the election of Donald Trump in the United States and the post-Brexit fallout in the UK. As Chinese state media never tires of pointing out, the divisiveness and unpredictability of western populist politics could never happen under one-party rule. In a recent forum on comparative economics at Beijing University, a Chinese professor of history tellingly cited the 12th century conservative Chinese historian and philosopher Sima Guang at an American counterpoint who raised the prickly issue of political reform in the PRC, ‘A century of tyranny should always be preferred to a single day of anarchy.’6 A future historian recalling Chinese nationalism since the founding of the People’s Republic might look at 1999 as the year See, for example, ‘China’s Optimism’, Pew Research Center, 16 November 2005, https://www.pewresearch.org/global/2005/11/16/chinas-optimism/. 4 See, for instance, Dave Lawler, ‘China leads the world in optimism’, Axios, 6 August 2017, https://www.axios.com/china-leads-the-worldin-optimism-1513304665-e04fa0d2-8837-4604-957d-aeb6d779458d. html. 5 Elizabeth Economy, The Third Revolution: Xi Jinping and the New Chinese State (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018). 6 Kevin Carrico, The Great Han: Race, Nationalism, and Tradition in China Today (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2017). 3


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in which the emerging Chinese middle class became disillusioned with liberal universalism. On the night of 7 May 1999, American planes intervening in Serbia, as part of a wider NATO operation to halt Serbian offensives in Kosovo, bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. In the political drama that followed, the US and China clashed over official narratives of the sequence of events, with the Chinese maintaining that the bombing was deliberate. Overnight, the largest mass protests in China since 1989 erupted across the country targeting American-owned businesses and official consulates alike. The bombing and subsequent nationalist uproar should be seen as a continuation of a broader disenchantment with western liberalism emerging since the collapse of the Soviet Union. As at least one Chinese dissident-turned-nationalist has argued, the political enfeeblement of Russia after 1991, coupled with America’s perceived arrogance in the handling of the embassy bombing served as something of a political re-awakening.7 In the aftermath of 1999, many of the dissidents who remained in China after the Tiananmen Square crackdown came round to the Chinese government’s point of view that liberal universalism was, in fact, a thin guise for the preservation of American geopolitical power. From the end of walls towards a world of alternatives Ivan Krastev has stressed that the ‘politics of imitation’ which Eastern Europe pursued vis-à-vis the West after 1989 was predicated on the idea that western Europe possessed the viable path towards economic prosperity and lasting political stability.8 The western counterpart to this triumphalist narrative of liberal universalism hinges on America and western Europe continuing to see themselves as representing the ‘normative path’ of politicaleconomic development. The very promise of 1989 – that the division between east and west could be eradicated altogether –was thus predicated on two interdependent conceptions of the European future. Firstly, the peoples of former socialist states had to Li Xiaping, ‘重新定义近代中国的民族主义’, 人民日报, 03/2018. (Editorial in the Chinese People’s Daily, March 2018.) 8 Ivan Krastev, After Europe (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017).


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believe that the path of liberal democracy and the free market was desirable (or even the only viable alternative). Secondly, the west must continue to see itself in normative terms as the logical endpoint of political-economic development. In other words, the political project of bridging eastern and western Europe inaugurated in 1989 could only ever have been the voluntary absorption of the east by the west. In this regard, German reunification is a telling microcosm for the disillusionment of both sides with the narrative of western ‘normativity’ and eastern ‘deviance’. Indeed, the emergence of the nationalist Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) and PEGIDA in eastern Germany raises the spectre that German reunification has already ended in failure. As Claus Leggewie has noted, the populist ire directed by many in former East Germany against ‘Brussels’ and the EU has elements of ‘post-colonial aversion’.9 While scholars have for some time emphasized the absence of any meaningful confrontation with the Nazi past under the German Democratic Republic as a cultural explanation for the intensity of right-extremism in former East Germany, we should also bear in mind the economic fallout from the unification of East and West Germany. This so-called Kränkungsthese in German sociological literature stresses the destructive and quasi-colonial takeover of former East German state industries by West Germany after 1990. The Treuhandanstalt founded after reunification effectively assumed control of the most significant segments of the former East German economy, notably mining, steel, and key manufacturing sectors with the proclaimed goal of ‘promoting competitiveness’.10 By the late 1990s, however, such ‘trustee economics’ in East Germany had effectively liquidated mining and steel (previously among two of the largest employment sectors in the GDR) and privatized the largest remaining manufacturing firms, often subsuming them under their more competitive West German counterparts.11 It is difficult to overstate the human impact of this merger process. In ways that mirrored the de-industrialization of north See Claus Leggewie’s essay in this volume. Michael Juergs, Die Treuhänder (Munich: Pantheon Verlag, 1997). 11 Wolfgang Seibel, Verwaltete Illusionen: Die Privatisierung der DDR Wirtschaft durch die Treuhandanstalt und ihre Nachfolger (Frankfurt a.M.: Campus Verlag, 2005). 9



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ern England under Thatcher, virtually an entire generation of East Germans found themselves excluded from a new world of market capitalism in which their professional skills were rendered obsolete by economic reunification. The subsequent internal migration of hundreds of thousands of predominantly young and/or educated East Germans westwards further exacerbated such anxieties that 1989 had, in fact, ushered in a new age which rendered a significant proportion of the former GDR’s population economically superfluous. From East Germany, parallels can be drawn across Europe and America, with automation and outsourcing displacing comparable demographic groups in Italy, France, the UK, and America. The political articulations of such pervasive economic anxieties over human obsolescence may occur under the rubric of Brexit, the gilets jaunes in France, Five Star Movement and Lega in Italy, AfD in Germany, or Trump’s vision of ‘America First’ and the proposed border wall with Mexico. In this regard, it is intriguing to consider that, in the three decades since 1989, the West was not only unable to fully integrate eastern Europe, but rather eastern anxieties about economic obsolescence have actually been subsumed by the west. These anxieties have, in turn, been rearticulated via the political vocabulary of Islamophobia or ‘nativism’ into a new pattern of grassroots political mobilization directed against notions of western liberalism. Indeed, while popular imaginaries of revolutionary moments (of which 1989 is a recent example) cast them as clear points of rupture – event horizons of political, social and cultural tumult from which societies emerge radically transformed – we should also keep in mind that the aspirations and optimism unleashed in moments of political transformation rarely persist beyond the initial revolutionary moment. After nearly a decade of financial austerity in Europe, China has now emerged as something of an economic alternative for the ‘middling’ states of east central Europe. Breaking ranks with its Franco-German counterparts, Italy has already signalled its willingness to sign onto China’s multi-trillion dollar Belt and Road Initiative, which aims to create a direct land route linking markets in east Asia and western Europe. Similarly, Steve Bannon’s efforts to engineer a pan-nationalist political movement in Europe have seemingly also floundered in the Czech Republic and Hungary. Both Viktor Orbán and Andrej Babiš have, it seems,

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rebuffed Bannon in favour of future investments from Beijing. Moreover, all of this is occurring amid a wider turn in east central Europe towards illiberal and authoritarian governance that increasingly resembles Putin’s Russia. In this context, it may no longer be useful to think of the world along a continuing east-west divide. Instead, the optimism and self-belief necessary to sustaining the image of a universal western liberalism has largely been shattered. From the singular imaginary of a world without walls that followed the end of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the first decade of the 2000s gave way to geopolitical frustrations and economic crises. In the aftermath of the triumphant liberalism of the 1990s, we are perhaps entering a renewed period of alternatives, albeit not in the oppositional sense that characterized the Cold War. Instead, the political promise of liberalism as the eventual nomos of the world has largely given way to a universal acceptance of what we might call ‘capitalism with caveats’. Understood this way, the Chinese alternative promises something of an ersatz populism whereby capitalist logics of GDP growth replaces mass political pressure from below as a means of legitimating authoritarian rule. In a similar vein, the ‘oligarchic clientelism’ of Putin’s Russia is seamlessly adopted by aspiring authoritarians the world over, which constitutes a political alternative, one which avoids the potentially de-stabilizing effects of the free market. The Cold War made it difficult (if not impossible) to conceive of genuine political alternatives detached from the communist-capitalist binary. The decades that followed 1989 showed that it was in fact possible to separate liberalism from capitalism, and to embrace certain elements of the free market without having to accept liberal democracy. Much of the present perception regarding a ‘crisis of liberalism’ may stem then from our (re)entry into this world of alternatives.

Wests, East-Wests, and divides

Niall Chithelen

If we try to map out an East-West divide for the global political developments of the last decade or so, we might end up with this: the East-West divide is not exactly what it was during the Cold War. It is now a divide between liberal and ‘illiberal’ democracies, and the ideas and undemocratic impulses that have recently come to represent the East have also more recently become ascendant in parts of the West – and also parts of the South – under governments that are further right-wing or left-wing than the norm.1 This has fomented a new sort of East-West divide that exists in and threatens the East and West (and South), exacerbates divides between Left and Right (not to mention class and race), and terrifies most those in the centre. This description might make intuitive sense if you read certain commentaries, but very little sense if you think only about what it actually says. Part of the issue here is that, in Europe and the US, both sides of the supposed East-West divide envision themselves as the West. One self-definition is mostly political, with the West being a collection of liberal democracies, members of the so-called ‘liberal international order’. The other self-definition rejects this political West, instead propounding a vision based on nominal Christianity and ethno-nationalism. Viktor Orbán rails against western Europe but presents Hungary as ‘the last country in Latin – or Western – Christianity’.2 Proponents of this second West revel This is just one way of describing the divide, and I do not mean to imply that the thoughts that follow should apply to all understandings of the divide, especially not cultural ones that are particular to Europe and its Cold War experience. 2 ‘Viktor Orbán’s “State of the Nation” Address’, Website of the Hungarian Government, 19 February 2018, http://www.kormany.hu/en/theprime-minister/the-prime-minister-s-speeches/viktor-orban-s-stateof-the-nation-address, emphasis mine; Holly Case, ‘The Great Substi-


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in divides – they encourage racial, tout cultural, and fetishize physical divides, and many observers present their true grievances as stemming from class divides. Notably, these visions of the West are not mutually exclusive, and they cannot quite constitute a ‘West-West’ divide, as Christian ethno-nationalism long thrived in liberal democracies. The question, then, is why the rejection of one West has coincided with the illiberal rise of the other. The rejection of the political West is not limited, however, to the far-right. Using the term ‘neoliberalism’ rather than the West, both leftist and rightist groups oppose a political order which saw itself as triumphant and even infallible in the post-1989 moment and then displayed its failings in the past three decades: the Iraq War, global financial crisis, and the failure to hold those most responsible for these events to account, and encouraging the inequalities and instabilities concomitant to globalization and financialization.3 If not an East-West divide, or a West-West divide, can we then proclaim a divide between neoliberals and ‘anti-neoliberals’? On divides Settling on ‘neoliberalism’ for this divide is not trivial. We are acknowledging either that neoliberalism is responsible for animating both the far left and far right, or that these groups have shaped the conversation successfully enough that it does not matter what neoliberals actually did. As historian Holly Case recently pointed out, it seems some of these groups have indeed tution’ (in this volume); Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes, ‘Explaining Eastern Europe: Imitation and Its Discontents’, Journal of Democracy 29, no. 3 (July 2018): 117–128. 3 Krastev and Holmes, ‘Explaining Eastern Europe’; Mark Mazower, ‘The Great Reckoning’, New Statesman, April 2013,  https://www. mazower.com/articles/great_reckoning_NS.pdf; Dani Rodrik, ‘Populism and the Economics of Globalization’, Journal of International Business Policy 1, nos. 1–2 (2018): 12–33; Martin Jacques, ‘Neoliberalism Has Had Its Day: So What Happens Next?’, Guardian, 21 August 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/aug/21/ death-of-neoliberalism-crisis-in-western-politics; Perry Anderson, ‘Why the System Will Still Win’, Le Monde Diplomatique, 1 March 2017, https://mondediplo.com/2017/03/02brexit.


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shifted the terms to focus on neoliberalism rather than West or East.4 A divide centred on neoliberalism flattens, however, the differences between far right and far left and hides the importance of that ethno-nationalist West to the far right. There is no single divide that can encapsulate these trends and tensions, and the prospect of analysing the interaction of multiple divides is dizzying. Why this focus, then, on identifying the correct divides? What exactly are we doing when we announce a divide? By identifying a ‘divide’ at all, we identify a problem, often on someone else’s terms. Different divides, moreover, can speak to essentially different problems, and we do not know just from the use of the word ‘divide’ what type of problem we are dealing with or what the solution might be (if one exists). Divides between political parties, for example, are not necessarily undesirable. At least some amount of political division is to be expected, if not required, among the parties of a functioning democracy. Such a divide becomes problematic not because of the division itself but the severity of it, the concern that the divide has become unbridgeable and it is no longer possible to walk over to the other side, if just to take a look around. No one calls for the permanent fusion of all parties into one, but coalition-building and cross-party voting, and even just moments of bipartisan understanding, are models of democratic success. Not all divides are like this. Racial and class divides, and the like, refer to groups that are not just separate but structurally unequal. Depending on one’s perspective, these divides can be permanent and immutable – as the far right often believes with race – or, for many others, they are constructed and would ideally not exist at all. If a white person can walk over to the ‘other side’ of the racial divide, look around and return, that might be a productive moment of empathy, but as long as the ‘sides’ remain, so does the problem. We might also think here of the North-South divide in global politics; this divide exists rhetorically to highlight an imbalance in power. Truly addressing this divide does not mean allowing members of the South to join the North and vice versa. It means making the distinction between the two meaningless in the first place. The East-West divide, whether in its original Cold War form or its present more nebulous one, is a third sort of divide. It is, at See Holly Case, ‘The Great Substitution’ (in this volume).


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base, a divide between two ideologies that need to displace one another, not to coexist peaceably. Ending the East-West divide means having one type of politics reign supreme. If 1989 was the end of the East-West divide, it was because 1989 brought the triumph of West over East, the final ascendance of liberal democracy. If 1989 was not the end of the East-West divide, however, it is because that triumph was illusory and illiberalism never quite went away. A bridge for the East-West divide, then, facilitates not dialogue or reconciliation but infiltration and victory, the successful replacement of one side with the other. For those who invoke it, today’s East-West divide is so worrying because it seems the bridges still exist. The divide itself is concerning, but it is the bridges that allow, as historian Timothy Snyder writes, ‘influence [to flow] from East to West’.5 In this view, the ideas and changes that concern the West are flooding in, proponents of illiberalism are getting elected, and they are taking over, for taking over is all that either side can do to the other. But, as noted above, the East-West divide cannot explain as much as it is being asked to explain here; a picture of global illiberalism that originates in Russia or Hungary can easily seem anachronistic or conspiratorial.6 For the West’s sake, a new divide While this European East-West divide is being phased out, another might take its place. Indeed, if there is a divide emerging Timothy Snyder, ‘Vladimir Putin’s Politics of Eternity’, Guardian, 16 March 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/mar/16/vladimir-putin-russia-politics-of-eternity-timothy-snyder. 6 Snyder’s work has been criticized for overstating the influence of the East, namely Russia, on the rest of Europe and the United States. Mark Edele, ‘The Road to Unfreedom Review: Timothy Snyder Puts the Blame on Vladimir Putin’, Sydney Morning Herald, 29 July 2018, https:// www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/the-road-to-unfreedom-review-timothy-snyder-puts-the-blame-on-vladimir-putin-20180724h132ck.html; Sophie Pinkham, ‘Timothy Snyder’s Bleak Vision’, Nation, 3 May 2018, https://www.thenation.com/article/timothy-snyder-zombie-history/; Richard J. Evans, ‘Fascism and The Road to Unfreedom Review – the Warning from the 1930s’, Guardian, 19 July 2018, https:// www.theguardian.com/books/2018/jul/19/fascism-a-warning-madeleine-albright-the-road-to-unfreedom-timothy-snyder-book-review.



Niall Chithelen

today, it is between the United States and China. Interestingly, though, not all those who encourage a rivalry between the US and China are also interested in proclaiming a divide. There is little question that a geopolitical rivalry exists between the US and China. In order to evaluate the existence of a divide, however, in the sense of the East-West divide, we need to know whether China seeks to create bridges. This is an active question. In Europe, scholars and journalists are trying to discern whether China is merely encouraging eastern Europe to distance itself from the EU and align itself more with Chinese interests, or if China aims to shape western European governments such that they look like those in eastern Europe and shape eastern European governments so they look more like the one in China.7 In the former case, China can be successful without changing more than the balance of power in Europe, thus serving as a more traditional rival. In the latter case, we could say there is a divide, as Chinese geopolitical aims require – or necessarily entail – political change in its rivals. The current American administration, despite its confrontational stance toward China, seems relatively unconcerned with Chinese bridges. The US-China rivalry, as presented by President Trump and his administration, involves two sides who principally threaten one another’s interests, and less their identities. In this view, China menaces the American economy, military supremacy, and technological superiority, but less so the American political ethos.8 Thorsten Benner et al., ‘Authoritarian Advance: Responding to China’s Growing Political Influence in Europe’ (GPPi and MERICS Report, February 2018), http://www.gppi.net/fileadmin/user_upload/media/ pub/2018/Benner_MERICS_2018_Authoritarian_Advance.pdf; John S. Van Oudenaren, ‘Why China Is Wooing Eastern and Central Europe’, National Interest, 4 September 2018, https://nationalinterest.org/feature/why-china-wooing-eastern-and-central-europe-30492; James Kynge and Michael Peel, ‘Brussels Rattled as China Reaches out to Eastern Europe’, Financial Times, 27 November 2017, https://www. ft.com/content/16abbf2a-cf9b-11e7-9dbb-291a884dd8c6; Małgorzata Jakimów, ‘China’s Grand Geopolitical Project Threatens a New EastWest Divide in Europe’, Conversation, 30 June 2017, http://theconversation.com/chinas-grand-geopolitical-project-threatens-a-new-eastwest-divide-in-europe-79477. 8 Caitlin Oprysko, Nancy Cook, and Adam Behsudi, ‘Trump Hits China with New Tariffs in Trade War Escalation’, Politico, 24 August 2019, https://politi.co/2PkSiDM; Mike Pence, ‘Remarks by Vice President


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Adherents of that political West, the faction championing the liberal international order, however, have been more inclined to make the rivalry into a divide. Two former Obama administration officials wrote in 2018 that the Trump Administration had taken ‘a step forward’ with regard to China but needed to widen its focus beyond these more immediate issues and take a less excessively confrontational approach. In January 2019, one of these officials, Ely Ratner, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that the US needs to prepare for ‘long-term competition with China’, the US is ‘currently losing this competition’, and if it continues to do so, it risks allowing ‘the emergence of a China-led order that is deeply antithetical to U.S. values and interests.’9 This view does not approach Cold War severity, but Ratner is clear that American ideology is at stake. China’s ascendance would come with the rise of an ‘illiberal sphere’ and a global decline in ‘democracy and individual freedoms’.10 Why do these figures emphasize a potential divide when the erratic administration does not? Whether the liberal international order has ever existed as such or not, commentators like those former Obama administration officials invoke it as reason to take a hard, but prudent, line against China.11 The current Pence on the Administration’s Policy Toward China’, White House, 4 October 2018, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/ remarks-vice-president-pence-administrations-policy-toward-china/; ‘Pence: It’s up to China to Avoid a Cold War’, Washington Post, 13 November 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/josh-rogin/ wp/2018/11/13/pence-its-up-to-china-to-avoid-a-cold-war/. 9 Kurt M. Campbell and Ely Ratner, ‘The China Reckoning: How Beijing Defied American Expectations’, Foreign Affairs 97, no. 2 (March–April 2018): 60–70; Hearing to Receive Testimony on China and Russia, before the Committee on Armed Services, 116th Congress (2019) (Statement of Ely Ratner, Executive Vice President and Director of Studies, Center for A New American Security), https://www.armed-services.senate. gov/imo/media/doc/Ratner_01-29-19.pdf. 10 Ratner, Testimony. Some other examples of similar thinking include: Aaron Friedberg, ‘China’s Understanding of Global Order Shouldn’t Be Ours’, Foreign Policy (blog), 24 January 2018, https://foreignpolicy. com/2018/01/24/niall-ferguson-isnt-a-contrarian-hes-a-china-apologist/; Bonnie S. Glaser, ‘Is China Proselytising Its Path to Success?’, East Asia Forum (blog), 10 January 2018, http://www.eastasiaforum. org/2018/01/11/is-china-proselytising-its-path-to-success/. 11 Friedberg, ‘China’s Understanding of Global Order Shouldn’t Be Ours’;


Niall Chithelen

administration in the United States, however, seems aligned more with the ethnonationalist West than the political one, and is thus less concerned with ideological bridges. How could the Trump Administration fear that China threatens the basic values of the American political system when this administration lacks any positive vision of what the US should be? China’s ruling system can pose no threat to Trump’s America because President Trump admires leaders like Xi Jinping and evinces no interest in how the American political system works, either in reality or as an ideal.12 Facing this vacuous illiberalism with its ethnonationalistic West, those who project a divide between the US and China are also asserting a vision of the US and its allies. We do not understand well how China’s rise has affected the domestic politics in these countries, whether there are connections to be made between China and illiberalism globally. But, lacking such an understanding, observers are free to present visions of the West as a righteous democratic order that is not sliding toward illiberalism and dissolution for its own faults, but to which illiberalism remains an extrinsic threat, a divide away, an ideological enemy of the West construed such that the ideology of the West itself matters as it once did.

Richard N. Haass, ‘The Crisis in U.S.-China Relations’, Wall Street Journal, 19 October 2018, https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-crisis-inu-s-china-relations-1539963174. 12 Jane Perlez, ‘“President for Life”? Trump’s Remarks About Xi Find Fans in China’, New York Times, 15 October 2018, https://www.nytimes. com/2018/03/04/world/asia/donald-trump-xi-jinping-term-limits. html; ‘Trump Heaps Praise on “very Special” Xi in China Visit’, Reuters, 9 November 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-trump-asiachina-bromance-idUSKBN1D91C8.

The Great Substitution

Holly Case

The same year (1877) Dostoyevsky wrote his famous short story, ‘The Dream of a Ridiculous Man’, in which the title character has to leave the planet and actively participate in the Fall from Grace in order to renew his faith in humanity, the Russian writer was also preoccupied with a problem of a different sort. Why was it, he wondered, that ‘all the most important questions of Europe and humanity generally in our age are always raised simultaneously. […] [T]his very simultaneity is striking.’1 Observers of our time are struck by another puzzling case of simultaneity. Across apparently vastly different contexts, a new ideology has emerged: ‘illiberalism’ coupled with what Timothy Snyder has termed ‘the politics of eternity’, and what a number of other commentators are describing as populism.2 ‘New authoritarians’ dot the political landscape and seem to well up on the horizon. Whereas once nearly every state – from the US to China to East Germany to Spain – claimed to be a ‘democracy’, regardless of how many elections were held or how those elections were conducted, all of a sudden even its defenders are wondering whether democracy ever had a fighting chance.3 Just as the wel Fyodor Dostoyevsky, A Writer’s Diary: 1877–1881, Vol. 2, trans. K. A. Lantz (Evanston, Ill: Northwestern University Press, 2000), 997. 2 Timothy Snyder, ‘Vladimir Putin’s Politics of Eternity’, Guardian, 16 March 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/mar/16/vladimir-putin-russia-politics-of-eternity-timothy-snyder; Jan-Werner Müller, ‘Capitalism in One Family’, London Review of Books, 1 December 2016, https://www.lrb.co.uk/v38/n23/jan-werner-muller/capitalism-in-one-family. 3 See, for example, Thomas Meaney and Yascha Mounk, ‘What Was Democracy?’, The Nation, 14 May 2014, https://www.thenation.com/ article/what-was-democracy/; Yuval Noah Harari, ‘Why Technology Favors Tyranny’, Atlantic, October 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/ magazine/archive/2018/10/yuval-noah-harari-technology-tyranny/



Holly Case

fare state and decades of postwar economic prosperity are now frequently cast as anomalous blips on the vast timeline of human history and exceptions proving the general rule of crisis, democracy too is being retrospectively shrunk to a few patches of earth in exceptional times, seen as forever embattled, insecure, and tenuous. In the rear-view mirror, democracy may be much closer than it appears, yet we seem nonetheless transfixed by the world of appearances. And so we seek to identify the common causes – the original sins – that gave rise to this convergence. If we could only discover what must be corrected and atoned for, then the work of salvation should be easy enough. Yet the most common explanations are too enormous to have real explanatory power: capitalism, globalization, neoliberalism, modernity. They are at once deeply within and far beyond us, and furthermore fail to answer the question: why now?4 And who can atone or correct for ‘globalization’ or ‘capitalism’? The horror we see seems coterminous with the very world we inhabit. It may be that our search for an ‘original sin’ or a common explanatory history is misguided, that we have committed a mistake we were warned against already in the first half of the nineteenth century, when Marx and Engels noted that although every shopkeeper can tell the difference between what someone says they are and what they really are, our historiography has not yet come to this trivial realization. It takes every epoch for its word, what it says about itself and imagines of itself.5

This warning has implications for whether we see the likes of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Polish Law and Justice Party (PiS) chief Jarosław Kaczyński as typically and exclusively east central European, or as harbingers of a future that lies 568330/; Anne Applebaum, ‘A Warning From Europe: The Worst Is Yet to Come’, Atlantic, October 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/10/poland-polarization/568324/. 4 See Mark Mazower, ‘Has the Modern Nation State Failed?’, Financial Times, 14 November 2018, https://www.ft.com/content/a2a167ec-e0f611e8-a8a0-99b2e340ffeb. 5 Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, ‘Ruling Class and Ruling Ideas’, in The German Ideology,  https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/ works/1845/german-ideology/ch01b.htm#b3.

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in store for the West.6 ‘In the 1990s and in the 2000s’, writes the historian and influencer Timothy Snyder, ‘influence flowed from west to east. […] in the 2010s influence flowed from east to west.’7 The statement is glib to be sure; but is it true? Much depends on how we answer the question of causality; does the rise of neo-authoritarianism in these countries have a specific, east central European root? Indeed, the search for a common historical or structural cause regularly ends in frustration. While one might convincingly trace Hungary’s current state to the particular manifestation of the economic crisis of 2008, to the particular legacy of communism, to never-fully-relinquished relics of a caste-based society held over from the nineteenth century, these explanations ring hollow for a country like Poland, not to mention all the other countries within and beyond the region (Turkey, the US, Great Britain, Brazil…) where illiberal populism and neo-authoritarianism have come to power or gained a foothold. Historical trajectories and material conditions in all these countries are too distinct, such that a common historical first cause remains elusive. Discussion then devolves into a more or less rigorous description of symptoms (globalization, neoliberalism, capitalism, inequality, automation, the internet…), or contents itself to limit the scope of the inquiry to a single country or region, leaving the question of causes as indeed of the timing of the convergence for another day. But what if the rise of figures like Orbán and Kaczyński cannot be traced to a common historical cause, but rather suggest a common political strategy? I propose a thought exercise whereby we See Applebaum, ‘A Warning From Europe’; David Leonhart, ‘What We Have to Fear’, New York Times, 4 November 2018,  https://www.nytimes. com/2018/11/04/opinion/hungary-orban-republican-party-trump. html; Paul Krugman, ‘Why it can Happen Here’, New York Times, 27 August 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/27/opinion/trumprepublican-party-authoritarianism.html; Aleksandar Hemon, ‘On the Urge to Violence in a Time of Trump’, Literary Hub, 21 February 2017, https://lithub.com/aleksandar-hemon-on-the-urge-to-violence-in-atime-of-trump/; Pankaj Mishra, ‘Václav Havel’s Lessons on How to Create a “Parallel Polis”‘, New Yorker, 8 February 2017, https://www. newyorker.com/books/page-turner/vaclav-havels-lessons-on-howto-create-a-parallel-polis. 7 Timothy Snyder, ‘Vladimir Putin’s Politics of Eternity’, Guardian, 16 March 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/mar/16/vla­ dimir-putin-russia-politics-of-eternity-timothy-snyder. 6


Holly Case

relinquish the search for common causes and focus our attention instead on the political strategies wielded by these figures, and how those strategies serve their interests. Substitution #1: Shift year zero from 1989 to 2008 When explaining what he means by ‘illiberal democracy’, Orbán has argued that, ‘Illiberal democracy is when the liberals don’t win.’8 In his year-end speech for 2016, he noted with relish that all those who thought that ‘the liberal world order was unchangeable’, that ‘nations are doomed and can go along with their devotees to the museum’, had been proven wrong. History did not end in 1989, he concluded, ‘It took a sharp turn, broke through, and broke down the carefully constructed barriers, and stepped out of the bed designated for it.’9 1989 could only work as a year zero for liberalism, the series of events that gave rise to Francis Fukuyama’s ‘end of history’. If Orbán hoped to undermine liberalism, 1989 had to go. Ditching 1989 was a bold political strategy, not least of all because it was what made Orbán’s political career in the first place. As a fresh-faced twenty-six-year-old back then, Orbán delivered a famous speech, the theme of which was ‘Russians, go home!’ ‘If we believe in our own strength, then we are capable of bringing an end to the communist dictatorship’, he told the crowd. The matter of Orbán’s ideological resemblance to interwar fascists is debatable. But in terms of his political strategy, he does seem to have torn a page from Mein Kampf: [I]t is hard to determine when the negative aim of the destruction of a hostile doctrine may be regarded as achieved and assured. For this reason alone, the philosophy’s offensive will be more systematic and also more powerful than the defensive against a philosophy, since

‘Orbán Viktor viszonválasza az Európai Parlament plenáris ülésén’, Magyarország kormánya, 27 April 2017, http://www.kormany.hu/ hu/a-miniszterelnok/beszedek-publikaciok-interjuk/orban-viktorviszonvalasza-az-europai-parlament-plenaris-ulesen. 9 ‘Orbán Viktor 19. évértékelő beszéde’, Magyarország kormánya, 10 February 2017,  http://www.kormany.hu/hu/a-miniszterelnok/beszedek-publikaciok-interjuk/orban-viktor-19-evertekelo-beszede. 8

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here, too, as always, the attack and not the defence makes the decision.10

It was not enough, in other words, to obliterate 1989 as a point of origin since 1989 pointed to a liberal future. Replacing it with another date would not simply negate the ‘end of history’, but also point to a different future. Orbán showed his political acumen when he declared that the truly significant shift of recent history was not the ‘regime change’ marked by the collapse of state socialism in 1989, but the financial crisis of 2008.11 György Schöpflin, a politician in Orbán’s Fidesz – Hungarian Civic Alliance, said in an interview that Orbán’s vision of the ‘illiberal nation state’ must be viewed primarily in economic terms. In other words, Orbán’s ‘illiberalism’ was a foil for ‘neoliberalism’.12 This was an inspired rhetorical shift, one that served two simultaneous aims: to hit liberalism in a spot – the harms of neoliberalism – where liberal guilt and self-criticism was already very much in evidence, and to conceal aspects of the ‘illiberal’ strategy that went far beyond the economic realm, resulting in changes to the constitution, the structure of the judiciary, and curtailing the independence of the media. Moving year zero had other effects, as well. Orbán’s political debut in 1989 was marked by the utterance of a resonant slogan: ‘Russians, go home!’ More recently, an article in his party’s mouthpiece Figyelő praised Orbán as the figure who, ‘in 1989, openly stood up and demanded the withdrawal of Soviet troops, and stood up to the Brussels conviction that migration could not be stopped.’13 Note how the original target (Russia) has shifted to a new one (Brussels). Kaczyński has similarly made his political career on theorizing that the Russians were behind a 2010 plane crash in Smolensk Adolf Hitler, ‘Chapter V: The World War’, Mein Kampf, http://www. hitler.org/writings/Mein_Kampf/mkv1ch05.html. 11 See Csaba Tóth, ‘Full text of Viktor Orbán’s speech at Băile Tuşnad (Tusnádfürdő) of 26 July 2014’, Budapest Beacon, 29 July 2014, http:// budapestbeacon.com/public-policy/full-text-of-viktor-orbans-speechat-baile-tusnad-tusnadfurdo-of-26-july-2014/10592. 12 Holly Case, ‘Perspective: Shape-Shifting Illiberalism in East-Central Europe’, Current History 116, no. 788 (March 2017), http://www.currenthistory.com/Article.php?ID=1396. 13 Anon., ‘A mi bátraink’, Figyelő, 28 May 2018, http://figyelo.hu/szoveg/ v/a-mi-batraink/. 10


Holly Case

in which his brother Lech and scores of others were killed, connecting it to a WWII-era Soviet conspiracy to cover up the mass killing of Polish army officers and intellectuals. Yet more than the Russians, Kaczyński blames the liberals – and in particular Donald Tusk, current president of the European Council and former prime minister of Poland – for covering up the truth behind the crash, and often seems to have forgotten the other essential element of the theory: Vladimir Putin. The primary targets of illiberals’ ire are the European Union and the domestic liberal opposition. In 2014, Orbán declared that Hungary would join China, India, Turkey and Russia in the ‘race to invent a state that is most capable of making a nation successful’, and in the fall of 2016 he said ‘freedom-loving people’ needed to guard against the ‘Sovietization’ drive within the EU.14 Where once he used ‘Russian’ as stand-in for ‘Soviet’, now Orbán uses ‘Soviet’ as a stand-in for ‘EU’, another clever substitution along the lines of the year zero shift from 1989 to 2008. Meanwhile, his government has negotiated a secretive nuclear energy deal with Moscow that effectively turns the keys of much of Hungary’s energy sector over to a Russian company. Substitution #2: From liberal politics to neoliberal statecraft On the surface, today’s illiberals are harsh critics of neoliberalism and have undertaken concrete measures to ameliorate the effects of market exposure for some citizens, specifically those with large families and current or aspiring homeowners. Orbán’s Fidesz helped Hungarians dig out of underwater mortgages following the 2008 financial crisis, and the government gives extra money and tax breaks to families with three or more children. The director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Warsaw, Sławomir Sierakowski, has noted how, during its earlier period in power (2005–2007), Kaczyński’s PiS implemented neoliberal policies, but this time around they have distributed benefits for multi-child

Anon., ‘Freiheitsliebende müssen Brüssel vor Sowjetisierung retten’, Welt, 23 October 2016, https://www.welt.de/politik/ausland/article 158991620/Freiheitsliebende-muessen-Bruessel-vor-Sowjetisierungretten.html.


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families, free medication for seniors over 75, and a reduction in the retirement age.15 Yet even as they cast themselves as the vanguard of the fight against neoliberalism, both Orbán and Kaczyński are willing to use the market when it serves to eliminate or sap the power of their critics, especially the media. Wielding the ‘compete-tosurvive’ rhetoric of business to undermine the mouthpieces of opposition, the governing parties in both Hungary and Poland have gone after leading opposition newspapers (Népszabadság and Magyar Nemzet in Hungary and Gazeta Wyborcza in Poland), not by censorship or detention of journalists, but by severely limiting their access to advertising revenue and subscriptions, and making it very difficult or impossible for them to compete economically.16 Meanwhile, government-friendly papers are supported with advertising by state-owned corporations and subscriptions from government offices. As such the new authoritarians have not abandoned neoliberalism, but rather moved it squarely into the political realm. ‘Some of us, in Europe and North America, have settled on the idea that various forms of democratic and economic competition are the fairest alternative to inherited or ordained power. But […] sooner or later, the losers of the competition were always going to challenge the value of the competition itself’, writes Anne Applebaum in a recent piece on the fate of liberal democracy in Poland, Hungary, and beyond.17 Applebaum believes that competition produces a meritocracy, which is why illiberal neo-authoritarians hate it. But she neglects Sławomir Sierakowski, ‘The Five Lessons of Populist Rule’, Project Syndicate, 2 January 2017, https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/lesson-of-populist-rule-in-poland-by-slawomir-sierakowski-2017-01. 16 See, for example, ‘Hungary’s Magyar Nemzet newspaper to shut down and Heti Válasz weekly in crisis’, Hungarian Free Press, 10 April 2018, http://hungarianfreepress.com/2018/04/10/hungarys-magyarnemzet-newspaper-to-shut-down-and-heti-valasz-weekly-in-crisis/; ‘Hungary’s largest paper Nepszabadsag shuts, alleging pressure’, BBC News, 11 October 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe37596805; Paul Flückiger, ‘Verhasste Tageszeitung: Kampf gegen “Gazeta Wyborcza”’, Die Presse, 1 January 2017, http://diepresse.com/ home/kultur/medien/5144821/Verhasste-Tageszeitung_Kampf-gegenGazeta-Wyborcza.  17 Anne Applebaum, ‘A Warning From Europe’. 15


Holly Case

the obvious fact that most successful competitors, given the chance, will use their dominant status to try to prevent others from entering into competition with them; favouring those who make deals that benefit them and driving out of business those who try to hold their own: viz. Amazon and Walmart. In raising the lessons of mega-corporations to the level of the state, the neo-authoritarians are neoliberals par excellence. Substitution #3: Shift the content of nationalism from a ‘Yugoslav’ to a ‘Western’ type The Yugoslav wars of the 1990s raised fears that inter-ethnic conflict and territorial revisionism were going to plague the region’s politics following the collapse of state socialism. Yet so far the illiberal nationalist leaders have steered clear of interethnic antagonism. A particular irony of recent developments is the extent to which illiberal semi-authoritarian states are marked not so much by tensions around endogenous minorities, hostile neighbours, or oppressed ethnic kin in the ‘near abroad’, as they are by tensions within the national polity. Hungarians hate each other, now arguably more than ever before, which is quite an achievement in a polity that has long nursed deep divisions (just google ‘kuruc’ and ‘labanc’). More strikingly, Poles hate each other, too, a remarkable reversal from the mass character of Solidarity of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Furthermore, although nationalists in both Poland and Hungary have a history of hostility towards their neighbours – especially Ukrainians and Romanians respectively – both states are largely playing well with those neighbours now. Territorial revisionism, or the desire to ‘rectify’ the ‘unjust’ boundaries of bygone peace treaties, was long a political obsession for Hungary in particular. The spirit of revisionism still exists and remains politically potent, but is now geopolitically inert. Many Hungarian cars sport stickers with maps of Greater Hungary (reflecting the pre-1920 borders of the country), and the symbolism of revisionism (the brain-shaped Kingdom of Hungary) is everywhere. Orbán even gave his famous speech on how Hungary could be an ‘illiberal nation state’ in the formerly Hungarian territory of Transylvania that is now part of Romania. Yet the gov-

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ernment is on good terms with its neighbours, no longer agitates incessantly on behalf of the Hungarian minority, and has declared that the European Union means that all Hungarians are already united in a single state.18 Finally, nothing says ‘these borders are fixed’ quite like a big, long fence that cuts across ‘historic Hungary’. The erection of the super-secure, many-layered border fence along the southern border with Serbia seems to testify to the fact that Hungary has truly relinquished its revisionist ambitions. Whereas suspicion of Hungarian and Austrian revisionist aspirations once drove a wedge between states in the region, the outlines of a Visegrád cosy of anti-immigrant Euro-racism underpins many of the arguments behind the resurgence of east central Europe.19 The designation ‘new Europe’ used to signal Western condescension towards a region that readily joined George W. Bush’s ‘coalition of the willing’ in Iraq,20 but Orbán recently retooled the old designation when he characterized the V4 as the energized ‘new Europe’ in contrast to the stagnating Western one, thereby casting the region as the harbinger of an illiberal future.21 Yet another clever substitution. Conclusion Taken together, these strategies suggest that the answer to the riddle of simultaneity is rooted in a strategic effort on the part of Holly Case, Between States: The Transylvanian Question and the European Idea during World War II (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009), 208–9. 19 See, for example, ‘Far right wants Austria to join group of anti-immigrant states’, Reuters, 9 October 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/ us-austria-election/far-right-wants-austria-to-join-group-of-anti-immigrant-states-idUSKBN1CE2E4. 20 Jürgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida, ‘February 15, or What Binds Europeans Together: Plea for a Common Foreign Policy, Beginning in Core Europe’; and Péter Esterházy, ‘How Big is the European Dwarf?’ in Daniel Levy, Max Pensky, and John Torpey (eds.), Old Europe, New Europe, Core Europe: Transatlantic Relations After the Iraq War (London and New York: Verso, 2005), 3 and 74–78. 21 ‘Orbán Viktor tusnádfürdői beszéde (2016. 07. 23)’, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OU0R1khpY5Y; ‘Viktor Orbán endorses Donald Trump at Băile Tușnad’, Budapest Beacon, 25 July 2016, http://budapestbeacon.com/featured-articles/viktor-orban-endorses-donaldtrump-at-baile-tusnad/36683. 18


Holly Case

political forces in the region – and in Hungary in particular – to recast the timeline and trajectory of these countries and orient them towards a shared ‘illiberal’ future. This strategic shifting and agglomeration was undertaken with the aim of suggesting a more global historical decadence to liberalism and greater vitality to the illiberal drive. Karl Marx famously opened the Communist Manifesto (1848) with ‘A spectre is haunting Europe; the spectre of communism’, when in fact very few people in Europe had any concept of ‘communism’, much less viewed it with the implied agitation. The ‘illiberals’ of our time have deployed a similar rhetorical coup by connecting otherwise distinct strands of vague unease into an implied grouping with a clear and pervasive global enemy (liberalism). In light of these developments, one recent attempt to identify the forces at work behind the ‘illiberal turn’ warrants special attention. Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes’s article in the Journal of Democracy subtitled ‘Imitation and Its Discontents’ sets out to explain the phenomenon for east central Europe. Their argument runs that countries like Hungary and Poland, fed up with always being imitators and followers of a big-brother western Europe, are now undermining liberal democracy by implementing a clever policy of piecemeal imitation, adapting liberal courts and constitutions to illiberal ends, endeavouring to transform the European Union in their own image, which is itself an antagonistic mirror image of the liberal order.22 ‘We are the real Europeans, Orbán and Kaczyński claim, and if the West wants to save itself, it will have to imitate the East’, they write.23 Their argument is all the more compelling in that it operates both in the realm of psychology and in the realm of demography, portraying anxiety about immigration as a psychological response to a more fundamental anxiety about  emigration  rooted in concrete demographic changes (they note that some countries have lost more than 20 per cent of their populations to outmigration). ‘About 3.4 million people left Romania in the decade after Ágnes Gagyi, ‘Social Movement Studies for East Central Europe? The Challenge of a Time-Space Bias on Postwar Western Societies’, Intersections, East European Journal of Society and Politics 1, no. 3 (September 2015): 16–36. 23 Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes, ‘Explaining Eastern Europe: Imitation and Its Discontents’, Journal of Democracy 29, no. 3 (July 2018): 127. 22

The Great Substitution 121

2007 – numbers usually associated with a war or some other catastrophe.’24 But there is something their analysis misses, and that is the extent to which these leaders have undertaken a different sort of imitation: instead of imitating and perverse-mirroring the post1989 liberal order, they have substituted many of the ethnonationalist features associated with east central Europe with a particular variety of more racialized and immigrant-focused western European nationalism. The reason it is not recognizable as ‘Western’ is because, in the West, this brand of right-wing nationalism had hitherto remained on the fringe and never managed to run a government. In east central Europe, views that were once espoused by parties in Switzerland, the Netherlands, and France, are now running states. They appear distinct because they are in power. But examine their programs closely and there is nothing at all specifically east central European about their message: anti-Muslim, anti-migrant, critical of liberalism and the EU, Christianity without kindness, emphasis on race and willingness to form partnerships with fellow white Europeans;25 nihil novi. In 1922, Arnold Toynbee published his classic history, The Western Question in Greece and Turkey: A Study in the Contact of Civilizations. He opened the book with an evocative image: the shadow that so frightened western Europeans in the East was their own. [W]e civilised people of the West glance with pity or contempt at our non-Western contemporaries lying under the shadow of some stronger power, which seems to paralyse their energies by depriving them of light. Generally we are too deeply engrossed in our own business Krastev and Holmes, ‘Explaining Eastern Europe’, 126. Damir Skenderovic, ‘Immigration and the radical right in Switzerland: Ideology, discourse and opportunities’, Patterns of Prejudice 41, no. 2 (2007): 155–76; Cas Mudde, ‘Populist radical right democracy’, in Populist Radical Right Parties in Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 138–39; Carol Schaeffer, ‘How Hungary Became a Haven for the Alt-Right’, Atlantic, 28 May 2017, https://www.theatlantic.com/ international/archive/2017/05/how-hungary-became-a-haven-for-thealt-right/527178/; ‘Orban: Hungary Will Welcome ‘European Refugees’ Fleeing Multicultural West’, Breitbart, 11 February 2017, https://www. breitbart.com/europe/2017/02/11/hungary-will-welcome-true-refugees-germans-french-others-seeking-europe-lost-homelands/.

24 25


Holly Case

to look closer, and we pass by on the other side — conjecturing (if our curiosity is sufficiently aroused to demand an explanation) that the shadow which oppresses these sickly forms is the ghost of their own past. Yet if we paused to examine that dim gigantic overshadowing figure standing, apparently unconscious, with its back to its victims, we should be startled to find that its features are ours.26

Toynbee’s assessment is at least partially accurate for our time. Nonetheless, ‘the ghost of their own past’ is no less present in the ‘illiberal’ strategy of the east central European neo-authoritarians. In the parliamentary elections of April 2018, Fidesz and its Christian democratic partner won 133 of the 199 seats in parliament, yielding an electoral map of Hungary that is almost entirely orange (the colour of Fidesz).27 OSCE observers of the election noted that in the months prior, public funds were funnelled into ‘government information campaigns’, betraying ‘a pervasive overlap between state and ruling party resources.’ In other words, Orbán meant for his party to be conflated with the state itself.28 The similarities this party-state strategy bears to that of the communist government of János Kádár (party chief and de facto head of the Hungarian state from 1956 to 1988) have not been lost on contemporary observers. Above all, having learnt from state socialism, Orbán and Kaczyński are more aware than their Western right-wing counterparts that you do not actually need a majority to rule. You simply have to be able to conflate your party with the state.

Arnold J. Toynbee, The Western Question in Greece and Turkey: A Study in the Contact of Civilizations (New York: Howard Fertig, 1970), 1–4. 27 ‘Results for the single-member constituencies in the 2018 Hungarian general election’, Wikipedia, accessed 14 October 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2018_Hungarian_parliamentary_election#/media/ File:Hungary_2018_election_SMC_results.svg 28 Shaun Walker and Daniel Boffey, ‘Hungary election: OSCE monitors deliver damning verdict’, Guardian, 9 April 2018, https://www. theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/09/hungary-election-osce-monitors-deliver-damning-verdict. 26

The struggle over 1989 The rise and contestation of eastern European populism

Bogdan C. Iacob, James Mark and Tobias Rupprecht

The spread of populist governments in eastern Europe over the last decade, and their nationalist challenging of core tenets of western liberalism, has given currency to talk about a ‘new EastWest divide’. A notion has taken hold that draws on a longer history of western views of eastern backwardness: a specifically eastern illiberal ‘infection’ is allegedly threatening the stability of the entire European project. In this vein, former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called upon ‘the EU and the people of Europe to resist the backsliding we are seeing in the east.’1 Yet the parallel ascent of populist parties in much of the West, and a wave of anti-populist mass protests in the east, suggest the divide is not defined by geography alone. As we argue in 1989: A Global History of Eastern Europe,2 the current wave of east European populism, while rooted in local nationalist traditions, is best understood by also considering its global ideological bedfellows. Nativists in eastern Europe, and those who embrace similar forms of ethnonationalist cultural traditionalism elsewhere, have mutually reinforced each other. Radical right-wing figures in western Europe have developed strong bonds with eastern European populists in a common push to ‘re-found’ Europe on an explicitly anti-liberal basis. Beyond Europe, leaders with an authoritarian bent, from the right-wing of the Republican Party in the United States, to Vladimir Putin in Russia, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey, and Xi Jinping in Haroon Siddique, ‘Hillary Clinton criticises Tory MEPs over failure to censure Hungary’, Guardian, 9 October 2018, https://www.theguardian. com/us-news/2018/oct/09/hillary-clinton-criticises-tory-meps-overfailure-to-censure-hungary. 2 James Mark, Bogdan C. Iacob, Tobias Rupprecht, and Ljubica Spas­ kovska, 1989: A Global History of Eastern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019).



Bogdan C. Iacob, James Mark and Tobias Rupprecht

China, have contributed to eastern European populists’ repositioning against the West. Through these relationships, leading figures of such nationalist parties as PiS in Poland and Fidesz in Hungary, as well as their intellectual supporters, re-imagined their place in a broader world beyond the liberal rule of law and what they consider the neo-colonial interference of the EU in their countries’ domestic affairs. Together, they clamour for the defence of their societies’ ‘Europeanness’, allegedly threatened by Western multiculturalism, cosmopolitanism, and ‘political correctness’. The EU may be a frequent target of the anger of east European populists, but dismissing them as ‘anti-European’ misses the point. They rather see themselves as the defenders of the ‘true’ – white, Christian, heterosexual – Europe supposedly abandoned in the West. The combination of their own citizens’ migration westwards, and the seeming imposition by the German chancellor Angela Merkel of a ‘welcome culture’ and refugee quotas for Muslim migrants from North Africa and the Middle East, further entrenched a fear of demographic decline. Eastern Europe had, indeed, been the only world region to experience population loss in the twenty-first century. In more recent years, populists garnered support through a political rhetoric that accommodated such fears and defended national strength that was, they alleged, about to be undermined through mass immigration and the westernsupported erosion of traditional family values and gender roles. This self-definition as the valiant trailblazers of the struggle against threats from western decadence developed in interaction with the wider world, occasionally stoked by right-wingers from the West who legitimized their own projects as part of new alliances to defend ‘true Europe’. As early as 2003, commenting on eastern European states’ support for the Iraq War, the Republican US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld distinguished between a feminized ‘old’ Europe and a virile ‘new’ Europe whose suffering under communism enabled it to fully comprehend the struggle to protect Western civilization. Through the 2000s, Republican Party advisor Arthur J. Finkelstein consulted governments across eastern Europe. It was he who suggested the campaigns against the US finance billionaire and philanthropist George Soros as a political strategy for Viktor Orbán’s self-professed ‘illiberal democracy’ in the 2010s. US President Donald Trump also reinforced this view of east European populism during a state visit

The struggle over 1989


to Warsaw in July 2017, insisting that Poland (‘the soul of Europe’) was an example for the will to defend this civilization from the enemies coming ‘from inside or out, from the south or the east, that threaten to […] erase the bonds of culture, faith and tradition that make us who we are.’3 In the reunited Germany of the 1990s, western right-wing groups and figures sought contact with like-minded fellow Germans in the former Democratic Republic. Björn Höcke, today a leading figure of the radical, völkisch wing of the AfD in Thurin­ gia, had moved from West Germany to become a teacher and political activist in a part of the country he saw as less tainted by immigration, Americanization, and multiculturalism. Like Höcke in the former GDR, the rising western European populistand far-right, from Matteo Salvini to Marine Le Pen, encouraged eastern Europeans to see themselves as the last true defenders of Europe – from a region whose long history as bulwark against a ‘Muslim threat’ could be remobilized in the present. It was partly due to them that leaders such as, most notably, Hungary’s Viktor Orbán came to see themselves as not only the keepers of the ‘pure’ East, but also the vanguard of a pan-European struggle against multiculturalism and Islam. Eastern Europe and histories of in-betweenness Eastern Europe is clearly part of a global populist wave and now functions as a foundational site in the imagination of many western right-wing populists where the values of an ethnonationally defined Europe can be preserved. But there are specific regional factors which explain both this populist upsurge and the power and radicalism of nativist nationalism in former socialist countries. We need to view communism and its collapse in different ways to make sense of this latest geopolitical transformation of the region. Eastern Europe is constituted by an ‘in-betweenness’. Sometimes it looked west, but often located itself between east, west, and south. We may see the recent turn away from western liberalism as merely the latest manifestation of a much longer-term ‘Read President Trump’s Remarks on ‘Defending Civilization’ in Poland’, Time, 6 July 2017, https://time.com/4846924/read-presidenttrumps-remarks-on-defending-civilization-in-poland/.



Bogdan C. Iacob, James Mark and Tobias Rupprecht

history of shifting regional symbolic geographies and ideological frames. Indeed, since the nineteenth century, the question of escaping peripheralization and backwardness on the European continent had been key for east European elites. Communism itself was, in its early years, underpinned by the assumption that the nations in this region had to be wary of the West, and that only through autarkic development, and the cultivation of alternative global relationships, could they catch up and escape their historic role as western Europe’s economic and cultural hinterland. This sense of difference in eastern Europe was reinforced by outsiders as China’s rhetoric of a ‘common ground’ with the region based on past exploitation by the West fell on fertile ground. The Czech president Miloš Zeman, during his 2015 visit to Beijing, explained that the two states were brought together by similar experiences of ‘one hundred years of humiliation’, as the Czech Republic had been caught between Russia and Germany with post-1989 governments were ‘very submissive to the pressure from the US and from the EU.’4 If populist leaders now promise economic development and the reassertion of national dignity through a certain distancing from Brussels, Paris, or Berlin, it is only the next episode in a longer-term history of reimagining their place in the world. A key reason behind this latest change of orientation of the region away from the West was the economic and financial crisis after 2008 – less due to its direct economic effects in the region (which were, if severe in some countries, still less grave than in the South of the continent) but because the crisis chipped away at the image of western Europe as role model for domestic reform. Another reason for the impressive current popularity of such political figures as Orbán or Kaczyński can be found in the communist period itself. Contrary to the view that the recent populist turn is a marker of a ‘new’ continental divide, the political shift in eastern Europe in the 2010s was long in the making. Populist governments, their fervent anti-communist rhetoric notwithstanding, actually stand in continuity to some of the populist anti-Western traditions of pre-1989 state socialism. 4

Bartosz Kowalski, ‘China’s Foreign Policy towards Central and Eastern Europe: The 16 +1 Format in the South–South Cooperation Perspective; Cases of the Czech Republic and Hungary’, Cambridge Journal of Eurasian Studies 8, no. 1 (January 2017): 7.

The struggle over 1989


Stereotypes of a both weak and morally dissolute West unprepared to stand up for white, Christian, European civilization can draw on tropes about the ‘decadent’ and ‘imperialist’ West dating from the post-1945 decades. Sloganeering about internationalism, the nation, and nationalism had, after all, been used and instrumentalised by rulers in all communist countries. They presented the world abroad, and especially the liberal West, as dangerous and used ‘cosmopolitan’ as a derogatory term for those they condemned as decadent globalist capitalists. The ‘national’ and ‘the people’, by contrast, were typically embraced in communist political rhetoric and state-sponsored culture. Populists recently picked up this strategy of positioning the national homeland, and the state with its generous welfare programmes for families, as protectors from the hardships of globalization. Communists as much as populists used antiglobalist, and sometimes antisemitic, rhetoric to promote themselves against internationally-connected representatives of finance capitalism, ‘neoliberal globalizers’, and ‘neocolonial bureaucrats’ that sought, in their view, to undermine the sovereignty of the nation. Other ‘1989s’ and the origins of the populist turn To understand the rise of populism, we need to rethink the 1989 revolutions. They amounted not only to the victory of westernizing liberalism, but were also littered with authoritarian, populist, and socialist visions. Most of these may have been ‘disciplined out’ by the idea of transition, but reemerged in the late 2000s. East European liberal elites shared with many westerners a notion of 1989 as a democratic breakthrough. They saw the extraordinary convergence of marketization, democratization, self-determination, and westernization as a historically necessary ‘catching up revolution’ to overcome authoritarianism and backwardness. While western and east European liberals promoted this teleological story as a staging post on the road to the east’s inevitable integration into western politics and culture, many east Europeans never identified with what they perceived as a forced and alien reading of their nations’ histories. Liberalism in eastern Europe was thus largely a creation of 1989, not its cause. The predominant form of exit from commu-


Bogdan C. Iacob, James Mark and Tobias Rupprecht

nism, i.e. the one negotiated by liberally-inclined dissidents and reform communists, fuelled a sense of estrangement amongst those in eastern Europe who felt excluded from this ‘pact of the elites’. Contemporary illiberalism ties visions and ideas of the transition period and draws on the discontents to post-1989 transformations. It points at the fact that some former representatives of the communist party-states had remained in dominant economic positions after 1989 and present this as the original sin of the new eastern Europe. Such rhetoric is most successful in those parts of formerly state socialist Europe where people feel they did not profit, or profited less than others, from the changes of 1989. Radical critiques of post-1989 establishments and their pro-Western consensus has exploited real imbalances in the post-EU enlargement development of the region. Discontent with the structural dislocation caused by the disappearance of entire sectors of local economies, along with the social networks that had sustained them, fuelled broader critiques of the entire transformation. One of the striking elements of some eastern Europe societies indeed remains the rather low support for liberal democracy. A 2017 Pew Centre study showed that support for democracy was at a mere 47 per cent in Poland, 48 per cent in Hungary, 39 per cent in Bulgaria, 34 per cent in Latvia, and only 25 per cent in Serbia. Yet such ambivalence was not absent from the 1989 revolutions; it was the dark side of the annus mirabilis with its often overlooked legacies of violence, ethnic strife, and new geopolitical segregation between East and West as well as North and South. Moreover, before the late 1980s, only a minority among the oppositions to state socialism had been supporters of what, in the 1990s, emerged as a liberal elite consensus on political-civic rights, multiparty systems, free elections, and the free market. On the one hand, ideas of a democratic socialism survived to varying degrees while some conservative, nationalist dissenters rejected liberalism altogether. For example, Solidarność, the largest opposition movement of the communist period, was wedded to incremental reform and the protection of workers’ rights, while Catholicism played a crucial role in the self-identification of its rank and file. On the other hand, enthusiasm for authoritarian capitalist modernization was already present. In the 1980s, party experts in Hungary, Poland, and Czechoslovakia argued for the necessity

The struggle over 1989


of deregulation, privatization, and opening up to world markets to create modern and efficient economies. This could, they said, be effectively undertaken by nominally communist one-party dictatorships following the road of Franco’s Spain, Pinochet’s Chile, or the east Asian ‘Tigers’. This vision may have been defeated in 1989 but, in the 2010s, leaders like Orbán revived comparable agendas, imagining the region could benefit from copying elements of the economically dynamic illiberalism of Singapore or even China. Another temporarily marginalized strand of ‘1989’ was the fear that ‘the return to Europe’ would trigger a westernization of local cultures and societies, undermining their alleged authenticity, already weakened by foreign-imposed communist rule. In the 1990s Christian, conservative, and nationalist groups expressed anxieties about how a new European cosmopolitanism could break the bonds of the ‘cultural nation’. This is an important thread upon which populists have woven their critiques of what they see as the unfulfilled recognition of the East as equal to the West. They exploited the – rather implicit but sometimes explicit – civilizational hierarchies inherent to European integration, presenting themselves as advocates of national liberation against post-1989 subordination to the West. Along the way, their cultural and moral critique of the EU strikingly resembles the anti-colonial narratives initially employed in former socialist states by oppositionists against the Soviet Union during the Cold War.5 For almost two decades, populist politicians and pundits rejected ‘1989’ as the symbol of convergence with a liberal West by ideologically weaponizing the alternatives present during socialism’s collapse and in the early years of its aftermath. The illiberal discourses on national sovereignty, peddled by east European populists in concert with their counterparts in the West, as well as regimes such as those in Russia or China, have altered the civilizational script for east European development, namely that liberal democracy was the sole model for former socialist societies.


Paul Betts, ‘1989 at Thirty: A Recast Legacy’, Past and Present 244, no. 1 (August 2019): 271–305.


Bogdan C. Iacob, James Mark and Tobias Rupprecht

The resurgence of 1989 In recent years, however, ‘1989’ as a usable symbol has returned across the political spectrum. On one side, it remains a powerful mobilizing symbol for politicians and a new generation of civic activists committed to defending and developing liberal institutions, the rule of law, and democratic values, and demanding greater state accountability and transparency. As much as the current populist wave draws upon illiberal historical traditions with deep roots in the region, there are forms of resistance against it that build on local and transnational traditions of dissent and often invoke ‘1989’ to claim their own progressive interpretation of the recent transformations. In Poland, a movement has coalesced around the magazine Krytyka Polityczna (Political Critique). It aims to recuperate the sense of experimentation and participatory politics that had been popular around 1989, invoking concepts of direct democracy and self-organization that had been expounded by pre-Martial Law Solidarność or by dissidents such as Václav Havel or Jacek Kuroń. In Prague, during the twentieth anniversary of the ‘Velvet Revolution’, students lambasted Czech politics and politicians by redeploying the moral critique articulated by dissidents against the decaying socialist regime. Over the last decade, a veritable wave of anti-regime demonstrations has challenged populist and authoritarian regimes across eastern Europe. These drew on the liberal narrative of ‘1989’ as a symbol of Western-facing resistance against new populisms and of the unfulfilled hopes of substantial democratic transformation across the region. Bulgarian demonstrators chose 10 November, the day of the toppling of the communist leader Todor Zhivkov in 1989, for their 2013 ‘March of Justice’ protest that called for governmental accountability and the defence of pluralism. Memories of the 1989 era and the possibilities of western integration were also enthusiastically reignited in 2013 by the Maidan protests in Ukraine. In Bucharest, protesters against local social democrats’ attempts to dismantle the rule of law and institutionalize corruption identified with the civil disobedience and revolt that had been the basis for the revolution against Nicolae Ceaușescu. In Slovakia, where the outrage over the assassination of a journalist drew massive crowds into the streets in March 2018 to denounce the corruption sponsored by the ruling party Smer, symbols of the Velvet Revolution have been re-employed,

The struggle over 1989


and representatives of Verejnosť proti násiliu (Public Against Violence), the leading opposition movement in the country in 1989, have revived their political activism. In Serbia, tens of thousands of demonstrators opposed to the autocratic rule of President Aleksandar Vučić have invoked the legacy of the ‘Bulldozer Revolution’ fought against Slobodan Milošević. Russian journalists who recently protested against the treatment of their colleague Ivan Golunov chose to do so on 12 June, the national holiday that commemorates Russia’s declaration of state sovereignty in 1990. Last but not least, in the Czech Republic, where a large protest movement has emerged against the populist regime’s power abuse and embezzlement, plans are currently being developed for a mass demonstration on 16 November – the 30th anniversary of the beginning of the Velvet Revolution. Moreover, the recuperation of ‘1989’ as symbol of antiauthoritarian resistance took a global dimension in 2019. Major protests in Hong Kong organized against the attempt of China to establish its right to extradite criminals – seen as a major legal incursion of Beijing – draw on the repertoires of protest from 1980s eastern Europe. Human chain ‘The Hong Kong Way’, 23 August 2019, was inspired by the similar initiative organized by Baltic peoples on the same day in 1989 during their push for independence from the Soviet Union. So-called ‘Lennon Walls’ in subway stations filled with post-it notes demonstrating ordinary citizens’ solidarity with the protestors consciously draw on its original manifestation in Prague in 1988, where Czechoslovak citizens could express their disenchantment with the communist regimes. Such walls then proliferated across major world cities in order to express international solidarity with the Hong Kong protests. On the other hand, following thirty years of decrying the revolutions of 1989 as a ‘betrayal’, right-wing populists began to embrace the power of the memory of that year at its thirtieth anniversary. Recognising that the power of the 1989 story had not receded internationally, and having marginalized liberal opponents at home, such figures gained the political self-confidence to embrace and rewrite the story of these years. They continue to reject the idea of the end of communism as a liberal breakthrough. Rather, they promote 1989 as the beginning of a long journey towards the recovery of a Christian anti-communist Europe. In this re-reading, later populist Prime Ministers – most


Bogdan C. Iacob, James Mark and Tobias Rupprecht

notably Jarosław Kaczyński and Viktor Orbán – became the heroes of the show. The former, who played a minor role at the Round Table talks, became eulogized before its more august participants. PiS representatives pressurized memorial institutions to pay greater attention in their exhibits to PiS leader Lech Kaczyński (who died in a plane crash in 2010) and less to Lech Wałęsa, Solidarity’s founder and former President of Poland. At the ‘Freedom Concert’ at Heroes Square in Budapest on 16 June 2019 – on the 30th anniversary and exact site of the 1989 reburial of Imre Nagy, the reform communist leader who was executed in 1958 – the promotional video which looped between performances not only showed the reburial without naming the person reburied, but also focussed almost exclusively on Orbán’s 1989 speech demanding the withdrawal of Soviet troops, relayed against the soundtrack of Scorpions’ song ‘Wind of Change’.6 The right-wing leader of Fidesz had displaced the leftist figurehead who had symbolized change in that year – and the monument to whom outside the Hungarian Parliament was removed some five days before the anniversary year began. At the 1989 exhibition at Budapest’s House of Terror, Orbán and the ‘Hungarian people’ replace important figures such as the reform communist Gyula Horn or the various left, liberal, and conservative groups and movements that had fought against the system for much longer.7 The right was no longer attempting to contain the power of 1989, but rather to harness it for the conservative counterrevolution. The eastern European struggle over ‘1989’ has thus reached a pinnacle during its 30th  anniversary. The right-wing attacks against ‘1989’ as a symbol of a liberal transition, which long reflected the cultural, social, and economic anxieties reactivated by the steady delegitimization of post-communist establishments and a lingering sense of ‘peripheralization’ in Europe, are now complemented by a historical revisionism in which the revolu Gergő Plankó, ‘Az igazi szabadság az, amikor az állampárt vezetőjét végtelenítve adják egy fesztivál nagyszínpadán’, 444.hu, 27 June 2019, https://444.hu/2019/06/27/az-igazi-szabadsag-az-amikor-az-allampart-vezetojet-vegtelenitve-adjak-egy-fesztival-nagyszinpadan. 7 László Szily, ‘Kicsinyes történelemhamisítás, de legalább viccesen önleleplező Schmidt Máriáék utcai rendszerváltás-kiállítása’, 444.hu, 17 June 2019, https://444.hu/2019/06/17/kicsinyes-tortenelemhami­ sitas-de-legalabb-viccesen-onleleplezo-schmidt-mariaek-utcairendszervaltas-kiallitasa. 6

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tions are reimagined as ‘year zero’ for a conservative counterrevolution. At the same time, the liberal script of ‘1989’, though no longer central in east European politics today, holds significant value among newly mobilized progressive civic groups. As liberalism is increasingly contested in western Europe, the idea of convergence with the liberal democratic West embodied by ‘1989’ has been transformed, by significant minorities in most eastern European countries, into a powerful symbol of resistance against newly hegemonic populisms, ethnocentrisms, and supposed cultural differences from Western values.

Beyond anti-democratic temptation

Marius Stan and Vladimir Tismaneanu

In the winter of 1990, Daedalus, the Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, published a special issue entitled ‘Eastern Europe… Central Europe… Europe’.1 Among the contributors to this historical publication were Timothy Garton Ash, Ivo Banac, Ernest Gellner, Bronisław Geremek, Tony Judt, János Mátyás Kovács, Jacques Rupnik and George Schöpflin. In the meantime, Ernest Gellner, Bronisław Geremek and Tony Judt have passed away. On 25 October 2018, the Central European University in Budapest announced the transfer of its teaching headquarters from Budapest to Vienna. George Schöpflin is a member of the European Parliament for Fidesz, Viktor Orbán’s party, which is directly responsible for the expulsion of this great intellectual hub and the demonization of its founder, George Soros. The old East-West divide, which the resurgence of Central Europe was supposed to overcome ever since Henry Kissinger famously equated it with Eastern Europe during his 1990 trip to Warsaw,2 has turned out to be more obstinate than many liberal thinkers of those years expected. Instead of the Westernization of the Balkans, we have seen the weaponization of eastern European fantasies of salvation by political actors in the West, the US included. Steve Bannon, former top ideological advisor to Donald Trump, travels around Europe in order to promote paleo- and neo-Fascist ideas, proclaiming that Viktor Orbán is his favourite politician. At the same time, Orbán’s right-wing media are buying outlets in Macedonia and openly interfering with local elections.

‘Eastern Europe... Central Europe... Europe’, ed. Stephen R. Graubard, Daedalus 119, no. 1 (Winter 1990). 2 Timothy Garton Ash, ‘The puzzle of Central Europe’, New York Review of Books, 18 March 1999.


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Where does this predicament come from? In our view, the origins of the situation should be sought in the moral, political and cultural tensions of the post-communist condition. The pessimists were right, but were they truly pessimists? With hindsight, the author of a monumental history of postwar Europe, Tony Judt, was prescient.3 We pay tribute to the civil society paradigm, perhaps to a gullible ethical universalism, and therefore lose sight of the many vestigial symbols that stubbornly defy contemporary political and cultural allegiances and loyalties. More clearly, the post-communist transitions have been plagued by what we call the Fascist and Leninist debris. The first painful major sign came from former Yugoslavia when some members of the Marxist humanist Praxis school of philosophy turned into ideologues of Slobodan Milošević’s regime. It was Judt who wrote one of the most challenging texts on the global historical significance of the revolutions of 1989. We cannot help but notice his prescient conclusions, uttered as early as 1993–94: Who in Europe today has the authority (moral, intellectual, political) to teach, much less enforce, codes of collective behavior? Who, in short, has power, and to what ends and with what limits? […] In the absence of any clear answer to this question, it seems only a little melodramatic to conclude that in a variety of ways Europe is about to enter an era of turmoil, a time of troubles. This is nothing new for the old continent, of course, but for most people alive today it will come as a novel and unpleasant experience.4

The New York University history professor was not alone in his quest for meaning. Writing in 1992, the Polish philosopher Leszek Kołakowski saw the post-communist landscape of central and eastern Europe as being plagued by enduring Leninist legacies. Institutionally, Kołakowski argued, communism had died. Morally, its pathologies continued to haunt the post-communist world. He cautioned against inordinate triumphalism and wisely took stock: Tony Judt, Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2005). 4 Tony Judt, ‘Nineteen eighty-nine: The end of which European era?’, Daedalus 123, no. 3 (Summer 1994): 17–18. 3


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‘Euphoria is always brief, whatever causes it. The “post-communist” euphoria is over and the premonitions of imminent dangers are mounting. The monster is dying in its own monstrous way.’5 Almost thirty years later, a widening gap between expectations and achievements is fuelling general discontent and even street demonstrations across central and eastern Europe. The Romanian ‘cell-phone revolution’, which started in January 2017, is just one such example of major societal change. There is a growing sentiment that all politicians cheat and the political class has betrayed the people. In such a climate, former dissidents are often lambasted as naive and quixotic. Before Václav Havel’s death in December 2011, when he was suddenly lionized, many in the Czech Republic (including his arch-nemesis Václav Klaus) criticized him as an incorrigible idealist. Demoralized and disgruntled, most former dissidents have withdrawn from politics. The critically-minded intellectuals who have been the most consistent advocates of liberal values have come under attack from both the far left and the far right. Many younger intellectuals in central and eastern Europe seem more interested in postmodern anti-capitalist sloganeering than in promoting the values and institutions of civic liberalism. Kołakowski and Judt were not alone in highlighting these dangers. Both promising and disquieting, the post-communist condition has turned out to be socially unstable and psychologically discombobulating. Writing in the immediate aftermath of the annus mirabilis 1989, sociologist Ralf Dahrendorf feared that the rise of clericalist and militarist movements might be in the offing. Noting that disenchantment in the wake of a revolution is almost unavoidable, he added: ‘Such disenchantment does not create a very favourable climate for the establishment of lasting democratic institutions. It is even likely to encourage radical minorities and individuals to seek power in the name of objectives and with methods which are anything but democratic.’6

Leszek Kołakowski, ‘Amidst moving ruins’, in Vladimir Tismaneanu (ed.), The Revolutions of 1989 (London: Routledge, 1999), 51. First published in the spring 1991 issue of Daedalus. 6 Ralf Dahrendorf, After 1989: Morals, Revolution, and Civil Society (New York: St. Martin’s, 1997), 12. See also Ralf Dahrendorf, Reflections on the Revolution in Europe (New York: Times Books, 1990).


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Fantasies of salvation redux Contrary to early optimistic expectations (except for a select group of prophetic intellectuals like the one mentioned), a new authoritarian wave has gathered momentum in central and eastern Europe in the past years. The same can be said of western Europe.7 In contrast to the widespread euphoria of the 1990s (if we forget the Yugoslav debacle for a moment), contemporary Europe is experiencing the rise of populist authoritarianism rooted in an ethnocratic vision of politics which exalts organic communities while practicing exclusion. To the shock of many observers, a quarter of a century after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Hungary’s Viktor Orbán decided to erect a 175km wall intended to reject the refugee wave coming from Serbia. Orbán’s rhetoric is not merely conservative as some of his apologists have suggested,8 but rather a new form of xenophobic radicalism that Peter Viereck diagnosed as early as 1941 as meta-politics.9 The new authoritarianism is an expression of political anger, moral outrage, and apocalyptical expectations for an immediate break with the status quo.10 The PiS government formed in Poland in 2015 has merged traditional aspirations and goals of Endecja (the integral interwar nationalist party founded by Roman Dmowski at the turn of the century) with an emphasis on deepseated, traditionalist Catholic values, often reflecting the Weltanschauung promoted prior to the Second Vatican Council.11 Both Orbán and Jarosław Kaczyński resent what they perceive as the dangerous de-Christianization of Europe.12 Together with other factors, this resentment explains their attraction to majoritarian Michael Ignatieff, ‘Are the authoritarians winning?’, New York Review of Books, 10 July 2014. 8 See Tibor Fischer, ‘Viktor Orbán is no fascist: He’s David Cameron’s best chance at EU reform’, Telegraph, 7 January 2016. 9 Peter Viereck, Meta-politics: The Roots of the Nazi Mind (New York: Capricorn, 1965). Originally published in 1941. 10 For movements of rage, see Ken Jowitt, New World Disorder: The Leninist Extinction (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), 306–31. 11 David Ost, ‘Regime change in Poland, carried out from within’, Nation, 8 January 2016. 12 R. Daniel Kelemen and Mitchell A. Orenstein, ‘Europe’s autocracy problem: Polish democracy final days?’, Foreign Affairs (Snapshots), 7 January 2016, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/poland/2016-0107/europes-autocracy-problem. 7


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politics and to strongmen, including, in Orbán’s case, the rapprochement with Vladimir Putin. To understand this turn, it may be useful to revisit the classic book by Jacob L. Talmon, The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy, and his heuristically poignant concept of ‘totalitarian Messianic democracy’.13 In other words, liberal institutions and values, ostensibly consolidated in post-communist central and eastern Europe during almost three decades of democratic transitions, are now disputed, contested, and subverted. Some political scientists and commentators speak about regime change in Hungary, Poland, and more recently in the United States or Romania. Attacks on the independence of the judiciary have occurred in all of these cases. When confronted with strong criticism from European Union institutions, the leaders of what Orbán has proudly called ‘illiberal democracies’ retort defiantly that Europe itself is to blame, lofty ideals are invoked on behalf of national salvation, and the enemies that prevent its achievement are singled out: materialism, foreigners, moral decadence, intellectual corruption, social anomie, etc. Dutch cultural historian Rob Riemen writes about an eternal return of Fascism.14 Not the Fascism of the 1930s, to be sure, but an updated one, combining residual Leninism with racism, clericalism (if needed), panic-mongering, and the cult of ancestors. Part of this neo-authoritarianism is linked to or can be explained through the deep discontent with perceived rampant corruption among ruling elites.15 Part is a result of failed expectations regarding the benefits from EU and NATO membership. Enthusiasm for the European Union and what it stands for has been in sharp decline in recent years in most post-communist countries, maybe with the notable exception of Romania (see the recent failed two-day same-sex marriage referendum, 6–7 October 2018). Add to this the impact of Russia’s slide into what the late Karen Dawisha called an authoritarian kleptocracy, especially

J. L. Talmon, The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy (New York: Praeger, 1960). 14 Rob Riemen, To Fight against This Age: On Fascism and Humanism (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2018). 15 For authoritarian backsliding in Romania, see Marius Stan, and Vla­ dimir Tismaneanu, ‘Democracy under Siege in Romania’, Politico Europe, 13 August 2018. 13

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after 200016 and, under these conditions, what we regard as fantasies of salvation have become increasingly appealing to large social strata (or groups).17 Besides, it is no secret that political and economic power structures rooted in the old communist regime managed to survive post-communist transition and still exist today as a new avatar that is fully anchored in the economy and polity of the enlarged European Union. The Romanian political predicament, a case we have been following closely, suggests that the EU may have gotten more out of Romania’s accession than it bargained for. The terms ‘oligarchy’ and ‘oligarchic regimes’ were revamped by journalists and political scientists, particularly in Europe and the United States, to explain the transition of many formerly communist countries, where the old regime’s refurbished networks of power merged with new economic ones to create an informal parallel governance system. In present-day Romania, these terms may be used to highlight a disturbing dynamic located not in the distant ex-Soviet space, but within the boundaries of the EU. Old struggles, new struggles: The post-communist nightmare In the aftermath of the 1989 revolution, the American political scientist Ken Jowitt saw central and eastern Europe as isolated and derelict, beset by memories that were still too raw and domestic bickering that seemed to have no end. In this sense, Sylvie Kaufmann, former editor-in-chief of Le Monde, was right to remind us recently of Romanian-born French political scientist Pierre Hassner’s use of the concept of ‘collective neurosis’, which he borrowed from the book The Misery of the Small Eastern European States, written by the Hungarian thinker István Bibó in 1946 – time and again, the existential angst of central and eastern Europe has led to political hysteria.18 Karen Dawisha, Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia? (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014). 17 Vladimir Tismaneanu, Fantasies of Salvation: Democracy, Nationalism, and Myth in Post-Communist Europe (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998). 18 Sylvie Kaufmann, ‘Europe’s illiberal democracies’, The New York Times, 9 March 2016. 16


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However, 30 years ago, no one in the West could have been expected to see the countries of central and eastern Europe as legitimate candidates for membership in the exclusive club of the European Community. Such previsions were challenged by the years of bloody fighting in the former Yugoslavia. The wars of the Yugoslav succession, complete with genocidal massacres, consumed the 1990s and forced western Europeans to realize that leaving their eastern neighbors to confront the challenges of post-communism alone would mean risking a worsening of the chauvinistic and atavistic tendencies that had put the Western Balkans to the torch. Acknowledging the watershed significance of central and eastern Europe’s integration into the European Union, Ken Jowitt altered his earlier pessimistic stance. His modified assessment is worth quoting: I pointedly asked whether in the light of the cumulative Leninist legacies […] there was any […] point of leverage, critical mass of civic effort – political, cultural, and economic – that can add its weight to civic forces in Eastern Europe and check the increasing frustration, desperation, fragmentation and anger that will lead to country and region wide violence? My answer was yes, Western Europe! If Western Europe were to ‘adopt’ Eastern Europe, the negative outcome I foresaw could be avoided. And that is precisely what happened. The EU ‘adopted’ Eastern Europe.19

What in the early 1990s appeared as a daydream turned into reality not so many years later: In 2004, the Baltic states, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia joined the EU. Three years later, Romania and Bulgaria followed. Lest we forget, the revolutions of 1989 had taken place in the name of a ‘return to Europe’, and that indeed is what eventually occurred. Let there be no mistake: the EU’s role in fostering civic, democratic, and liberal values among the new members has been key. The events of 2012 in Hungary and Romania, for example – the onset of an autocratic, crypto-dictatorial regime in the former, Ken Jowitt, ‘Stalinist revolutionary breakthroughs in eastern Europe’, in Vladimir Tismaneanu (ed.), Stalinism Revisited: The Establishment of Communist Regimes in East-Central Europe (Budapest–New York: CEU Press, 2009), 23.


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and a failed parliamentary putsch meant to stop the rule of law from consolidating in the latter – would have been much worse had the EU not intervened with explicit injunctions and criticism. The onslaught on liberal values and institutions continued incessantly way into 2017, 2018 and 2019 in Romania and elsewhere. The EU also has had a big hand in stymieing more or less camouflaged attempts at reversing democratization. Despite all the EU’s laudable particular efforts and its general value as a ‘firewall’ against full-scale authoritarian regressions, however, EU influence alone cannot be expected to bear the burden of forestalling every malign trend or blunting every antidemocratic temptation. For post-communist citizens who cherish liberal democracy, there remains much work to do. In lieu of conclusions The revolutions of 1989–91 began with an exhilarating sense of recovered liberty and a widespread belief that authoritarianism had been irreversibly defeated. Sociologist S. N. Eisenstadt accurately described those revolutions as non-utopian, non-teleological, non-ideological, and non-eschatological.20 As a rule, they were non-violent eruptions of civic discontent against the supremacy of lies and the rampant cynicism of the communist bureaucracies. The thrust of the mass protests favoured the dissident philosophy of freedom, civility, and dignity. Expectations ran high, and few were able to foresee the advent of ugly forms of populism, exclusiveness, and intolerance that Havel diagnosed as the nightmares threatening the post-communist future. In central and eastern Europe over the past three decades, communism’s collectivist and egalitarian promises have risen again in the form of new salvation fantasies that attempt to synthesize far-left and far-right radical visions. Frustrations and malaise are rampant, and demagogues, as ever, ready to exploit them for their own cynical purposes. Some of these exploiters have ties to the old regimes. People who had been informers or propagandists for the communist dictatorships reinvented them20

S. N. Eisenstadt, ‘The Breakdown of Communist Regimes’, in Vladimir Tismaneanu (ed.), Revolutions of 1989 (London: Routledge, 1999), 89–107.


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selves as apostles of anti-western, anti-liberal ideologies, preaching a return to interwar fantasies of racial purity. No doubt, the impact of Francis Fukuyama’s famous text on the end of history stemmed less from its novelty and originality than from its ability to sum up the mood of the times. The end of bipolar antagonism was not meant to be a simple accommodation between the two systems, but the unconditional surrender of Bolshevism. The discussion was therefore about the sincerity of transformation at the top while not enough people questioned the democratic sincerity of the people in central and eastern Europe at the bottom. At the same time, the end of the Cold War dismantled even the last barriers to fully-fledged globalization. Economic globalization, it was believed, would trigger corresponding political transformations, and basically a greater cultural homogenization. Things did not happen this way, as we now know, and, having witnessed the end of a historical cycle rooted in World War I, we keep running through the lessons of 1989. The fact that these revolutions had been plagued by ethnic rivalries, by obnoxious political scandals or endemic corruption, by the emergence of anti-democratic parties and movements or the outbreak of authoritarian and collectivistic ideas, does not diminish at all the generosity of the initial message and its colossal impact at the time. Let us remember here that overcoming state socialism had been more difficult, and in the long run much more questionable, in precisely those countries of absent revolutions (the former Yugoslavia) or hijacked revolutions (Romania). We need to permanently emphasize such facts when it comes to discourses questioning the success of the 1989 revolutions. The East is definitely closer to the West than it was three or even two decades ago. NATO and the EU are robust institutions and their rules matter immensely in the central and eastern European political context. Nothing in history should be taken for granted. Yet, at this moment, the Orbáns, Kaczyńskis and Dragneas of this world notwithstanding, the disquieting comeback of ethnocentric populism could turn out to be a short-lived return of repressed emotions and phobias, rather than the end of liberal engagement inaugurated by the revolutions of 1989.

Dissidence – doubt – creativity Revisiting 1983

Joachim von Puttkamer

In November 1983, Milan Kundera published his famous essay on ‘The tragedy of Central Europe’. He spoke of Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland as the West’s forgotten eastern border, ‘un occident kidnappé’, as in the original French headline.1 Today the essay reads like the faint echo of a distant time, when Soviet power seemed firmly entrenched along the shores of the Vistula, Elbe and Danube rivers, and the West had long since resigned itself to the Iron Curtain that had by then divided Europe for almost four decades. Kundera discerned various divisions of Europe, between Catholicism and Orthodoxy, between individualism and creativity in the West, and its radical negation in Russia’s totalitarian civilization in the East. If there was a division between Western and Central Europe, it lay in the fact that Europe itself was about to forget its cultural identity and therefore perceived Central Europe only as a political regime. ‘In other words’, wrote Kundera, Europe ‘sees in Central Europe only Eastern Europe.’ Kundera’s essay is deeply melancholic. Some lines sound uncannily familiar. He found it deplorable that ‘Europe no longer perceives its unity as a cultural unity’, as a ‘realm of supreme values’ based on the ‘authority of the thinking, doubting individual, and on an artistic creation that expressed its uniqueness.’ According to Kundera, only Central Europe was still struggling to defend this ‘past of culture, the past of the modern era’. 1983 was the year that martial law was lifted in Poland. In the Kremlin, ailing general secretary Yuri Andropov began to lose his grip on power, while in Bonn chancellor Helmut Kohl managed to stabilize the new coalition government, seeing it through early federal elections. The West German peace movement reached its Milan Kundera, ‘The tragedy of Central Europe’, New York Review of Books, 26 April 1984, 33–38.


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peak and Ronald Reagan vilified the Soviet Union as an ‘evil empire’, a hesitant Soviet lieutenant colonel averted nuclear retaliation against what his computers mistook for an American missile strike. The TV film The Day After showed what the results of a real global nuclear war might look like. One week after this apocalyptic vision was first broadcast, Kundera’s essay came out. It sparked a vivid pan-European debate on Central Europe’s identity and on how to overcome bloc confrontation. It widened the cracks in the Iron Curtain and, for a brief moment in history, restored the very realm of culture – that of the thinking, doubting individual – whose demise it had powerfully condemned. At the climax of the Cold War, it marked the beginning of the Cold War’s end. As it turned out, Kundera’s laments concerning the abandonment of the Enlightenment had been somewhat premature. Since then, Europe’s divides have taken a different shape. But the notion of Europe’s image of its ideal self, as it took shape in the thought of the Enlightenment, and that of ‘the East’ as Europe’s other, lesser self might still be of some relevance. So where do we stand today? Economies: East-West and North-South Last summer I spent a week in the Southern Carpathians, on the idyllic shores of Lake Brădişor. That it is now possible to conduct an international summer school right in the middle of what once was Ceauşescu’s Romania seems to offer perfect proof that the old divisions of the Cold War have long since been happily overcome. The nearby city of Sibiu has been beautifully renovated and bristles with tourists who marvel at the city’s medieval architecture and its multi-ethnic heritage. Its bookstores offer a broad range of Romanian, Transylvanian and international literature. Kundera’s novels might not be in stock but can be procured within a day or two. In Sibiu, his realm of culture is alive and well. And yet easy accessibility has a flipside. Outside Sibiu, prospects are gloomy. The rapidly ageing population keeps its villages neat and tidy but young people seek their fortune elsewhere. Romania loses 0.5 per cent of its population year on year to net emigration. Only Bulgaria, Croatia and Lithuania fare worse in this regard. Statistical estimates predict population losses of


Joachim von Puttkamer

more than 15 per cent over the next two decades.2 The effects are dramatic and visible even to an incidental tourist, since cooks and waiters are lacking. They leave for better paid jobs in the Swiss or Bavarian Alps. These population losses are an effect of the persistent economic divide which still runs right through Europe and will continue to do so for decades to come. Suffice it to say that in 2017, despite substantial improvements compared to previous years, per capita expenditure in Germany still exceeded that of neighbouring Poland by 77 per cent.3 No wonder western Europe exerts an enormous pull on Central Europe’s wage earners. Polish nurses and Romanian doctors keep Germany’s healthcare system and its capacity to care for the elderly from collapse, while Central European countries rely on staff from poorer countries further to the East. Market reforms might have brought prosperity to some shining cities and EU subventions substantially improved regional infrastructure in the remotest corners of member states. But they have not been able to bridge Europe’s economic divide. Central Europe appears to be locked into something of a peripheral situation. There is little consolation in the fact that during recent years, another equally strong economic divide between North and South has become prominent. Slovakia, the Czech Republic and the Baltic States allied with Germany attempt to impose austerity on Greece, Italy and Spain. Few western observers seem to notice. The impact on Europe’s mental map has also remained marginal. Once upon a time, socialism had promised to break away from market constraints, not just in order to confront the industrial societies of the West on an equal footing, but to offer an alternative vision of society. This is a tale from times gone by. But at the time it instilled believers with pride. Such pride had already been deeply injured before communism fell in 1989. Kundera’s decision to overlook the deplorable state of the economy in Hungary and Poland, and to emphasize culture instead, Eurostat, ‘Population change – crude rates of total change, natural change and net migration plus adjustment’, https://ec.europa.eu/ eurostat/web/products-datasets/-/tps00019; Eurostat, ‘Population on 1st January by age, sex and type of projection’, https://appsso.eurostat. ec.europa.eu/nui/show.do?dataset=proj_18np&lang=en. 3 Eurostat, ‘Purchasing power parities (PPPs), price level indices and real expenditures for ESA 2010 aggregates’, https://appsso.eurostat. ec.europa.eu/nui/show.do?dataset=prc_ppp_ind&lang=en. 2

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bears the mark of such injured self-esteem. Historian Iván T. Berend, once a believer himself, bluntly described socialism’s outcome as a ‘detour from the periphery to the periphery’. 4 Against this background, the cash-flow in subsidies from Brussels is perceived as just barely righting a wrong inflicted by history. For many, these subsidies provide a response to a sense of moral entitlement without imposing any political obligations. When in May 2018 the European Commission proposed lower subsidies for Central European countries in favour of the more needy South, it was well advised to justify doing so on the basis of Poland’s and Hungary’s recent economic successes rather than linking the measure to the migration issue.5 Linking subsidies to political compliance is certainly not a good strategy to overcome European divisions. But the fundamental problem remains: the longer Central Europe lags behind the West, the more this imbalance fosters deeply ingrained notions of moral superiority in the West and of inferiority in the East. Adding North and South to the equation does not alter the outcome substantially. An old divide has become more visible and more painful. Economy almost inevitably translates into psychology. Protest and political cleavages December 2018 saw remarkable street demonstrations in Budapest. Answering calls both by the liberal opposition and the radical Right, participants assembled to give voice to two apparently unrelated issues. On the social side, they protested against new legislation allowing employers to push for additional overtime which the public labelled a ‘slave law’. On the political side, demonstrators challenged the introduction of new administrative courts. They feared that establishing a separate judiciary with newly appointed judges for charges of electoral fraud and corruption would further undermine the fragile independence of the judiciary in Hungary and move the country further in the direc Iván T. Berend, Central and Eastern Europe 1944–1993: Detour from the Periphery to the Periphery (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996). 5 Alex Barker, ‘EU plans €30bn funding shift from central and eastern Europe’, Financial Times, 29 May 2018.



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tion of authoritarian rule.6 Riot police used tear gas to disperse the crowd. The TV coverage was reminiscent of the violent clashes between yellow vests and the police that had rocked France the previous week and caused property damage estimated to cost several million euros. The demonstrations in both Paris and Hungary share aspects of social protest against government legislation that is perceived to sacrifice social security on the altars of global capitalism. There is also a common and deep mistrust of political elites which are perceived to be detached from ‘the people’, though the protests differed in their stance towards democratic institutions. Demonstrators in Budapest sought to preserve the remnants of liberal democracy and the rule of law. Demonstrators in Paris, on the contrary, turned their back on these out of a sense of disappointment that has grown over an extended period. During recent years Central Europe has seen a series of mass demonstrations against the manipulation of superficially democratic institutions by corrupt elites. In June 2013, thousands were out on the streets of Sofia to protest the hasty appointment of a media tycoon with suspected mafia connections as new head of the National Security Agency. During the ‘Bosnian Spring’ of 2014, a desperate protest against ethnocracy and the institutional and economic constraints of the Dayton agreement turned violent. Demonstrators set fire to the presidential building in Sarajevo and involuntarily destroyed large parts of the State Archives located in the same building. Beginning in 2015, Poles protested against their newly elected government when it set out on its crusade against the independence of the judiciary. In Bratislava, protests in response to the murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak swept away the entire government in March 2018. Romania has seen a whole series of protests against government corruption, starting with public demonstrations after a disastrous nightclub fire in late 2015 and peaking with a police crackdown on mass demonstrations on Bucharest’s university square last August. The most recent mass protest against the corruption of outwardly democratic institutions could be observed in Belgrade. Marton Dunai, ‘Hungarian protests intensify as Orbán heads to Brussels’, Reuters, 13 December 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/ us-hungary-protest/hungarian-protests-intensify-as-orban-headsto-brussels-idUSKBN1OC2OM.


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These protests testify to deep political cleavages throughout Central Europe. The cleavages tend to overlap with a rural-urban divide which runs across the entire continent. Populists on the Left and Right has scored electoral victories in Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Romania of a similar magnitude to those in Italy, Austria and the Brexit referendum. Michel Houellebecq’s recent praise for Donald Trump from a French perspective resonates to some extent with recurrent explanations of the political situation in Poland or Hungary.7 But it is only in Central Europe that a strong urban minority is repeatedly out on the streets in defence of liberal democracy and its institutions. Demonstrators in Warsaw regularly carry EU flags, which they associate with the rule of law. It is hard to imagine such demonstrations, say, in Germany or in Greece. Maybe this is because Central Europeans have experienced communism. They well remember the struggle against communist rule, and they know what is at stake. Some of the protests show generational traits. The erstwhile students of 1989 are now out on the streets again to defend what they achieved three decades ago. There are several ways of reading the current political situation in Central Europe and beyond. It may be that we are currently witnessing just another round in an old struggle that is neither for or against Europe but between two different interpretations of Europe: the vision of ‘creating an ever closer union of the peoples of Europe’, as codified in the Maastricht Treaty of 1992, and a Europe of nation states.8 Could it be that only a united Europe is able to weather the storms of globalization and defend national sovereignty; or does Europe itself undermine these noble goals? Should migrants and refugees be fended off at national borders; or at the borders of the Schengen area? These are just a couple of the most controversial issues raised. Another way to read the current political situation would be to refer back to Milan Kundera’s essay: now, as in 1983, Central Europe’s rulers might be seen as turning politically once again to the East. Strongmen such as Viktor Orbán and Jarosław Michel Houellebecq, ‘Donald Trump is a good president’, Harper’s Magazine, January 2019; Anne Applebaum, ‘A Warning From Europe: The Worst Is Yet to Come’, Atlantic, October 2018.  8 ‘Consolidated versions of the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty on the functioning of the European Union’, Official Journal, C 326, 26 October 2012, 1–390. 



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Kaczyński find much to admire in an illiberal, guided democracy based on the Russian model, and Orbán openly courts Vladimir Putin. However, this is now a matter of choice and not of coercion. And these strongmen now draw upon support from France’s Marine Le Pen, Italy’s Matteo Salvini and, at least up until recently, Austria’s Heinz-Christian Strache. Thus Europe could be seen as once more forgetting its supreme values and cultural essence. Kundera’s gloomy diagnosis that Europe, i.e. the West, had lost confidence in itself does now indeed seem to have come true. As if history were to repeat itself, a handful of unwavering defenders in Central Europe are standing up for what they claim to be Europe’s true essence. Memory politics Milan Kundera defines Central Europe as ‘an uncertain zone of small nations between Russia and Germany […] But what is a small nation? The small nation is one whose very existence may be put in question at any moment; a small nation can disappear and it knows it.’ Historical memory plays a crucial role in Kundera’s thinking, though this quote is his only, albeit indirect, mention of the Second World War. It also incorporates the argument of the Jewish nation as the paradigmatic small nation. For Kundera, Jews had been ‘the intellectual cement’ of Central Europe, ‘a condensed version of its spirit, creators of its spiritual unity’. He wrote these sentences in the past tense. He knew that this essence had been irretrievably lost. Did Central Europe not ‘lose its soul after Auschwitz, which swept the Jewish nation off its map? And after having been torn away from Europe in 1945, does Central Europe still exist?’ And yet, according to this line of argument, it was the Russians who had launched the attack on Central Europe’s civilization, not Nazi Germany. Nowadays, few would subscribe to this reading of history, either in central or in western Europe. Meanwhile, the Second World War has returned to the centre of Central European memory. With it came the challenge of addressing the Holocaust. The most ambitious and far-reaching response opened in early 2017 in the form of the Museum of the Second World War in Gdańsk. It offered a perspective on the war which has the capacity to bring together diverse national experiences into a common European

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narrative. The museum achieved this by shifting away from military theatres to the civilian experience, and highlighting terror and resistance as the distinguishing features of the Second World War. The founding director Paweł Machcewicz and his team scored a great success in opening the museum in the face of the government’s persistent attempts to thwart their efforts.9 Public interest surpassed all expectations – within 20 months of opening, the museum had welcomed one million visitors.10 In the interim, Poland’s current minister of culture and national heritage Piotr Gliński has left a lasting mark on the debate too, thus overshadowing the fresh interpretation of the war with a struggle over the extent to which national government can enforce its view of the nation’s history.11 Memory politics divide Europe to an extent which Kundera could have barely imagined. At the time, the Soviet claim to have liberated Central Europe from Nazi occupation was not subject to intense debate since it was recognized as being instrumental to upholding the empire and communist rule. But once communism had fallen, societies in Central Europe were far from adopting Western perspectives on the war and conveying a narrative to which the Holocaust was central as both an unparalleled crime and Europe’s negative foundational experience, the memorialization of which was and remains a universal moral obligation.12 Once liberated from Soviet rule, Central Europeans instead called on the West to acknowledge their own experience of dual totalitarian occupation and dual victimhood. The European Parliament has answered this call and made 23 August, the date on which the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was concluded, European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism. But attempts Patrick Steel, ‘Polish government sacks Museum of Second World War director’, Museums Association, 12 April 2017, https://www.museumsassociation.org/museums-journal/news/12042017-polish-government-sacks-museum-of-second-world-war-director. 10 Museum of the Second World War in Gdansk, ‘Milionowy Gość Muzeum II Wojny Światowej w Gdańsku – wideorelacja’, 28 November 2018, https://muzeum1939.pl/milionowy-gosc.html. 11 Cf. Claus Leggewie, ‘Post-local, de-local, re-local: Transformation and revision in European politics of history’, Eurozine, 11 April 2019, https://www.eurozine.com/post-local-de-local-re-local/. 12 Claus Leggewie, Der Kampf um die europäische Erinnerung: Ein Schlachtfeld wird besichtigt (Munich: C.H. Beck, 2011); Robert Menasse, The Capital, trans. Jamie Bulloch (London: MacLehose, 2019). 9


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to equate the memory of communist oppression with the Holocaust, as seen in Sighet, Vilnius, Riga or Budapest, have been met with severe criticism. Even more divisive is the issue of complicity in the Holocaust, particularly in Poland and Hungary. Since the current Polish government came to power in December 2015, it has repeatedly called into question the findings that local Poles had murdered Jews in Jedwabne, northeast Poland, on their own initiative. As a counter-narrative to Jedwabne, the Museum of the Ulma Family in Markowa at the other end of the country has given disproportionate attention to commemorating a Polish family who tried to save its Jewish neighbours and paid with their lives for the attempt. When Poland passed a law early in 2018 that was understood to criminalize independent research on such matters, it prompted international protest on a par with that seen in response to the constraints placed on the independence of the judiciary. Hungarian memory politics are equally rooted in the urge to deny any complicity in the deportation of Jews. Such debates also run high in Lithuania. The memory of the Second World War divides Central Europe and the West to the same degree as it divides them from Russia. Russian celebrations of Victory Day have repeatedly alienated political leaders in the West and particularly in the Baltic states. Conflicting narratives of the Second World War inform Russian propaganda in the war currently being waged against Ukraine. And there is strong reason to believe that Russia’s geopolitical stance is shaped as much by the fear of being encircled by NATO, as it is by injured imperial pride and the feeling that, in a moment of weakness, the country was denied the fruits of its hard win in a war aimed at its annihilation. Challenging Europe to rethink its values As we reach the end of the current decade, the divide between Europe and Russia, or more precisely Vladimir Putin’s Russia, is arguably the deepest political and cultural divide on the continent, despite the illiberal inclinations among some European politicians. This divide is clear-cut and far easier to recognize than old and new divides between Central Europe and the West. It is even more deeply rooted in diverging memories of the Second World

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War and also far more threatening in geopolitical terms. It is the divide which Kundera had wanted to draw attention to as the most fundamental and inalterable. Revisiting the divides of 1983, just as much as reflecting on current ones in the light of Kundera’s observations, challenges Europe to address and rethink its values. These, of course, are as controversial as the idea of Europe itself and far from being exclusively European. Their essence lies in the very idea of controversy. Central Europe has bestowed upon us an intellectual legacy of dissidence, which reaches far beyond its origins in the struggle against communist dictatorship. When we face the challenges of climate change, global migration and digitalization, there is not much to rely on which would be more appealing than the ‘authority of the thinking, doubting individual, and […] an artistic creation that expressed its uniqueness.’

Gendering dissent Human rights, gender history and the road to 1989

Robert Brier

The collapse of Soviet-style communism in central and eastern Europe has widely been interpreted as a major step towards the rise of human rights as a global language of morality and protest. Hardly anyone saw it as a success for the rights of women. For British peace activist Mary Kaldor, ‘[o]ne of the most remarkable characteristics of the post-Cold War world’ was ‘its maleness. Turning on the television screen, I am continually struck by the serried ranks of men – male defence experts, male politicians, male soldiers, male hardliners in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Even the representatives of the new democracies in Central Europe are all men.’1 When the number of women in central and east European governments and parliaments dropped sharply after 1989, access to abortion was restricted and childcare facilities were slashed, ‘many feminist scholars and activists’, Małgorzata Fidelis notes, ‘decried the post-communist system as being particularly discriminatory towards women.’2 Some authors believe that there was a causal relationship between the prominence of human rights in the revolutions of Mary Kaldor, ‘After the Cold War’, Feminist Review 39 (Autumn 1991): 109–14, 110f. 2 Małgorzata Fidelis, ‘Quelques réflexions sur la recherche à propos des femmes et du communisme en Europe de l’Est’, Vingtième Siècle 126, no. 2 (April–June 2015): 15–31, 17. For contemporaneous examples of this view cf. the special issues on women and gender relations in Russia and Eastern Europe of Feministische Studien 17, no. 1 (1999); and Signs 29, no. 3 (2004). For a recent, similarly critical, view cf. Gesine Fuchs and Eva Maria Hinterhuber, ‘Komplexe Wechselbeziehungen: Geschlechterpolitik in Osteuropa’, Femina Politica 24, no. 2 (2015): 9–28; Valentine M. Moghadam, ‘Gender and Revolutionary Transformation: Iran 1979 and East Central Europe 1989’, Gender and Society 9, no. 3 (1995): 328–58.


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1989 and the lack of a struggle for the rights of women. Writing about human rights more broadly, Carola Sachse argued that human rights language put activists for the rights of women at a systemic disadvantage. On the one hand, activists for women’s rights had to adopt a human rights language that is focused on the universal equality of individual human beings irrespective of their gender, race or class; on the other hand, these same activists had to insist on gender-specific differences of women as a group to make the forms of repression they suffer – sexual abuse, sex trafficking, discrimination – visible as a violation of human rights.3 In line with this view, Shana Penn writes that among the dissident movements ‘a thinking was widespread that was focused on human rights and generally did not differentiate according to gender, ethnic background and class’ and that women were therefore unable to express their concerns.4 Discussing Czech women’s literature, Madelaine Hron even writes that under communism, women’s ‘gendered, individual concerns were erased by the language of the universal human rights.’5 This paradox of human rights is at the centre of the following essay. It focuses on central protagonists both of the revolutions of 1989 and the rise of human rights in the late twentieth century – the ‘dissidents’. While women were very active in dissident movements, they frequently assumed an auxiliary, heavily gendered, and subordinate position to the men who dominated these movements. Human rights language was partly responsible for sustaining or at least concealing these gender hierarchies, but there was nothing inherent in it that prevented it from being used for the cause of particular groups. If human rights language was not used for women’s rights, this had more to do with how it was Cf. Carola Sachse, ‘Leerstelle: Geschlecht: Zur Kritik der neueren zeithistorischen Menschenrechtsforschung’, L’Homme: Europäische Zeitschrift für Feministische Geschichtswissenschaft 25, no. 1 (2014): 103–22, 114f. 4 Shana Penn, ‘Analiza porównawcza działalności kobiet w czecho­ słowackich i polskich ruchach opozycji antykomunistycznej w latach 1968–1989’, in Płeć buntu: Kobiety w oporze społecznym i opozycji w Polsce w latach 1944–1989 na tle porównawczym, eds. Natalia Jarska and Jan Olaszek (Warszawa: IPN, 2014), 355–70, 358, note 8. 5 Madelaine Hron, ‘“Word Made Flesh”: Czech Women’s Writing From Communism to Post-Communism’, Journal of International Women’s Studies 4, no. 3 (2003): 81–98, 81. 3


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‘vernacularised’ during the 1970s and 1980s by both the dissidents and their international supporters. But while the transnational and regional vernacularization of human rights helps understand why human rights were not used to attack gender hierarchies, the existence of these hierarchies resulted from factors specific to the Soviet bloc – an unspoken consensus among dissidents and their rulers on gender roles. Both the gender history of communism and the history of human rights have become a growth industry of sorts in recent years. But whereas the former has largely focused on the 1950s, the latter has overwhelmingly ignored gender issues.6 And while a differentiated social and cultural history of dissent is slowly emerging, it too has largely ignored the gender of dissent.7 This article thus ventures into territory unchartered by historians. Its main aim is thus to present hypotheses that might stimulate further research, not to provide ironclad conclusions.

For recent brilliant examples of a gendered history of east central European communism cf. Małgorzata Fidelis, Women, Communism, and Industrialization in Postwar Poland (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010); Katherine Lebow, Unfinished Utopia: Nowa Huta, Stalinism, and Polish Society, 1949–56 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2013), 97–123. For the lack of a gender perspective in human rights history cf. Sachse, ‘Leerstelle: Geschlecht’. For first attempts to combine the two fields which, however, focus largely on the 1950s and 1960s, cf. Celia Donert, ‘Women’s Rights in Cold War Europe: Disentangling Feminist Histories’, Past & Present 218, suppl. 8 (2013): 180– 202; Celia Donert, ‘From Communist Internationalism to Human Rights: Gender, Violence and International Law in the Women’s International Democratic Federation Mission to North Korea, 1951’, Contemporary European History 25, no. 2 (2016): 313–33. 7 For an exception cf. the contributions to Jarska and Olaszek, Płeć buntu, see note 4; Agnes Arndt, Rote Bürger. Eine Milieu- und Beziehungsgeschichte linker Dissidenz in Polen (1956–1976) (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2013); Jonathan Bolton, Worlds of Dissent: Charter 77, the Plastic People of the Universe, and Czech Culture under Communism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012); for reviews of the literature cf. Robert Brier, ‘Gab es ostmitteleuropäische Dissidenz? Neuere Arbeiten zur Ideengeschichte und Lebenswelt unabhängiger Intellektueller in der Tschechoslowakei und Polen 1956–1981’, Zeitschrift für Ostmitteleuropaforschung 64, no. 3 (2015): 402–10; Barbara J. Falk, ‘Resistance and Dissent in Central and Eastern Europe: An Emerging Historiography’, East European Politics & Societies 25, no. 2 (2011): 318–60. 6

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The gender history of dissent The terms ‘dissent’ and ‘dissidence’ are somewhat controversial among historians of central and eastern Europe.8 For one, they were Western labels, which many independent intellectuals in the region disliked. Moreover, they implied a dichotomous view of state socialist societies in which only the representatives of the all-powerful system and the courageous few who resisted it were relevant. The experience of society at large was reduced to compliance and apathy. Extensive historical research, however, has shown that society shaped the history of the communist systems more than the small group of dissidents ever did. Yet precisely by highlighting how social life within the structures of the communist party state was radically more complex and dynamic than the theory of totalitarianism suggests, this research has confirmed the usefulness of the term ‘dissent’. The party states of eastern Europe and the Soviet Union could accommodate complex social dynamics but they could not tolerate the public and deliberate manifestation of political disagreement, that is, of dissent  or  dissidence.9  Whatever simplifications came to be associated with the term ‘dissent’, it is a very appropriate term for the political practices that are the subject of this article. Following Detlef Pollack and Jan Wielgohs, ‘dissent’ or ‘dissidence’ are thus defined as ‘all discourses and activities that were critical of the regime and that constituted, or wished to constitute, an autonomous sphere of public, political and cultural communication outside of the official institutions of the party state and which in so doing openly denied the claim of the regime to full control of public life.’10 With the exception of the Soviet dissident movement and the later period of Solidarity in Poland, we lack fine-grained gender histories of dissent. What we do know about this aspect, however, suggests that, by the standards of the time (about which more Cf. Bolton, Worlds, see note 7. Cf. the definition of ‘dissent’ and ‘dissidence’ in the online edition of Merriam-Webster: www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dissent and www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dissidence. Last accessed: Ocotber 7, 2019. 10 Detlef Pollack and Jan Wielgohs, ‘Introduction’, in Detlef Pollack and Jan Wielgohs (eds.), Dissent and Opposition in Communist Eastern Europe (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004), ix–xvii, xiii. 8



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below) the dissident movements were comparatively diverse in gender terms. Men were significantly overrepresented in them and they dominated their leadership. Women did, however, participate broadly and made crucial contributions. They were particularly active in the Soviet dissident movement.11 In January 1968, the Moscow dissidents Lariza Bogoraz and Pavel Litvinov pioneered what would become a central political practice of the dissident movement in the entire Soviet bloc – an appeal to world public opinion to intervene against a political trial.12 Later that year, Natalya Gorbanevskaya became the unofficial editor of the newly-founded Chronicle of Current Events, a template for human rights publications elsewhere in the Soviet bloc.13 In May 1969, Gorbanevskaya and Tatyana Velikanova were among the founding members of the Soviet bloc’s first non-official human rights group – the Initiative Group for the Defence of Human Rights in the USSR.14 After 1974, Velikanova became a central activist of a revival of the Soviet dissident and human rights movement after On female Soviet dissidents cf. the pioneering work of Anke Stephan, Von der Küche auf den Roten Platz: Lebenswege sowjetischer Dissidentinnen (Zürich: Pano, 2005). On the Soviet dissident movement more broadly cf. Dietrich Beyrau, Intelligenz und Dissens: Die russischen Bildungsschichten in der Sowjetunion 1917–1985 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1993); Robert Horvath, The Legacy of Soviet Dissent: Dissidents, Democratisation and Radical Nationalism in Russia (London: Routledge, 2005); Benjamin Nathans, ‘The Disenchantment of Socialism: Soviet Dissidents, Human Rights, and the New Global Morality’, in Jan Eckel and Samuel Moyn (eds.), The Breakthrough: Human Rights in the 1970s (Philadelphia: University of Philadelphia Press, 2013), 33–48; Viktor Voronkov and Jan Wielgohs, ‘Soviet Russia’, in Pollack and Wielgohs, Dissent, 95–118. 12 For the appeal and its significance cf. Yasuhiro Matsui, ‘“Obshchestvennost” Across Borders: Soviet Dissidents as a Hub of Transnational Agency’, in Yasuhiro Matsui (ed.), Obshchestvennost’ and Civic Agency in Late Imperial and Soviet Russia: Interface between State and Society (London: Palgrave, 2015), 198–218, 198; for a contemporaneous English translation of the appeal cf. ‘Text of Appeal Denouncing Trial of Four Russians’, New York Times, 13 January 1968; for analyses of this kind of activism cf. Friederike Kind-Kovács, Written Here, Published There: How Underground Literature Crossed the Iron Curtain (Budapest–New York: CEU Press, 2014). 13 Stephan, Küche, 329–35; for the chronicle’s impact cf. Jacek Kuroń, Kuroń: Autobiografia (Warszawa: Krytyka Polityczna, 2011), 409. 14 Cf. Robert Horvath, ‘Breaking the Totalitarian Ice: The Initiative Group for the Defense of Human Rights in the USSR’, Human Rights Quarterly 36, 1 (2014): 147–175, 157. 11

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it had been badly hit by a KGB crackdown. Her energetic leadership made sure that the Chronicle of Current Events was published unintermittingly until the Soviet authorities moved to repress dissidence in the early 1980s.15 Beyond these betterknown figures, numerous women supported political prisoners, helped produce samizdat, and informed western correspondents on political trials or prison conditions.16 Women also played a certain role in Charter 77, an informal initiative of Czechoslovak citizens to monitor their government’s compliance with the UN human rights treaties and the Helsinki Final Act. Among the Charter’s rotating group of three spokespersons there was almost always at least one woman, and Dana Němcová is widely considered as the ‘mother of the Charter’, as Shana Penn observes.17 In Poland, the situation looked somewhat different. Female membership in the human rights organizations of the second half of the 1970s was very small and despite her central role for the creation of Solidarity, the worker-activist Anna Walentynowicz was an exception among Solidarity’s almost all-male leadership.18 As was the case in the USSR and Czechoslovakia, however, women played a central role behind the scenes, doing work for political prisoners, sustaining informal networks, and most of all producing samizdat. Moreover, the mostly female textile workers of Łódź repeatedly staged successful strikes and protest marches.19 With the imposition of martial law in December 1981 and the arrest of thousands of activists, women came to assume a central role in Poland’s underground society. An important part of Solidarity’s underground networks was run by women as was Tygodnik Mazowsze, the longest running samizdat newspaper of Poland and the most professional one in the Soviet Bloc.20 Cf. Stephan, Küche, 341–57. Cf. Stephan, Küche, 402–8. 17 Penn, ‘Analiza’, 355f. On Czechoslovakia cf. also Megan Martin, ‘The Growth of Czech Feminism: Analyzing Resistance Activities through a Gendered Lens, 1968 to 1993’, Gender/rovné příležitosti/výzkum 10, no. 1 (2009): 37–44. 18 Cf. Karol Sauerland, ‘Zur Rolle der Frauen der Solidarność-Bewegung vor und nach 1989’, L’Homme: Europäische Zeitschrift für feministische Geschichtswissenschaft 28, no. 1 (2017): 89–106. 19 Cf. Padraic Kenney, ‘The Gender of Resistance in Communist Poland’, The American Historical Review 104, no. 2 (1999): 399–425, 410–20. 20 Cf. Shana Penn, Solidarity’s Secret: The Women Who Defeated Commu15



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Despite this broad female participation, however, relations between the genders seem to have been structured with clear hierarchies. Women were expected to contribute what men considered to be ‘typically female’ tasks and to juggle these with what men considered to be ‘female responsibilities’ – childcare and household work. Moscow’s circles of independent intellectuals – the seedbed for the latter dissident movement – featured quite a number of women. But when these groups met in private flats, women were usually expected to play the hosts, preparing and serving drinks and food while the men discussed. A woman who wanted to participate in these circles thus faced the daunting triple burden of having to work full time, take care of the children and household, and do the reading that formed the basis of the discussions during the meetings of the circles.21 Paths into oppositional activity were also often structured by gender hierarchies: Bogoraz became a dissident because she chose to stand by her arrested husband, the writer Julij Daniel. Despite the fact that she had already decided to divorce the notoriously unfaithful Daniel, the reasoning behind her support amounted to ‘a political prisoner needs his wife’.22 A large chunk of female work in the Soviet dissident movement consisted in support for arrested husbands – informing sympathetic Soviet citizens and western correspondents about the prisoners’ plight and providing for their welfare. As the dissident movement and thus the number of political prisoners grew, entire networks of support for incarcerated activists emerged. In the early 1970s, they received major financial support when Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn donated the Nobel Prize money for a fund for political prisoners.23 These networks were overwhelmingly run by women. ‘Rusk, cookies, funds’ were thus central activities of female oppositionists in the Soviet Union.24 Gender roles not only assigned specific activities but could even bar women from becoming disnism in Poland (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005); Jan Olaszek, ‘Tygodnik Mazowsze’– głos podziemnej Solidarności 1982– 1989’, Wolność i Solidarność 3 (2012): 65–85. 21 Cf. Stephan, Küche, 256–61. 22 Stephan, Küche, 266. 23 Cf. Barbara Walker, ‘Pollution and Purification in the Moscow Human Rights Networks of the 1960s and 1970s’, Slavic Review 68, no. 2 (2009): 376–95. 24 Stephan, Küche, 337.

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sidents in the first place. An imprisoned man was seen as a martyr for a noble cause; a woman, a bad mother who abandoned her children. Such perceptions were reinforced by a state that was less willing to crack down on women than on men. In the imagery of the dissident movement, men were thus often compared to soldiers at the front and women to their wives waiting for them and supporting them from home.25 A similar situation seems to have prevailed in Poland. In 1970s Warsaw, for instance, Jacek Kuroń’s wife Gaja faced the same triple burden the wives of Soviet dissidents had to bear, with the difference that her salary was also the family’s sole income.26 The couple Zofia and Zbigniew Romaszewski were among the most active in Poland’s dissident and opposition movement. Among others, they founded the Polish Helsinki Committee and drafted an extensive report on human rights violations for the Madrid follow-up meeting of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. But, while they shared the workload, Zbigniew became the Committee’s chairman and was later elected into Solidarity’s board. Echoing the sentiments of Soviet female dissidents, moreover, Zofia Romaszewski retrospectively said she would not have become an opposition activist if she’d had a young child at the time. No similar thought seems to have crossed Zbigniew’s mind.27 These gender hierarchies were often backed-up by deeply internalized stereotypes and a profound disdain for feminism. When Kuroń tried to calm a group of striking, largely female, workers in August 1981, he found himself frustrated by what he believed was the women’s inability and unwillingness to listen to rational arguments.28 In April 1986, he met two female activists of West Germany’s Green Party. According to the latter’s report, they spent an entire night in a lively and overall very friendly debate with Kuroń despite the fact that he repeatedly attacked the Western women’s movement, arguing it threatened to destroy true love.29 Kuroń was, notably, a secular left-wing intellectual who, Cf. Stephan, Küche, 335, 403. Cf. Andrzej Friszke, Czas KOR-u: Jacek Kuroń a geneza Solidarności (Kraków: Znak, 2011), 77. 27 Cf. Zbigniew Romaszewski et al., Autobiografia (Warszawa: Trzecia Strona, 2014), 138. 28 Cf. Kenney, ‘Gender’, 420. 29 Cf. ‘Bericht für den AFI über eine Reise nach Polen im April 1986’, dated 3 May 1986, on p. 5, Archiv Grünes Gedächtnis, B.II.1, Mappe 58. 25



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despite his rants against feminism, left the West German women deeply impressed. The majority of Solidarity’s members were devout Catholics who had grown up in Poland’s still very traditional countryside. Unsurprisingly, then, women in the Polish opposition overwhelmingly worked either on auxiliary tasks such as typing or editing samizdat or in support of imprisoned husbands. A mere eight per cent of Solidarity’s leadership was female, even though women made up around half of Solidarity’s membership.30 Notably, the women who ran Tygodnik Mazowsze did not consider their newspaper as their own project but merely as a mouthpiece for Solidarity’s all-male underground leadership.31 On the few occasions when women did protest as women, they did so in ascribed gender roles. In July 1981, workers in Łódź protested against nationwide supply shortages. The most potent part of these protests was a demonstration of several thousand women pushing strollers and carrying children. As the traditional caretakers of Polish homes, they could most credibly represent the plight caused by the material shortages.32 We lack similar accounts of Charter 77. But, while work by Penn suggests that the situation there was slightly more representative of actual gender ratios, it appears that there too women largely served in auxiliary roles.33 Moreover, the clearest criticism of feminism came from within Charter 77. In 1985, Václav Havel published ‘Anatomy of a Reticence’, a long essay in which he explained to the western Left why many dissidents and ordinary citizens of the Soviet Bloc were so unwilling to engage in peace activism. Among others, he recounted how ‘two appealing young Italian women’ came to Prague to collect signatures from women in the East and West under a petition demanding disarmament and human rights. Havel did little to hide his attitude towards this project. He described the Italian peace activists as ‘touching: they could easily have been cruising the Mediterranean on yachts with wealthy husbands (they could surely have found some) – yet Cf. Jarska and Olaszek, Płeć buntu. Cf. Olaszek, Mazowsze, 68. The shared gender-bias of government and opposition may have worked in Solidarity’s favour. The women in the underground networks, Penn suggests, deliberately stayed in the background because they thus remained under the radar of a Polish security service fixated on male activists. Penn, Solidarity’s Secret, 180. 32 Cf. Kenney, ‘Gender’, 418f. 33 Cf. Penn, ‘Analiza’; Martin, ‘Growth’. 30 31

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here they were, rattling around Europe, trying to make the world better.’ He later wrote that he did not want to ‘ridicule feminism’ and was ‘prepared to believe that it is far from being the invention of a few hysterical women, bored housewives, or cast-off mistresses.’ But despite the situation of women being worse in Czechoslovakia than in the West, in Central Europe ‘feminism seems simply “dada”.’34 Another way in which the reality of state socialism may have reinforced unfavourable attitudes towards feminism was the reality of a life spent in what Havel called ‘a neurotic world of constant fear of the doorbell’.35 Anke Stephan documents how the constant threat of repression put the dissidents under enormous, at times unbearable, stress. Socially ostracised and in constant anxiety, the dissidents came to see family ties and marital bonds as a necessary safe haven, leading many of them to abandon their erstwhile support for free love.36 But even if the dissidents’ disdain for feminism may have been the result of repression and the ideologization of public life, the gender history of state socialism suggests that anti-feminism may have evolved as much out of the system as it was formulated against it. In sum, Mary Kaldor was certainly not too far off the mark writing that ‘antipolitics in Eastern Europe was predominantly male.’37 Dissidence would have been unthinkable without the substantial contribution of women, but gender relations were governed by clear hierarchies and the movements’ leaderships were dominated by men. Leading dissidents, moreover, seem to have considered the struggle for women’s rights as a dangerous and even laughable social experiment. Human rights and the rights of women Given the clear gender hierarchies before and after 1989, many western analysts were puzzled by the fact that very few women came to understand their social position in gendered terms. An often-heard explanation for this state of affairs is that human Václav Havel, ‘Anatomy of a Reticence’, in Open Letters: Selected Prose, 1965–1990 (London/Boston: Faber and Faber, 1991), 291–322, 307f. 35 Havel, ‘Anatomy’, 297. 36 Cf. Stephan, Küche, 339. 37 Kaldor, ‘Cold War’, 113. 34


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rights, with its focus on equality, somehow discouraged the struggle for the rights of women as a particular group. These arguments are only superficially convincing. In our own time, after all, women as well as homosexuals have very successfully used human rights language to campaign for their concerns. The core idea of human rights is simply that there are some goods to which all people are entitled by the sheer fact that they are human beings. What these goods are – political or social rights or both – and how they can be claimed depended fundamentally on how human rights language was ‘vernacularised’ by historical actors.38 Human rights movements, moreover, emerged only when the specific rights of a significantly large group of people were violated – political prisoners, victims of torture, intellectuals whose freedom to express their views was curtailed. The growth of Amnesty International, Jan Eckel demonstrates, was based on the perception of torture as a worldwide epidemic. Much as individual cases of torture helped to emotionalize Amnesty’s campaign, its underlying logic was that there is a growing group of people who were subject to torture.39 In addition to Chile, the most iconic human rights cause of the late twentieth century was without a doubt the struggle of black South Africans against Apartheid.40 Dissident activism also focused on how the human rights of particular groups were violated. The Charter 77 spoke of ‘tens of thousands of citizens’ who became ‘victims of Apartheid’ because their convictions differed from those of the state. It also mentioned one of the most important issues around which the dissidents’ human rights struggle crystallized – religious freedom.41 In fact, the first group in the Soviet Bloc that understood the potential of human rights arguments was the Catholic Church in Poland. In the early 1960s, the Polish Church invoked its members’ individual rights to religious freedom to demand that it be Mark Philip Bradley, ‘American Vernaculars: The United States and the Global Human Rights Imaginatio’, Diplomatic History, 38, no. 1 (2014): 1–21. 39 Cf. Jan Eckel, Die Ambivalenz des Guten: Menschenrechte in der internationalen Politik seit den 1940ern (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2014), 35, 379. 40 Cf. Eckel, Ambivalenz, 693–97. 41 Charter 77 Initiative, ‘Charter 77’ in Jan Bažant, Nina Bažantová, and Frances Starn (eds.), The Czech Reader: History, Culture, Politics (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010), 429–33, 429f. 38

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allowed to conduct religious instruction in state schools.42 The formation of the first human rights groups in the Soviet Union triggered the creation of additional committees including an Initiative to Defend the Rights of Disabled People, a trade union, and a Christian Committee to Defend the Rights of Believers, while ethnic groups like Lithuanians and Crimean Tartars began adopting human rights language. Spin-offs from the Chronicle of Current Events included bulletins by religious groups and Soviet nationalities, and any given issue of the Chronicle itself would document a number of cases in which people were persecuted because they had demanded the rights of religious or ethnic groups. One of the most salient human rights disputes in EastWest relations concerned the emigration of Soviet Jews.43 There is, then, nothing inherent in human rights that precludes them from being used to advance the rights of specific groups. In fact, the only time human rights triggered an actual social movement in eastern Europe – in Poland in 1980 – was when they were used to reformulate the grievances of a particular social group: the country’s industrial working class. The Polish case also draws into question another explanation for the lack of women’s rights activism in the Soviet bloc: claiming to have implemented women’s rights, the regimes of the Soviet Bloc, this explanation suggests, had discredited the struggle for these rights. This argument ignores that dissidents’ relative success consisted in their strategy of what Ben Nathans has called ‘radical civil disobedience’, of showing how the communist regimes violated their own norms.44 That was why the creation of an independent trade union in Poland was so powerful and damning for Soviet-style communism – it struck at the very heart of the regime’s Cf. Konferencja Episkopatu Polski, ‘Biskupi polscy do braci kapłanów’ in Listy pasterskie episkopatu Polski 1945–1974 (Paris: Éditions du Dialogue, 1975), 296–313, 310f.; cf. also ‘Orędzie o prawie do nauczania religii’ in Listy, 317–320, 317f. 43 Cf. Stephan, Küche, 346–50; on Jewish emigration cf. Thomas J. W. Probert, ‘The Innovation of the Jackson–Vanik Amendment’, in Brendan Simms and D. J. B. Trim (eds.), Humanitarian Intervention: A History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 323–42. The Russian original and English translations of the Chronicle are available at https://chronicleofcurrentevents.net/. Last accessed: 7 October 2019. 44 Benjamin Nathans, ‘The Dictatorship of Reason: Aleksandr Vol’pin and the Idea of Rights under “Developed Socialism”’, Slavic Review, 66, no. 4 (2007): 630–63. 42


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claim to legitimacy. In the late 1980s, a group of younger activists staged a very successful campaign by exposing the hollowness of the authorities’ claim to work towards peace.45 In sum, if we want to understand why gender hierarchies went unchallenged in the dissident movements, the answer does not lie in human rights themselves but in how they were vernacularised in the 1970s and 1980s by the dissidents and their international supporters. The following two sections discuss this process. Feminism in the dissident vernacular Leszek Kołakowski, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Adam Michnik, and Václav Havel all shared the belief that the power of the totalitarian system in its 1970s form rested on its ability to saturate public life with ritualised ideological lies, a point made famously in Havel’s meditation on ‘The Power of the Powerless’.46 Dissent was thus characterised by a complete rejection of all things utopian. Any social blueprint or political programme that would restrict individual liberty for the sake of a radiant future or some collective ideals was discarded. Yet this rejection of ideologies, of what we would now call ‘metanarratives’, did not turn the dissidents into postmodernists avant la lettre. Their quest for individual autonomy and liberty was not a quest to live any kind of life but a life in truth.47 Given the dissidents’ rejection of ideology and their commitment to an objective truth, their writings often had strongly religious connotations. This is most obvious in the case of Sol­ zhenitsyn or Catholic activists like Tadeusz Mazowiecki in Poland and Václav Benda in Czechoslovakia. But even an intellectual like Kuroń, a former communist and lifelong non-believer, discovered religion as a conceptual grounding in a social world characterized Cf. Kacper Szulecki, ‘Hijacked Ideas: Human Rights, Peace, and Environmentalism in Czechoslovak and Polish Dissident Discourses’, East European Politics & Societies 25, no. 2 (2011): 272–95. 46 Václav Havel, ‘The Power of the Powerless’, International Journal of Politics 15, nos. 3–4 (1985): 23–96; for very similar ideas cf. Leszek Kołakowski, ‘Sprawa polska’, Kultura 307 (April 1973): 3–13; Alexander Solzhenitsyn, ‘Live not by Lies’, Washington Post, 18 February 1974; Adam Michnik, Kościół, lewica, dialog (Paris: Instytut Literacki, 1977), 88. 47 Cf. Havel, ‘Power’, see note 46, 39. 45

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by state arbitrariness and the pressure to publicly conform to obvious nonsense.48 Havel, too, never considered himself a Christian and only very reluctantly, if at all, used the word ‘God’ in his philosophical essays.49 But his writings have clear religious references nonetheless. In ‘Politics and Conscience’ (1984), he compared totalitarianism to a smokestack he had seen as a boy. This ‘soiling of the heavens’ had offended him because it seemed to ‘arbitrarily disrupt […] the natural order of things’.50 He felt his revulsion so deeply because, as a boy, he was still deeply rooted in ‘the natural world’, or Lebenswelt,51 that is, the world of one’s ‘direct personal experience’, a world that ‘functions and is generally possible at all only because there is something beyond its horizon, something beyond or above it that might escape our understanding and our grasp but, for just that reason, firmly grounds this world, bestows upon it its order and measure, and is the hidden source of all the rules, customs, commandments, prohibitions, and norms that hold within it.’52 For Havel, the crime of totalitarianism was that it denied this wider horizon in the name of a pseudo-scientific ideology and therefore colonised the ‘natural world’ submitting it to ‘the irrational momentum of anonymous, impersonal, and inhuman power – the power of ideologies, systems, apparatus, bureaucracy, artificial languages, and political slogans.’ Resistance to totalitarianism thus meant to ‘honour with the humility of the wise the limits of that natural world and the mystery which lies beyond them, admitting that there is something in the order of being which evidently exceeds all our competence.’53 Havel returned to this theme in ‘Anatomy of a Reticence’ where he again warned of the danger of utopian projects, fanatics despairing before the ‘spectacle of life’s outrageous chaos and mysterious fecundity’, people who ‘could no longer perceive the Cf. Dariusz Gawin, Wielki zwrot: Ewolucja lewicy i odrodzenia idei społeczeństwa obywatelskiego (Kraków: Znak, 2013), 218–23. 49 Cf. Markus Hipp, ‘Identität und Verantwortung im Denken Václav Havels’, Bohemia 36, no. 2 (1995): 298–329, 323–25. 50 Havel, ‘Politics and Conscience’, in Open Letters, 249–71, 250. 51 Havel adopted this term from his mentor Jan Patočka but used it in a different way: Edward F. Findlay, ‘Classical Ethics and Postmodern Critique: Political Philosophy in Václav Havel and Jan Patočka’, The Review of Politics 61, no. 3 (1999): 403–38, 420f. 52 Havel, ‘Politics and Conscience’, 251. 53 Havel, ‘Politics and Conscience’, 267. 48


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integrity of all that exists, and can see only [their] own dream of what should be.’54 The rationalist models of these utopian fanatics, Havel went on, often combined with an ‘emotional enthusiasm’ and an exaggerated sense of the importance of one’s cause.55 He went on to contrast this utopianism with what he saw as a profound central European scepticism towards all kinds of utopian projects and a sense of self-irony and the ability to not take one’s aims too seriously, including even a project like the Charter 77, which contrasted sharply with the radicals’ sense of self-righteousness. The example Havel chose to illustrate his point was the aforementioned unsuccessful attempt of ‘two appealing young Italian women’ to collect signatures from women in East and West for a petition demanding disarmament and human rights. The stark and open rejection of Prague’s female dissidents to sign the petition, Havel believed, evolved out of their central European scepticism and sense of self-irony. They feared, Havel wrote, looking ridiculous.56 Feminism, Havel thus suggested, was a prime example of the potentially totalitarian and – in its exaggerated sense of dignity – ridiculous attempt to control the necessary chaos of life. Its proponents were people who could not see the ‘integrity of existence’ anymore. It contradicted the ‘authentic life’, the ‘natural world’ Havel wanted to reclaim against the lies of the post-totalitarian system. But why did the dissidents see gender roles as part of the ‘natural world’ they wanted to defend against the totalitarian system? Why did they see feminism as a threat to an authentic human life or, in Kuroń’s words, to ‘true love’? In Havel’s mind, this attitude was a response to the omnipresence of ideology in people’s everyday lives and to the way it had emptied the struggle for equality of all meanings.57 In this sense, then, anti-feminism was a response to the communist system.

Havel, ‘Anatomy’, 300f. Havel, ‘Anatomy’, 309. 56 Cf. Havel, ‘Anatomy’, 307. 57 Cf. Havel, ‘Anatomy’, 308. 54 55

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Gender and the transnational vernacularization of human rights Human rights was (and remains) an international language. It presupposes the existence of a ‘court of world opinion’ with a shared set of norms before which victims of repression can bring their plight and demand redress. The dissidents, with their appeals to UN documents and the Helsinki Accords, had a major impact on the emergence of this imagery of a universal court. The former Czech dissident Jiřina Šiklová thus said that Charter 77 was no social movement but more like a Greek ‘chorus’ performing before a public consisting of other opposition figures but crucially also of western human rights groups.58 Dissident activism was thus unthinkable without the support of western correspondents and international human rights groups both of which amplified the dissidents’ appeals internationally as well as western governments who would use mechanisms like the Helsinki process to pressure communist governments to respect the dissidents’ rights.59 The international interlocutors of the dissidents came almost exclusively from western Europe and the United States, that is, from societies which at the time were not necessarily more gender-inclusive than the Soviet Bloc. The percentage of women in the West’s workforce was lower than in the East, women in leading positions were just as rare, and only in Sweden and Fin Cf. Penn, ‘Analiza’, 360. On journalists cf. Julia Metger, ‘Writing the Papers: How Western Correspondents Reported the First Dissident Trials in Moscow, 1965–1972’, in Robert Brier (ed.), Entangled Protest: Transnational Perspectives on the History of Dissent in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union (Osnabrück: fibre, 2013), 87–108; Barbara Walker, ‘Moscow Human Rights Defenders Look West: Attitudes toward U.S. Journalists in the 1960s and 1970s’, in György Péteri (ed.), Imagining the West in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2010), 237–57. For human rights activists and governments cf. Sarah B. Snyder, Human Rights Activism and the End of the Cold War: A Transnational History of the Helsinki Network (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011); Anja Mihr, Amnesty International in der DDR: Der Einsatz für Menschenrechte im Visier der Stasi (Berlin: Ch. Links, 2002). Cf. also the other contributions to Brier (ed.), Entangled Protest; and Friederike Kind-Kovács and Jessie Labov (eds.), Samizdat, Tamizdat, and Beyond: Transnational Media during and after Socialism (New York: Berghahn, 2013).

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land did women constitute more than 20 per cent of the members of the respective national parliaments; in the UK and France the number was seven and six per cent respectively.60 It may thus not be very surprising that the dominant human rights organization of the 1970s, Amnesty International, seems to have been characterized by the same gender hierarchies as the dissident movements. Women were hugely important both for the organizations of central institutions and its local groups, but Amnesty’s leading positions were overwhelmingly, if not exclusively, staffed by men. It took Amnesty until the late 1980s, moreover, to start paying more attention to women’s rights and, in another striking parallel to dissent, a woman working for Amnesty in the early 2000s reported having encountered ‘some of the most anti-feminist women’ she had ever worked with in the organization’s International Secretariat.61 The issues around which Amnesty created its human rights culture – political incarceration and torture – were also not very conducive to raising gender-related questions. If practices in the Soviet Union and Poland can be extrapolated to other world regions, repressive regimes seem to have been much more reluctant to incarcerate women than men. Gender hierarchies, moreover, barred women from exposing themselves to the risk of being arrested, as noted above. There thus were way fewer women than men among the political prisoners. Amnesty’s second major concern of the time, torture, may have led to a similar gender imbalance. States may have been less willing to torture women, and men who had been tortured would again be seen as martyrs, whereas the kind of abuse many women prisoners suffered – rape – left them too ashamed to speak about their plight. But it may not only have been the reality of repression that systematically excluded gender-related issues from Amnesty’s sight. Its initial activism was part of a re-envisioning of political incarceration that had much more to do with the desires and Cf. Tony Judt, Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945 (New York: Penguin, 2005), 490. 61 Cf. Tom Buchanan, ‘“The Truth Will Set You Free”: The Making of Amnesty International’, Journal of Contemporary History 37, no. 4 (2002): 575–97, 590; Stephen Hopgood, Keepers of the Flame: Understanding Amnesty International (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2006), 67f., 147–61. Eckel’s research suggests that this may have changed in the US section during the 1970s. Cf. Eckel, Ambivalenz, 395. 60

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values of the organization’s members than the actual situation of victims of repression. Amnesty’s work was deliberately non- or even anti-political; it did not support political prisoners, but prisoners of conscience, people who had been jailed solely because they had manifested a worldview dissenting from the state’s ideology. In theory at least, Amnesty’s work was not driven by political solidarity but by empathy, pity even, with a fellow human being.62 This shift from solidarity to empathy had not been triggered by changed practices of repression around the world but by how the collapse of ideological projects of revolutionary change had left many western activists disillusioned and yearning for sources of idealism that were uncontroversial.63 Second-wave feminism, with its focus on overthrowing patriarchal structures, may thus have seemed too indebted to the revolutionary activism Amnesty sought to leave behind. If Amnesty International provided no incentives for the dissidents to raise gender-related human rights questions, neither did western governments. A major reason why human rights gained such prominence in East-West relations was, as Barbara Keys writes, the desire of some US politicians to ‘reclaim American virtue’, to rebuild an image of America’s essential ‘goodness’ in its struggle with communist tyranny. Bringing up the equality of women – an issue where the US situation was not significantly better than the one in the Soviet Bloc – was hardly a promising strategy to achieve this aim.64 When it comes to western correspondents, it is at least doubtful whether feminist activists would have found an audience among the correspondents that was sympathetic to gender-

For an excellent analysis of Amnesty’s history and culture cf. Hopgood, Keepers, see note 61; cf. also Buchanan, ‘Truth’, see note 61; Jan Eckel, ‘The International League for the Rights of Man, Amnesty International, and the Changing Fate of Human Rights Activism from the 1940s through the 1970s’, Humanity 4, no. 2 (2013): 183–214; for the evolution of AI’s central concept of ‘prisoner of conscience’, cf. Edy Kaufman, ‘Prisoners of Conscience: The Shaping of a New Human Rights Concept’, Human Rights Quarterly 13, no. 3 (1991): 339–67. 63 Cf. Kaufman, ‘Prisoners’, 342; Eckel, Ambivalenz, 394–411; Samuel Moyn, The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010). 64 Cf. Barbara Keys, Reclaiming American Virtue: The Human Rights Revolution of the 1970s (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014). 62


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related issues given what has been said so far about gender-related issues in western politics and human rights activism. Trying to comprehend the absence of gender-related issues in the activism of the dissidents, in sum, it is important to understand that they interacted with western societies that were not necessarily more inclusive than those the dissidents lived in. Moreover, the dissidents participated in a global human rights discourse which, because of the desires of western human rights activists and the exigencies of the Cold War, systematically excluded the discussion of the rights of women. An unspoken consensus Given the predominance of men in the dissident movements it may not come as much of a surprise that, among the 26 people which the Polish opposition sent to the famous roundtable talks in early 1989, there was only one woman. It is important to note, however, that among the 29 members of the government delegation there was also only one woman. Much as the dissidents themselves may have seen their anti-feminism as a response to the ubiquity of ideology in state socialism, then, the roundtable talk suggests that government and opposition agreed on one thing: the status of women. Authors who see 1989 as a setback for women’s rights seem to focus primarily on the disappearance of social and legal institutions such as abortion rights or childcare facilities. What they miss is the reality of gender-relations in state socialist societies. In Russia, the Bolsheviks had come to power promising full female equality. They implemented a number of political and social measures to grant women equal rights, foster their independence, and increase their full employment. Many of these measures were exported to central and southeastern Europe after 1945. These measures were motivated both ideologically and by the need to deal with labour shortages and were implemented in an overall very repressive regime. But when women coming from the often utterly impoverished, war-torn, and fiercely traditional countryside took over typically male jobs in heavy industry, many of them did seem to have experienced a clear sense of upward social mobility.65  For fascinating studies of female workers in Stalinist Poland cf. Fidelis,


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Yet even though women were much more highly represented in the workforce of the Soviet Bloc than in the West, they were still disadvantaged. Men earned significantly more, women rarely, if ever, held leading positions in factories and workplaces, and underlying gender roles hardly changed. Even under Stalinism, official ideology continued to underline female roles as caretakers and housewives. Many husbands, moreover, cared little about the fact that their wives were working as much as they did and contributed little to family life. With childcare facilities chronically underfunded, women were forced to work full-time jobs at home and in their place of work. If anything, these trends intensified in the late socialist period. ‘Consumer socialism’ was based on a social contract between rulers and ruled – if the latter remained acquiescent the former would satisfy their consumer needs and not intrude in citizens’ private lives. The family, with the mother as its main caretaker, thus emerged as a sanctuary against government intrusion, a trend reinforced when the authorities scaled back programmes of female employment and criticized them as Stalinist aberrations. In private and public discourse, the traditional family emerged as the antithesis of Stalinist terror.66 Women, Communism, and Industrialization, see note 6; Lebow, Unfinished Utopia, see note 6, 97–123; for female employment in European comparison cf. Francisca de Haan, ‘Women as the “Motor of Modern Life”: Women’s Work in Europe West and East since 1945’, in Joanna Regulska and Bonnie G. Smith (eds.), Women and Gender in Postwar Europe: From Cold War to European Union (London: Routledge, 2012). A striking example comes from Anna Walentynowicz who would play a central role in the creation of the Polish Solidarity movement. Sławomir Cenckiewicz, ‘“Anna Solidarność”: Anna Walentynowicz (1929–2010)’, Biuletyn Instytutu Pamięci Narodowej, nos. 9–10 (2010): 185–207, 186. 66 Cf. Barbara Evans Clements, ‘Continuities Amid Change: Gender Ideas and Arrangements in Twentieth Century Russia and Eastern Europe’, in Teresa Meade and Merry E. Wiesner (eds.), A Companion to Gender History (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2004), 555–67, 562f.; Joanna Goven, ‘The Gendered Foundations of Hungarian Socialism: State, Society, and the Anti-Politics of Anti-Feminism, 1948–1990’ (PhD diss., University of California, Berkeley, 1993); Paulina Bren, The Greengrocer and his TV: The Culture of Communism after the 1968 Prague Spring (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2010), 164–69; Anna Schor-Tschudnowskaja, ‘Das Ideal der Frau: Eine qualitative Inhaltsanalyse sowjetischer “Benimmbücher”’, in Martina Ritter (ed.), Zivilgesellschaft und Gender-Politik in Russland (Frankfurt a. M.: Campus Verlag, 2001), 67–96. On the gendered nature of communist ideology and social imaginary cf. also Kenney, ‘Gender’, 403–6.


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Politically, women were largely marginalized in the Soviet Bloc. In the Soviet Union of the late socialist period, they were relatively well represented in the largely powerless local soviets, but never made up more than 29.3 per cent of the membership of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) and only around three per cent of the Central Committee. Between 1945 and Gorbachev’s rise to power in 1985, only one woman became a voting member of the Soviet politburo.67 None of this is to say that women had no impact on the history of the Soviet Union and the east European People’s Republics. The work of Małgorzata Fidelis, Katherine Lebow, Celia Donert, and others has shown that, much like society as a whole, women could undermine the state’s aims to control their lives, use the organizations, subjectivities, and niches of the system for their own ends, or at the very least engage in Eigensinn thus shaping the history of state socialism.68 But as with society as a whole, this influence was exerted indirectly and underneath or against the ruling system rather than from within it. In contrast to the dissidents’ own rhetoric, then, they did not attack the seeming feminism of official ideology; the gender hierarchies among dissident activists, rather, faithfully reflected hierarchies shaped by the socialist system. More than that, there even seems to have existed something of an unspoken consensus among the dissidents and their governments regarding gender roles. When the east and central European communist parties scaled back the ideological fervour of the Stalinist period, measures that focused on gender equality were among the first to be slashed. The clearest way in which the Kádár regime in Hungary tried to set itself off from the Stalinist period was by granting families greater autonomy. A revival of the family, complete with traditional gender roles, was at the centre of the shift towards consumer socialism, Joanna Goven suggests. This policy had Cf. Carol Nechemias, ‘Women’s Participation: From Lenin to Gorbachev’ and Joel C. Moses, ‘The Communist Era and Women: Image and Reality’, in Wilma Rule and Norma C. Noonan (eds.), Russian Women in Politics and Society (Westport, CT/London: Greenwood Press, 1996), 15–30, 31–39, quoted numbers on p. 23f.; Evan Mawdsley and Stephen White, The Soviet Elite from Lenin to Gorbachev: The Central Committee and its Members 1917–1991 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 252. 68 Cf. Fidelis, Women, Communism, and Industrialization; Lebow, Unfinished Utopia; Donert, ‘Women’s Rights’. 67

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important economic reasons, but it also had a crucial ideological dimension – interfering with family life and its gender divisions was too radical even by the standards of a communist state.69 Padraic Kenney’s analysis of the gender of factory work in Poland and Paulina Bren’s analysis of the gender roles constructed in 1970s Czechoslovak television series suggest that a similar message was conveyed in these countries, too.70 The main protagonist of a highly popular Czechoslovak show of the 1970s was not a heroic shock worker, but a women who ‘heroically’ juggled her responsibilities as a single mother and leading employee of a supermarket, becoming a mother-like figure for the supermarket’s staff in the process. This characterization, Bren argues, reflects how women in late socialism came to be associated almost exclusively with their role as caretakers of socialist families.71 The dissidents, to be sure, did not make much of a difference between Stalinism and the later evolution of state socialism. Where the Soviet and east European regimes tried to characterise experimentation with the family and gender roles as an excess of Stalinism, many dissidents came to associate it with socialism as a whole. The unspoken consensus, however, seems to have been that the family should be off limits for ideological experiments. The gender hierarchies characterising dissidence, in other words, were shaped by the very system it rebelled against. Conclusion Whatever else ‘1989’ was, it was no great leap forward for the rights of women. Democratization may have established the legal and political institutions for a more efficient campaign for these rights, but it took place within economic conditions making gender equality more difficult and among an – at times fervently – anti-feminist culture. Some authors believe that this state of affairs was the result of a predominantly male dissident movement whose recourse to universal human rights put the struggle for the particular rights of women at a systematic disadvantage. Cf. Goven, ‘Gendered Foundations’. Cf. Kenney, ‘Gender’, 404–6. 71 Cf. Bren, Greengrocer, 159–76. 69



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There certainly is something to this argument. The issues around which the transnational discourses of the 1970s and 1980s revolved – torture and political incarceration – systematically excluded specifically gender-related forms of repression. The Cold War, the main context for East-West human rights debates, was also no conducive environment for women’s rights. The dissidents came to understand human rights activism as the recovery of a ‘natural world’ soiled and suppressed by false ideological projects, and they came to see feminism as one such project. But even if dissidence did nothing to change gender hierarchies, these hierarchies themselves seem to have been created by socialist systems which also, in Stalinist times, promoted traditional female gender roles and towards their end even came to associate women exclusively with these roles. In trying to understand the endurance of traditional gender roles among Soviet Bloc dissidents, then, we should be wary of taking the self-description of either the regimes or the dissidents at face value. The regimes of the Soviet Bloc were nowhere near as gender-inclusive as the degree of female employment, the existence of childcare facilities or liberal abortion laws might have us believe. And the dissidents’ disdain for the ‘utopianism’ of feminism was nowhere near as clear a break with the regime as they believed. In fact, there seems to have been an unspoken consensus between dissidents and regime about the ‘naturalness’ of received gender roles. This consensus seems to have been largely responsible for why human rights language was used to defend workers as well as religious and ethnic groups but not women.

Creating feminism in the shadow of male heroes That other story of 1989

Zsófia Lóránd

The memory of feminism in east central Europe after 1989 is blurred by the widespread fear to use the term radical feminism – which refers to demands of a deep-rooted social transformation to eliminate the oppression of women in every sphere of life and on every level of society. Gender mainstreaming and postfeminism have largely taken the place of a fight for women’s rights and the talk about women as such – a process that has unfolded in both East and West, but which, curiously, is often seen as an ‘eastern’ problem in the West and a ‘western’ one in the East. When it comes to the interpretation of 1989, a generational clash among feminists complicates not only the process of remembrance but also the future of a feminist movement – beyond boundaries. The encounters between women from East and West in the Northern hemisphere after 1989 have been full of negotiations, productive exchanges and at times, misunderstandings. They have been the subject of much scrutiny too, scholarly, personal and political alike. For some, these encounters meant the ‘arrival of feminism’ to eastern Europe. For others, what took place in the East was rather a return to the interwar traditions of feminism silenced by the establishment of the state socialist regimes. For others, the same processes appear as a happy reunion between East and West. There are also those who think the state socialist period represented a specific form of feminism and therefore question the importance of the post-1989 encounters or view them as little more than the colonialization of the East by the West. The Yugoslav feminist prehistory In order to understand what 1989 meant for feminism in eastern and east central Europe, and to place it between East and West,


Zsófia Lóránd

we need to turn to Yugoslavia. Here, we find an early case of EastWest encounter, something that we may even want to a call a prehistory to what follows after 1989. Just like women in the rest of east central Europe, feminists in the second Yugoslavia were inspired by the ‘Western second wave’. It was a small but prolific, creative and brave feminist group that in the 1970s offered a possible reinterpretation and articulated a harsh but constructive critique of state socialist women’s emancipation. These women wanted to live in a state that finally took women’s equality seriously. This rare case of feminist dissent under state socialism grew out of a creative encounter of ideas, discourses and people between East and West. The Yugoslav feminists saw the potential in the knowledge production of Western feminists and thought that while Yugoslav socialism held the chance to liberate women, it was severely lagging behind its promise.1 They created an original version of feminism in Yugoslavia during the 1970s and 1980s, building on contemporaneous intellectual discourses, such as the Marxist revisionism of Praxis, the Frankfurt and the Lukács Schools, while realizing the insufficiencies of these, just like of the official Yugoslav discourses and politics. Yugoslav feminists were not trying to catch up with the West. What they understood from their readings was that the West was far from great for women, and feminism was needed to make life better for them in East and West. In the meantime, while the dialogue between East and West was a highly productive one, the other opposition groups in Yugoslavia were mainly blind and often hostile to feminism – rather similarly to the post-1989 situation. The feminist struggle for the elimination of violence against women provides a fascinating case study of East-West relations, geopolitical hierarchies and post-1989 continuity. Although it is a widespread phenomenon, it was radical feminism in the 1970s that brought attention to the systemic violence against women stemming from patriarchy. The women in Yugoslavia learned about the ideas and methods of tackling this through travels, study abroad programmes, and then through exchanges between women in Belgrade, Ljubljana, Zagreb and beyond. They were predisposed towards these ideas due to their familiarity with other See Hilda Scott, Does Socialism Liberate Women? Experiences from Eastern Europe (Boston: Beacon Press, 1974).


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radical critiques of oppression, such as democratic psychology and anti-psychiatry. Whereas the initial methodology came from the West, it was their understanding of local realities that made the work of women from Yugoslavia truly relevant. It was a country where the East-West interactions among feminists were most fruitful already before 1989, and yet the country soon plunged into disaster. Moreover, this disaster confirmed many of the feminist theses about patriarchy, suddenly making their theoretical framework and their anti-violence activism extremely relevant. When in the rest of eastern Europe feminists were trying to find their path amidst a transition discussed and decided upon by men, their sisters in arms in the successor states of Yugoslavia had to find a way to stand up against new oppressive regimes entering wars. So it would seem that there was a deep divergence, yet we can notice many similarities. Moreover, feminists in the countries of east central Europe now entered a similar type of negotiation with the West, encountering uncannily similar issues to those the Yugoslav feminists met with before them. Post-1989 East-West encounters While Yugoslavia was an exception in eastern Europe with its coherent and early feminist activities, the history of feminism elsewhere in the region is much more closely tied to 1989. Hungarian feminism is but one illustrative example of the processes in east central Europe (and one with which I have more first-hand experience). As in Yugoslavia, the first feminist discussions occurred before the transition. In the late 1980s, the circulation of feminist ideas in the English and American Studies departments at various universities, especially in Szeged, Budapest and Debrecen, led to the emergence of informal feminist groups. The rapid dismantling of borders, the circulation of various publications, and new possibilities for civil society after 1989 facilitated an outburst of interest in feminism among the middle class intelligentsia, including readings, discussions, and the creation of explicitly feminist organizations. The establishment of the first feminist network (the Feminista Hálózat) was followed by the creation of the SOS helpline run by NANE (Women Against Violence), operating continuously since 1992. Women from the pre-existing Yugoslav helplines travelled to Budapest to offer their


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knowledge and provide the first trainings. The connection was established to a great extent thanks to the mediation of Antonia Burrows, who travelled across the region both to share her insights and to learn about local feminist initiatives. She was certainly not alone: many women, mostly radical feminists from various countries wanted to learn and share their knowledge after the lifting of the Iron Curtain. Many women at the (kitchen)tables in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland and elsewhere were confronted with feminist, especially radical feminist ideas for the first time. These encounters did not always prove easy. It was not just the Iron Curtain that had separated them for decades that the participants in these exchanges had to overcome: there was also a cultural and economic gap dividing them. It was the putative victors of the Cold War and the putative defeated side sitting down to a shared (kitchen)table to exchange ideas and experiences. As a recent book on GDR scholarship after reunification shows, intellectuals in east central Europe had to realize that after 45 years of – even if not hermetic but still heavy – intellectual isolation, Western academics viewed the knowledge they had produced as outdated or even dusty.2 Their English was supposedly not good enough either (recall Mladen Stilnović’s famed work, An Artist Who Cannot Speak English Is No Artist), their theoretical framework not up-todate. And they were not even heroic dissidents struggling against an oppressive regime any more. These shocks were topped by the claims of radical feminism that patriarchy harms women (and men too, even if to a much lesser extent) in every single sphere of their lives. That patriarchy kills women. That as a woman it is nearly impossible to ‘have it all’, and that women end up as victims of patriarchal dynamics. The women hearing these claims on the eastern side of the table, some of whom would then found anti-violence groups while others would soon become the first professors of gender-focused scholarship, were forced to rethink their entire lives, re-evaluate relationships, friendships, and life choices. Moreover, they were not protected by the pride that the Yugoslav feminists possessed in the 1970s, living in a self-managing socialist regime that still 2

Axel Fair-Schulz and Mario Keßler (eds.), East German Historians Since Reunification: A Discipline Transformed (New York: The State University of New York Press, 2017).

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held high promise for them as an exceptional and supposedly successful alternative to the Soviet model as well as to the capitalist West. It can be extremely challenging to face the fact that one remains oppressed when people thought that their oppression had just ended, only to be told by others, perceived as the winners in the Cold War, that their oppression is to continue. A hard and complex process of understanding, invention and implementation followed these difficult encounters. And yet, these exchanges were not just alienating, they were also inspiring and liberating. What actually happened contradicts a set of interlocking stereotypes that ‘eastern’ women were simply not ready for feminism; that as a consequence, western feminists and their NGOs started to dictate what feminism in eastern Europe should be; or that the result was a liberal version of feminism which essentially functioned as a handmaiden of neoliberal capitalism. This is an inaccurate generalization of the experiences of many women and the actual diversity of feminism in post-1989 east central Europe, let alone in Yugoslavia and its successor states. Several trends are discernible within the significant diversity of countries, organizations, individuals, and generations.3 The 1989 generation’s feminism, with the anti-violence groups, academics and intellectuals, has indeed heavily impacted the feminist agenda in the region, even if theirs was not a particularly well-defined agenda. The feminists of the 1989 generation were largely well-educated, economically independent, and could be critical of both old regimes and new ideas. In academia and activism alike, feminists in eastern Europe were encountering a multitude of ideas, mostly coming from the western ‘second wave’ and its aftermath. However, this was far from following some kind of ‘western orders’ alien to the local context. As Judit Wirth, one of the most unique creators of Hungarian feminism over the past two decades recently said in one of her 2019 lectures: ‘we chose to work on violence against women, because we thought it was important.’4 See the reflections of Elżbieta Korolczuk, L’ubica Kobová and Alexandra Ostertagová in the volume Eszter Kovács (ed.), Solidarity in Struggle: Feminist Perspectives on Neoliberalism in East-Central Europe (Budapest: Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, 2016). 4 Judit Wirth, ‘History of the Contemporary Women’s Movement in Hungary’ (lecture at Corvinus University, Budapest), 27 February 2019. 3


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The prevailing liberal ideological framework in east central Europe after 1989 both opened up some possibilities and foreclosed others. For feminism, 1989 meant a transition from a state socialist-Marxian universalism to the universalism of liberal democracies and of liberal human rights discourse. Moving away from the idea of general human emancipation that was at the core of the state socialist idea of a good society, the new liberal democracies imagined a just society as a community of (legally) equal citizens. This insistence on nominal equality, rather than difference, paradoxically made a lot of the feminist claims (often premised on a critique of systematic, unequal treatment), invisible, marginal or mainstreamed into insignificance, despite the efforts, wishes, and intentions of many feminist activists and intellectuals. The feminists of 1989 even deemed the concept of oppression difficult to use as the shadow of crypto-communism was hanging over the word and anyone who dared use it. The political and discursive context didn’t leave much space for a coherent critique of global capitalism either. In post-89 eastern Europe, ‘global’ meant having a passport and access to the rest of the world, and capitalism could be just about anything as long as it was not state socialism. Apart from the former Yugoslavia, leftist philosophical languages enabling the critique of the freshly introduced capitalist system were practically absent in the region. However, the anti-violence organizations always emphasized the role of economic violence against women as a constitutive part of the broader regime of violence, as well as the overall systemic patriarchal oppression of women. This started to change when a new feminist generation started to realize that the vocabulary of Marxian and, more generally, leftist social theories is essential to critically and constructively discuss the deep economic and social crisis brought along by post-1989 capitalism. Gender mainstreaming and backlash In the meantime, another, actually much more important process was underway. Civil organising was complemented, for better or worse, by EU directives and policies aiming at gender equality of what came to be called gender mainstreaming. For many countries, joining the EU or hoping for membership meant having to introduce such policies. While gender mainstreaming held the

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promise of finally bringing about many of the policies feminists in eastern Europe had been demanding, it ended up undermining many of their efforts, and moreover, it triggered an anti-feminist backlash. The policies were rarely accompanied by substantial changes in public discourse or the political process. Local feminists did not become more visible, neither did demands and ideas receive much more attention. The shift from feminist movements to gender mainstreaming is far from an innocent one. The accent tends to be more on mainstreaming than on gender, though both concepts in themselves water down the demands of the feminist movement – and not just from the 1970s onwards but all the way from the 19th century. The eastern European feminist generation of 1989, while clearly marginalised by the intellectual and political elites, experienced a brief period of hope around the EU accession, and they used the legal harmonization in a desperate attempt to give more weight to their demands. Despite these hopes and the potential usefulness of European directives, the feminist generation of 1989 very soon had to realize that this kind of mainstreaming takes away from the innovative spirit of feminism. Talking about gender in a mainstream fashion instead of straightforwardly addressing feminism, women, power, oppression, exploitation and violence may make ideas of gender equality more palatable, but the rapidly emerging anti-gender movements on the misogynic and homophobic right are perfectly capable of identifying the original ideas tamed into gender mainstreaming. With the fading of the original vocabulary of feminism centred round the aforementioned concepts, we are now left with gender, a concept that is even easier to demonize. This takes us back to the question of East and West. The anti-gender movements are a new, albeit not necessarily very original form of anti-feminism. Anti-gender ideas were reinvented in tandem with racist, anti-poor and anti-LGBT ideas in the 2010s, when east central European politics shifted toward authoritarian populism and large segments of European societies, in East and West alike, are becoming increasingly prone not only to tolerate, but to actually vote for extreme right parties. Anti-feminism is just as old, if not actually older than feminism, and anti-feminists in East and West have often maintained that feminism is alien to their country. The anti-feminism of fin-de-siècle England is not substantially different from that of late 19th century Hungary, the


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1950s United States, or state socialist Yugoslavia of the 1970s. However, anti-feminism in the ‘East’ feeds into the idea of the Eastern parts of Europe being more savage and barbaric. We may indeed sense a certain voyeuristic pleasure in journalists’ reports, Facebook posts, questions and comments at conferences about the anti-gender movements in Hungary and Poland – while even beyond the most obvious case of Trump, there is the forced liberation of women from being able to choose their clothes in France, or the constant attacks on women’s reproductive rights and their right to live a life without violence all over Europe and North America. In this sense, feminisms East and West share a lot and have as much to discuss as back around 1989.5 Generational clashes, historical forgetting and the need for sisterhood The new generation of feminists have brought a crucial turn in language and politics that has made feminist thought and activism stronger and much more ready to face the challenges of today’s capitalism in eastern Europe. Yet, their members often enter into generational clashes and at times even display matricidal tendencies. This phenomenon may be nothing new – American historian Christine Stansell has described the entire history of US feminism as a series of generational conflicts, and such an analysis would unfortunately prove useful in many other contexts too.6 Consciously neglecting or forgetting the ideas and achievements of earlier generations weakens the movement. In the case of east central European feminism, post-1989 feminism is heavily criticized for its strong emphasis on the private and the personal, and its lack of focus on (global) economic inequality and class. But this critique overlooks the defining context. As Lepa Mlađenović, one of the feminist activists and intellectuals in the forefront of Yugoslav feminism since the 1980s, put it: ‘At the beginning, we had to work on ourselves first, to then be able to focus on others and work to end oppression of women Mary Nolan, ‘Gender and Utopian Visions in a Post-Utopian Era: Americanism, Human Rights, Market Fundamentalism’, Central European History 44, no. 1 (March 2011): 13–36. 6 Christine Stansell, The Feminist Promise: 1792 to the Present (New York: The Modern Library, 2011).


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that was maintained by male violence against women.’7 Beyond that, the anti-violence activism of the 1990s, precisely because of its radical feminist roots, has been deeply vested in the scrutiny of the social and economic structures that make violence against women possible and even support it. Notwithstanding the aforementioned tendencies, many feminists of the younger generation constructively integrate the past knowledge into a new agenda and look ready to face current challenges. Connecting the heritage of 1989 with the current situation as well as with its pre-history, the latest research of scholars such as Agnieszka Mrozik point to a different kind of generational forgetting: that of post-1989 feminists who completely forgot about their ‘foremothers’, especially those from the interwar activist women’s generation who became prominent communist politicians promoting women’s emancipation during state socialism. While Mrozik is correct about the need to research and reconstruct this past (and has also completed impressive work to do so), understanding the more immediate inheritance of feminists after 1989 requires studying the decades between the immediate post-WWII politics of state socialist women’s emancipation and 1989. The radical social transformation brought along by state socialist women’s emancipation politics in the Stalinist period was followed by waves of backlash throughout state socialism, from abortion bans to several measures pushing women out of the workplace as well as the political class – with few possibilities to speak up and organize. Eastern European women after 1989 remembered very little about the heroic achievements of their predecessors in the interwar and immediate post-WWII period while what they had to confront was a rigid patriarchal system using state socialist women’s emancipation as a justification of misogyny and anti-feminism. The dynamics of forgetting and rewriting the past are tied to terminological misunderstandings, too. The label ‘liberal feminism’ is often used for phenomena which have radical feminist roots and then get mainstreamed into post-feminism. Gender mainstreaming may be present in East and West, but is especially noticeable in recent scholarship about post-1989 feminism in east Lepa Mlađenović made this comment at the book launch of Zsófia Lóránd, The Feminist Challenge to the Socialist State of Yugoslavia, held at the Institute of Philosophy and Social Theory of the University of Belgrade on 11 March 2019.



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central Europe. However, early post-1989 feminism’s focus on violence, sexism and the representation of women was much rather a cavalcade of feminist ideas than parts of a straightforward liberal agenda. The other phenomenon mistakenly assumed to belong to post1989 liberal feminism is the ‘feminism’ on the pages of glossy magazines, which is in fact the post-feminist branding of empowerment, with its latest manifestation in the commercialized, absurdly sexualized version of the #metoo campaign. I would be hesitant to call this phenomenon the fault of any form of feminism; such expressions of post-feminism are simply yet another product of global capitalism. Global capitalism pushes to conflate radical feminism with liberal feminism, and the forces a merger of both into postfeminism and gender mainstreaming, which constitutes shared challenges for feminists East and West of the former Iron Curtain. Women from the two sides of this historical divide have invested a lot into understanding themselves and each other better, into drafting agendas that would improve the lives of all women, and ideally help overthrow patriarchy. Remembering the efforts of the 1989 generation and the achievements of the Yugoslav feminists of the 1970s, sympathetically looking back at these struggles and learning from the fruitful dialogues between East and West is crucial not only in order to avoid the erasure of the struggles of yet another feminist generation. The past thirty years help us not only by providing inspiration, they also teach us to be aware of seemingly attractive solutions, such as gender mainstreaming, which tame crucial feminist demands into empty solutions. There is a need shared by generations of feminists East and West to fight yet again to regain feminism for a political purpose, to go beyond the popularization of feminism even, and especially in the face of extreme right-wing nationalism and populism. This should not be that difficult if we were ready to embrace our history, because actually: feminism was never meant to be fun.

Legacies of 1989 for dissent today

Barbara J. Falk

‘1989’ can be understood as shorthand for both an agenda for ongoing research into how and why that year’s events happened in the manner they did, as well as a set of historical lessons and legacies for the organization of social movements and activism, particularly in opposition to authoritarian regimes.1 When we say that dissent has an ‘agenda’ and a ‘legacy’, we mean two distinct things. ‘Agenda’ suggests applicability going forward, whereas ‘legacy’ suggests a revisiting of the past – not only looking at the past as past (how we viewed it then) but, just as importantly, how we have changed our narratives of the past through the lens of the present. Some of the themes presented here suggest relevance and applicability not only to eastern Europe but invite us all to think about the ‘gift’ of democratic dissent for global civil society as well as other transnational contexts. The legacies of 1989 are manifold, and have been much discussed, often in journals and books published on anniversary years. These legacies include the very idea of revolutionary yet non-violent change – what Adam Michnik called ‘new evolutionism’ and János Kis termed ‘radical reformism’. The very production of samizdat or unofficial publishing, private theatrical performances, underground university courses, legal defence efforts, and many other activities  large and small, made possible the self-organization of society as described in Poland by Jacek Kuroń or the ‘parallel polis’ as dubbed by Václav Benda in Czechoslovakia. Activism was undergirded by theorization about non-violence This article is adapted from a keynote address given to the workshop, ‘East European Dissent Between Agenda and Legacy’ held in Brussels, 3–4 October 2019. The author wishes to thank the organizers, and in particular Ferenc Laczó for his encouragement and indefatigable efforts and editorial assistance.



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and the creation and reinvigoration of an independent, selforganized civil society. Dissident writing and reflection at the time indicated regime change was not uppermost in mind: few sensed that, by engaging in the production of samizdat, or becoming involved in the democratic opposition in Hungary, Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia, or Solidarność in Poland, their actions would somehow lead to the scope and speed of change in 1989 – hence the annus mirabilus triumphalist end of the Cold War narrative. This piece examines three examples or vignettes which suggest both agendas for further research and potential for activism, but crucially also considers the legacies of 1989 and their ongoing relevance in other contexts. First, the legacies of 1989 are relevant to the region from which they originally arose, that is, east central and eastern Europe. Research on ‘dissidence’ writ large, including but not limited to civil society activism and resistance to authoritarianism, allows for further interrogation and analysis of the decades before and leading up to 1989. 1989 also provides a lens through which to view contemporary regional responses to the increasingly authoritarian and illiberal tendencies in Poland and Hungary, the 2019 summer of protest in the Czech Republic, as well as Slovakia, where there has been, arguably, a reversal of real and potential illiberalism and corruption, popularly signified by the election of Zuzana Čaputová as president. Second, 1989 as a set of legacies allows us to ‘travel’ to other contexts where 1989 has been a precursor, a model, or an alternative example, and here I will analyse how 1989 reverberated in Egypt (or did not) in 2011 during the ‘Arab Spring’ and the ‘Velvet Revolution Redux’ in Armenia in 2018. Third, and finally, 1989 provides a set of legacies relevant to addressing democratic deficits and reinvigorating civil societies across the West. This is particularly the case now, when all manner of ‘hybrid threats’, both from skilled adversaries externally, and divisive illiberals and populists internally, continue to assault democracies from without and within. Before further analysis, however, a brief elaboration on the meaning of dissent is in order. Resistance as a broader continuum can be understood in an ecumenical sense, to include a ‘grey zone’ between outright regime support and direct opposition. Dissent is a more distinct subcategory of resistance, and is both political (or ‘anti-political’ to use 1980s parlance) and, at least to

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some degree, public.2 Importantly, resistance and dissent are part of a continuum that is fluid and flexible, not static. Looking at the global relevance of 1989 implies we need dissent today, so that is both a premise and an assumption. Dissent requires either operating within or creating space for civil society. Because there are risks involved, it means developing shared norms, what Charles Taylor calls ‘strong evaluations’ based on shared moral ideas or principles.3 The incubation of social trust is necessary, perhaps through friendship and discussion, and the building of mutuallyheld confidence that cannot be reduced to economic or social media transactionalism. Context/legacy #1: East central Europe today It is perhaps glaringly obvious to suggest the liberal – meaning politically liberal – and teleological narrative of 1989 has not turned out as planned. Viktor Orbán, Jarosław Kaczyński, Andrej Babiš – these are the political leaders and progenitors of ‘illiberal democracy’, and they have many counterparts elsewhere, not the least of whom are Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. Moreover, efforts to disrupt or depose illiberal populism have not been going well, and one reason may be because we are reading from the ‘wrong script’ of 1989. Orbán remains firmly entrenched in power in Hungary; to some degree the EU was focused to a much greater degree on the Euro crisis and Greek political and economic instability from 2009, while much of his personal power, and that of the governing party Fidesz, was concentrated via media regulation and curbing the independence of the judiciary. The sizeable protests and international response against ‘Lex CEU’ have failed, with the only practical response being the relocation of Central European University to Vienna. If you Google ‘protests in Poland’ you get several Wikipedia pages, cross-referencing other pages on ‘riots and civil disorder’ and ‘rebellions in Poland’ – the upshot being that most of what For greater theorization and explanation, see Barbara J. Falk, ‘Resistance and Dissent in Central and Eastern Europe: An Emerging Historiography’, East European Politics and Societies 25, no. 2 (2011): 318–60. 3 Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self: The Making of Modern Identity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989). 2


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is discussed happens between the late 1790s and 1989. That is a trite measure, but much of the social mobilization in a country famous for it is acting in rearguard fashion against extremism that has been breathing new oxygen in recent years given illiberal space and social license – actions that are homophobic, xenophobic, antisemitic, and anti-EU. ‘A Million Moments for Democracy’ in the Czech Republic had a very successful summer in 2019, organizing large and weekly demonstrations. Yet, within Czechia, Babiš is unindicted for corruption, yet one hopes his government is slightly more wary of the Hungarian-Polish path of illiberality. If one is committed to some form of liberal democratic politics, the happiest news in the region comes from Slovakia, where the waves of protest following the murder of journalist Ján Kuciak also brought to power Zuzana Čaputová as president, on a progressive, pro-environment, pro-European, anti-corruption platform. This vignette is very tricky, as it suggests a particular kind of legacy of 1989 – that of its ending via a ‘Velvet’ or peaceful and non-violent revolution. The velvety nature of the narrative has an almost fairy-tale-like quality: the people gather by the hundreds of thousands in city squares, chant some variation of ‘the Emperor has no clothes!’, engage in symbolically powerful and telegenic actions, and authoritarian rulers are forced to step aside in favour of people power. But we know that 1989 has also been reimagined in both positive and negative ways, often misconstrued and misunderstood. Originally, much of what happened in 1989 was what we wanted to see as liberal and progressive, a return to Europe, where mass mobilization reminded us of the value (and at least in Czechoslovakia, the memory) of democracy. Thus democratization, liberalization, marketization, and Europeanization were seen as the historically inevitable result of the fall of communism.4 Much of the writing on 1989 privileged liberal interpretations – the revolutions as intrinsically liberal efforts with nothing new to add, procedurally or theoretically, to the canon of liberalism – or as tinged with optimism and Cold War triumphalism.5 See for example, Marc F. Plattner, ‘The Democratic Moment’, in The Global Resurgence of Democracy (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992). 5 Arguing against this point see Barbara J. Falk, The Dilemmas of Dissidence in East-Central Europe: Citizen Intellectuals and Philosopher


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‘1989’ is now up for debate again, given the thirtieth anniversary of the annus mirabilis. But memory politics have engaged in some clever recasting, with ‘late communism’ as ‘totalitarianism’, ‘post-communism’ as the return to the nation, and independence and reclaimed sovereignty as a virulent rejection of the Other as dangerous and predatory (hence reactions to the ongoing migration crisis). Even the Holocaust has been appropriated to service the political needs of the present. Understandably, there has been a populist backlash to the neoliberal reform programs of privatization and marketization that were accompanied with no small amount of corruption and enrichment on the part of the previous nomenklatura and the creation of a class of crass nouveaux riches – in societies attuned to both egalitarian values (four decades of communist ideology had some effect) and social apathy. Aside from the teleology and blinkered optimism of the liberal reading, there have been two other kinds of misreading, especially regarding assumptions about both spontaneity and speed, and liberalism as a narrow form of economic neoliberalism. Reducing ‘1989’ to mass mobilization in the late autumn ignores both specificity and context: decades-long processes of resistance and dissent, initial failures in social movements’ strategies and tactics, and regime-level reform failures and regime-level negotiation, often a sense of helplessness, and eventually learned lessons. Failure and theorization (often in the ‘educational’ setting of a prison) yielded better tactics but no small amount of good timing, including the ‘Gorbachev Factor’ and the Soviet willingness to retreat, made what occurred viable from the outset. In reality, nothing happened quickly, and nothing was truly spontaneous. One important reason for this misunderstanding is that it was reinforced by one of the most well-known popular (and liberal) accounts of 1989, written by Timothy Garton Ash and published a year later. In We the People, he reports telling Havel ‘in the back-room of his favourite pub’ that ‘In Poland it took ten years, in Hungary Kings (Budapest–New York: CEU Press, 2003). For an earlier, nuanced assessment see Jeffrey C. Isaac, ‘The Meanings of 1989’, Social Research 63, no. 2 (summer 1996): 291–344. As to how this narrative fits into Sovietology as an American political project, see David C. Engermann, Know Your Enemy: The Rise and Fall of America’s Soviet Experts (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).


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ten months, in East Germany ten weeks: perhaps in Czechoslovakia it will take ten days!’6 He added nuance at the end of his account, but the ‘magic’ and speed of Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution in particular, and 1989 in general, was baked into the narrative: And if one asks, ‘Why did the revolution go so fast in Czechoslovakia’ then the simple answer is ‘because Czechs came last’. East Germany was the final straw: seen, remember, not just on television but also in Prague itself, as the East German escapees flooded into the West German embassy. National pride was aroused. Rapid change was clearly possible and allowed, even encouraged, by Gorbachev. Everyone was ready. From the audience in the Realistic Theatre on the first Saturday who immediately leapt to their feet in a standing ovation at the actors’ demand for a general strike, to the crowds on Wenceslas Square chanting ‘Now’s the time’, from the journalists who at once started reporting truthfully to the workers who never hesitated about going on strike: everyone was ready. Everyone knew, from their neighbours’ experience, that it could be done.7

As Padraic Kenney stated in his account of the ‘carnivalesque’ aspects of 1989, Garton Ash’s whimsical quip about ten days caught on like wildfire.8 But writing just over a decade afterward, Kenney also noted that Garton Ash’s oft-quoted remark conflated ‘revolution in the sense of civic mobilization, which had been going on in Czechoslovakia for over two years, and revolution as political settlement.’9 Kenney’s transnational research on the broader category of the ‘fourth wave’ of democratizing revolutions in the 1980s-90s tell us that such events were ‘deliberate and explicable’, far more planned than magical.10 1989 needs to be situated within this context, and not seen as either regional See Timothy Garton Ash, We the People: The Revolution of 1989 Witnessed in Warsaw, Budapest, Berlin and Prague (London: Granta, 1990), 78. Civic mobilization had been occurring for years, as Padraic Kenney points out. 7 Ibid., 127. 8 Padraic Kenney, A Carnival of Revolution: Central Europe 1989 (Prince­ ton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2002), 296. 9 Ibid., 296. 10 Padraic Kenney, 1989: Democratic Revolutions at the Cold War’s End: A Brief History with Documents (Boston and New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2010), 10. 6

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exceptionalism or the inevitable and teleological result of Cold War triumphalism and the successful march of liberalism. Finally, political liberalism has been too often conflated with economic neoliberalism, and post-communist trajectories gave a bad name to the former while allowing relative free rein to the latter. Austerity programmes and privatization schemes that benefited powerful oligarchies, such as the ‘loans for shares’ scheme in Russia, generated new forms of social destabilization and inequality. Governments themselves have been marketized, but in the absence of the rule of law and, most concretely, enforceable conflict-of-interest legislation, post-communism generated a series of pathologies resulting in the ‘rough justice’ described by Aviezer Tucker.11 Unfortunately, the global moment in which 1989 happened coincided with the ascendancy of the ‘Washington consensus’ and elite support for neoliberal dictates. Yet the scope of what Claus Offe called the ‘triple transition’ – simultaneous systemic change in political and economic institutions as well as national and societal cultures – meant dramatic change would result.12 There were going to be winners and losers regardless, and the rapidity of developments after (and not before or during) 1989 heightened opportunity and incentive structures for corruption, asset-stripping, the concentration of capital or its export abroad. Reading 1989 as only ushering in neoliberalism does a disservice to the liberal project as a whole and ignores the importance of liberalism to democratic process. Context/legacy #2: Traveling from 1989 to Egypt in 2011 and to Armenia in 2018 In April 2012 in Cairo, Czech Ambassador Pavel Kafka and the Czech-Egyptian Friendship Association sponsored a reception launching three Czech texts translated into Arabic, one of which was Václav Havel’s ‘The Power of the Powerless’. Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg stated: ‘We thought the main work was Aviezer Tucker, The Legacies of Totalitarianism: A Theoretical Framework (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015). 12 Claus Offe, Varieties of Transition: The East European and East German Expeience (Cambridge: M.I.T. Press, 1997). 11


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done when the revolution was complete, but we have actually only just started’ – prescient given the installation of military rule in Egypt in 2014. He later compared the Arab Spring in Egypt to the Prague’s Velvet Revolution, as ‘both were’, he said, ‘fighting for freedom and for the rule of law – against oppression, and therefore lessons should be learned.’13 Before Paul Wilson’s last conversation with Havel before he died, in March 2011, he asked Havel permission to arrange for an Arabic translation of ‘The Power of the Powerless’ – which was granted. Wilson himself was en-route to Cairo to witness the potential echoes of 1989 in the Arab Spring. In an Al Jazeera interview, Wilson recalled that Havel asked him if the Egyptians were ready for democracy. Wilson retorted, ‘Were you ready in 1989?’14 Khalid Biltagi, the translator, thought the essay might be influential, hopeful that a similar peaceful revolution might occur in Egypt.15 As events unfolded in the winter and spring of 2011, political pundits and commentators discussed the Velvet Revolution, but even within this very different geopolitical context, Western intellectuals tended to see what they wanted to see in the Arab Spring. Alain Badiou noted the ‘fighting, barricading, debating, camping, and cooking, and caring for the wounded constituted the “communism of movement”.’ Slavoj Žižek said the lack of hegemony, leadership, or apparatuses constituted the ‘miracle of Tahrir’.16 Finally, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, suggested there was, See Mary Mourad’s account of Schwarzenberg’s remarks at ahramonline, Mary Mourad, ‘Velvet Revolution remembered in Egypt’, ahramonline, accessed 20 October 2019, http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/18/0/38442/Books/Velvet-Revolution-remembered-in- Egypt.aspx. 14 ‘Paul Wilson speaks about Vaclav Havel’, Al Jazeera, accessed 19 October 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wsu6DTvf648. Wilson is asked directly about Egyptian interest in Havel and discusses his meeting with Khalid Biltagi. Al Jazeera drew a number of parallels in its 2011 reporting between 1989 and 2011. See also ‘Seeds of Revolution: The Arab Awakening’, Al Jazeera, accessed 19 October 2019. https:// www.youtube.com/watch?v=BSZ7Ln5KzRU. The show was originally broadcast on 30 April 2011. 15 Jiří Suk and Kristina Andělová, ‘The Power of the Powerless and Further Havelian Paradoxes in the Stream of Time’, East European Politics and Societies and Cultures 32, no. 2 (Summer 2018): 223. 16 Asef Bayat, Revolution without Revolutionaries: Making Sense of the Arab Spring (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2017), 153. 13

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along with the Occupy protests later the same year, a longing for ‘real democracy’.17 Was the Velvet Revolution or 1989 actually referenced during the Arab Spring? Not according to Asef Bayat, with whom I had an email exchange on this very point. It was, of course, referenced – by us.18 There were, however, meetings with Otpor and the 6 April Movement in Egypt, prior to the outbreak of 2011.19 However, in the handbook and training approach adopted first by Otpor and later by the Center for Applied Non-Violent Movements (CANVAS), the consultancy created by two of Otpor’s founders, the resonances of 1989 persist, albeit in distilled form. Moreover, Bayat’s discussion of spontaneous social mobilization and Durkheimian collective effervescence in Egypt echoes James Krapfl’s account of the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, and his description of the ‘carnival of conviviality’ is reminiscent of Padraic Kenney’s analysis, drawing from Bakhtin.20 But there are many obvious differences, such as the constellation of state-society relations, the degree of relative poverty in Egypt, a large youth bulge, and fractious minorities and religious groups (some charged, rightly and wrongly, with violent extremism). Egypt has long been ‘conditioned’ by neoliberalism and has historically been a prime recipient of US military aid. Unfortunately, in Tahrir there was a paucity of credible leaders, no lasting or pre-existing umbrella-type organization or coalition of social Ibid., 153. Ibid., as well as ‘Seeds of Revolution: The Arab Awakening’, Al Jazeera, accessed 19 October 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BSZ7Ln5KzRU. 19 This is confirmed by Peter Pomerantsev, This Is Not Propaganda: Adventures in the War Against Reality (New York: Public Affairs, 2019), 44. Pomerantsev interviews Srdja Popovic in Belgrade, who discusses how Otpor founders Srjda Popovic and Slobo Djinovic founded the Center for Applied Non-Violent Movements (CANVAS) and trained activists in Georgia, Ukraine and Iran (involved in the ‘Rose’, ‘Orange’ and ‘Green’ Revolutions) as well as leaders in Egypt, Tunisia, and Syria. The Egyptian meeting with the 6 April Movement is portrayed in Al Jazeera’s aforementioned Seeds of Revolution documentary. 20 James Krapfl, Revolution with a Human Face: Politics, Culture, and Community in Czechoslovakia 1989–1992 (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2013) and Padraic Kenney, A Carnival of Revolution: Central Europe 1989 (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2002). 17



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movements. As to whether or not the new normal is much like the old normal, Bayat states: things will often appear to have gone back to normal as people carry on with their mundane routines – working, shopping, visiting friends, or going on vacations. Those who expect rupture and resistance would no doubt be dispirited by such brutal inertia of the everyday. But one should not be deceived or disheartened by the seeming normalcy, for in substance it may not necessarily be a measure of popular consent or compliance. Rather, it could be driven by the inner force of life itself, expressed in an urge for self-regulation; it could further serve as a technique of survival in rough times, the old-fashioned art of creating one’s own reality in the shadow of authoritarian rule, as if the populace is in compliance and the regime is in control.21

Bayat’s description is eerily reminiscent of Havel’s writing in the 1970s, or Milan Šimečka’s critique of normalization-era Czechoslovakia. In many respects 2011 is the reverse of 1989; the former digital, the latter analogue. 2011 was the beginning of a process of change, 1989 the culmination of a process of change. But, as we move forward from and look backward to both 1989 and 2011, we will be re-reading and re-narrating those pasts in the light of dissimilar presents. What looked like a moment of shining similarity, comparing Wenceslas Square to Tahrir Square, may be little more than a distortion when we refocus on differences in light of subsequent political and social trajectories. One of the most astute observers of recent digitally-networked protests and social movements, from Zucotti Park to Tahrir Square, Zeynep Tufekci, describes the ‘affordances’ or structural advantages of a digitally-networked public sphere for social movements.22 Organizing via social media allows the bridging of weak social ties, speed and reactive capacity, and rapid responses to logistical and marketing challenges.23 Asef Bayat, Revolution without Revolutionaries, 222. Zeynep Tufekci, Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2017). 23 Social media connections are examples of ‘weak’ social ties because those who we ‘friend’ and ‘follow’ are usually acquaintances or live outside our immediate orbit of close friends and family. However, given the webs of interconnections, many people with hundreds or 21


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However, rapidly organized protest via social media contains many shortcomings, too. Speed and connectivity mean missing out on ‘network internalities’ – what Tufekci calls ‘resilience’, decision-making, a movement’s capacity building, long-term organization, negotiation of tactics and strategy, and the development of lasting structures. The resulting ‘adhocracy’ means protests happen before movement building. The combination of leaderlessness, speed, and adhocracy contribute to ‘tactical freeze’: the inability to adapt to new or changing conditions, or to act as effective interlocutors with the regime. Moreover, as Tufekci points out, having no legitimate leaders, or even eschewing traditional hierarchies, does not mean true leaderlessness, as Jo Freeman wrote in ‘The Tyranny of Structurelessness’.24 Without obvious interlocutors, an authoritarian regime can more easily construct ‘protesters’ as an undisciplined and amorphous mob. On social media, disagreements are preserved and extended for all to see. There is no backroom negotiation. There is no possibility of a Marian Čalfa-Vacláv Havel side deal or a Polish or Hungarian roundtable negotiation process, which has other downstream disadvantages, notably conspiracy theory about the ‘fixed’ nature of the change. Her critique of Egypt in 2011 also applies to the Occupy movement, Gezi Park in Turkey, and the ‘Umbrella Revolution’ in Hong Kong. If I am sceptical of Egypt as an example of the legacies of 1989 meaningfully traveling, I am more hopeful about Armenia. Indeed, I would argue that in Armenia you have something not akin to the recipe-based ‘colour revolutions’ so influenced by Otpor and more limited in aims and focus, and in that respect more like 1989 as it unfolded, and not via the triumphalist lens through which we tended to view it later.25 thousands of weak social ties can get messages out quickly, making networked protest possible. 24 Jo Freeman, ‘The Tyranny of Stucturelessness’, Berkeley Journal of Sociology 17 (1972–73): 151–64. Freeman’s article, written in the context of second-wave feminist organizing, challenges the possibility of ‘leaderlessness’ since informal and seemingly horizontal organizations can still lead to the tyranny of a few. Moreover, such ‘leaders’ (not styled as leaders per se) escape accountability. Both Tufekci and Bayat cite Freeman’s article in their critiques of the networked protest in general and the Arab Spring in particular. 25 By ‘colour revolutions’ I refer to the series of ‘revolutions’ beginning with Serbia’s ‘Black’ revolution (2000), Georgia’s Kmara, or ‘Rose’, revolution


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Under the leadership of Nikol Pashinyan, what started as a march throughout Armenia to demand the resignation (rather than the extension of the rule) of Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan became, over a course of forty days, a self-branded ‘Velvet Revolution’. The protests were largely led by the ‘Independence Generation’ in Armenia – those born after 1991, and particularly those employed in the country’s relatively oligarch-free technology sector.26 Pashinyan was already a leader, a member of the Armenian Parliament and head of a political party, who had gone ‘mainstream’ after the failure of protests following a presidential election resulted in violence in 2008.27 The 2018 protests began with general and specific grievances, including high unemployment, endemic poverty, emigration, and the embezzlement of military funds (important given the ineffective and nepotistic rule of Sargsyan’s Republican Party). Unlike in Egypt, there was no ‘tactical freeze’. There was significant in-group social trust, knowledge, and previous experience in the inner circle around Pashinyan, who had sorted out the network internality challenges highlighted by Tufekci. They were also connected via the ‘strong moral evaluations’ described by Charles Taylor, not the weak social ties offered by online platforms. During the protests, Pashinyan was also an unwavering and effective leader with a strategic, well-defined vision. (2003), Ukraine’s Pora or ‘Orange’ revolution (2004), Kyrgyzstan’s KelKel or ‘Pink’ or ‘Tulip’ revolution (2005), Belarus’s Zubr or ‘Jeans’ revolution (2006), and Iran’s ‘Green’ revolution (2009), following that year’s ‘stolen’ elections. The extent to which these are either successful protest or regime change actions, let alone revolutions is, of course, debatable. 26 As has been the case elsewhere among former Soviet Republics, Armenia has experienced a ‘brain drain’ whereby approximately 370,000 have emigrated in the last decade. The 2011 census indicated a population of 2.8 million, with 45 per cent under 30. See Neil MacFarquhar, ‘He Was a Protestor a Month Ago. Now Nikol Pashinyan Leads Armenia’, New York Times, 8 May 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/ 08/world/europe/armenia-nikol-pashinyan-prime-minister.html, accessed 20 October 2019. 27 Eight protestors were killed, along with one police officer and one member of the military. Over one hundred were arrested, including Pashinyan. He surrendered to police after being in hiding and following a 2010 political trial was sentenced to seven years. After his release from prison, he was elected to parliament under the banner of the Armenian National Congress. He had been a journalist and regime antagonist for many years, and had both name recognition and leadership ability.

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As smaller protests swelled to more than 500,000 demonstrators occupying much of central Yerevan, demands focused more concretely on the immediate resignation of Sargsyan and ending corruption in domestic politics, including electoral vote-rigging. The revolution was not about a ‘return to Europe’, joining NATO, or anything at all do with the West, and was neither a direct nor indirect challenge to Putin or Russian regional hegemony, which may provide insight into why it did not invite Russian ire or intervention.28 This effort was about Armenians improving governance for Armenians. As with east central Europe in the 1970s and 1980s, there was a sense of learning from previous mistakes – not only from 2008, but also the 1990s and the Karabakh movement of the 1980s.29 As with 1989, there were many carnivalesque moments and happenings, and shared cultural touchstones formed a bedrock. Both Pashinyan and Garin Hovannisian, who made a documentary as events were unfolding, emphasize the poem, later a song, that became the movement’s anthem. Pashinyan and his small cadre of co-organizers were tactically smart, highly improvisational, and changed when circumstances demanded. For example, they went from centralized protests (the occupation of Republic Square) to decentralized and disaggregated events (stopping traffic and public transit throughout Yerevan). Literally, a reserve army of women stepped up when men were arrested (using the regime’s gendering to their advantage), initiating protest in private spaces that had very public repercussions. By disobeying a noise ban with pots and ladles, home-based protestors erased the public-private divide and delegitimized the authorities by showing the depth of support for Pashinyan. We have seen this before: under authoritarian communism (and other forms of authoritarianism), there is a prescribed but ersatz public sphere, alongside which grows a more authentic one, often cultivated in and protected by private spaces (a ‘parallel polis’, as Benda put it). Lucan Way, ‘Why Putin Didn’t Interfere in Armenia’s Velvet Revolution?’, Foreign Affairs Online, accessed 20 October 2019, https://www. foreignaffairs.com/articles/armenia/2018-05-17/why-didnt-putin-interfere-armenias-velvet-revolution. 29 Much of this is evident in Garin Hovannisian’s new documentary, I Am Not Alone (2019), which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. The documentary is itself an artifact, because most of the filming occurred as events were unfolding. 28


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Finally, in Armenia there was a willingness to bend among authoritarians, and a Prime Minister who was ready to resign when the pressure mounted. This is critical: the regime was not just prepared to negotiate, they did not respond to mass protest with arrests, detentions, and violence. Authoritarian ‘learning’ often goes in either direction. In China, the lesson of Tiananmen was that violence worked, though, in the succeeding years, this depended on an implicit social contract where political quiescence was exchanged for economic upward mobility. This was also the case in Iran in 2009. In Egypt and, earlier, in Algeria, the justification for authoritarianism had been that popular mobilization leads to a dangerous politicization of religion. The lesson of Tunisia, and perhaps more recent Algerian developments, is that religious parties can be incorporated into mainstream politics, but only with a strong civil society determined to prevent rollback. However, in Armenia, the moment Sargsyan invoked past violence on television in conversation with Pashinyan, implicitly threatening another 1 March 2008, he heightened his illegitimacy and emboldened the movement. Pashinyan sensed this and did not yield. The movement had ballooned, attracting students and close supporters of Pashinyan at first, but later also professionals, workers across many sectors of the economy, and then, crucially, the clergy and members of the military. Reminiscent of the work of Guillermo O’Donnell and Philippe Schmitter on earlier transitions from authoritarian rule, there were both dictaduras (authoritarians intolerant of pluralism) and dictablandas (authoritarians wanting to preserve and not erode civil liberties) in Armenia, and it was critical to know with whom negotiation was possible, not just at the government level but in terms of police and security forces.30 Pashinyan offered the Chief of Police his job again after taking power, but only on the condition that he could do his job ‘without getting rich’ – that is, by not tolerating or accepting a culture of bribery or corruption. He agreed. Such regime defectors are important. There is even a certain heroism in retreat or in serv-


Guillermo O’Donnell and Phillippe Schmitter, Transitions from Authoritarian Rule: Tentative Conclusions about Uncertain Democracies (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989).

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ing newer, legitimate political masters and agreeing to be bound by the rule of law. This is also a lesson of 1989. Still, Armenia also reminds us that, despite the urge to compare, draw lessons, and make recommendations, each case is also sui generis, specific, and contingent upon local facts and consequences. In Armenia, timing turned out to be critical, because demands for Sargsyan’s resignation and the regime’s implied threat of violence happened literally the day before the anniversary of the Armenian genocide. The idea of an Armenian leader potentially responding to a largely peaceful gathering of Armenians on 24 April with violence was anathema to all elements of society. Thus, Sargsyan resigned on 23 April. The struggle for genocide recognition, the constant and transnational battle against genocide denialism, unites all Armenians. This is not a situation that could be replicated anywhere else, providing a further caution against appropriating 1989 as a recipe-based approach to regime change from below. Context/legacy #3: Western ‘consolidated’ democracies I will, finally, suggest that legacies of dissent and 1989 are relevant to contemporary discussions of ‘hybrid warfare’ and the ‘grey zone’ disruption strategies of our antidemocratic and illiberal adversaries. Inconveniently, a great deal of what has happened globally since 1989 has disrupted the triumphalist 1989 narrative. There has been a surge in neoliberal corporate globalization, aided by domestic deregulation, the development of global supply chains in the production of goods and services, and an increased delinking of capital from state boundaries. At the same time, relative global inequality has risen even while absolute poverty has decreased. 9/11 ushered in a series of overseas operations, a ‘forever’ war styled as the global ‘war on terror’, more concretely targeting various violent states (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya) and sub-state violent actors (Al Qaeda, ISIS). Other ongoing intractable conflicts, from Central America to Congo, have Cold War antecedents, while the climate crisis looms as a game-changer in terms of global and domestic politics and economics. Mixed flow migration has increased due to all of the above as well as the ‘oldest’ reason for migration: seeking a better life for


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one’s family and children. Following the impact of the twentyfour hour news cycle in the 1990s, we are subject to the simultaneous fragmentation and concentration of the media, the rapid impact of new communications technologies, and algorithms that generate echo chambers and social polarization. The structural barriers to global interpersonal communication have both decreased and increased, eroding our sense of shared reality, facts, or truth. One result has been the ‘politics of fear’ and the manipulation of anxiety, anger, and insecurity, all used to justify extra-constitutional or extra-judicial measures – the ‘states of exception’ described by Giorgio Agamben – and the need for ‘third-party enforcers’. That is, not just the ‘old’ enforcers, such as the police and military bounded by law, in short supply, and subject to democratic control and caveat, but private security, whether in gated communities, prisons, or operating as proxies for states, non-state actors, or in accordance with their own logics of profit, market-share, adrenalin, and status.31 This is the situation Zygmunt Bauman called ‘liquid modernity’, what Karl Marx presciently, if prematurely pronounced as one where ‘all that is solid melts into air’, a society that Hannah Arendt described as one where ‘everything was possible, and nothing is true’.32 Cynicism, cleverness, the casual cruelty of social media, militarized masculinities, and the brutality of war and the traumas inherited by both individual soldiers and societies at large – all this provides fertile ground for the normalization of social license granted to online and real world varieties of racism, sexism, homo- and transphobia, xenophobia, and identitarian toxicity. What one might call ‘postmodern populism’ becomes a set of tactics, empty of coherent ideology, functioning as a flexible container to be channelled by a charismatic leader. But what do the legacies of 1989 have to do with any of this? Narrow and triumphalist 1989 narratives are implicated, but perhaps alternative readings of 1989 open up other possibilities. One triumphalist reading of 1989 blithely equated political freedom with free markets, providing ideological gloss and Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception, trans. Kevin Attell, (University of Chicago Press, 2005). 32 See Karl Marx, ‘The Communist Manifesto’ in Karl Marx: Selected Writings (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978); Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Modernity (Cambridge: Polity, 2000); Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (San Diego, New York and London: Harcourt, 1968). 31

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respectability to neoliberalism. A free-market ethos without constraint was the approved game of the 1990s, but has yielded governments in eastern Europe that, while definitely profit-driven and market-oriented, popular with their citizens, and easily electable through mass market disinformation and functional control over key media, are increasingly without the institutional, legislative, and constitutional constraints that keep democracies politically liberal in form and substance. Russia and Hungary are but two examples; Poland is perhaps more populist than illiberal and has a deeper tradition of civil society pushback. Another reading of 1989, based on the idea of speed and simultaneity as a regime-change cocktail recipe, brought us from Berlin to Baghdad.33 ‘Old school’ dissidence, an elastic, contestable term with multiple meanings that need to be acknowledged if we are not to reify it, yielded a simplified version via Gene Sharp, Otpor, the idea of ‘manufacturing’ or replicating colour revolutions, and a simplistic and ahistorical ‘transitology’ in academia. Some of this worked, for a time: Slobodan Milošević was overthrown, as was Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. One major problem is that the tactics have bitten back, because authoritarian leaders have been learning these simplistic lessons of 1989 too. Srdja Popovic of Otpor fame wrote manuals later read by Russian, Belarusian, and Iranian security ministries. Authoritarian regimes with money and serious technology (China, for example) can build their own platforms of social connectivity which also offer opportunities for immense state surveillance. Less wealthy but innovative and illiberal authoritarian states (Russia, for example) have developed state-sponsored disinformation efforts involving layers of state involvement or plausible deniability: state-sponsored or state-directed trolling, franchised information war through ‘civil society’ groups (such as Nashi), and state-coordinated and state-incited campaigns. Lesser authoritarians of the developing world (say, Duterte of the Philippines) rely on what already exists and adapt the logic of free speech to undermine both political opponents and human rights through overabundance of information. On this point, see Barbara J. Falk, ‘From Berlin to Baghdad: learning the ‘wrong’ lessons from the collapse of communism’, in George Lawson, Chris Armbruster, and Michael Cox (eds.), The Global 1989: Continuity and Change in World Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).



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Old style censorship is quaint; samizdat is as old-fashioned as cursive writing. The brilliance of all of this is that authoritarians are learning the lessons of the Cold War, especially the thin triumphalist version of its ending, and going one better, producing the ‘2.0 version’. Then they sow a great deal of red herring moral equivalence into the mix as well. For every potential accusation of foul play by the West, there is a counternarrative in the name of ‘balance’ or simply contrariness. One is reminded of the tag line of Russia Today, Russia’s state-sponsored international and foreign language television network: ‘Question More’. If there are accusations about election meddling through sowing disinformation and troll farms to polarize online discussion, then one could also assert that election meddling is a long-time American preoccupation, going back to the Italian elections of 1948. One might complain about the antisemitic accusations hurled against George Soros and ‘his’ Open Society or university in Hungary, but counter with American money funnelled to Solidarity in the 1980s, or earlier CIA funding to Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe. At the United Nations, why support the US-backed resolutions to end the violence in Syria when we know intelligence was politically manipulated to support military intervention and regime change in Iraq, or how ‘mission creep’ in Libya yielded not an effort focused solely on the protection of civilians but more muscular regime change? The rooting out and killing of a dictator led to another descent into civil war. This is how half-truths are baked into broader conspiracy theories, which Peter Pomerantsev suggests is the contemporary replacement for ideology, with a mix of ‘self-pity, paranoia, self-importance and entertainment’.34 This is fuel for illiberals and authoritarians alike: in place of coherent policies there is, on the one hand, depoliticization and cynicism, and, on the other, elite manipulation of generalized fear and insecurity, unmoored from facts and evidence, promoting ‘strong’ leadership. When in a situation of factual fluidity, the rejection of all authority, competing truth claims, and asymmetric, grey zone information operations combined with kinetic effects, you are in a new form of conflict: hybrid warfare.35 Hybrid warfare involves Peter Pomerantsev, This Is Not Propaganda, 48. For analyses of the hybrid security environment and countering hybrid threats, see the publications of Hybrid COE: The European Centre of Excel-

34 35

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the weaponization of a very crude form of postmodernism, and speed, simultaneity, and social media are not the answer. Countering these destabilized realities, I want to think about a different set of legacies of 1989 and their relevance for democracies the world over, as well as for non-democratic or illiberally democratic contexts. By legacies I refer not so much to the actual politics or programmes of dissent or the short-term tactics of social mobilization, but rather to longer social processes. Because, as Tufekci’s work comparing the Arab Spring and Occupy movements with the American civil rights movement illustrates, when protests and politics happen before movement building, the result is horizontalism, leaderlessness, tactical freeze, no strategic vision and a resulting distrust of conventional politics and elites. Jeffrey C. Isaac has focused on other meanings of 1989: anti-political politics built in genuinely independent spaces of civil society, and the promise of participatory democracy. He suggests that the ‘repertoires of collective action enacted by anti-communist dissidents were of continuing relevance even under a liberal democratic regime’.36 Isaac reminds us that ‘the meaning of 1989 remains inherently plural, and contestable, and revisable in light of experience, and even from the vantage point of a liberal democratic appreciation for the accomplishments of 1989, it is both possible and necessary to rethink this appreciation.’37 Isaac was also careful to caution against all-encompassing narratives about celebration, triumph, oppression, or liberation. To be sure, 1989 contains legitimate multiple meanings, not easily reducible to either facts or interpretations, because of the normative character of those narratives. Indeed, the normativity of those narratives and the lived experience of the participants are emphasized by James Krapfl’s work on Czechoslovakia. Krapfl lence on Countering Hybrid Threats, accessed 21 October 2019, https:// www.hybridcoe.fi/publication-tags/strategic-analysis/. An excellent introductory source is Peter W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking, LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2018). On Russia in particular, see Bettina Renz and Hanna Smith, Russia and Hybrid Warfare—Going Beyond the Label (Helsinki: Kikimora Publications and the Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki, 2016). 36 Jeffrey C. Isaac, ‘Shades of Grey: Revisiting the Meanings of 1989’, in Vladimir Tismaneanu and Bogdan C. Iacob (eds.), The End and the Beginning: The Revolutions of 1989 and the Resurgence of History (Budapest–New York: CEU Press, 2012), 561. 37 Ibid., 564.


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distilled the ‘ideals of November’ in his cultural history, including and perhaps most importantly non-violence.38 There was a shared commitment to non-violence in East Germany, Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia, and this had been much discussed, especially the oft-repeated exhortation of Adam Michnik that those who storm Bastilles end up building new ones.39 Having experienced more than a century of failed rebellions against Russian and Soviet rule, including a massacre of workers in Gdańsk in 1970, arrests and imprisonments following the riots of 1976 and the imposition of martial law in 1981, non-violence was clearly the strategic choice in Poland. Given Krapfl’s research on the Velvet Revolution, and the centrality of non-violence as one of the preeminent ‘ideals of November’ it makes sense to think of nonviolence as both a strategic and a moral choice in the Czechoslovak case.40 Krapfl explains that non-violence was deliberate, difficult to maintain, and that the revolution itself ‘was against not just physical violence but violence of all kinds, including psychological, social, economic, and ecological.’41 One point requires reiteration: the glue that holds together civil society and social movement organization together is trust. Social media powerfully assist in moments of mass mobilization James Krapfl distills five core and widely shared ideals of the revolution, including non-violence, self-organization, democracy, fairness, and humanness, and argues they were ‘combined and refined in fresh and creative ways, forming a system of values that was both experientially and positively new.’ Krapfl, Revolution with a Human Face, 217–18. 39 Michnik’s actual quote is: ‘In our reasoning, pragmatism is inseparably intertwined with idealism. Taught by history, we suspect that by using force to storm the existing Bastilles we shall unwittingly build new ones. It is true that social change is almost always accompanied by force. But it is not true that social change is merely the result of the violent collision of various forces. Above all, social changes follow from a confrontation of different moralities and visions of social order. Before the violence of rulers clashes with the violence of their subjects, values and systems of ethics clash inside human minds.’ Adam Michnik, ‘Letters from the Gdańsk Prison, 1985’ in Letters From Prison and Other Essays, trans. Maya Latynski (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1987), 86. Later in the essay, Michnik discusses the ‘ethics of Solidarity’ and its ‘consistent rejection of the use of force’ of having more in common with the non-violence of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr but not pacifist movements, again a point which reinforces non-violence as a strategic choice. 40 James Krapfl, Revolution with a Human Face, 82. 41 Ibid., 83. 38

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but can be turned on and against you. Adam Seligman defines trust as a ‘discrete form of human interaction and an ideal model of communal life.’42 Civil society, the space where we ‘dissent together’ depends on social trust. This includes Durkheimian solidarity, but also basic confidence in one another to keep our word and responsibly follow through on our commitments. Seligman suggests trust is a cognate of confidence, faith, and familiarity, and a very modern ‘emergent property of human interaction, tied to a very specific form of social organization.’43 Trust cannot be reduced to either rational choice or expanded in a generic way to some irreducible aspect of human morality or well-functioning collective conscience. He wrote presciently that the dissolution of trust leads to the risk that we lose the strong shared evaluations of each other and society – our very ability to communicate with similar meanings, reference points, base knowledge, and civility (the deliberative aspect of democracy so prized by Michael Sandel) – and that risk can be ‘transformed into problems of danger’.44 For Seligman, trust is institutionalized in liberal societies through constitutional democracy via a necessary basket of civil rights to guarantee individual and political freedom, meaningful representation and participation in the public and political sphere, and finally minimum standards of social and economic welfare. Once one of them is unravelled, so are all of them; social trust is unmoored until it disintegrates into fear and the impossibility of social and political negotiation. We no longer inhabit the shared space that makes that possible. We rather exist in increasingly separate and hostile universes where our basest fears and insecurities are stoked and rewarded. Shared social identities come apart, replaced by primordial attachments to nation, hatred, or fear of the Other, protectionism, and clinging to a view of political, social, and economic life as an extreme zero-sum game. In short, the dangers identified by Seligman are the razor’s edge on which so many societies and states are currently teetering. Seligman’s work on trust also demonstrate the relevance of societal resilience, within and through civil society, and may be one of the ways of dealing with illiberalism, creeping authoritar Adam B. Seligman, The Problem of Trust (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), 7. 43 Ibid., 8. 44 Ibid., 9. 42


Barbara J. Falk

ianism at home, and hybrid threats from our adversaries. If the parallel polis meant anything, it was a place to cultivate trust. Adam Gopnik, in his recent defence of liberalism, A Thousand Small Sanities, discusses how, in the eighteenth century, trust grew in and along with the public sphere, as in coffee houses, where you could try out and explore new ideas and identities.45  At least some of the time, trust was built across earlier social cleavages of class, race, ethnicity, nation, and gender. The fact that you did so in person was, however, critical. We need to look back and deeper into the interpersonal legacy of 1989’s anti-political politics: true, participatory democratic processes, engaged and activist civil society, small measures, creative repertoires of collective action, developed through time, trial and error, through friendship and trust. Of course, that cannot be replicated in a 2.0 manner, nor should it. While capitalism asset strips one kind of belonging (reducing stakeholders or citizens to shareholders or consumers), nationalist politicians promote a pastiche of nostalgia, conspiracy theories, and responses to fluctuating grievances and truths based on misreadings of histories that never really existed. Today it is difficult to recover, paraphrasing Hannah Arendt, the ‘lost treasure’ of 1989 because we know so much about what came later: privatization that benefited the former nomenklatura, inegalitarian immiseration resulting from neoliberal marketization, the initial price paid for European Union membership including the 30,000 plus pages of the acquis communautaire, the ongoing challenges for women and labour (two groups at least ideologically privileged under the old system), and more recently toxic partisanship, Euroscepticism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia. Yet it is exactly this ‘lost treasure’ that one associates with a positive, ongoing, and ‘actionable’ set of legacies from 1989. We need to recapture this Arendtian lost treasure in our scholarship and publicly combat misappropriations of 1989. The risks of not doing so are simply too high.


Adam Gopnik, A Thousand Small Sanities: The Moral Adventure of Liberalism (New York: Basic Books, 2019).

Of hopes and ends Czech transformations after 1989

Ondřej Slačálek

It is the end. The end of the 1980s. Two young men, born in the 1960s, have lived out their youth in Prague. Tomáš, son of a dissident, is disillusioned by a nation in which it seems nothing can awaken, and by its oppressive regime, which looks as if it would never end. In June 1989 he emigrates, leaving behind a society incapable of revolution or any real change. Martin, a young student, remains. He encounters both the official and underground Catholic Church and has his first erotic experiences with both men and women. Ten years later, he describes his feelings after his baptism and first sexual encounters in his novel: ‘OK, so is this all IT is?’ Both young men were desperately looking for something new. A few months later, something came along that they both – together with the whole of society – had to consider a turning point in their lives. Tomáš was in Paris by then and could not believe that what he had wanted so much had really happened. Martin was a leading revolutionary student at the same time, participating in the reconstruction of the Catholic Church in the belief that the experience of repression could make the church wise, open, and self-reflective. A story of hope There are numerous stories of the Velvet Revolution. Many are based on overcoming illusions with a view to analysing the actual results. There is probably nothing simpler. The revolutions of 1989, lived and staged as a miracle and kitsch, invite demystification. But the mood of that moment, even if it can rightly be called an illusion, is also a fact. To tell the full story of the last thirty years, we have to tell this story of hope.


Ondřej Slačálek

Of course, it is hard to reconstruct the content of this hope. Maybe there was in fact no precise or concrete content, and Jürgen Habermas (and all those who repeated what he wrote afterwards) was right to describe it as a revolution without new or future-oriented ideas.1 Still, we may question whether there was, in fact, a discursive space to say something new and, if so, whether anybody was prepared to hear what was said and recognize it as new, especially among academics in the West. Habermas was probably right, but it is equally probable that many of his readers could not absolve themselves of a sense of intellectual arrogance. In the end, just as some doctors say that a healthy patient is merely a patient who has not been sufficiently examined, any new idea can be recognized by a historian of ideas as nothing but a variation of an older one. From the point of view of the people living the revolution in the streets and squares, what they were doing was new enough: performing democracy in a self-organized citizens’ movement. The course of history seemed to be changing around them. It was a moment of unity. It looked as if almost the whole of society was rising up, and almost everyone could be included. For the time being, even communists were accepted, if they were sorry and willing to agree to change. Czech Roma, the targets of virulent racism before and after (shortly after!) also participated. One of them, who emigrated less than ten years later, recalled feeling that this was the first time they had been together with white people in the public space. As he added in retrospect: he did not know then that it would also be the last time. This unity was a democratic unity, one that adopted the old word forum from Latin to describe what the participants claimed to be: a meeting of free citizens, whose discourse and collective action was intended to become the basis of politics, rather than an ‘infallible’ central committee. To be sure, this idea was not particularly new or original. But let us remember Friedrich Engels – Feuerbach may have been a rather poor and narrowminded thinker, especially in comparison to the richness of Hegel’s philosophy, but coming after Hegel made him revolution-


Jürgen Habermas, ‘What Does Socialism Mean Today? The Rectifying Revolution and the Need for New Thinking on the Left’, New Left Review 183 (September–October 1990): 3–21.

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ary. Maybe these revolutionaries did not bring anything new, but their timing made them novel, at least in their part of the world. It was an identity-forming moment. Everybody was a ‘somebody’ now, at least in potentia. Under the homogenizing concrete of state socialist unification lay a beach of various possibilities and identifications... Members of the older generation, until then socialized in a fairly homogenous way, had to choose the role in which they would participate in the new system. This identity moment was not very aggressive; it had a strong pluralist ethos, but not everybody was accepted even from the beginning. Anti-communism could be used against almost all forms of the left, even against former left-wing dissidents who had been imprisoned under the previous regime, or against a moderate liberal post-dissident party. Martin elaborated on liberal Catholic identity. For him, ‘postmodernism’ meant talking openly about traditions in nonoppressive ways: to play with them without their old unbearable power over us. What remained of the revolution? An image of societal unity in the face of abuses of power, which still took place sometimes when neoliberal party technocrats tried to maximize their power. A hope that, together with the banal and ugly politics of the parties of ‘crony capitalism’ (a term popularized in the Czech context by Václav Havel), it is also possible to have a better, more hopeful politics of civil society. And, also, a counter-feeling: that the revolution of hope was stolen. Almost from the beginning, there were conspiracy theories that it was all a fraud. These did not become mainstream, but disillusion came anyway. News of corruption and organized crime prompted the majority of the population to draw a simple conclusion: the revolution and hope were stolen by the politicians who assumed power. A story of class When Tomáš started living in France in 1989, he was shocked. Even twenty years after, there was an intensity about his voice when he recollected his feelings. ‘I saw there that all the rubbish about the class society that we had been fed by the communists throughout my childhood and youth was in fact completely true in the West.’


Ondřej Slačálek

Tomáš was not stupid. Of course, he knew that social inequalities existed in the West. However, what he could not imagine, until he actually experienced it, was the degree to which social inequalities change all aspects of social life, determining all human beings, including those who wanted to ignore the power of money. When he came back to Prague a few years later, he started to vote for the communists. He remained a non-conformist and an outsider because he understood that the relatively consensual goal of the new post-revolutionary society was the opposite of his own. The new society wanted and needed  to create inequalities alongside plurality. Without inequalities, there could be no reconstructed capitalist ‘normality’, no transformation from the ‘artificial’ and ineffective socialist economy to the ‘natural’ efficiency of the market. The ‘natural order’ adored by some dissidents found its complement in the ‘naturalness’ of the market.2 However, there was no clear concept of what inequality would really mean, or on what basis it should be created. After forty years of a so-called ‘classless’ society, the only capital was in large part illegitimate (based, for example, on shadowy business dealings involving the illegal exchange of currencies). There were three possible ways of creating private capitalist social relations: by returning property to the owners who had been expropriated 40 years earlier (or, more often than not, to their offspring); through the attraction of foreign capital; and through the provision of space for a new strata of domestic capitalists (with all the bad characteristics of nouveaux riches and sometimes with mafia connections and background). The Czech Republic followed all three roads. The restitution of property expropriated by the communists is, in the case of the bountiful compensation of the Catholic Church, still a hot topic of debate. Many men of the new era, including Václav Havel and Karel Schwarzenberg, inherited large amounts of property from the pre-communist aristocracy or bourgeoisie. At the same time, privatization created a new wealthy Czech elite, including oligarchs. The wealthiest Czech, Petr Kellner, is the 73rd richest man in the world according to Forbes. By comparison, 2

Cf. Gil Eyal, ‘Anti-Politics and the Spirit of Capitalism: Dissidents, Monetarists, and the Czech Transition to Capitalism’, Theory and Society 29, no. 1 (February 2000): 49–92.

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the richest Pole, Michal Solowow, come in at number 691, the richest Slovak is number 1425, and the richest Hungarian 1941. Kellner is an important entrepreneur not only in the Czech Republic, but also in Russia and China. Both the two previous Czech presidents, as well as several prime ministers, helped him pursue his interests.3 The second richest Czech, agrochemical mogul Andrej Babiš (number 617 in Forbes), has won elections with his technocratic populist movement ANO and is currently prime minister. But the country was also opened up to foreign corporations, such that the outflow of profits has become a serious problem. According to Thomas Piketty, Between 2010 and 2016, the annual outflow of profits and incomes from property (net of the corresponding inflows) thus represented on average 4.7% of the gross domestic product in Poland, 7.2% in Hungary, 7.6% in the Czech Republic and 4.2% in Slovakia, reducing commensurately the national income of these countries […] over the same period […] the difference between the totality of expenditure received and the contributions paid to the EU budget were appreciably lower: 2.7% of the GDP in Poland, 4.0% in Hungary, 1.9% in the Czech Republic and 2.2% in Slovakia (as a reminder, France, Germany and the United Kingdom are net contributors to the EU budget of an amount equivalent to 0.3–0.4% of their GDP).4

For a long time, there was no language to capture or criticize the injustices caused by the new inequality. To criticize them could mean that you were siding with the criminal communist ancien régime. It could also mean that you were prone to bad feelings, like envy. Throughout the ‘free and wild 1990s’, this freedom meant that some in society’s upper echelons did not pay their debts. As of ‘Billionaires: The Richest People in the World’ Forbes, 5 March 2019 https://www.forbes.com/billionaires/#2aa1b333251c. Václav Drozd, ‘Veřejný nepřítel Petr Kellner’, A2larm, 17 January 2019, https://a2larm. cz/2019/01/verejny-nepritel-petr-kellner/. 4 Thomas Piketty, ‘2018, the year of Europe’, Le Blog de Thomas Piketty, 16 January 2018, http://piketty.blog.lemonde.fr/2018/01/16/2018-theyear-of-europe/. Cf. Ilona Švihlíková, Jak jsme se stali kolonií (Praha: Rybka 2015) and Ágnes Gagyi, ‘“Coloniality of power” in East Central Europe: external penetration as internal force in post-socialist Hungarian politics’, Journal of World-Systems Research 22, no. 2 (2016): 349–72. 3


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2002, the problem was solved by giving extreme power to private entrepreneurs in the debt enforcement field, who also received some public power. Overall, this power came to take a heavy toll not only on bankrupt entrepreneurs, but also on many poor or middle-class people with debts that had originally been small, but then spiralled as a result of additional costs. Many Czechs (according to some statistics, almost a million, one tenth of the population) ended up in debt traps.5 If you were young in the early days of Czech capitalism, you had significant opportunities. In some areas, such as the media, young people became editors-in-chief at a very early age and enjoyed a legitimacy that their elders lacked after being contaminated by the former regime. As the younger generations started to grow up, they realized that posts were often occupied by incompetent or even fraudulent people who had been young at the right time and now had ‘experience’ and ‘contacts’. At the same time, they ceased to understand the founding myth of their fathers and mothers: the downfall of the great communist evil was not so much a watershed in their lives as the origin of the world that they inhabited. They became tired when its failures continued to be defended using permanent comparisons with the ancien régime. Maybe they wanted their own hope, their own new beginning, but it was nowhere to be found. A story of being western To be normal, of course, meant to be western. The ‘return to Europe’ meant a return to something that was seen as civilizational normality. It was viewed as a miracle, but a miracle that could happen in reality, sooner or later. The Czech Koruna achieving parity with the Deutsche Mark was one of several revolutionary fantasies. Was it original enough? At least it was futureoriented. Nobody said back then that there is no such thing as ‘the West’, the area that occupied such a dominant place in the mental maps of citizens in the new societies. It was a hyperbolized and con Robert Tait, ‘Czech democracy “under threat” from rising debt crisis’, The Guardian, 6 January 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/ world/2019/jan/06/czech-democracy-threat-debt-crisis.


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densed image of elements of various western societies, especially the few that formed the West’s highly developed core. We can imagine ‘the West’ as a monster with the head of the US, the hands of Germany, the legs of the UK and various bodily organs randomly taken from these countries as well as (to a much lesser extent) Switzerland, the Netherlands, Austria, and Scandinavia, but almost nothing from southern Europe. The Czech Republic integrated into the EU, but Czech elites probably considered the English-speaking world, especially the United States, to be the ‘real’ West. It was here that neoliberals found ideological and material inspiration, and thought their market utopia had been realized to some extent. But even reluctant critics of market fundamentalism, such as Václav Havel, were much more attracted to the activist and ‘idealist’ New World than to cynical and moderate Europe, not only after the experience of the Cold War but also given the moral scandal of war in the former Yugoslavia. Havel then even embraced George W. Bush as an idealist and counterweight to European pragmatists or pacifists. However, the Czech Republic did not have a choice between joining the European Union and becoming the 51st state of the USA. Before long, it became a full member of the EU. But, even after the end of various transitional periods, it was clear that membership did not mean equality with the core EU member states. For the post-communist countries, the EU meant being an ‘outsider’ for a long time and having to ‘implement’ many norms without any real democratic process: there was merely the necessity of ‘Europeanization’ and ‘harmonization’. At the same time, they integrated in a semi-peripheral position, knowing that many of their institutions and even some of their food would be of lower quality. For the same work they would receive half the wages or even less compared to core EU member states. A large part of society started to say, as Martin had done in another context, ‘OK, is this all IT is?’ Of course, the EU compensated for this situation by transferring large sums of money. But this money, together with the significant bureaucratic barriers that were meant to prevent it from being stolen (although it was sometimes stolen anyway, in some cases by the big players), was somehow seen as alien. Nobody knew what exactly it meant. Was it development aid? Paradoxically, it would make the relatively rich central European countries the biggest receivers of development aid in the world. Was it compen-


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sation for the outflow of profit? If so, it was insufficient, and why were western taxpayers paying to compensate for the profits of corporations anyway? When the western European governments understandably declared, during the refugee crisis, that they would punish central European societies for their unwillingness to accept refugees by cutting these funds, those societies reacted as follows: OK, so the money is compensation for conformity? Czech oligarch and prime minister Andrej Babiš has run into serious trouble for the misuse of European subsidies. But, for a very long time, a large part of Czech society reacted differently to how they would have if he had stolen state or private money. Money coming from ‘somewhere’ and connected with so many complicated rules seems to have a different status. Czech citizens are in the position of Borges’s God judging a heretic and an inquisitor, unable to find any difference between them. They are unable to discern a difference between the misuse of European money and its correct use, while the EU hardly ever said anything about the conspicuous misuse of its subsidies. Even now, when the silent European Union has finally said something (in a confidential report, but we are talking about the Czech Republic where the paper was immediately leaked) and confirmed that Babiš lied and stole, society remains divided. The EU report helped spur the largest demonstration since 1989, but Babiš has lost only a few per cent in the opinion polls and he is still the leader of the most popular political party, with almost 30 per cent support in the polls. His voters are still in the position of Borges´s God who cannot decide. Demonstrations which try to imitate the Velvet Revolution are not able to reconstruct the feeling of national unity against those in power. Instead, they provide one half of society with a feeling of moral superiority and historical continuity, standing against the other half. The period between the Soviet occupation of 1968 and the Velvet Revolution lasted two decades, and it was too long. When the end came, almost everybody was tired of the old faces and phrases. The period after 1989 has lasted for three decades, so that for many the end is taking even longer to come. Many are hoping for something new. Many others see this new thing as a monster and feel melancholy or anger towards it. Tomáš welcomed the coming of populism with some left-wing arguments and even more resentments. Finally, he says, we can talk about inequalities and the liberals are being punished for

Of hopes and ends 217

their triumphalism. In fierce arguments with pro-migrant leftists during the refugee crisis, he used left-wing arguments to criticize migration. For him, it is moving people about according to the needs and wishes of capital at the expense of local populations. According to him, the cultural differences embraced by his younger left-wing friends only heighten social inequalities. Martin defends liberal democracy and tolerance as the legacy of the Velvet Revolution. He left the Catholic Church and started to warn against its authoritarian tendencies. One of the men against whom he warns is the ultraconservative disseminator of conspiracy theories Josef, also previously a leader of the student protests in the late 1980s. Unlike him, Martin meets the young generation of the tiny Czech New Left at demonstrations. But he is only partially able to find a common language with them. He is annoyed by how they see the root of all evil in capitalism – it reminds him too much of the phrases which he had to listen to for the first two decades of his life. And he provokes them by seeing the root of too much evil as lying in Russia and by making reference to the old dissident movement and Václav Havel. For these are so distant from their experience, and have so often been abused in political rhetoric over the past thirty years. The populist turn in central and eastern Europe has many causes, the most important of which probably extend beyond the region itself. But we cannot understand the region’s dynamics if we are not willing to remember the story of hope. It was hope composed of many contradictory ideas and, perhaps, illusions, and was partially lost, forgotten, realized, and ridiculed; it is still here to some extent, preventing both older and younger generations from bringing new timeframes into play and telling new stories of hope. Maybe hope does not only need to be preserved, but sometimes also cared for with a certain amount of self-reflective distance. Maybe, to save the important elements of hope, we all need to tell ourselves at some point: OK, so this is all IT is.

Just because the map says so, doesn’t mean it’s true Thirty years after 1989, from an island perspective

Owen Hatherley

I can remember three particular moments of realising there was a distinct thing called ‘Eastern Europe’ which was different from ‘Western Europe’, and both of them date me as being just about old enough to remember the Soviet Union. One is at Christmas 1989, in my grandmother’s flat on the Isle of Wight, an appropriately plush location to watch, on BBC News, the uprising in Romania and the subsequent televised execution of Nicolae and Elena Ceauşescu, and learn several new words, like ‘dictator’ and ‘firing squad’. Also often said was the word ‘communism’, but my Trotskyist parents referred to themselves as ‘socialists’ rather than communists, so that wasn’t concerning. What was, was looking in the Children’s Atlas that my mother bought for me in the late 1980s and finding the existence of a very, very large country called the ‘Union of Soviet Socialist Republics’. Being that sort of obnoxiously inquisitive child, I asked her ‘but we’re socialists, aren’t we? Isn’t this our country?’ ‘They’re not socialists. It’s very complicated’, she replied and refused to explain further. The next memory comes a few years later and concerns a Lufthansa map that my dad had brought back from work, where that space had suddenly been filled with over a dozen new countries, all with incredibly evocative names. Belarus! Azerbaijan! Kyrgyzstan! There were pictures of eastern Europeans everywhere in our house. The odd Lenin here and there (somehow I missed the significance of all the images of Lenin being toppled everywhere), but mostly images of Leon Trotsky, who is, according to a recent clickbait map, still the most famous person to have been born in what is now the independent state of Ukraine, something that is seldom discussed and certainly not celebrated therein. There was a large poster of Trotsky just by the doorway of our terraced house, late in life, wearing glasses and reading The Militant, and looking a little confusingly like Colonel Sanders. Many years later,


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after I set foot on the hallowed soil of Petrograd for the first time, my mother – who, like everyone in her political ‘tendency’, regarded everything that happened between 1924 and 1991 as ‘Stalinism’, and worthy only of contempt – said that she had always wanted to go there, because, ‘despite everything that happened after, they did it, didn’t they? They made the break.’ If you’ve lived most of your life imagining that one day a cataclysmic event will take place, when the masses will arise, there’s an almost religious awe at the place where it really happened. Trotskyists are the Anglicans of communism – no wonder then that Britain was one of the few places Trotskyism became, by the 1980s, larger than the official Party. What I should now write is a handwringing piece about how we didn’t really understand eastern Europe, and how this world of ‘Dead Russians’ (dead Ukrainian Jews, in this instance) was a lachrymose cult that bore no relation whatsoever to the actual realities that the people who had to live in the states these people built had to put up with, and which they were then eagerly exchanging for the joys of the capitalism we opposed and fought against at every point. I won’t, I’m afraid. I find it fairly offensively ahistorical to imply that people like my parents, the metalworkers, miners and mass unemployed who made up the bulk of the active members of western left-wing parties were in some way responsible. Perhaps this explains why western communism is discussed in central and eastern Europe as if it was led by JeanPaul Sartre and boasting its big battalions in the Sorbonne rather than in the car factories. Of course, I find the cult of Trotsky creepy and a little dishonest about his major role in setting up the repressive apparatus soon turned against him by Stalin. I don’t find most Trotskyist analyses of the Soviet Union and the system it imposed on central and eastern Europe particularly useful, but I also find it noteworthy that the ‘Western Left’ that is ritually denounced in accounts of ‘real socialism’ was absolutely right about what would come next. As the 1990s Russian joke went, ‘the communists lied to us about communism, but they told the truth about capitalism.’ That’s a reminder that the misunderstandings went both ways; knowledge of western capitalism was almost as poor to the east as knowledge of how ‘real socialism’ worked was to the west. I find it extremely telling that a Polish socialist intellectual forcibly exiled in 1968 who took up a post in Leeds would remain a

Just because the map says so, doesn’t mean it’s true 221

socialist, while a Polish socialist intellectual exiled in 1968 who took up a post in Oxford became a liberal – they had only to look out of the window. For that, it is undeniable that for most of the Western Left this part of Europe just disappeared off the map after 1989, an area without political interest or hope, a sort of dystopia, never discussed or analysed, occasionally lamented. ‘Where have all these eastern Europeans come from?’ My own interest in central and eastern Europe still centres, I’m afraid, on what happened to it when it ‘made the break’ – partly because it offers dozens of lessons in how not to make the break, but also because of the culture that existed there during that period, and the ways in which the history of these places hints – frequently little more than hints – of what a non-capitalist life, a non-capitalist art, a non-capitalist city might be. My main interest is in what it stopped being thirty years ago. I’m fully aware that this can be profoundly irritating for many people in central and eastern Europe, not least among them central and eastern European intellectuals, for whom the most important thing is to somehow become ‘normal’, where normality is essentially West Germany on the left and the United States on the right, something that would puzzle people in most of the rest of the world. I’m also fully aware that, especially in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, people calling themselves socialists and communists perpetrated horrors upon these countries to an extent rivalled only by the absolute lowest depths of imperialism and exceeded only by fascism. Nonetheless, I come to this area as a socialist, and the books I have written about central and eastern Europe in the 21st century – the historical Landscapes of Communism and the polemical The Adventures of Owen Hatherley in the Post-Soviet Space and Trans-Europe Express – are shaped by being a socialist interpretation of deeds that were done in the name of socialism. But when asked about 1989, I can’t only write as a Western Leftist but also as a citizen of the island at the north-western corner of Europe, which has never shared a border with a ‘socialist’ country. It is hard to express quite what degree of ignorance there is in Britain about Europe in general, but that ignorance becomes especially profound with respect to its East. All the governments in exile in West London haven’t stopped the place being


Owen Hatherley

seen almost entirely in Cold War terms. ‘Have you ever been to Poznań?’ one spy asks in the TV adaptation of John Le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, as if Poznań was the worst place in the world, rather than, as it is, a rather pleasant city. There was even, as Agata Pyzik describes at length in Poor But Sexy – Culture Clashes in Europe East and West, a minor cult of evoking ‘eastern European’ bleakness in the post-punk culture of the late 1970s and early 1980s, sparked by David Bowie’s windswept ‘Warszawa’. The first mass engagements of British people with ‘eastern Europe’ – as, of course, we all call it – came with cheap travel to cheap cities, which turned out to be staggeringly beautiful, with their historic townscapes far better preserved than in almost any big city in Britain. First Prague, Budapest and Krakow (where, in 2013, I once saw a sign in the window of a bar reading ‘No British Tourists Please’), then later, Riga, Vilnius and Tallinn; Lviv was clearly about to be next, had it not been for a war several hundred miles away. This tourism was based on a particularly kitsch notion of beauty, which usually combines architectural heritage, cheap and potent alcohol and the sex industry. Following it came the mass migration, largely from Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, and to a lesser extent Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania, elicited by Britain (along with Ireland and Sweden) opening up its labour market to ‘eastern Europeans’ before most of the European Union. The racism that came with this really cannot be understated; in public forums, it is often more violent even than the traditional racism aimed towards those ‘Commonwealth’, i.e. until recently colonial migrants and their descendants. A right-wing paper like the Daily Mail can lament the ‘Windrush generation’ being deported due to the vicious ‘Hostile Environment’ set up by Theresa May when she was home secretary, while running near-constant scare stories on ‘eastern Europeans’ (Romanians seem to inspire particular terror). Analyses of the Brexit vote have argued that many of the largest votes to leave the European Union have come from smaller towns and cities which previously had low levels of immigration but faced small but significant ‘eastern European’ settlements after 2004. ‘Where have all these eastern Europeans come from?’, as the notorious question went from Gillian Duffy, the ‘bigoted woman’ Gordon Brown had an accidental debate with in 2010. Ironically, she was from Rochdale, one of several industrial towns in the north-west to have taken in many stateless Poles and Balts after 1945.

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Brave New Worlds A more recent memory comes from nearly ten years ago – December 2009, to be precise. The second night I spent in Warsaw, a city that I would live in, on and off, from 2010 to 2015, was spent in the company of some representatives of the intelligentsia, in a luxury high-rise flat, all shiny cladding, capacious balconies and polished marble floors, in the inner suburbs. I was, I confess, quite excited to find that ‘the intelligentsia’ still actually existed, something that I wasn’t prepared for by the Western Left idea of this part of the world as being evacuated of everything except money, porn and stucco. I was there because of what was then and is now a friendship, but which for several years became a relationship, with a music and poetry critic who lived in another high-rise, over the road. The flat was owned by the editor of an anti-clerical journal, a man just a few years older than me, who referred to himself as ‘a simple communist’. What I most remember was an argument he had on this subject with a much older liberal intellectual, who will also remain nameless, who had been deeply involved in Solidarity movement in the 1980s, was jailed during Martial Law, and wrote one of the first critiques of it after it came to power. Much vodka was drunk, and then the older liberal told the ‘communist’ that he had been born in Vorkuta; even then I knew there was only one way a Pole would be born in Vorkuta in the 1950s. After this revelation, the two sang revolutionary songs together, in Russian and Polish. This was the first of what would be many surprises. The intelligentsia still existed; some of them were on the left; and memories of the recent past were still exceptionally vivid. There was also a lot of very good graphic design around. But the next really big surprise was a place that I noticed people just referred to as ‘the Commies’ – Brave New World, a space on the main leisure and tourist street of the city, Nowy Świat, which otherwise had almost entirely become a parade of luxury eateries, apart from one milk bar and one drinking bar. Here, the magazine publisher and left intellectual powerhouse Krytyka Polityczna had a ‘space’, where there would be dancing, booze, and heavyweight political and historical debates; what they usually hosted was much the same thing as what I’d seen by accident in that luxury high-rise, a younger socialist arguing with an older liberal. This was extraor-


Owen Hatherley

dinary to me – as if Verso had a ‘space’ on Regent Street, as if Jacobin hosted reading groups in its own cafe-bar on Broadway. Because of the time I spent here, I would come to write several books either directly about this region or treating it as an integral part of Europe, rather than an appendage. In these, I had several scores to settle. For instance, while the Trotskyist position is essentially that everything was fine in the garden until the death of Lenin at the earliest and the expulsion of Trotsky at the latest, my own idea of the system was much more complicated – confused, I suspect they would say. Becoming more aware of the sheer brutality of the Civil War made the idealization of the early years absurd. Equally, so was the writing off of everything after their boy got exiled. I was and am in awe at the sheer intensity and sophistication of postwar intellectual life in Poland (and Yugoslavia, and Hungary, and even, in the early sixties and late eighties, the Soviet Union). Moreover, learning about the social contract in these countries made it clear that the differences between the welfare state in the west and ‘developed socialism’ in the east were largely of degree rather than of kind; each side of this contract, in housing, health and education, was closer to each other then than either is close to the current settlement in these countries now. Put simply, the housing systems in Poland or Britain in 1975 shared more similarities to each other than either of them to the housing systems of Poland or Britain in 2019. It was also amusing to realize, while working on urbanism in the former Warsaw Pact, that the preservation (or often, reconstruction) of those historic cityscapes was not a side-effect of ‘the system’, but a deliberate policy. Ten years later, central and eastern Europe are much more discussed in British (and American) intellectual life, but I find most of the frames in which this is done dubious at best, racist at worst. The notion of the New Cold War, that Russia, with its flat taxes, outrageous inequalities and pleasant, hipster-filled urban spaces is some sort of despotic, quasi-socialist wasteland, with Donald Trump of all people enlisted as some sort of Commie Dupe, is utterly absurd. The popular use of fake Cyrillic in the imagery of this ‘resistance’ tells its own story about how little people know or care about the places they’re talking about. Similarly, the notion that there is something especially eastern European about the ‘illiberal democracies’ that are sweeping the European Union is dubious in the extreme. Viktor Orbán is influ-

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ential, to be sure, but before him was Silvio Berlusconi (and before Berlusconi, Margaret Thatcher). The far-right is a hugely significant force in France, and is in government or in coalition in Italy, Denmark and Austria as well as in Poland, Hungary and Latvia. To consider nativism, media manipulation and violence as especially ‘Eastern’ is hard to credit if you saw the Leave campaign’s posters or read any newspapers during the EU referendum in Britain in 2016. Even one of the most apparently distinctive features of the shift rightwards in the ‘East’, the quasi-official rehabilitation of native fascists and wartime collaborators, has its correspondents in Italy, France and Belgium. But what I came to realize most of all was that outside of intellectual life – where there were and are important differences, with Poland still having a state-subsidized intellectual community way beyond that of Britain, albeit within a very circumscribed spectrum of acceptable political debate – there were huge similarities between the Island and the ‘East’ in the 2000s and early 2010s. Endless privatization, poor quality public space, the dominance of the private car, ignorance about climate change, the destruction of urban planning at any level other than that of conservation, eager junior participation in whatever bombing campaign the United States was insisting on at any given time, and a willingness to inflict economic warfare on feckless southern Europeans (North-South is a much more important political divide in Europe now than East-West) – these policies unite London with Warsaw, Budapest, Bratislava, Bucharest, Riga and Kyiv. We can see the consequences of this evisceration of the public sphere in the murderous fires in nightclubs in Bucharest and high-rises in London. ‘We’ in Britain have more in common with ‘you’ than we do with Sweden or Germany. Yet the resurgence of an organized socialist left – something different to liberal NGOs or the empty social democratic parties of CEE – has bypassed formerly socialist Europe. Opposition to neoliberalism is still conflated with nationalism, a trap that most central and eastern European liberals gleefully throw themselves into. The shifts leftwards that have happened in France, Spain, Portugal, Greece, and now Britain, have only one correspondent, in the success of the Left in Slovenia (for obvious reasons, the rejection of socialism has never run as deep in what was Yugoslavia as it has elsewhere). The notion, amusingly reminiscent of the apologetics for the old system, that what the formerly socialist


Owen Hatherley

Europe lacks is ‘real capitalism’ is still popular among the young. If I see hope here, it’s in cross-border efforts in the intellectual world. In the Romanian group Criticatac  hosting the transnational LeftEast portal. In the Bucharest-based journal Kajet, committed to an ‘eastern futurism’ and a look again at utopia. In the work of Russian and Ukrainian leftist poets, artists and writers, opposing the nationalism of both countries, as heard in the unembarrassedly socialist voice of Kirill Medvedev. Closer to (my) home, it’s in the fact that some of the most prominent people within the British Labour Party to campaign for freedom of movement have been Poles and Bulgarians. The more ‘normal’ things get, and the bleaker that normality becomes, the more we’ll all come to want something more, wherever we were in 1989.

The East in you never leaves

Julia Sonnevend

After twelve years living in the United States, I have recently applied for American citizenship. It was a decision about belonging. I will keep my Hungarian citizenship, but after becoming a professor and getting married here, not to speak of giving birth to a US citizen, I finally decided that this ‘American connection’ needed to become official. (Yes, I was also tired of being the only one in the family with a Hungarian passport in the endless immigration lines at US airports.) As part of the application, I had to participate in a ‘biometrics exam’ in New York. They take your fingerprints and capture a minimally attractive photograph of you, that’s about it. The building, despite being an extensive bureaucratic complex, was actually filled with extremely friendly staff. Everybody was there to help and make me feel welcome. I had to endure an oversized image of President Trump and Vice President Pence and a huge banner announcing that we are securing our borders, but that was about all that signalled policy changes. Officers smiled, shook hands, wanted to chat. Still, I was filled with fear. My regular relative confidence was gone, I was unable to smile, my movements were strangely wooden. I feared every interaction, was overly eager to follow all rules, and could not wait to have this otherwise banal process behind me. My anxiety must have become visible, as the officers began to ask whether I was feeling well. They offered help, joked, handed over water. The photographer said it’s okay to smile. I tried. I was at a loss why I was behaving that way. Unlike many, I have not had bad experiences with US law enforcement. Being white, I have not suffered systematic exclusion. I ‘only’ observed it. In fact, I was every Republican’s dream of an immigrant, selfmade in my academic career, coming from a post-communist country, have never received any state support and was not plan-


Julia Sonnevend

ning to bring any family members with me either. So why am I so scared in the middle of New York in an environment where everybody has made an extra effort to make me feel welcome? The East in you never leaves, I thought, after leaving the immigration bureau. Thirty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, here I was in Manhattan, and felt deeply and fully ‘eastern’. What does that mean for somebody who was only ten years old in 1989, whose memories of communism mostly relate to a monument she loved to climb on Gellért Square in Budapest? Simply put, it means a bodily sensation of inexplicable fear at the border. My deep-rooted anxiety about border guards and law enforcement was back, even in the country where I have chosen to live; where, despite all the problems the United States now faces, I feel deeply at home. In that sense, your ‘eastern’ identity never leaves you, I thought, not even after three decades. When entering the US immigration centre, I was transported back to the little Trabant of my parents, along with my two brothers, as we were crossing the border from ‘eastern’ Hungary to ‘western’ Austria in the 1980s. Squeezed into the back seat with my much older brothers (how did we even fit in?), my stomach was in knots. My father stopped the car a few minutes before the border and explained the rules. The main rule concerned ‘silence’. You do not chat with the border guard. You do not share this or that detail, no matter how friendly they look. And on the way back, you do not on any account mention the Walkman and other ‘western treasures’ you were bringing home. I was thinking whether I could brag about the chewing gum I collected from those beloved machines on every Austrian street corner. You turn a metal handle, and there it is, a ball-shaped piece of chewing gum; or, if you have a bit more money, a plastic globe with some little toy in. But I did not ask. Let’s be silent and keep the gum! My parents were very cautious, but I do not actually remember any incident with the border guards. Maybe there was, but I have no memories of it. We self-censored. We followed the rules. We complied. Decades later, in the United States, I observed that when older Hungarians visited me in Manhattan, they were afraid of the doormen. Older Hungarian intellectuals were concerned the doormen might stop them or cause some other form of public embarrassment. Even if I explained that I had shared the visitors’ names with the doormen, doormen are there to open doors, deliver packages and greet you with a big smile, my visitors

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remained deeply sceptical. These Hungarian friends preferred me to come down and pick them up, just in case. They visibly sighed with relief once we entered the elevator. I sometimes laughed at their requests, thinking of our sweetheart Puerto Rican doorman, but deep inside I thought: well, there just seem to be levels of eastern-ness. They simply had a much stronger sense of the ‘East’ in their bodies than I do. Thirty years after 1989, the traditional East-West divide of my childhood has in many ways disappeared. In a book entitled Stories Without Borders that I recently published about the fall of the Berlin Wall, I started a chapter stating that ‘East Germany and the Soviet Union have disappeared from the world map, contemporary societies are grappling with new global conflicts, and the Berlin Wall exists only in our memories.’1 The chapter deals with memorials of the fall of the Berlin Wall and how the custodians of memory are desperately trying to keep this event in the global imagination through performances, exhibitions, protests and commemorations. I described their passionate fight against the powerful forces of social forgetting, both dangerous and beneficial. Events need substantial narrative effort in order to remain alive. Most simply sink into the sea of forgetting. But even if the memory of 1989 has largely faded, the feeling of being ‘eastern’ has stayed with many of us. It’s there in our thoughts, movements, fears and desires. It’s there in our choice of partners, in the songs we sing to our children and our behaviour in our workplaces. It’s part of our flesh and bones. Some of these experiences are inexplicable to new generations, because they are connected to particular sites, a communist memorial or the personality of a certain school director. But much of being ‘eastern’ is quite easily translatable across generations – or at least that is my experience from teaching. When I mention the Berlin Wall to my undergraduate students at the New School for Social Research in New York, or at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, there is first silence and confusion. Some of them heard of it, but have no idea which countries it divided. Others do not have the faintest idea that it has ever existed. Some well-travelled, affluent students beam with pride that they happened to see it on a recent trip. But all of them See Julia Sonnevend, Stories Without Borders: The Berlin Wall and the Making of a Global Iconic Event (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).



Julia Sonnevend

have a truly hard time connecting to it. They simply do not know where to place it; it is part of some vague imagination they have of the Cold War, a confusing, old and largely meaningless history they have to learn about, but do not feel in their bones. Until I start to speak about walls and barriers internationally. Or the power of division that comes to shape the lives of generations. When I speak about physical or virtual separation and the lasting pain it causes, my students are ‘right there’ with me. What does this all tell us about East and West after 1989? It tells us something about the power of generations. The iconic event of one generation may be no more than a dusty object for another. The East-West divide of one generation is an incomprehensible division to another. East and West, in the Cold War sense of the terms, mean nothing to my students. But if you use these terms in a broader, more metaphorical sense, my students’ lives are all about divisions. They graduate with massive student debt and have to succeed in a very competitive global work environment. These students understand the symbolic power of walls perhaps more than any generation beforehand. They witnessed the 2016 campaign, when building a border wall was the popular slogan of the successful presidential candidate, not something to be ashamed of. They live in a world that has more separation barriers than there were in 1989, and have experienced two waves of frantic, international wall-building; after the 11 September attacks and since the 2015 refugee crisis.2 They know everything one can know about ‘being’ and ‘feeling’ eastern. Some of them even have similar reactions to borders as I have. We may not connect through the historical story of the Berlin Wall, but we do connect through a powerful understanding of division, separation, and inequality. When I came to the United States, I truly and fully wanted to leave my ‘eastern-ness’ behind. For a long time, I was annoyed by my Hungarian accent. I regarded it as a life-long stigma, a permanent mark of being ‘alien’. (The US immigration rules of calling me first a ‘nonresident alien’, then a ‘resident alien’ were quite accurate, I thought.) I did not write my first book on a Hungarian topic, and was quite offended when mentors raised the For more on this, see Julia Sonnevend, ‘Our New Walls: The Rise of Separation Barriers in the Age of Globalization’, E-International Relations, 25 May 2017, https://www.e-ir.info/2017/05/25/our-new-wallsthe-rise-of-separation-barriers-in-the-age-of-globalization/.


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possibility that perhaps I should write more about my ‘home country’. I wanted to compete on equal grounds, not as an ‘international student’ writing about ‘her country of origin’. It has only been in recent years, from the relative safety of a tenure-track academic job, that I started to relax about being eastern. I occasionally even write about this division, and about Hungary, although it took me some time to decide whether I really want to rethink East and West thirty years after 1989. It seemed like an awfully hard therapy session, soul-searching on steroids. But it’s impossible to avoid this process of soul-searching, no matter how hard you try. More than anything else, having a baby son makes me think hard and deep every single day about what it means to be ‘eastern’ or ‘western’. What does it mean to raise a bilingual, HungarianAmerican child in New York in the twenty-first century? Will he have something ‘eastern’ in him as he carries his American and Hungarian passports around the world? Going to school in the United States, I have no doubt that he will be predominantly American, deeply western according to my old conceptions (even though I work hard to teach him Hungarian language and culture). But will he be able to understand Mommy’s weird, confusing eastern past? While walking on the streets of Budapest, will he ever think of ‘East and West’? Will he ever worry when he crosses a European border? I do not know. And in some ways, I perhaps do not even care – as long as he remains happy.

Freedom of movement A European dialectic

Jannis Panagiotidis

Ever since the ‘refugee crisis’ in Europe in 2015, the common wisdom has been that attitudes towards migration are split down the old East-West divide. The Visegrád states – Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia – in particular are accused of preventing an equitable distribution of refugees who entered Europe during and after the 2015 ‘crisis’. All four countries have resisted compulsory quotas for the distribution of refugees within Europe. Viktor Orbán’s government in Hungary has been most stridently hostile to immigration, erecting a fence at the Serbian border in 2015 to close the ‘Balkan route’ and clamping down on NGOs dealing with refugees. Opinion polls in all these countries have shown majorities opposed to the reception of refugees.1 All of this has been identified as part of a broader trend towards ‘illiberalism’ in central and eastern Europe, a political force that some fear might spread to other European societies ‘with much deeper democratic roots’.2 There is indeed a history of European division on migration. However, it is a history that long predates both the 2015 migration crisis and the Cold War division. In it, it is not eastern Europe that stands out as being xenophobic. Traditionally, it has been the western countries that have felt threatened by the immigra Aneta Zachová, Edit Zgut, Karolina Zbytniewska, Michał Strałkowski and Zuzana Garizova, ‘Visegrád nations united against mandatory relocation quotas’, Euractiv, 23 July 2018, https://www.euractiv.com/ section/justice-home-affairs/news/Visegrád-nations-united-againstmandatory-relocation-quotas/. 2 Arch Puddington, ‘Breaking Down Democracy: Goals, Strategies, and Methods of Modern Authoritarians’, Freedom House, June 2017, https:// freedomhouse.org/sites/default/files/June2017_FH_Report_Breaking_Down_Democracy.pdf. See also Anon., ‘Big, bad Visegrad’, Economist, 28 January 2016, https://www.economist.com/europe/2016/ 01/28/big-bad-Visegrád.


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tion of culturally distant and supposedly inferior aliens. In the western imaginary, people who came from ‘the East’ brought poverty and disease. Fear of immigration from eastern Europe was one of the driving forces behind the development of migration restrictions in Europe and the North Atlantic in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Germany’s restrictive turn in immigration and citizenship policy since the late nineteenth century had a lot to do with perceived threats posed by Polish and Jewish immigrants from the Russian and Austrian Empires.3 Since the early 1890s, the (often Jewish) transit migrants from the Russian and Habsburg Empires to North America were subject to strict medical supervision.4 ‘Liberal’ Great Britain passed the restrictive Aliens Act of 1905 with a view to fending off eastern European and especially Jewish immigrants.5 In the 1920s, the spectre of eastern European refugees drove the United States to change its traditionally liberal attitude towards European immigrants, with catastrophic consequences for the Jewish refugees trying to flee Nazism after 1933.6 In the 1930s, it was central and eastern Europe that provided refuge to racial and political refugees.7 In many cases, western states would not have them. Dieter Gosewinkel, Einbürgern und Ausschließen: Die Nationalisierung der Staatsbürgerschaft vom Deutschen Bund bis zur Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2001), 263–77. More broadly on Germany’s relationship to its eastern border, see Annemarie Sammartino, The Impossible Border: Germany and the East, 1914– 1922 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2010). 4 Barbara Lüthi, ‘Germs of Anarchy, Crime, Diseases, and Degeneracy: Jewish Migration to the United States and the Medicalization of European Borders around 1900’, in Tobias Brinkmann (ed.), Points of Passage: Jewish Transmigrants from Eastern Europe in Scandinavia, Germany, and Britain 1880–1914 (New York: Berghahn Books, 2013), 27–44. 5 On the evolution of British policies of migration control between 1880 and 1914 in comparison to Germany, see Christiane Reinecke, Grenzen der Freizügigkeit: Migrationskontrolle in Großbritannien und Deutschland, 1880–1930 (Munich: Oldenbourg, 2010). 6 On the longer tradition of selective US immigration policies, see Aristide Zolberg, A Nation by Design: Immigration Policy in the Fashioning of America (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2006). 7 See the ERC-funded project ‘Unlikely Refuge? Refugees and Citizens in East-Central Europe in the 20th Century’ at the Masaryk Institute and Archives of the Czech Academy of Sciences, https://www.unlikelyrefuge.eu/. 3


Jannis Panagiotidis

Seen from this perspective, Cold War division and the Iron Curtain did a lot to help westerners – both Europeans and North Americans – forget their fear of eastern ‘invasions’. After 1948–49, immigration from the East was exceptional; whoever made it out of the Soviet bloc was embraced as a political refugee, or as a persecuted co-ethnic deserving of solidarity.8 The closure of borders in the East enabled the conception of the West as the ‘free world’.9 Eastern European societies under state socialism were seen as being closed largely because of the restrictions imposed on citizens’ mobility. Some socialist states were more flexible with migration than others: non-aligned Yugoslavia, with its massive guest worker emigration to western Europe since the 1960s, was the liberal extreme. After 1961, the GDR with its highly restrictive and often deadly emigration regime was at the opposite end of the spectrum. In-between stood a country like Poland, which enabled the emigration of ethnic minorities and from the 1970s increasingly tolerated cross-border mobility.10 Recent literature has pointed to the importance of the West’s insistence on making human rights, including the right to emigration, part of the 1975 CSCE Final Act. This provided argumentative ammunition to activists in eastern European countries and increased the pressure on socialist regimes to let more of their citizens go. The ‘Helsinki effect’ supposedly undermined the emigration restrictions in Eastern Bloc states and ultimately the regimes themselves.11 With the downfall of Soviet communism, freedom of emigration became the rule. However, following a typical pattern of international migration, the same western states that had previously criticized communist regimes for refusing to let their citizens leave reacted to the exit liberalizations with immigration restrictions. Jannis Panagiotidis, The Unchosen Ones: Diaspora, Nation, and Migration in Israel and Germany (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2019). 9 See Tara Zahra, The Great Departure: Mass Migration from Eastern Europe and the Making of the Free World (New York: W.W. Norton 2016). 10 Dariusz Stola, ‘Opening a Non-exit State: The Passport Policy of Communist Poland, 1949–1980’, East European Politics and Societies and Cultures 29, no. 1 (February 2015): 96–119. 11 Daniel C. Thomas, The Helsinki Effect: International Norms, Human Rights, and the Demise of Communism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001). 8

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Once again, fears of an ‘invasion’ from the East loomed large, this time of newly liberated eastern Europeans thirsting for freedom, consumer goods, and a share of capitalist wealth.12 East-West migration after 2004 The polemics surrounding the extension of intra-European freedom of movement to the citizens of the post-2004 accession states amply illustrate the comeback of western fears of eastern immigrants after 1989. Many of these fears were connected to predictions of wage-dumping in the West. To accommodate what were essentially protectionist considerations into the ‘eastern enlargement process’, EU member states were allowed to opt out of freedom of movement for workers from the new member states for up to seven years. Germany made use of this option, postponing the labour immigration of Poles, Hungarians, Czechs, Slovaks, Slovenes, Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians until 2011. This was despite, or perhaps because of the fact that since 1970 the country had already received more than a million immigrants from Poland alone, most of them on an ethnic German ticket, others as labour migrants and seasonal workers. In France, amidst fears about the ‘Polish plumber’, freedom of immigration for eastern Europeans was postponed until 2008.13 Tellingly, these restrictions did not affect citizens of Cyprus and Malta, which joined the EU at the same time as the Visegrád states, the Baltic states and Slovenia. Of all the ‘old’ EU states, only Ireland, the UK, and Sweden fully embraced the principle of freedom of movement in 2004. Among these three countries, Sweden was the only one to extend the same treatment to Romania and Bulgaria in 2007. However, the substantial immigration from eastern Europe, which was particularly prominent in the UK and Ireland, has not remained without political consequences: free movement from Europe famously loomed large during the Brexit campaign. Research has See Dietrich Thränhardt, ‘European Migrations from East to West: Present Patterns and Future Directions’, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 22, no. 2 (1996): 227–42. 13 For a concise discussion of these ‘birth pangs of united Europe’, see Philipp Ther, Europe since 1989: A History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016), 306–14. 12


Jannis Panagiotidis

shown that support for ‘Leave’ was particularly strong in communities that had experienced a sharp increase of EU immigration in recent years. Anti-immigration and anti-EU sentiment merged in the minds of many voters, fuelling the rise of the anti-immigration and anti-EU party UKIP.14 ‘Taking back control’ to a large extent meant preventing an unrestricted influx of eastern European immigrants. Before 2015, eastern European states were therefore hardly the ones opposed to migration. On the contrary, when it came to intra-European movement, western European states were generally sceptical (to say the least) of the benefits of east-west migration, while eastern European countries for obvious reasons favoured it. Even now, there are significant divisions between eastern and western states on freedom of movement, for example concerning ‘posted workers’. Eastern European states lobby for deregulation in order to gain their competitive advantage on labour markets, while western European states support stricter regulation for the same reason.15 Some statistics may help to understand why intra-European freedom of movement has become so important. Since the end of communism, and in particular since EU enlargement, millions of citizens of eastern and southeastern European member states have moved to live and work in the countries of the ‘old EU’. Of the ten EU countries with the highest mobility rate of citizens, seven (Romania, Lithuania, Latvia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Poland and Estonia) are eastern European.16 Romanians offer an impressive example: in 2017, more than 1.1 million Romanian citizens lived in Italy, 680,000 in Spain, 530,000 in Germany, and 380,000 in the

Matthew Goodwin and Caitlin Milazzo, ‘Taking Back Control? Investigating the role of immigration in the 2016 vote for Brexit’, The British Journal of Politics and International Relations 19, no. 3 (August 2017): 450–64. 15 See Ines Wagner, ‘Why freedom of movement is causing divisions – across Europe’, The Guardian, 16 January 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jan/16/freedom-movement-euroepforeign-posted-workers-eu. See also Ines Wagner, Workers without Borders: Posted Work and Precarity in the EU (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2018). 16 Marianne Haase, ‘Binnenmigration in der Europäischen Union’, www. bpb.de, 14 May 2018, http://www.bpb.de/gesellschaft/migration/dossier-migration/247576/eu-binnenmigration. 14

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UK (Romania has a total population of some 19.5 million).17 That same year, 994,000 Polish citizens lived in the UK, 783,000 in Germany, 122,000 in Ireland, 121,000 in the Netherlands, 113,000 in France, and 102,000 in Norway (out of a total population of around 38 million).18 In 2017, 196,000 Lithuanian citizens lived in the UK, 46,000 in Germany, 42,000 in Norway, and 36,000 in Ireland – figures which may seem less impressive in absolute terms, but more so considering Lithuania’s total population of only 2.8 million.19 Bulgarian migration, too, has increased significantly in recent years, especially to Germany (where 263,000 Bulgarian citizens lived in 2017, more than twice as many as in 2013), the UK (109,000, as opposed to 45,000 in 2014), and Spain (126,000 – though here, the numbers have actually been decreasing).20 In the receiving countries of the ‘old’ EU, eastern European immigrants make up an important part of total immigrant populations. In 2017, 51 per cent of EU-born immigrants in the UK (approx. 1.9 million individuals) were from the new member states, with Poland and Romania at the top of the list of countries of origin.21 In Germany, too, eastern Europeans form a large contingent of EU immigrants: 3.4 of 5.1 million (66 per cent) – in this case both foreign citizens and naturalized Germans – are from the newer member states, despite Germany having delayed the free movement of citizens of these countries by seven years. In fact, many of them immigrated long before 2011 in connection with earlier streams of East-West migration. Between 1970 and 1995, Germany received one million Polish and 400,000 Romanian citizens, who entered on an ‘ethnic ticket’ as German Aussiedler.22 The same status applied to some 2.4 million immigrants from the former Soviet Union, who make up the largest single OECD, ‘International Migration Database’, https://stats.oecd.org/ viewhtml.aspx?datasetcode=MIG&lang=en#. 18 Ibid. The number for Ireland refers to 2016. 19 Ibid. 20 Ibid. 21 ‘EU Migration to and from the UK’, 1 December 2018, https://migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/resources/briefings/eu-migration-to-andfrom-the-uk/. 22 Susanne Worbs et al., (Spät-)Aussiedler in Deutschland: Eine Analyse aktueller Daten und Forschungsergebnisse (Nürnberg: Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge, 2013), 31–32. See https://www.bamf.de/ SharedDocs/Anlagen/DE/Publikationen/Forschungsberichte/fb20spaetaussiedler.pdf?__blob=publicationFile. 17


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contingent of first generation immigrants in Germany, followed by those from Poland.23 In southern Europe, too, eastern Europeans have a major presence. In Italy, the more than a million Romanians represent the largest immigrant group. Citizens of European non-EU states are also significant in number, in particular the 430,000 Albanians, the 235,000 Ukrainians (mainly female) and the 127,000 Moldovans (also mainly female).24 In Spain, the 680,000 Romanians top the list alongside a similar number of Moroccans.25 These substantial migratory movements have led to concerns about their detrimental effects on the economies and societies of the countries of origin.26 In November 2018, the Romanian finance minister Eugen Teodorovici made the headlines with a call to curb freedom of movement for Romanians in order to counter labour shortages and brain drain.27 Like western European fears about the impact of immigration, eastern European worries about excessive emigration are a resurrection of past discourses: in central and eastern European nationalisms there is a tradition of hostility to emigration. From the nineteenth century onwards, fears loomed large that emigration would weaken the ranks of the nation.28 These fears long predated the Iron Curtain and remain alive today – though it is hardly a majority opinion for now, as the negative reaction to Teodorovici’s comments has shown. Statistisches Bundesamt, ‘Bevölkerung und Erwerbstätigkeit. Bevölkerung mit Migrationshintergrund – Ergebnisse des Mikrozensus 2017’, https://www.destatis.de/DE/Publikationen/Thematisch/Bevoelkerung/MigrationIntegration/Migrationshintergrund2010 220167004.pdf?blob=publicationFile. 24 Instituto Nazionale di Statistica, ‘Cittadini non comunitari: presenza, nuovi ingressi e acquisizioni di cittadinanza’, https://www.istat.it/it/ archivio/223598. 25 Statista, ‘Población extranjera de España en 2019, por nacionalidad’, https://es.statista.com/estadisticas/472512/poblacion-extranjerade-espana-por-nacionalidad/. 26 Norbert Mappes-Niediek, ‘My Europe: Eastern brain drain threatens all of EU’, www.dw.com, 15 December 2018, https://www.dw.com/en/ my-europe-eastern-brain-drain-threatens-all-of-eu/a-46755913. 27 Monika Pronczuk and Valerie Hopkins, ‘Romania minister calls for curbs on EU free movement’, Financial Times, 28 November 2018, https://www.ft.com/content/35a31080-f322-11e8-ae55-df4bf40f9d0d. 28 Zahra, The Great Departure, 2016. 23

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Prospects Is migration dividing Europe? On the face of it, it may seem so. Immigration from outside Europe in 2015 strained intraEuropean solidarity and the principle of burden-sharing to the point that the Visegrád states opted out. At the same time, intra-European freedom of movement has resurrected deep fears in western societies about immigration from the East and has started to cause concern in the countries of origin too. Yet, amidst all the controversy, it is easy to lose sight of the dialectics of this process: the presence of millions of eastern and southeastern Europeans in the West causes conflicts, but also contributes to the interconnection of European societies and economies across the East-West divide. After all, an important part of the reality of pre-1989 division was the paucity of contact between the two halves of the continent, which led to detachment both in human and economic terms. Now, it is common for eastern Europeans to live and work in the West, while visiting, working or even living in eastern European countries has become normal for westerners. This is not to endorse a romanticized vision of a borderless Europe – after all, there is little romance to be found in a slaughterhouse, on an asparagus field or in elderly care. Moreover, citizens of eastern European countries outside the EU cannot easily partake in this process of (re)unification, leaving some of them (citizens of the former Yugoslavia, in particular) worse off than before and causing new divisions (for instance at the PolishBelarusian and Polish-Ukrainian borders). Yet, all things considered, the current situation of intraEuropean mobility is surely preferable to the restrictive pre-1989 reality. This is something that opponents of free movement in the West would be well-advised to remember – just as the advocates of fortified borders on both sides of the former Iron Curtain ought to remind themselves that 1989 was about tearing down walls, not building new ones. Commemorations of the ‘fall of the wall’ in 1989 will ring increasingly hollow if they take place in a Europe surrounded and divided by fences. In another, more cynical turn of the dialectic, eastern Europeans may in the long run ‘benefit’ from the controversies surrounding the increased influx of non-European aliens, though not in a ‘pretty’ way. Just as the ‘guest workers’ from the Euro-


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pean Mediterranean ascended the ethnic hierarchies of their host countries as a result of the increased presence of extra-European immigrants, so the eastern European migrants of today may find that their status increases with time. With Islam now the predominant marker of difference, western European societies may increasingly perceive eastern European immigrants as fellow Christians – with the notable exception of southeastern European Roma. The latter continue to be the object of intense stereotyping, as exemplified by German initiatives to declare states of the western Balkans ‘safe countries of origin’ – a barely concealed attempt to curb Roma immigration. Animosity towards Romanian and Bulgarian migrants can be interpreted in a similar way. The development of a European identity might therefore mean the construction of the non-European alien (who, as with the Roma, might be from inside Europe). As history has repeatedly proven, the inclusion of one’s ‘own’ comes with the exclusion and persecution of ‘others’. Anti-immigrant mobilization could turn out to be a ‘unifying’ issue – and not just for the European right. Whether this is the kind of European identity we should aspire to is a wholly different question. Thanks to Janine Schmittgen for her assistance with researching this article.

‘The Romanians are coming’ Emerging divisions and enduring misperceptions in contemporary Europe

Diana Georgescu

In 2015, I took up a position at UCL’s School of Slavonic and East European Studies in London. Shortly before my arrival, The Romanians are Coming, a three-part documentary series featuring Romanians on a quest for a better life in the United Kingdom, had just been televised and was being hotly debated in the British and Romanian press as well as on social media. Having spent the previous decade in postgraduate degrees in the United States, where outside of Slavic and Eastern European Studies programs, few can place Romania on any physical or mental map, I experienced The Romanians are Coming as a rude reminder of my country’s visibility in Europe and Romanians’ unenviable status as ‘significant others’ in relation to a perceived ‘European’ core of values and economic prosperity. With visibility, however, also comes the burden of (self)-identification. Shown in response to the United Kingdom’s lifting of work restrictions for Romanians and Bulgarians in 2014, The Romanians are Coming (Channel 4) was advertised as ‘seeking the truth behind the headlines about immigration’. These headlines included Nigel Farage’s apocalyptic scenarios of a Romanian invasion likely to increase criminality, steal ‘British jobs’, and put unbearable pressure on the UK’s welfare system. Stoking anti-immigrant sentiments, Farage’s hard Eurosceptic and far-right UK Independence Party (UKIP) had comfortably won the EU Parliamentary elections in 2014. Immigration continued to be a top issue in the 2015 general elections in the UK as a result. Immigration and its alleged pressures on the welfare system, at a time of increased austerity measures, would eventually end up tilting the balance in favour of the Leave vote in the 2016 EU Referendum. To get to the core of this hot topic, The Romanians Are Coming promised to give British viewers an inside look into this pre-


Diana Georgescu

sumably still little-known, but increasingly important, breed: the Romanians. A sign of their marginality, the Romanians seem to have remained virtually unknown to the British public until then. This is despite the fact that Romania was symbolically reunited with its ‘more civilised’ western European relatives after the violent collapse of Nicolae Ceaușescu’s regime in 1989, later making the union official by joining NATO in 2004 and the EU in 2007. In a move that angered many in the Romanian community, the documentary chose to focus on the outcasts of Romanian society: the poor, the uneducated, and the sick. Some of the participants also belonged to an internal ‘Other’, the Roma, an ethnic minority heavily discriminated across much of eastern Europe. The Romanians are Coming thus followed the protagonists as they made their way from Romania’s slums to central London and across the United Kingdom in the hope of saving their families from poverty. The show presented the protagonists using, or even abusing, the British National Health Service (NHS) and taxpayers’ money as they tried to access health and welfare opportunities unavailable in Romania. The second episode, however, promised to address ‘middle-class immigration’. In doing so, it introduced viewers to a nurse from Constanta, who ended up working in a care home for the elderly in Sheffield. Despite this, the focus throughout remains on the unskilled, often unemployable, easily exploited labour force, who sleep rough in the streets and overcrowded flats.1 In a bid for authenticity, which convinced many British journalists that the story is told ‘completely from the point of view of the immigrants themselves’,2 the documentary is narrated in broken English by Alex, one of the Roma protagonists. Alex Qualifying a care home worker as ‘middle-class’ is itself problematic, especially since many aspects of the protagonist’s story indicate the precarious nature of her work in the United Kingdom, including changes to the destination town seemingly made by the hiring agency without notice. 2 Ellen Jones, ‘The Romanians Are Coming, Channel 4 – TV review: Playing the system? English-speaking Alex is cleaning our streets while sleeping rough’, Independent, 18 February 2015, https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/reviews/the-romanians-are-coming-channel-4-tv-review-playing-the-system-english-speaking-alexis-cleaning-10052280.html Last accessed 31/05/2019. See also Sam Wallaston, ‘The Romanians are Coming: funny, balanced, and tinged with tragedy’, Guardian, 18 February 2015. 


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was chosen not least because, in his voice, the narrative often seems to challenge fearmongering politicians like Farage. Alex urges viewers not to let politicians ‘pull the wool over your eyes so that they can get some extra votes’ and provides statistics on the number of Romanians who work, pay taxes, and contribute to the British economy. The extent to which Alex ventriloquises the voices and views of the producers has, however, not been examined. The pretention of allowing Romanian immigrants, and the dilapidated slums of Romania, to ‘speak for themselves’ thus enables the producers to eschew questions of responsibility over how Romanian immigration is framed. This is an inescapable act of mediating the ‘truth behind the headlines’. In its focus on migration, the documentary captures an emerging European division between the ‘old’ and ‘new’ Europe, post-1989. This separates the rule-making countries at the core of the EU and the rule-takers in its formerly socialist, eastern European and/or Balkan periphery. With statistics registering the rate of (mostly) young Romanians fleeing the country since it joined the EU at 3.6 million, or 17 per cent of the total population, second only to war-torn Syria, the trend is real and worrying.3  The trend has already led to significant workforce shortages, a loss of 0.6–0.9 per cent from annual GDP growth between 1999– 2014, and growing concerns over public finances for pensions, given Romania’s increasingly aging population.4  While some see this East-West division as an inevitable legacy of state socialism, or as a failure of post-socialist governments to promote liberalism and free markets, other commentators point convincingly to the ways in which EU institutions and policies perpetuate inequalities between its core and its southern and eastern peripheries.5 See the United Nations’ 2015 International Migration Report: https:// www.un.org/en/development/desa/population/migration/publications/migrationreport/docs/MigrationReport2015_Highlights.pdf. 4 ‘Eastern Europe’s workers are emigrating, but its pensioners are staying’, Economist, 19 January 2017, https://www.economist.com/europe/ 2017/01/19/eastern-europes-workers-are-emigrating-but-itspensioners-are-staying/. 5 Thomas Piketty, ‘2018, the year of Europe’, Le Blog de Thomas Piketty, 16 January 2018, http://piketty.blog.lemonade.fr/2018/01/16/2018-theyear-of-Europe. 3


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High among these is the manner in which local politicians conspire with foreign investors to keep wages rock-bottom and weaken workers’ rights. This explains how Romania became ‘an economist’s dream and a worker’s nightmare’, leading to an exodus of labourers. Thus, although the UK is not Romanians’ preferred destination in the EU, the 400,000-plus Romanians who were working and living in the UK by 2018 acquired visibility because they became the second-largest group of non-UK nationals after Poles. The Romanians are Coming, however, never tries to seriously address the structural inequalities that fuel what appears in the media as ‘Romanian mass immigration’. They are occasionally echoed by the protagonists, who comment on the division of labour between migrant and domestic work: ‘In a sense, we are taking jobs from British people, but shit jobs’, says Alex as he sweeps the Central London streets he will later sleep on. Separated from his young wife and son to pursue the dream of western abundance, the Roma narrator concludes the series by questioning the policy of free movement in the EU: ‘Since the start of 2014, I have been free to work anywhere in the EU. But where is freedom if I have to leave home because I am too poor?’ These poignant queries remain purely rhetorical questions, overshadowed in the documentary by the raw human emotions of immigration and poverty: alienation, indignity, exploitation, and family separation. Inviting emotions, but conveniently ignoring the larger structural forces propelling eastern European immigrants to richer EU countries, the show naturalizes their plight, implying it is somehow inherent to the people it afflicts. By shocking and entertaining audiences with extremes of economic and cultural backwardness, the documentary presents Romanian immigrants and the Romania they flee as apparently lacking essential ‘European’ characteristics. The Romanian Roma protagonists featured in the show live next to the dumping ground in the slums of Baia Mare, riding horses and surviving on scrapping metal. Their presence on the screen is meant to indicate the extent to which anti-Roma discrimination is institutionalized in Romania. This community was moved there at the behest of the town hall to make room for a theological institution. Other protagonists are ‘dirt-poor Romanians’ who cannot afford to fix their teeth or get their children much-needed surgery at home.

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While these people deserve our pity, they are not entirely sympathetic characters, provoking as much sympathy as they do fear and ‘disgust’, as one British interviewee puts it. Some protagonists seem to abuse the NHS and benefits system, showing little care or even understanding of the burden this puts on the UK taxpayer. Another factor to consider is how Romanian immigration is represented as ‘male’. The show features only one woman and, as a result, could reinforce the element of ‘threat’ found in UKIP’s propagandistic warnings about an ‘invasion’ of Romanian criminal gangs.6 Finally, the show emphasizes the immigrants’ own cultural ‘backwardness’, particularly their sexism and superstitious religiosity. When asked what they think of British women, three men, UK-bound on a crowded bus mutter ‘we’ll nail them’ through toothless grins. The implied threat is defused only by their unconvincing performances of masculinity. The viewer will later see the same men cry and cross themselves assiduously when they fail to get jobs and have to face their families as losers rather than heroic breadwinners. Fitting well into the pattern of ‘poverty porn’ so common on recent British television, this series came in a long line of shows that commercialise the plight of immigrants and the British poor. The show’s ambivalent messages both confirm and debunk stereotypes about Romanian immigrants. This gives it a broad appeal, offering Romanian immigrants as scapegoats for how the UK welfare system appears to have failed the struggling white British working-classes. At the same time, it presents them as objects of pity, charity, or high-minded tolerance to the British middle classes.7 The associations between masculinity and criminality are more likely in the broader context of the recent public rhetoric around Syrian immigration, divided between anti-immigrant factions that use the imagery of seemingly single men forcing the gates and fences of Europe, while pro-immigrant groups (NGOs, journalists) resort to images of women and children or families to defuse the implications of unwanted invasion. See Elissa Helms, ‘Men at the borders: Gender, victimhood, and war in Europe’s refugee crisis’, focaalblog, 22 December 2015, http://focaalblog.com/2015/12/22/elissa-helms-men-at-theborders-gender-victimhood-and-war-in-europes-refugee-crisis. 7 To mention just a few recent shows in this genre: On Benefits and Proud (Channel 5), Gypsies on Benefits and Proud (Channel 5), The 6


Diana Georgescu

Many British journalists, who arguably fall into this latter category, ranging from those writing for the Guardian to those publishing in the widely-read tabloid the Metro, lauded the show, encouraging viewers to watch it because ‘It’ll give you all the emotions’ and ‘You’ll realise how fortunate you are.’8 The plight of Romanian immigrants might, indeed, have given a self-esteem boost to the many Brits suffering the effects of Tory austerity policies. The latter were (briefly) featured in the show. When asked about Romanian immigrants, working class British interviewees characterized them as ‘thieves’ and ‘disgusting people’ diluting their towns’ good old ‘British stock’. While the show seems to confirm their views, and thus validate them as audiences, it subverts them on another level. Poor Brits are, here, exposed for their racism and political naivety, having fallen under the spell of politicians like Farage, i.e. for matching Romanian immigrants in their economic and cultural backwardness. Defining themselves in opposition to such blunt expressions of narrow-mindedness, the more liberally inclined audiences could experience a different set of emotions, including a moral sense of righteousness at debunking racist stereotypes about immigrants. Some commentators asked important questions, however. If, they said, poverty, lack of opportunity, and Roma discrimination are genuine Romanian realities (and they certainly are), how can we fault the show’s producers for merely putting them on screen? This suggests that it is not the revelation of significant ethnic and social problems in Romania that is the problem. At issue is, rather, the ways in which these problems are dehistoricized and essentialized as inherent ‘Eastern’ characteristics that serve to strengthen Great Britain’s sense of its own civilizational superiority. Scheme (BBC), Saints and Scroungers (BBC), The Tricks of the Dole Cheats (Channel 5), Benefits Britain: Life on the Dole (Channel 5), Benefits Street (Channel 4), Immigration Street (Channel 4), Illegal Immigrants and Proud (Channel 5), Benefits: Too Fat to Work (Channel 5), Immigration Nation (Channel 4), Nick & Margaret: We Pay Your Benefits & Too Many Immigrants (BBC1), Skint (Channel 4), Benefits Brits by the Sea (Channel 5). 8 Katie Baillie, ‘6 Reasons why The Romanians are Coming is definitely worth a watch’, Metro, 17 February 2015, https://metro.co.uk/2015/02/ 17/6-reasons-why-the-romanians-are-coming-is-definitely-worth-awatch-5066453.

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In light of recent United Nations reports on the impact of Tory austerity policies, one could make other, more reasonable, UK-Romania comparisons. One could juxtapose destitution in, for example, towns like Oldham, once known for its cotton spinning and coal mining industries, against luxury lifestyles in downtown Bucharest. Perhaps this would lead us to arrive at comparable experiences of poverty and reactionary attitudes in contemporary England. Likened in UN reports to the creation of 19th century workhouses, austerity policies have led to the ‘systematic immiseration of a significant part of the British population’,9 whose lives have been reduced to something, in Thomas Hobbes’s famous formulation, ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short’. Yet, while poverty and xenophobia are essentialized as matters of culture and identity in Europe’s eastern peripheries, they are properly contextualized and explained in terms of specific political and economic factors in the UK. Although they address new manifestations of the East-West divide in immigration trends, shows like The Romanians Are Coming represent that divide by drawing on an enduring discourse with roots in the writings of 18th-century French philosophes as well as the 18th–19th century British and French travel writings, which envisioned European peripheries like Russia or the Balkans as the constitutive ‘Other’ of the civilized European world.10 Not unlike contemporary British journalists, who are discovering ‘how fortunate they are’ during their incursions into the ‘new’ Europe, nineteenth-century travellers, who were steeped in Enlightenment values of modernity, progress, rationality and secularity bemoaned what they perceived as the primitiveness, brutishness, poverty, superstitions, violence and unsuitability for self-rule in the Ottoman Empire’s Christian lands. Similarly, British accounts at the time represented the presumably violent and primitive nature of Balkan populations by analogy with that of the British working classes, which evoked a comparable prospect See United Nations Human Rights Council, ‘Report of the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights on his visit to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’, 23 April 2019, https:// undocs.org/A/HRC/41/39/Add.1. 10 Maria Todorova, Imagining the Balkans (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997); Larry Wolff, Inventing Eastern Europe: The Map of Civilization on the Mind of the Enlightenment (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1994). 9


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of social and political anarchy for their upper-class audiences back home.11 To evoke eastern ‘backwardness’, nineteenth-century travellers also represented eastern European or Balkan populations in terms typically reserved for colonial subjects. Anticipating contemporary observers, British travellers through nineteenth-century Bulgaria, for example, compared the habits of local peasants with ‘the North American tribes of Flat-head Indians’ or noted that ‘the Rayah (Christian Ottoman subjects), like the negro, diffuses around him a peculiar aromatic odour by no means Sabean.’12 These perceptions have persisted in contemporary history: if the association of the region with chaos and violence was revived during the Yugoslav wars in the 1990s, the post-Cold War tendency to equate ‘modernity’ with triumphant liberal capitalism has also lent new credibility to the notion that Europe’s eastern peripheries are economically ‘backward’. This association, built on a Western Cold War logic, which characterized state socialism in terms of political ‘neo-absolutism’, economic mismanagement, and privation, defining it as essentially ‘unmodern’.13 Some scholars have gone further, arguing convincingly that the processes of NATO and EU expansion in the post-socialist period have triggered a ‘downgrading’ rather than an ‘upgrading’ of eastern Europe in the scale of economic and cultural development. As Merje Kuus puts it, eastern Europe is ‘No longer treated as a second world – antagonistic but capable of industrial innovation – but as a variant of Third World – and hence a space under Western tutelage.’14 Eastern Europe has essentially been ‘Third-Worldized’. The Roma narrator in The Romanians are Coming gestures to the Third-Worldization of eastern Europe when discussing the Andrew Hammond, ‘The Uses of Balkanism: Representation and Power in British Travel Writing, 1850–1914’, Slavonic and Eastern European Review 82, no. 3 (July 2004): 601–24. 12 S.G.B. St. Clair and Charles A. Brophy, A Resident in Bulgaria (London: John Murray, 1869), 7 and 17. 13 Paul Betts and Katherine Pence (eds.), Socialist Modern: East German Everyday Culture and Politics (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2008). 14 Merje Kuus, ‘Europe’s Eastern Expansion and the Reinscription of Otherness in East-Central Europe’, Progress in Human Geography 28, no. 4 (August 2004): 472–89. 11

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British reaction to Romanian immigration: ‘You Brits went crazy, like we are the Taliban or something.’ Most importantly for post-1989 dynamics, the entire process of EU accession was framed in patronising terms, whereby ‘young’ and ‘inexperienced’ applicants were meant to learn how to be ‘European’ from the Union’s old and uncontested democracies. Historically envisioned as the bridge between East and West, barbarity and civilization, eastern European candidates have been eager to overcome the legacies of socialist backwardness and prove themselves worthy of their new European family. Exploring similar dynamics of ‘Europeanization’ in 19th-century Bulgaria, Aleksander Kiossev coined the term ‘self-colonization’ to capture the processes whereby eastern European elites internalized, legitimized, and measured themselves against emerging European standards of national and European identity.15 The diverse Romanian responses to the Channel 4 documentary, which say as much about how Romanians perceive themselves as how others perceive them, can give us insights into the dynamics of ‘self-colonization’ in the 21st century. This process has, it should be noted, been largely democratized so that political and intellectual elites are not the only ones measuring themselves against internalized standards of ‘Europeanness’. Probably the most vocal and immediate Romanian response to the show was outrage at the perceived misrepresentation of their community. This reaction was, undoubtedly, heightened by the anti-immigrant rhetoric in the UK. Romanian politicians took issue with the ‘prejudiced’ portrayal and ‘humiliation’ of Romanians. Some UK Romanians, meanwhile, organized a ‘silent protest’ at the headquarters of Channel 4, asking participants to dress in business suits. Others initiated petitions demanding that the show be cancelled, or created Facebook groups to present – usually middle-class and non-Roma – ‘success stories’ of Romanian immigration.16

Alexander Kiossev, ‘Notes on the Self-Colonizing Cultures’, in Bonjana Pejić and David Elliott (eds.), After the Wall: Art and Culture in Post-Communist Europe (Stockholm: Moderna Museet, 1999). 16 On the protest and petitions, see Anamaria Șandra, ‘Channel 4’s New Show Seems to Have Offended the Whole of Romania’, Vice, 25 February 2015, https://www.vice.com/en_uk/article/yvqy5j/the-romanians-are-coming-documentary-channel-4-protest-876. 15


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While these responses made legitimate criticisms of the documentary’s unrepresentative focus on benefits immigration, many commentators shared with the documentary producers an exclusionary notion of European identity. This was often expressed in now-politically-incorrect classist – and even racialized – terms. The latter is evident in responses on social media featuring photos of Indians with the caption ‘The British are coming’, responses meant to both question the Europeanness of the British and emphasise the racial Europeanness or ‘whiteness’ of Romanians. The corollary of such claims is that, by virtue of their whiteness, Romanians are more easily culturally assimilable in the UK. This is also why many documentary viewers felt particularly offended by the conflation of Romanians with the (Romanian) Roma. Because Romanians associate the Roma with racial inferiority and economic underdevelopment, some commentators thought the documentary was a case of the British denial of Romanians’ European identity. This goes for both the show’s producers and its participants. As a socially constructed category, the Roma blends class and racial elements, which explains why poor non-Roma immigrants were unquestioningly assimilated to this category by many Romanian commentators. In other words, it is precisely their embrace of an exclusionary European discourse of identity (and concurrent projection of underdevelopment on a symbolic ‘inner East’) that drives some Romanians to dissociate themselves from their Roma compatriots.17 Aided by the haphazard name similarity, the Roma-Romanian conflation and the angered objections it triggered were not new, having informed previous diplomatic scandals in Italy and France. By comparison, Romanian responses to the Channel 4 documentary were more nuanced, with some online commentators criticising their compatriots’ ‘facile outrage’ at a foreign exposé, arguing instead for accepting and working towards a solution to Romania’s ethnic and social problems.18 Similarly, Romanian This process was described by Milica Bakić-Hayden as ‘nesting orientalism’ in relation to former Yugoslavia, but it is applicable throughout eastern Europe. See Milica Bakić-Hayden, ‘Nesting Orientalisms: The Case of Former Yugoslavia’, The Slavic Review 54, no. 4 (Winter 1995): 917–31. 18 ‘Ne ofensăm prea uşor, ne civilizăm prea greu’, www.petreanu.ro, 19 February 2015, https://petreanu.ro/ne-ofensam-prea-usor-ne-civilizam-prea-greu/. 17

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academics have written a number of critical English-language analyses of the documentary, the reactions it triggered, and the phenomenon of immigration behind it.19  There were also more light-hearted responses that resorted to irony. If you Google the documentary title these days, you’ll likely come across festivals of stand-up comedy featuring Ro­manian comedians in London. This evokes earlier, ingenious responses to the UK’s negative ad campaign meant to dissuade would-be Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants to come to the UK. In response to self-deprecating posters created by Brits in a campaign run by the Guardian, Romanians and Bulgarians initiated their counter-campaigns. Under the heading ‘Why Don’t You Come Over? We may not like Britain, but you will love Romania’, the Romanian campaign was run by the online newspaper, Gândul, and masterminded by the creative director of the Romanian advertising agency GMP.20 The campaign featured posters reading ‘We speak better English than anywhere you’ve been in France’, ‘Our draft beer is less expensive than your bottled water’, ‘We sell more food groups than pie, sausage, fish and chips’ and ‘Charles bought a house here in 2005. And Harry has never been photographed naked once.’ The diversity of Romanian responses suggests a more secure sense of European identity. This evokes the realities of freedom of movement and increased opportunity EU integration has made possible for younger, middle-class, college-educated Romanians, usually conversant in both foreign languages and dominant European values. From student exchange programmes like Erasmus to increased work mobility and the democratization of travel, Romania’s EU integration has significantly contributed to the blurring of the hard borders erected during the Cold War. Citizens of everywhere, Romanians in these generational and class categories go on holiday across the continent, study alongside age peers from around the world in academic centres, belong to transnational networks of European activism, and make strategic deployments of Euro-

See Florentina C. Andreescu, ‘The Romanians are Coming 2015: Immigrant bodies through the British gaze’, European Journal of Cultural Studies 22, nos. 5–6 (2019):  885–907. 20 See http://whydontyoucomeover.gandul.info/.



Diana Georgescu

pean values in struggles against political corruption and other causes, from LGBT and women’s rights to the environment. The post-socialist transformations in eastern Europe, culminating with the region’s integration in the EU, set in motion a number of socio-economic and cultural processes that have brought the ‘new’ and ‘old’ Europe closer together than ever before in contemporary history. Fuelled in part by socio-economic divisions between the European core and its peripheries, increased cross-border movements such as travel and labour migration have allowed for cultural encounters that have both enhanced and challenged the promise of an integrated and inclusive European identity. Focusing on the production and reception of TV shows like The Romanians Are Coming, this piece explored the representations and effects of these encounters. In their depictions of eastern European immigrants in the United Kingdom, British media producers not only drew on familiar TV genres like ‘poverty porn’, but also revived an older discourse that has, since the eighteenth century, constructed the European continent’s eastern and southern margins as the constitutive ‘Other’ of civilised Europe. Echoing 19th-century depictions of southeast Europeans by analogy with Europe’s colonial subjects or lower classes, contemporary British representations were also enabled by the broader language of tutelage characterizing the process of EU accession. Not least because of their growing mobility, eastern Europeans have increasingly returned the gaze as the Romanian reactions to British shows and ad campaigns indicate. While many eastern Europeans have spoken back in the shared civilizational discourse of an exclusionary European identity, their responses, whether angry or ironic, also indicate that the imaginary West of democratic and material plenitude conjured during the Cold War has been progressively demystified. Finally, the cultural production and consumption of a show like The Romanians Are Coming indicates that the historical East-West division of the continent is crisscrossed by important, if often obscured, distinctions of class, generation and education that can weigh heavier than culture or nationality in enabling border crossing.

The two faces of European disillusionment An end to myths about the West and the East

Jarosław Kuisz

In 2011, the feature-film All That I Love1 was selected as the Polish entry in the Best Foreign Language Film category at the Academy Awards. It failed to win an Oscar, but the story – about love and rock music in 1980s communist Poland – had considerable audience appeal. Even before its nomination, the film had been widely screened in western Europe. However, at one of its earliest showings, viewers repeatedly asked the director, Jacek Borcuch, rather bizarre questions. Finally, it dawned on him that, though otherwise favourably disposed, the audience had mistakenly assumed that the action of the film takes place in contemporary Poland. Borcuch was shocked. Recreating life in the communist Polish People’s Republic thirty years before, on screen, had proved a considerable logistical challenge. Finding the right locations, interiors and props hadn’t been easy. Yet, as the director later recalled, at least part of the audience – those from the West – had been labouring under the impression that his film about communist Poland was a depiction of life in 2011. Following the incident, Borcuch inserted a freeze frame displaying the year ‘1981’ at the start of the film. This anecdote dates back several years, but it remains interesting because audiences that come to view foreign art films tend to be quite demanding and well-informed. It is hard not to feel that his experience revealed something important about Europe. The way in which east and central Europe is imagined in the West has changed little – despite regime change and the passage of the years. Experts in international relations or intellectuals with global reputations may disagree here, but my concern lies with the way in which the two halves of Europe imagine one another


Wszystko, co kocham, directed by Jacek Borcuch (Poland, 2010).

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on a daily basis. Because these perceptions must, in the final analysis, impinge on politics. A new Iron Curtain? Roughly a year after Borcuch’s film had been shown in the European Union, the migration crisis of 2015 struck. The Visegrád countries showed strong resistance to the very notion of relocating people, which provoked a combination of confusion and shock in the West. Commentators wrote about a ‘new Iron Curtain’ and it was said that ‘Europe’s pupil was showing signs of resistance’. Many of the political tensions felt in Europe came to be explained through the prism of a conceptual model dating back to the last years of communism and the beginnings of the transition. Some people took offence at central European countries taking a political position that was in any way different. Others were taken aback by the language politicians were using in response to the migration crisis – a language which did indeed often fall short of diplomatic standards. Yet others were astonished by the deep gulf that had opened up and torn through European solidarity. It was soon being widely said that modernization in post-communist countries had been superficial, and that people were slipping back into their ‘old ways’ – a term that remained ill-defined. This is not a view that I share. It seems to me that many of the disagreements we are seeing in Europe today emerge from misleading descriptions of the present situation. Essentially, people have failed to notice that, for some years now, something ‘completely new’ has been appearing on the horizon. In the thirty years of post-communism, the citizens of the Visegrád countries have never been closer or more similar to western Europeans, in terms of their material status or the functioning of state institutions, than they are today. Yet there can be no doubt that something significant has changed in recent years. This is simply that in the Visegrád countries, the postcommunist myth about the West has lost the power to convince. Consequently, insofar as we function within the European Union, we have found ourselves facing entirely new political challenges.


Jarosław Kuisz

What myth? Since the 1989 revolutions, in eastern Europe there has been a dominant, naive and uncritical admiration for countries west of the Elbe and for the US. Poland serves as an excellent illustration of this mindset. The first post-communist prime minister of the Third Polish Republic, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, said in the lower house of parliament in August 1989: I am certain that Poland can play an important part in the political, economic and cultural life of Europe. However, the unusually difficult economic situation in the country does not encourage optimism. The same is true in the field of international relations. The civilizational gap between Poland and the societies of developed countries is growing.2

Consequently, the official task of those who were building the Third Republic became to ‘catch up’ with the West. It was widely believed that the gap between Poland and the West had been the result of the misfortunes that befell the country as a result of the unprovoked German-Soviet attack on the Second Republic in September 1939. Subsequently, following the disaster that the Second World War proved to be for Poland, and against the will of most citizens, the Polish People’s Republic was established. The referendum on this and the following elections were rigged. It was a state dependent on the USSR with Soviet troops on its territory. For the next fifty years, the inhabitants of eastern Europe were separated from the West by an Iron Curtain, censorship and propaganda. Milan Kundera expressed it vividly in the New York Review of Books by referring to a ‘kidnapped West’.3 The events that followed, which brought an end to the Soviet regime, are well known. As the Old World shook off the Soviet yoke, the international interest was obvious. In the early 1990s, Paul Berman, a New York liberal intellectual, travelled through the former Eastern Bloc and made what seemed an astonishing discovery. During the course of the anti-communist revolutions, the citizens of east central Tadeusz Mazowiecki, Rok 1989 i lata następne (Warsaw: Prószyński i S-ka, 2012), 40. 3 Milan Kundera, ‘The tragedy of Central Europe’, New York Review of Books, 26 April 1984, 33–38. 2

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Europe had developed an undiscriminating passion for American thought and culture, in all its diversity. From Berman’s perspective, this appeared to be a baffling intermingling of the order of things. Nothing matched. Lowbrow pop-culture had merged with heavyweight philosophical ideas about the nature of democracy. It seemed an astonishing combination – not an image of the West as it really was, but a kind of myth. Observing from Warsaw or Prague, on the other hand, the different elements matched perfectly. Enforced Sovietization had failed. People imagined that if they wished for it hard enough, they could instantly become the West. If not all together then, at the very least, one at a time. You just had to want it very badly and work hard. In other words, the idea that becoming someone entirely different could be fast-tracked, to good effect, served as a powerful impetus for change. A passion for catching up A cultural example might serve to illustrate this. In Poland the passion for ‘catching up where we had fallen behind’ was so intense that, in 1990, cinemas devoted entire weeks to screening nothing but American films. The very existence of Polish cinema was being called into question4 – even though, not long before, people had taken great pride in the successes of Polish cinema in the 1970s and 1980s. Today, the transition is often remembered only in terms of the economic decisions taken at the time. It is true that postcommunist countries made a decision to shake off poverty and drag themselves out of the consequences of central planning using western economic tools. But it is also worth emphasising that Europeans living behind the Iron Curtain were not motivated exclusively by material concerns. On the contrary, Berman was genuinely surprised that for eastern Europeans, western countries also reflected a better world from the ‘moral’ perspective. Anyone who fails to take account of this may likewise fail to understand what lay behind the beginnings of the Third Polish Republic and of other states in east central Europe. Tadeusz Lubelski, Historia kina polskiego: Twórcy, filmy, konteksty (Chorzów: Videograf II, 2008), 501.



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The post-communist myth about the West motivated the citizens of east central Europe to introduce significant economic, legal and social reforms. It united people almost instinctively, as they had shared the experience of poverty, depression and lack of freedom. There was hardly any need for discussion. It was enough to see any household object or car produced in the United States or western Europe, to feel instantly moved to imitate this other, better world, without any sense of irony. It’s easy to forget that this uncritical attitude to the West is neither a well-established tradition, nor some kind of ancient cultural norm. On the contrary: in Poland, for example, the tendency to take inspiration from ‘imported’ ideas or solutions has long competed with an urge to close all doors and function in an exclusively Polish cultural context. This has been true since the days of the First Republic. In the eighteenth century, the modernization that came with the Enlightenment clashed with Sarmatism, the traditional ideology of the Polish nobility. In the nineteenth century many Polish Romantics who contributed to the redefinition of national identity through literature, music or art were highly critical of certain aspects of western civilization.5 Poland was partitioned between Russia, Prussia and Austria at the time, and until 1918 two of these powers (Prussia and Austria) regarded themselves as western. Lastly, the twentieth century brought a series of disappointments for Poland, in particular the fact that, in 1939, France and the United Kingdom failed to keep any of their obligations as Poland’s military allies, and that the agreements made between Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin in 1945 effectively handed eastern Europe to the USSR. It may come as a surprise to people brought up at the end of the Cold War and after that the history of Poland can also be seen in terms of resistance to the West. The words of the Polish poet Cyprian Norwid might serve as a motto for this particular narrative: ‘Europe is an aging madwoman and a drunkard, who commits massacres and murders every few years, to no civilizational or moral end. She is incapable of constructing anything – thick as a brick, conceited, haughty and light-minded.’6

Jerzy Krasuski, Obraz Zachodu w twórczości romantyków polskich (Poznań: Wydawnictwo Poznańskie, 1980). 6 See Ibid., 272.


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According to this view of history, the consequences of the perfidy inflicted on Poland by the West were felt right up to 1989. Yet, after the fall of communism, mistrust of western countries was relegated to the margins of public life for years.7 In the early 1990s, the historian and politician Bronisław Geremek expressed disappointment at the bureaucratic obstructions created by European institutions. Geremek was one of the most pragmatic voices to be heard at the time.8 Nonetheless, most people tended to share the impression Donald Tusk took away after travelling to the West for the first time. ‘It was sheer delight’, he said. No surprise, then, that he sought to remember it for the rest of his life.9 Until very recently, many of today’s east central European Eurosceptics believed uncritically in the myth of the West. Among the most ardent believers were Viktor Orbán and Jarosław Kaczyński. As a young liberal, Orbán had called for Hungary to be included in the institutional structures of the West. Kaczyński took a similar position and was quite capable of using this to launch attacks on his political adversaries. In 1993 he argued that if his opponents were to pursue more decisive policies ‘we could be a lot further along the road to joining NATO and the EEC.’10 In 2003, like other mainstream political parties in Poland, Kaczyński’s Law and Justice Party supported the country’s accession to the European Union. For years, Law and Justice politicians argued that although the EU might not be perfect, it offered an antidote to globalization. While making the case that democracy can function only within a framework of nation states, Kaczyński nevertheless chose to make reference to the German-British liberal academic Ralf Dahrendorf.11 Law and Justice worked out a polit It should be emphasized that, after the fall of communism, liberal democratic political trends competed with nationalist populism in countries throughout the region. Jacques Rupnik, L’autre Europe: Crise et fin de communisme (Paris: Odile Jacob, 1993), 410. 8 Jacek Żakowski, Rok 1989: Geremek odpowiada, Żakowski pyta (Warsaw: Wydawnictwo Plejada, 1990), 344. 9 See Donald Tusk in Janina Paradowska and Jerzy Baczyński (eds.), Teczki liberałów (Poznań: Wyd. Obserwator, 1993), 60. 10 Jarosław Kaczyński, Czas na zmiany (Warsaw: Editions Spotkania, 1993), 89. 11 Piotr Zaremba and Michał Karnowski, Alfabet braci Kaczyńskich: Rozmawiali Michał Karnowski i Piotr Zaremba (Kraków: Wydawnictwo M, 2010), 290. 7


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ical position which Kaczyński reiterated in his pre-election speech in 2015: we must be active participants in the European Union, so that we might be one of the six most important states within it. Many more examples could be cited. For almost as long as the Third Republic has existed, the ‘better world’ that the West represents to Poles has been largely imagined rather than examined. In a sense, Francis Fukuyama’s celebrated book The End of History and the Last Man – so widely criticized in the West – gave almost perfect expression to the state of mind then experienced by the citizens of eastern Europe. People were not particularly concerned about the strength of Fukuyama’s theoretical framework or its endurance. In the early 1990s, many intellectuals in Warsaw, Prague or Budapest (who may be Eurosceptics today) simply wanted the American author to be right. Under communism, Juliusz Mieroszewski, a distinguished Polish political analyst living in exile, reminded us that Poland belongs neither to the East nor to the West. But in the wake of what happened in 1989, this was hardly at the forefront of our minds. Instead, we were thinking about how to ‘escape the East’ as quickly as we could, at any cost. The rest – political agendas, economic decisions, military alliances – were simply means to this end. But things move on. New generations have grown up and uncritical delight in all things western has been relegated to history. At a more profound level, some of our compatriots have remembered the obvious: how the West perceived east central Europe in the past, how culturally different it is, and so forth. Invoking the West to embarrass For years it had been easy to shame an adversary by saying: ‘What would the West think of that!’ Anyone capable of creating a new perception of the West in Poland could, in theory, win over hearts and minds. It would need to be a vision that was neither postcommunist nor mythical, but pragmatic: an image of the West as a natural place for Poland to be. But this does not change the fact that, today, EU supporters in Poland are faced with a task harder than any in the history of the Third Republic so far. Debates on the rule of law in Poland and Hungary abound. Yet for some years now attitudes to the West have been challenged by economists

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who suggest abandoning imitative innovation in favour of a national model of modernization. Today, thinking tends to be considerably more pragmatic than it used to be. To that extent, the countries of east central Europe are already in the West – because such an approach is most common among western members of the European Union. But this has occurred only to a limited degree. Nearly three decades have passed since the fall of the Soviet Empire, yet despite the EU flags fluttering from Lisbon to Tallinn, the two halves of Europe have failed to meet in many respects, especially on issues of collective memory and the way society is imagined. In 2003, for example, nearly 80 per cent of Polish voters expressed their support for joining the EU in a nationwide referendum. Not long afterwards, in 2005, two referenda in the Netherlands and France rejected the proposal for a European constitution. The Netherlands voted 61 per cent and France 55 per cent against. In eastern Europe, the simultaneity of these two events was noted with surprise rather than understanding. The split into a ‘two-speed Europe’ need not necessarily have been a cause for anxiety. On the contrary, some emphasized that as the memory of the Second World War fades and no longer serves as a strong integrating factor, eastern Europe could contribute a new impetus to European integration.12 It had, after all, only relatively recently emerged from the trauma of communism. Today, we can see that the predictions of that time had little bearing on actual developments. A pragmatic West The decline of the western myth was inevitable. Today, the criticism of Brussels by zealous Eurosceptics can be heard with particular clarity, yet many east central Europeans will remember the naivety of the post-communist years with real nostalgia. This isn’t a longing for a lost youth, or an enthusiasm of ‘those who got lucky’, nor fantasy or delusion. It is simply that the 15 years between 1989 and the accession of east central European countries Timothy Garton Ash, ‘The Crisis of Europe: How the Union Came Together and Why It’s Falling Apart’, Foreign Affairs, 91, no. 5 (2012): 2–15.



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into the European Union were, in spite of everything, an exceptional time for their political culture. In conditions of peace, with no direct threat to life and health, with no fear of intervention by foreign armies, there was virtually universal agreement on one question: that Poland should join NATO and the European Union. Why the post-communist myth about the West lost its power has not been adequately examined. Those who designed the Third Polish Republic wanted us to become westerners. That is all. Accelerated Europeanization apart, they had no plan for preparing the community from within. The process seemed to suggest an escape from the national community instead. Yet it is worth considering that there has been a broad consensus on political ends and that, despite disagreement on certain issues, it has proven possible to cooperate. The myth of the West may have exhausted itself, but the memory of the myth remains, eclipsing Polish stereotypes of rebellion, internecine war and the like. The end of the myth of the East Post-communist myths have declined on both sides of the former ‘Iron Curtain’. For some years now, we have heard statements from the West implying that peoples of the Visegrád countries are ‘different from us’. Political lessons have been drawn. They include proposals for a ‘two-speed Europe’, ideas for creating a closed eurozone, and even the notion of a ‘smaller’ Europe. One could therefore raise questions about the disappearance of the other half of the post-communist myth: the myth of the East. Not only the West, but also east central Europe was mythologized, as was the entire Eastern Bloc. As the minds of eastern Europeans were overflowing with pop cultural references that helped shape the myth of the West, western Europeans and Americans had created a comparable fantasy. Since I started my argument with a film, let me conclude with another. The Russia House was made in 1990. Based on a novel by John Le Carré, it depicted ordinary people, ‘good’ people, finding common ground while working ‘alongside’ evil politicians and insidious representatives of the secret services. The heroes, played by Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer, fall in love. Post-Cold War rapprochement is depicted as a ‘hot peace’.

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The film is full of clichés, but it made a serious point. During the Cold War and the 1989 revolutions, a widespread perception suggested that ‘the people’ were ‘good’ and ‘the regime’ was ‘bad’. This popularized version of Rousseau’s worldview allowed for a simplistic separation of victims from their persecutors. It encouraged solidarity with the downtrodden that transcended borders and regimes. And it enabled people to entertain the hope that, at some unspecified time in the future, once the corrupt communist system had fallen, the volonté générale would prevail. And this, by definition, would be good. The historical injustices of the twentieth century would be rectified. The post-communist expansion of the European Union was based not solely on striving for economic growth. It was also rooted in myths like this. Despite platitudes about the triumph of liberalism in 1989, this narrative did not offer a particularly liberal way of seeing things. It focussed attention on large collectivities such as nations or peoples, instead of individuals and their achievements. In the West, simplification, ignorance and political sentimentalism gave way to an increased awareness of the corruption in communist societies. Eastern Europeans found themselves facing rejection instead of the acknowledgement that post-communist societies are as complex as any other human community. The wane of the West’s fascination with the return to the fold of ‘the other Europe’ was followed by new political proposals. Intellectuals once delighted by the fall of communism are now proposing that the European Union be reduced. They suggest, for example, that a new union of 10 to 12 countries be formed, and that it could rival China or the US. Unfortunately, this kind of argumentation is most prone to feed the populist agenda in the first instance, and may prepare the ground for further divisions, if not disintegration of the EU. Myths are what they are, and time will tell if they are important. Whether old stories shall be replaced by new myths about some kind of essential difference between the two Europes remains an open question. Alternatively, we may continue to build a European Union founded on shared solidarity and greater self-knowledge, even as we face challenges that are bound to be very different from those a quarter of a century ago. If the populists of the Old World can be said to have achieved anything at all, it is that they have forced everyone to open a genuine, panEuropean debate on this issue.

Go East!

Aleida Assmann

Over the last few years, the political scientist Ivan Krastev has made a big impact with his brilliant interpretation of the migration crisis in Europe. Krastev has observed and analysed Europe’s split into East and West like no other commentator. A  Bulgarian, he speaks from an eastern European perspective, which is what makes his voice and diagnosis so important. His commentary is interesting for its succinct and paradoxical argumentation, and for its focus on collective psychology, rather than political strategy. However, as far as I am aware, there has been little critique of his ideas. Krastev has repeatedly described the mass migration movement of 2015/2016 as ‘Europe’s 9/11’.1 He argues that this was not just a major caesura in the history of the European Union, but also a trauma of historical dimensions. This is a problematic description, first because it tacitly transfers the category of trauma from the refugees to the host society, and secondly because it equates refugees with terrorists. The refugees were reacting to danger and existential emergency: the fact that there might have been ‘sleepers’ or ‘time bombs’ among them does not justify the simplistic analogy. That leads to another reason why the description is troubling: it supports a radical right-wing discourse that literally equates refugees with terrorists and casts host societies as victims.

Ivan Krastev, After Europe (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017).


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Go West! Krastev revisited his theory of the imitation imperative in a 2018 essay co-authored with the legal scholar Stephen Holmes.2 The two start from the assumption that the current rejection of liberal democracy in numerous EU countries has less to do with ideology than collective psychology. The East-West opposition is no longer explained in terms of differing political doctrines, but of the dynamics of emotion, with national pride taking centre stage. Pride is the basis of national self-esteem; any violation of this pride is experienced as a form of humiliation. In the early 1990s, the philosopher Avishai Margalit defined the ‘decent society’ as one whose institutions did not humiliate individuals and whose citizens did not humiliate one another. Now, it is a question of the humiliation of groups, of entire societies and nations. This collective humiliation is caused not by physical constraint, public exposure, scorn or other forms of denigration, but by more subtle processes such as paternalism, the pressure to normalize and – crucially – an ‘imitation imperative’. The western way of life that in Poland and Hungary was until recently seen as a vision of a better future, now meets resistance, defiance and open hostility. Krastev and Holmes even talk of the populists’ ‘ultimate revenge’ against western liberalism. In order to explain the abrupt transformation of the East from eager Europhiles to militant Eurosceptics, Krastev and Holmes shift their analysis to the unspoken, focusing on elementary feelings such as aversion, animosity and resentment. The postsocialist nations, they remind us, suffer from an acute lack of recognition. Having been denied any national pride during the Soviet era, they were still not free after 1989, but were instead expected to become like the liberal West. Under this moral and political paternalism, one particular desire became increasingly urgent: to be what you are but have never been allowed to be, namely a homogenous nation state and an illiberal society in a closed territory. Holmes and Krastev do not believe this to be the best form of statehood for the post-communist countries. They

Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes, ‘Explaining Eastern Europe: Imitation and Its Discontents’, Journal of Democracy, 29, no. 3 (July 2018): 117–28.



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do, however, construct a narrative of Europe in which this was the only course available after 1989. I argue that this construction of history is fatalistic. We do not have to tell the story of the European Union in the way they do; we can also tell a different story, in which this negative teleology intersects with alternative possibilities and perspectives. Only then can we extricate ourselves from the favourite mindset of many male intellectuals: one of gloomy prognosis, twilight, decline, and apocalypse. Copy the West! If this edict really has caused so much resentment and humiliation, then it needs to be examined more closely. To start with, it is surprising that Krastev and Holmes place so much emphasis on the concept of the West. The West had its heyday as a normative rallying cry during the Cold War, when it was held up in opposition to the East. Like NATO, the West was defined in transatlantic terms and included the United States. Although NATO still exists, the ‘West’ rapidly lost its meaning after the USA lost political interest in Europe. The American historian Michael Kimmage has looked closely at the dissolution of the concept of ‘the West’ after the USA’s decoupling from Europe. In his article, The Decline of the West, he demonstrates that ‘the West’ was a polemic term that condensed many things: the mobilising political rhetoric of the Cold War era; the transatlantic alliance; a Eurocentric concept of history and the Enlightenment; and cultural institutions at American universities such as the ‘great books’ courses that cultivated a western intellectual heritage.3 According to Kimmage, the renunciation of the concept of the West began with Obama and the political elite that advised him. This was a generation that in the 1980s attended universities that had banished the West from their curricula. Western culture and enlightenment values were replaced by a focus on multiculturalism and a commitment to human rights that no longer required a detour via Europe. Kimmage observes that, ‘current U.S. and European foreign policy is shapeless or rudderless because the narrative of Western liberty has been removed from it and no comparable narrative found to take its place.’4 The European states, which Michael Kimmage, ‘The Decline of the West: An American Story’, The German Marshall Fund of the United States, 4 June 2013, http://www. gmfus.org/publications/decline-west-american-story. 4 Ibid., 16. 3

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no longer see themselves as US satellites, have also abandoned the old rallying cry of the West, and have long been setting their own agenda in Europe. The idea of the compact West, celebrated during the heyday of modernization theory, no longer holds sway on either side of the Atlantic. So why now declare it to be a norm? Could it be that the concept of the ‘West’ has re-emerged only because it has the power to mobilize aversion? Reading Krastev’s and Holmes’s essay, I am unsure whether their intention is to analyse resentment or incite it. This ambiguity might of course be deliberate. In any event, the resuscitation of the concept is destructive, because it obscures something that we urgently need today: a more precise memory of European history, as a way of dealing with the current crisis. The pathos of freedom If we free ourselves from old polemics and look more closely at the postwar history of Europe, we see not only a steadily deepening rift between East and West, but also an astonishing set of interconnections. Holmes and Krastev make no mention of human rights as a key driving force in the history of the European Union, for example. They are completely on-trend here. Human rights are not considered sexy. However, the argument about the imitation imperative appears in a very different light if we recall an episode from EU history that Krastev and Holmes completely ignore. Human rights do not have an uninterrupted history. Although they have existed since the American Declaration of Independence, the French Revolution and the Haitian Revolution, in 1948 they were declared anew by veterans of the First World War and members of the French Resistance such as René Cassin. Anything but a historical constant, human rights have consistently had to be rediscovered and re-contested under new political circumstances. Cassin was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1968. Few people noticed this in Germany, because human rights had again slipped off the agenda. The student movement had other concerns, including the global class struggle against capitalism and imperialism. But things were very different in the Warsaw Pact countries. In March 1968, Polish intellectuals around Adam Michnik organised student protests and until 1986 regularly spent time


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in prison. In Prague in January 1969, Jan Palach immolated himself in protest at the Soviet occupation of his country. In August 1975, the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe in Helsinki signed a Final Act guaranteeing the Eastern Bloc countries new forms of cooperation, including recognition of frontiers and mutual non-intervention. In return, the Eastern Bloc countries undertook to uphold human rights. The living conditions in the Soviet dictatorships had brought freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief to the fore. The seventh chapter of the Final Act had consequences that the governments of Warsaw Pact countries did not foresee. In many countries, ‘Helsinki Groups’ of dissidents emerged that took the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a key point of reference. One of them was Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia, a civil rights movement which included Václav Havel, the future president. Charter 77 campaigned for the rights of artists and others subject to political persecution. Another example was the strike by workers at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdańsk, who founded the first trade union in the Eastern Bloc under the name of Solidarity. The citizens’ movements in the GDR, and their peaceful protest against the repressive structures of the state, are part of this same struggle for human and civil rights. The funeral of George H. W. Bush at the end of 2018 served as an occasion for the media to recall the former president’s famous statement in 1989, ‘We have won the Cold War!’ Bush meant not only that the Americans had won, but something much broader: that capitalism had defeated communism. This is the history written by the winners today. But it is superficial and tells only half the story. I would argue that the fall of the Iron Curtain and the enlargement of EU were underpinned by the power of human rights, which by then were no longer merely being paid lip service by politicians, but also increasingly being claimed from below by citizens’ movements across the world. The Helsinki Declaration marked the beginning of a détente between the East and the West that paved the way for the subsequent unification of Europe. This was the exact moment when human rights were reactivated and rediscovered as the collective foundation of a new and broader Europe. In other words, the Cold War was won not only by the Americans, but also by the European politicians that signed the Helsinki Final Act in 1975; and it was not only capitalism, but also eastern European

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dissent that ushered in the end of the conflict between East and West. The dissident intellectual Gáspár Miklós Tamás, who lived under the Ceauşescu regime in Romania, has emphasized this: ‘Many political scientists today talk about how the system was changed from outside and from above. Nonsense. It might not have been the whole population that changed the system, but there were two, three million of us back then, there were clubs, debates, meetings, demonstrations, society was in unbelievable ferment. The irrepressible desire for freedom in 1989, this pathos of freedom, that was a moment of great beauty. That remains.’5 In the narrative of the imitation imperative, however, nothing remains. The Eastern Bloc states were not, as the winners would have it, ‘gifted’ with western democracy, let alone colonialized, overrun and overpowered. On the contrary, they fought for democracy themselves, and in doing so brought their own utopia into the European Union. This is why the human rights struggle up to and including 1989 is such an important chapter in the EU’s history. Liberal – illiberal – neoliberal If the real roots of resentment and humiliation in eastern Europe are to be uncovered, then this history must be recalled. Because there is no doubt that these feelings exist. However, I would argue that they result less from the imitation imperative than from the slipperiness of the term ‘liberal’. Krastev and Holmes characterise the illiberal transformation of eastern European democracies into authoritarian systems as a ‘counterrevolution against liberalism’. But setting up the ‘liberal versus illiberal’ opposition is not enough. To complete the picture, and to get a better handle on the collective psychology referenced by the authors, we need to add the term ‘neoliberal’. What central and eastern European dissidents hoped and fought for was liberal democracy; but what they got was a neoliberal economic order that opened up new opportunities for the globalization of capital. This was the other side of the 1989 coin. The process began in the 1970s in parallel to the Helsinki Final 5

Keno Verseck, ‘Ein falsches Wort zu viel’, Amnesty Journal, no. 12 (2018): 66–67.


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Act. The starting gun was fired by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, who laid the foundations of unchecked neoliberalism. In this sense, capitalism was indeed victorious. Ever since, there has been no overarching strategy for closing the gap between increasing wealth and increasing poverty. In the process, German reunification erased many traces of the history of the East and the biographies of its citizens. Criticism of the repressive and doctrinaire GDR regime, justified as it was, tended to overlook this. Moreover, we should not forget that, for all its problems, state socialism also guaranteed rights to housing, healthcare and education. Though standards were often low, and higher education was withheld from bourgeois and dissident students, these rights were as self-evident in the East as free speech was in the West. With neoliberalism, all that ended.6 A rift is opening up between ‘liberal’ in the sense of democratic, and ‘neoliberal’ in the sense of the ‘politically uncontrollable functional imperatives of a global capitalism that is being driven by unregulated financial markets.’7 Instead of speaking of an ‘imitation imperative’, which only amplifies polarization between East and West, we should be discussing the possibility of a ‘solidarity imperative’ based on EU integration as a means of support and protection against global turbo-capitalism. The political changes of 1989 appear in such a negative light in Holmes’s and Krastev’s narrative because the two authors frame the relationship between liberalism and nationalism as one of irreconcilable opposites. Indeed, members of the younger generation in what was West Germany did and still do consider themselves Europeans first and Germans second. In Austria, too, many liberal left intellectuals also struggle with the concept of the nation which they automatically associate with illiberal nationalism or national socialism. This is a historical problem specific to these countries, but the emphasis on anti-national cosmopolitanism is by no means the official doctrine of an EU controlled by Berlin, as Krastev and Holmes suggest. Every EU nation links liberalism as a matter of course with its own cultural identity and autonomy. It is these nations, with their languages, cultures, landscapes and histories, that light up the stars of Europe. Today no one seriously believes, as in the I am indebted to Susan Neiman for this point. Jürgen Habermas, ‘Sind wir noch gute Europäer?’, Die Zeit, 5 July 2018.

6 7

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heyday of modernity, that progress is endless, or that globalization will sooner or later dissolve nations and religions into an abstract, cosmopolitan, world society. On the contrary, normality in the EU is not the normative pressure of indiscriminate westernization and individualization, but the importance, the recognition, the appreciation and the preservation of the cultural diversity of nations. One only needs to consider how much European funding has gone into stabilizing the cultural heritage of so many different cities and regions. There are now important reasons to abandon this identification of liberalism with antinationalism, which Krastev and Holmes present as the EU’s default position and norm. Nations only exist as states, which provide them with their form and scope. The EU project has been created for liberal democratic nations. In his recent book Identity, Francis Fukuyama argues that aggressive identity politics now threaten to fragment the liberal democratic nation.8 Yet one searches his book in vain for any differentiation between ‘liberal’ and ‘neoliberal’. The differences between ‘liberal democracy’ and ‘neoliberal economy’ are not only semantic, but also ethical. The writer Ingo Schulze has articulated this in clear and cogent terms. In a liberal democracy, he writes we must choose representatives who will safeguard the interests of society and protect it from being looted. We need representatives who can and want to prevent a market-compatible democracy and to create a democracy-compatible market. We need representatives who believe that freedom and social justice are inseparable – and not only at a national level. And there must be a majority that wants and demands this.9

The sociologist Wolfgang Streeck makes a similar point. Capitalism and democracy, he argues, coexisted peacefully in the postwar era for as long as the welfare state ensured ongoing and sus Francis Fukuyama, Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018). See also: Fukuyama, ‘The new identity politics: Rightwing populism and the demand for dignity’, Eurozine, 18 April 2019, https://www.eurozine. com/new-identity-politics/. 9 Ingo Schulze, Unsere schönen neuen Kleider: Gegen eine marktkonforme Demokratie – für demokratiekonforme Märkte (Berlin: Hanser, 2012). 8


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tainable downward redistribution of wealth. At the end of the 1970s a new phase of deregulation began, involving a liberalization of markets and a roll-back of the state. This led states to stop placing legal or de facto limits on the mobility of capital. Streeck does not refer to a ‘counterrevolution against liberalism’, as Krastev and Holmes do, but to a ‘neoliberal counterrevolution’, in which capital breaks free of the shackles of postwar social regulation.10 It was under these circumstances that capitalism began to decouple from democracy, a process manifested as a decoupling of citizens from their role as consumers. But when everyone is competing unchecked for the same resources in a globalized world, might automatically makes right. Streeck therefore critiques the ‘disempowerment of the democratic nation state as a social site of market-corrective policy in the process of so-called “globalization”’, and demands that markets be integrated into states rather than vice versa.11 ‘Liberal’ means ‘free’. But it makes a difference whether it is people that are being freed or capital, since the liberation of capital leads to increasingly inequitable forms of existence and opportunities in life. It is not only the liberal nation state that can counter this process. It can also be achieved by an association of states such as the European Union. The German constitutional lawyer Gertrude Lübbe-Wolff has argued that the central problem with globalization is its combination of unlimited markets and lack of national regulatory bodies. The role of the latter ‘would not only be to facilitate market forces, but also to delimit them in the interests of the common good.’12 The EU, she argues, is poorly equipped to handle globalization because of its ‘transnationalization of markets with little or no democratically controlled regulatory powers.’13 Not only are people today divided by ideology; capital also deepens the rift between the rich and poor.

Wolfgang Streeck, Buying Time: The Delayed Crisis of Democratic Capitalism (London and New York: Verso, 2014). 11 Wolfgang Streeck, ‘Ziemlich beste Feinde: Das spannungsreiche Verhältnis von Demokratie und Kapitalismus’ (lecture at the Schader-Stiftung Symposium in Darmstadt, Germany), 23 June 2016. 12 Gertrude Lübbe-Wolff, ‘Ein Narrativ für die Europäische Union?’, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 6 January 2018. 13 Ibid. 10

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A new imitation imperative? Thirty years after 1989, the ‘pathos of freedom’ which Gáspár Miklós Tamás spoke of has, in many eastern European countries, been replaced by a pathos of authoritarianism. Freedom failed to pay off in the long term because too many people exercised their right to freedom of movement. Let’s go West! was the slogan for a brand of West German cigarettes in the 1980s, and even now the message has a utopian pull. With the collapse of communism, an imaginary longing suddenly became a real possibility. People voted with their feet and moved to western countries, where they could earn more. Holmes and Krastev see the history of emigration as the psychological reason for the current doctrine of anti-immigrant isolationism. Borders, they argue, are being ideologically reinforced not only to keep out foreigners, but also to keep in those who have stayed. Open society becomes the enemy; closed society and support for a homogenous nation disengage people from Europe and divide the EU through ‘walls of loyalty’. Holmes and Krastev downplay the authoritarian core of this offensive against the European Union. No, they say, there is no ideology behind it, just the defiant habitus of nations that, after a long history of humiliation, now insist on their own strength. I regard this interpretation as recklessly simplistic, because it ignores the doctrinal core of the current upheaval. Expressions of authoritarian chauvinism paired with xenophobia are today ubiquitous. Putin set the political agenda for this in a speech back to 2001.14 In it he claimed that the task of government was to prescribe a view of history founded on pride and honour, and to instil patriotism among citizens. Collective unity could only be guaranteed by a combination of national hero-worship and a cult of war. Art and science were to be censored as dangerous sources of dissent, while non-conformists were to be persecuted as foreign agents or simply for failing to be patriots. In Putin’s speech, nationalism replaced communism as the new authoritarian mindset. If anything, it is from Russia that an imitation imperative now emanates.

Jutta Scherrer, ‘Zurück zu Gott und Vaterland: Putin verordnet die patriotische Wiederaufrüstung – per Dekret soll Russland eine verlässliche Staatsmoral erhalten’, Die Zeit, 26 July 2001.



Aleida Assmann

The times are again a-changing. The slogan is now Go East! This, at least, is the logical consequence of Krastev’s and Holmes’s theory. Orbán and Kaczyński are cynically portrayed as the ‘true Europeans’, while the West now imitates the East. The narrative of the imperial and colonial West is certainly compelling. Criticism of the arrogance and hubris of the European Union currently goes down well with intellectuals. Personally, however, I find this clever and eloquent self-critique-cum-self-regard exasperating. It constructs a narrative that parenthesizes and ignores everything potentially able to mediate between East and West. Not everyone in eastern Europe thinks like the ideologues currently in power.15 It would be much less brilliant, but perhaps more constructive, to strengthen basic liberal attitudes, and in doing so to recall the enormous investment made by eastern Europe in the shared European project, rather than ignoring it and thus eradicating it completely. Translated from the German original by Sarah Rimmington


Paweł Adamowicz, Mayor of Gdańsk, was assassinated on stage at a public charity event on 17 January 2019. Gdansk is a city that has many historical layers in Europe: the nearby Westerplatte peninsula was the first goal of Hitler’s invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939; the shipyard workers of Solidarity were at the forefront of the European democracy movement in the 1980s; and it was this same Mayor who made the land available to build a genuinely European Museum of the Second World War, which opened in 2017 and was then immediately dismantled and repurposed.


‘The future was next to you’ An interview with Ivan Krastev on ’89 and the end of liberal hegemony

Simon Garnett: In The Light that Failed, your new book coauthored with the political scientist Stephen Holmes, you provide a compelling interpretation of political developments since 1989, specifically the rise of illiberalism – in central eastern Europe and Russia, but also the US and China. There is a passage in the introduction that neatly summarizes your argument. You write that, ‘After initially high hopes of exporting the West’s political and economic model began to fade, however, revulsion at the politics of imitation gradually spread. An anti-liberal backlash was arguably an inevitable response to a world that had been characterized by a lack of political and ideological alternatives. This absence of alternatives, we submit, even more than the gravitational pull of an authoritarian past or historically ingrained hostility to liberalism, best explains the anti-Western ethos dominating post-communist societies today.’1 Can you elaborate, particularly on what you mean by the ‘politics of imitation’? Ivan Krastev: I was very struck by something that Ben Rhodes, Barack Obama’s close friend and advisor, wrote in his account of the Obama presidency. On the day Obama left the White House and Trump was entering, the question he asked was, ‘What if we were wrong?’2 Not, ‘What went wrong?’ Not, ‘What did we do wrong?’ This was a self-critique by people at the centre of the paradigm we are looking at in the book, whose illusions we also shared. For us, the question was, ‘What if we had got the nature of the post-Cold War period wrong?’ And, if we had, ‘To what extent did we get wrong the sources of support for Trump?’ Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes, The Light that Failed: A Reckoning (London: Allen Lane, 2019), 5. 2 Ben Rhodes, The World as it Is: A Memoir of the Obama White House (New York: Random House, 2018).



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Stephen Holmes and I argue that there was something very specific about the post-1989 period. Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History has been ridiculed, particularly recently, but he captured something very important in the air at the time.3 Contrary to how it has been portrayed, this was not a triumphalist book. Triumphalism emerged in the late 1990s, but it was not the atmosphere of the early 1990s. Quite the opposite. Reading the titles of major books and articles published in the West between 1989 and 1993, you see nervousness. The classic example was Zbigniew Brzezinski’s Out of Control.4 People were both excited and very scared. The Cold War period was defined by a clash of two universalist ideologies – western liberalism and Soviet communism – both born out of the tradition of the European Enlightenment. The post-Cold War period, in contrast, was defined by a lack of ideological alternatives. This is our first major argument. Part of the success of Fukuyama’s book, particularly in the East and among post-communist elites, was that it touched on something running very deep in people’s Marxist-Hegelian upbringing. For many former communist thinkers and politicians, it was much easier to accept that capitalism and democracy were the end of history, than that history had no end at all. The idea of historical-teleological development, of progress, of moving in a certain direction, was very strong. Out of this came the sense that there were no alternatives. Our second major argument is that the division between democracy and communism, between freedom and totalitarianism, typical for the Cold War, was replaced by the division between societies that were already liberal democracies and those that wanted to become ones. This is the distinction between the original and the copy. Fukuyama was not enamoured with the idea of the end of history. On the contrary, he believed that the post-89 era would be boring, that it would lack heroism and be predominantly consumerist. He also didn’t believe that every country would become a liberal democracy in the next ten to twenty years. But he did say that those that didn’t would have to fake being liberal democ Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (New York: Free Press, 1992). See also: Francis Fukuyama, ‘The end of history?’, The National Interest 16 (Summer 1989): 3–18. 4 Zbigniew Brzezinski, Out of Control: Global Turmoil on the Eve of the 21st Century (New York: Charles Scribners, Sons, 1993). 3

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racies in order to survive. This was the key thing about the end of history: there were still going to be non-democracies, but they were no longer the model. Cuba and North Korea can survive, but who wants to be like that? In the book, we argue that this period is now ending. When we talk about the age of imitation, we don’t think that something was imposed on post-communist societies. Imitation is not imposition, it is not colonization. It was our choice, which is partly why the story is so painful. The West didn’t come and command us to do it. We wanted to do it. The keyword of 1989 was ‘normality’. It wasn’t about a projected future. We wanted a normal society, meaning one like the West, or at least the way we imagined the West. But still, imitating the West was our choice. Being an imitator in a world that has fallen in love with originality was a humiliating experience. Political parties and leaders have been able to exploit resentment towards the imperative to imitate. But they base their politics not on actual alternatives but on plain resistance. The idea that we don’t have to copy, that we have our own ways, is crucial to the political language of Viktor Orbán and Jarosław Kaczyński. SG: You contrast the ‘intolerant communitarianism’ that is the response to the imitation imperative in central eastern Europe with the ‘imitation democracy’ in Russia in the 1990s, and Russia’s ‘mirroring’ of the West from the beginning of this decade. Can you explain how the Russian reaction to the fall of communism differed to that in central eastern Europe? IK: It was particularly painful for Russians to be unable to quite understand how or why the Soviet Union collapsed. The USSR was a nuclear power, there was no foreign invasion and yet, suddenly, it collapsed. This humiliating and incomprehensible defeat gave rise to conspiracy theories about the elite betraying the country. By 1989–92, communism had exhausted its power to mobilize. The majority of the Russian population wanted it over with, without having a clear idea of what they wanted instead. But for Russians, the Soviet Union and communism were not the same thing. The Soviet Union was their country and they didn’t understand why it should collapse along with a tired ideology. While this may have seemed obvious to outsiders, it didn’t for Russians.


Ivan Krastev

After 1989, the western approach was that ‘we are all winners’, that the Americans, Russians and eastern Europeans had triumphed together. However, after Russia lost a third of its economy in the 1993 depression, it wasn’t easy to convince Russians to see themselves as winners. For eastern Europeans, this was different for many reasons. First of all, communism was framed as a foreign occupation. Second, there was the prospect of joining the European Union. Third, they were free to travel. And fourth, after the first transition period, there was positive economic change, at least for certain parts of the population. Many in Russia were very interested in democratizing their country, but they knew it was going to be a painful process, because of the extent of the changes and the consequences of disintegration. For them, imitating the West was a way to survive. The mirroring strategy that began with Putin’s second term marked the end of this imitation model. From now on it was about proving to America that Russia was its equal. The point of Russia’s interference in the 2016 American elections was not to have a president that they could control, but to show America that Russia could do to it what it had been doing to them. SG: The last chapter of the book deals with the illiberal turn in the United States and particularly its connection to the rise of a China ready to contest US hegemony. You argue that this development ‘signals the end of the Age of Imitation as we understand it’. IK: We go beyond central and eastern Europe because the legacy of 1989 is not limited to this region. 1989 transformed the West no less than it did the East, and this tends to get lost in the debate. Western discourse focuses on what is happening in the East, an obsession that is rooted in the fear of facing the problems of western democracies. The most important question is how far liberal democracies were preconditioned by the existence of the Cold War. We examine how the United States has been affected by end of the age of imitation. How did the imitated model start to see itself as the victim of the world it had created? Trump tells Americans that they are not the leaders of the world but a hostage to it – because of all the wars they think they are supposed to be fighting; because of their trade policy, which is restrictive in light of the Chinese economy. For Trump, the only response can be for the US to focus on its own interests. This is the end of American exceptionalism.

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Trump’s radical message was that America is not better than others, but simply stronger than, and if need be as nasty. These changes are crucial to our understanding of not only why the post-89 period ended, but why it is disintegrating in the way it is. It may be easy to tell the story of the crisis of liberal democracy in simply economic terms, but that won’t explain the political path of Poland, for example. And it is easy to say that everything is the result of Russian interference, which provenly takes place. But we should not fall into the trap that Russians have been caught in for the last three decades, framing everything that happened to Russia as a western conspiracy. Russia’s ability to mobilize their own constituents against constituencies is based on certain flaws in our own democracies. The problem is internal, though it may be tactical to externalize it. Stephen Holmes and I don’t believe that we are back in the Cold War. The China–US confrontation will shape our world in the future, but we don’t believe there will be a clash of two ideological projects. One of our major arguments is that China is not dreaming of being imitated by the rest of the world. China does not believe it can be imitated. This is not only because of its belief in the superiority of Chinese culture, but also because its model of having and projecting power is not based on the creation of copies. China lacks the universalist aspiration that was integral to western politics after the end of the Cold War. You often hear the crisis of liberal hegemony being described as a crisis of liberalism, but I don’t buy this. Liberal hegemony was an exceptional moment, born out of an exceptional development. The fact that not all countries in the world have become liberal democracies does not mean that human rights are no longer seen as relevant, or that authoritarianism is going to prevail everywhere. On the contrary, populist movements talk about rights all the time. The problem is, whose rights? The rights being advocated by populists are those of majorities, of the nation. The anti-colonial movement has become the model of the western European far-right. In this appropriation of the language of rights, the West is now the colonized, the anti-colonial.5 Trump is the best example of this. This inversion of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged with the On the appropriation of the language of rights by the populist right, see Francis Fukuyama, ‘The new identity politics: Rightwing populism and the demand for dignity’, Eurozine, 18 April 2019, https://www. eurozine.com/new-identity-politics/.



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most powerful and privileged is a perversity of the political imagination that I find typical of the contemporary moment. Réka Kinga Papp: You warn against reading history backwards from a certain turn of events. The liberal triumphalism of the 1990s was a product of this teleological thinking. But are you yourselves not also re-reading the past thirty years, if not the last seven decades before 1989, back from the present situation? How does one avoid teleology when talking about ’89 today? IK: In teleological stories, one knows what’s going to happen, and one thinks in terms of progress and regress. We view history much more openly. We didn’t want to tell the story of the decades since 1989 in terms of why things went wrong and what could have been done differently. They probably could have been different, but we don’t know. Our major argument is that there was a trade-off between hegemony and pluralism. We lost hegemony but gained the chance to reinvent pluralism. We are not fatalistic. 1989 was not about the end of history; it was about the future opening up. Suddenly, people could imagine themselves in different worlds, could reinvent themselves. This may often have been illusory, but it was also empowering. It felt as if you could decide anything. 1989 was a unifying moment of hope – or rather hopes. Some people hoped for better living standards, some for freedom, some for national glory – although they did not share an ideology, they were sharing a moment. 1989 shaped people, regardless of their politics. Freedom wasn’t just a political term. People’s mindsets changed overnight. Let’s say you were a middle-aged clerk somewhere in Bulgaria: suddenly you could imagine you were going to be a great businessman. You would probably never try, and the chances of success were minimal anyway, but the point is that you started to entertain dreams that you never had before. These hopes also played a part in the frustrations that followed, undermining the legitimacy of what happened in ’89. Most revolutions are legitimized not by the fulfilment of their promises, but by the sense of revenge they give. But the liberal revolutions of ’89 were led by people traumatized by the experience of communism. They didn’t want to start a revolution that devoured its own children. The nomenclature of the ancien régime were therefore able to integrate into the new world. This became

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a vulnerability: the idea of the revolution being betrayed by keeping the same people in power. The revolution of ’89 didn’t promise that the last would be first: it promised that everybody could be first. SG: ‘Demographic panic’ is central to your explanation for the emergence of illiberalism in central eastern Europe – the idea that ethno-nationalism is a displaced expression of the fear of national disappearance. IK: Normally, revolutionaries want to live in the future. Trotsky believed he was at the centre of the world, that he was the future. After revolutions, there is usually an exodus, but mostly of the defeated party. After ’89, however, it was the winners who left. You can’t imagine Trotsky taking a fellowship in Oxford after the Russian revolution, which is what Orbán and others did around ’89. The world opened up and the future was next to you, in the form of your immediate neighbour to the west. Many of those who invested in the democratic turn were the first ones to leave after it took place. The impact of this exodus of capable people from central and eastern Europe is underestimated, not in economic terms, but as a political factor. The majority of central and eastern Europeans say that the best thing that happened to them after 1989 was the freedom to travel and work abroad. At the same time, around half of all Hungarians and Poles would support government actions to limit people’s ability to work abroad for longer periods of time. The best and the worst are the same: the best being that I can get out, the worst being that too many people are doing precisely that. This has become part of the nationalistic rhetoric of Orbán and Kaczyński. It is not so much about immigrants, who don’t come anyway, but about trying to stop one’s own people from leaving. Eastern Europe is facing the same problem that the GDR faced in 1961: the working-age population are leaving the country – either for political or economic reasons. People simply don’t want to stay in a country that tells you how to live and how to breathe. Labour shortages scare away investors, which collapses the economy even further. All the money invested in people’s education is leaving with them, and you end up with an aging population. This leads to what demographers call a high dependency ratio, where a very small number of working-age people


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have to sustain a large number of old people. At the heart of populist support is not fear of a borderless world, but the fear of doctorless towns. Ten thousand doctors have left Bulgaria in the past two years. Then the same governments who caused the problems pose as the benevolent patriarch, claiming to be the only one to care for you. SG: By arguing that illiberalism is a rational response to a real demographic crisis, are you somehow legitimizing it? This, at least, is what Aleida Assmann has claimed in response to an earlier article of yours and Stephen Holmes, in which you outline your theory of the ‘imitation imperative’.6 What is your response to Assmann’s charge that you fail to sufficiently condemn the ideological substance of illiberal ethno-nationalism? IK: I am very grateful to Professor Assmann for her response to our imitation hypothesis. Her arguments are well taken and her article is beautifully written. But, of course, we have our disagreements. I have always disagreed with the idea that ‘to understand is to justify’. Analysis of populism cannot be reduced to moral rejection. One needs to be careful about labelling all one’s opponents as irrational. Of course, all populists instrumentalize people’s fears. But can all those people in the Hungarian countryside who have voted for Orbán all these years be deemed entirely irrational? Can we reduce everything to power mechanisms? It is one thing to do so with Hungary, but how about Poland, where the media is fairly pluralistic? Of course, the Polish government controls the state media, but you can’t say that Poles don’t have access to other points of view. Arguing that you are in some way helping populist leaders by telling people that their fears are legitimate is to go in a direction that both Stephen Holmes and I find very risky. If we start saying the truth, or what we believe to be the truth, only when it works for us, then at a certain point we’re not going to be much different than some of those people whom we strongly dislike. This is a moral dilemma and one that we are increasingly seeing in everyday political life. Are we legitimizing the other side sim Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes, ‘Explaining Eastern Europe: Imitation and Its Discontents’, Journal of Democracy 29, no. 3 (July 2018): 117–28. In response: Aleida Assmann, ‘Go East’ (in this volume).


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ply by sharing a podium with them? Are we going to take part in a discussion with Steve Bannon or Mária Schmidt? Under what conditions should we do that or not? I think this is a very important question. RKP: In central and eastern Europe, demography has been a central question throughout the formulation of nationhood. Romantic nationalist literature revolves around this problem. Hungarians have spent two centuries terrified by Herder’s prophecy that they would sink in the flood of Slavic speakers. Later, Nicolae Ceaușescu said straight up that the Carpathian Basin would belong to those who birth it full. This is a central element of biopolitics. IK: What the populists don’t have is a model society with universal appeal. This makes authoritarian nationalism very different from communism, which – whether you agree with it or not – was a universal worldview. I don’t believe that Orbán’s model can travel in the way he would like. It is much too preconditioned by a political tradition and too rooted in particular circumstances. Central eastern Europe is extremely ethnically homogenous, as a result of World War II and developments afterwards – ethnic cleansing, destruction and so on. Hungary is basically a monoethnic state, and this creates a fear of ethnic diversity and national disappearance. You can’t even move the Orbán model to Austria. We are talking about two very different social realities. The relation between nationalism and democracy in central eastern Europe after 1989 is very different from what happened in western Europe after WWII. After 1945, nationalism was the evil. But in central and eastern Europe, internationalism was the language of the communists. Nationalism was always part of the anti-communist coalition, and it was particularly strong in Poland. Liberals and the nationalists formed a coalition to overthrow communism and in 1989, unlike in 1945, many nationalists felt they were the winners. In the first few years this was quite apparent. If you look at some of the post-communist leaders in 1990, their main way of claiming legitimacy was through nationalist rhetoric. But then came the Yugoslav wars. What happened in the Balkans massively shaped the post-Cold War period. First because of the fears that the wars raised. But secondly, because nationalism was now very much associated with former commu-


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nists – Milošević was the model nationalist. Orbán was much more opportunistic, but Kaczyński remained consistent in his worldview: he could not speak the language of nationalism because he could not identify with Milošević. Doing so would have invalidated his entire biography. It took 9/11 and the rise of Islamophobia for these people to go back and couple the idea of democracy with national sovereignty. What makes these leaders very different from classic authoritarians is that you cannot imagine any of them without elections. And here we come back to the demography question. You’ll remember that in 1953, after the anti-communist uprising in East Berlin, Bertolt Brecht asked whether it would not ‘be simpler for the government to dissolve the people and elect another?’ Paradoxically, the freedom of movement now made this possible. By playing different games with institutions, governments in many eastern European countries were able to elect ‘another’ people. If you’re a Hungarian living in Transylvania, voting in Hungarian elections is easy. If you’re one of the many Hungarians living in London, on the other hand, there is only one voting station. This is a major change in the way democracies function. In a polarized society with information gaps, it’s not about changing people’s minds, but about mobilizing your own side and demobilizing the other. You can do this through institutional decisions. If you’re going to disempower a large diaspora living in western Europe, and at the same time empower a diaspora living in a neighbouring country, then in a sense you are electing your own people. Many of the things we see on our side we also see on the western side – not only in the US but also in Europe. Of course, ethnic homogeneity in central and eastern Europe makes it much easier to mobilize. According to polls, more Hungarians claim to have seen a UFO than to have personally met or encountered a refugee. In central and eastern Europe, the Other is totally imaginary, abstract. Populists are exploiting the idea of something that is already there. SG: Germany comes off badly in the book. You have a section on the ‘new German ideology’, which you describe as de-historicized post-nationalism and culturally bland constitutional patriotism. But the European Union was never a post-national project,

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on the contrary.7 This is something rarely admitted in liberal discourse in Germany. The other aspect of your criticism of Germany concerns the attempt at the wholesale replacement of communist elites after ’89, in view of the reintegration of former Nazis in the 1950s. IK: We are critical of Germany because we genuinely admire and sympathize with it. But nobody can understand central and eastern Europe without understanding the central role that German policies and the German model played in the post-communist transition. A major question for me was why German reunification failed to become a model for central and eastern Europe. It is very difficult to universalize the German experience. First, Germany’s view of nationalism was deeply coloured by the Nazi period. It was impossible to expect the Poles, who had fought the Soviets and Germans at the same time, to view their nationalism in the same terms. The total illegitimacy of nationalism, which was absolutely understandable in the case of Germany, could not be transferred to the East. I’m not criticizing Germans for what they did, but I do believe that they overlooked the exceptional context in which this happened. The second thing is that after 1989, Germany tried to teach eastern Europe not how it did things after 1945, but how it should have done things. For twenty years, there was an amnesia about people’s behaviour during the Nazi period. I’m not saying that it was wrong; to be absolutely honest, I don’t believe there was a choice. Whether or not this was part of West Germany’s success, it certainly wasn’t something Germany was prepared to export after ’89. This created resentment, and it partly explains the problems that east Germany is now facing. Germany is the only place where de-communization took place. But because it took place asymmetrically, you end up with one of the most extreme versions of right-wing populism. The crisis of the German model was all the more severe because Germany was the perfect copy. In a certain sense it was better than the original. But the moment it became a model for everybody else, it backfired.


See Alan S. Milward, The European Rescue of the Nation-State (London: Routledge, 1992).


Ivan Krastev

RKP: After World War II, the legitimacy of regimes in both the East and the West rested upon Germany’s confession of its exclusive and incomparable guilt. This sanctioned a taboo on complicity with the crimes of the Nazis. This is true in Austria as much as in Hungary, Poland and elsewhere. Refusing to admit this today is a typical feature of the populist right. IK: This is why Germany will be critical for the future of the European Union. After World War II there were two countries that did not have the luxury to talk about themselves as victims. One was the US, because it was so powerful, and the other was Germany. Now, under Trump, the US portrays itself as the ultimate victim of the post-Cold War world. In Germany too, certain political forces have increasingly begun to say that Germany is the major victim of European integration – that everybody wants to spend their money, that they are blamed for everything. Some of this is valid. But the moment the most powerful becomes the greatest victim, the legitimacy of the whole project is lost. This is one of the darkest sides of the imaginations of those in power today: they want to be viewed as victims but be allowed to act as villains. This is what scares me most. SG: A major part of Aleida Assman’s critique concerns the role of eastern European dissidents. There are two aspects to this: first, that you don’t consider the transnational processes involved in the human rights movement from the mid-70s, a process that predates 1989. By failing to account for this East-West history of human rights and the contribution of the dissidents – and this is the second aspect – you are endorsing the narrative of western ‘cultural imperialism’ and, indirectly, the illiberal narrative. Instead, so Assmann’s argument goes, your duty as a European intellectual should have been to provide an integrative, therapeutic type of narrative. The history of dissidence and human rights, she argues, provides an ideal vehicle for this. IK: Aleida Assmann argues that, in order to save liberalism, we need to restore the centrality of human rights as a founding idea in our understanding of 1989. On the other hand, she says that we need to distinguish between liberalism and neoliberalism, however one defines it. This was the predominant reform agenda after 1989. But it is easier said than done. She is absolutely right to say that there was a strong anti-capitalist trend in the dissident move-

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ment. This was certainly the case with people like Václav Havel, Jacek Kuroń and a part of the Solidarity movement. But in 1989, some of the key dissidents decided that one of the top issues on their countries’ political agenda was to become more like western societies, which they regarded as ‘normality’. Kuroń was great on this: he said that we should first try building capitalism, and after that fight it. The dissidents decided that their former anti-capitalism was dangerous and that they didn’t want it to be instrumentalized. So, they decided to be politically effective instead. Shock therapy was strongly supported by Adam Michnik, Kuroń, Bronisław Geremek – some of the key names of the dissident tradition. This was a political decision. It was also a moral dilemma. For example, Michnik didn’t accept shares in Gazeta Wyborcza when it became a commercial enterprise. He was supporting capitalism but didn’t want to be a capitalist. One of our major arguments is that westernization was by invitation. Nobody was enforcing anything on anyone, we had been pushing for most of the things that came. There was an interesting controversy around a book by Stephen Kotkin and Jan Gross called Uncivil Society.8 Their major argument was, let’s stop fooling ourselves: Poland is not the model for central and eastern Europe. Poland is where there was a mass anticommunist movement, with 10 million members of Solidarity, but it was highly exceptional. There were hundreds, probably thousands of dissidents in Czechoslovakia and Hungary, but it was the attraction of western consumerism more than that of western liberalism that decided the outcome of the Cold War. Human rights were certainly present in ’89, and very important for legitimizing it. But there were also less high-minded motivations behind the will of eastern European societies to become like the West. Part of the legitimacy possessed by the human rights campaigners of the ’70s and ’80s was therefore used to justify the same policies that Aleida Assmann believes delegitimized the transition. We should recall that for many people in central and eastern Europe, particularly the older generation, capitalism was a great deal more legitimate than democracy. For them, democracy meant voting differently but getting the same. Stephen Kotkin with a contribution by Jan T. Gross, Uncivil Society: 1989 and the Implosion of the Communist Establishment (New York: Modern Library, 2009).



Ivan Krastev

RKP: Part of the dissident legacy are Orbán and Kaczyński themselves, who both grew out of 1989 and cannot be simply dismissed as anomalies. Another huge part of this heritage is made up by people like Ferenc Kőszeg – the founder of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, and others who today are central figures in organizations that are blacklisted by the Orbán government. Or Paweł Adamowicz, the late mayor of Gdańsk, a dissident student leader in the ’80s, who was targetted by smear campaigns in PiSfriendly media for years before being murdered in January 2019. The human rights legacy and civic self-organizing are Fidesz’s and PiS’s designated enemy. IK: The dissident legacy is much more diverse than it looks. Part of the anti-communist resistance were people like József Antall, a traditional conservative – compared to what you see today, he was a full-blown liberal! He came from a tradition that was about family and nation, based on natural rights. Of course, there is also a much more liberal and cosmopolitan tradition of dissidence. Aleida Assmann is absolutely right to insist that this is shared between East and West. I would even argue that East was intellectually more influential in the West in 1970s and ’80s than in the 1990s. What is interesting is that, in the early 1990s, there were many leftists in the West who believed that the end of communism would reinvent democracy and liberalism. One example was Bruce Ackerman, in his book The Future of The Liberal Revolution.9 There was a big debate about whether we were going to build something new, or whether the East was going to be assimilated. There were far more people in the West interested in getting something out of the eastern European experience. This is important, because the dissident legacy was to a great extent transformed by the fact that many dissidents had been in a position of power, if only for a short period of time. You can’t simply blame neoliberalism for what happened, as if it had nothing to do with the dissidents, because the fact is that the dissidents decided to use their political capital in support of neoliberalism. And I’m not saying they were wrong. It’s very easy to blame them for what they did, but what should they have done? None of these people had an economic education, Bruce Ackerman, The Future of Liberal Revolution (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992).


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none of them were interested in going into government. János Kis is an example. RKP: The charisma of people like Michnik or Kis evaporated very suddenly after ’89 – not overnight, but in a very short period of time. Others’ influence gradually inflated: Václav Havel, Gáspár Miklós Tamás or Ágnes Heller, for instance. IK: We intellectuals are mesmerized by intellectuals, but politically that’s not always the way it works. In the first partially free elections in Poland in 1989, the Solidarity campaign was very simple: all the candidates were photographed next to Lech Wałęsa. The charismatic leader of the Polish revolution was not a dissident with a particularly sophisticated view of capitalism and democracy: he was a worker, an electrician. In the 1980s, Adam Michnik was not so much a liberal intellectual as the Pole who stood against Soviet power. What you cannot take away from Michnik, even if you hate him as much as the far-right does, is his prison years. He was in prison and he behaved incredibly. Even his most radical critics cannot deny this. At the same time, in a current environment defined by severe polarization, we are seeing that the dissidents’ heroic biographies are ceasing to matter. It should also be recalled that dissident intellectuals easily found a common language with the West. Those who, during communism, had been reading in English, French and German had always felt part of this European conversation. It was a totally different experience for ordinary people. Look at the Hungarian opinion polls. The Orbán government uses massive anti-communist rhetoric, but at the same time is very positive about János Kádár. What you hate about communism are the post-communists. In a sense, anti-communism was the form of attack after ’89 and not before. SG: There has been a similar discussion between historians in Germany about the role of the dissidents in Leipzig and elsewhere in ’89. It has been argued, controversially, that their political impact was minor compared to that of the mass of citizens who had been watching from the sidelines, and who in a more opportunistic fashion then took advantage of the collapse of communist rule.10 See Detlef Pollack, ‘Es war ein Aufstand der Normalbürger’, Frank-



Ivan Krastev

IK: Every revolution is, at least in the first ten years, the story of active minority groups. Think about the Bolsheviks, or the French Revolution. But when you focus only on these groups, you stop being able to understand certain things, for example sudden shifts in voting behaviour. But often it wasn’t that people changed their minds, but that many people who voted a certain way left the country. Second, there are new generations emerging for whom all this is ancient history. Young people are very mobile, but they are a very small cohort. In central and eastern Europe today, you can win elections without getting a single vote from anyone under 25. This is why young people should be on the street – because if they’re not, nobody is going to see them. Going beyond eastern Europe, you’ll see that the future is back, not as a project, but as a nightmare. There are two types of apocalyptic scenario. One comes from the right, which says that the future is going to destroy our way of life. The world is going to be full of foreigners, transsexuals, robots and so on. On the other hand, you have the new political generation, which says: it’s not about destroying our way of life, it’s about destroying life. People forget the strong psychological impact of the atomic bomb on European societies, particularly in America and western Europe. But if you compare the anti-nuclear movement to the environmentalist movement today, there are two important differences. First, in the 1970s, it was enough to simply demand that the government not to use the bomb. Now, governments are being attacked not for what they’re doing, but what they’re not doing. So, protesters on the streets must also know what they want the governments to do. Second, in a nuclear war, we would all die together. In a climate catastrophe, those of us in middle age are still going to enjoy our lives. But we cannot be so sure about our children and grandchildren. So, the idea of political community is changing. On the one hand, we have people like Orbán, who argue that we want to be the way we were eleven centuries ago. On the other hand, we have young people who want to include the unborn in the political community. This is a very interesting change. It is now about on whose behalf we talk, how we describe the political community. furter Allegemeine Zeitung, 12 July 2019; in response, Ilko-Sascha Kowalczuk, ‘Eine Minderheit bahnte den Weg’, Frankfurter Allegemeine Zeitung, 15 July 2019.

‘The distorting mirror’ A conversation between Igor Pomerantsev and Peter Pomerantsev

Peter Pomerantsev: We are recording this conversation in Prague, where you live and where I am attending a conference organized to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of 1989, asking whether the ideals of 1989 continue to matter. We are going to discuss East and West and what has changed since ’89. Prague is a good way to start thinking about this question. Let me ask you first how long you have been here? Igor Pomerantsev: I have been in Prague for some 26 years. Initially I worked for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. I started my radio career in London in 1980 at BBC’s Russian Service, before moving to Radio Liberty, whose London bureau got closed and whose Munich bureau then closed too. We settled in Prague upon the invitation of President Havel. I first experienced Prague and the Czech Republic as a kind of socialist ruin. When I arrived here in the 1990s, there was a mood of decadence. The people here, especially those of my age, closely resembled the homo sovieticus familiar to me from the Soviet Union. PP: But you wouldn’t really classify Prague as eastern Europe, would you? Even in the 1990s I remember the Czechs insisting that they belonged to central Europe and getting very offended if you called them eastern Europeans. Nowadays most people would think of Prague as part of ‘regular Europe’. That begs the question of where the East is now, of where the East starts. IP: The answer to that question has always depended on one’s perspective. People from the Soviet Union seldom visited socialist Czechoslovakia but tended to feel that the Czechoslovaks were privileged. For them, Czechoslovakia was in many ways the embodiment of the West. In central Europe, there was a strong


Igor Pomerantsev and Peter Pomerantsev

argument that the region did not belong to the Russian cultural sphere but had been ‘kidnapped’ by the Soviet Union. In his polemical exchange with Joseph Brodsky, Milan Kundera insisted on the western origin of central Europe, which he contrasted to Russia. Since both were writers, their arguments were literary ones – they debated whether Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky could be qualified as western. The argument got quite heated, especially on Brodsky’s part. He claimed that Russian literature was the basis of European literature as a whole and asked what the ‘central Europeans’ had to show for themselves. So the two sides had a very acute sense of belonging to Europe at the beginning of the 1980s, but were also mutually condescending.1 The relationship has radically changed since. PP: Radical changes also seem to be underway at the moment. In the UK – where I live most of the time – some people on the right are saying that Britain’s natural allies are going to be Hungary and Poland, despite their ‘slightly authoritarian’ governments they are confronting Brussels. Some elements are also calling for the UK to become more closely allied with Russia. So the future of Britain outside the EU could be in a new alliance with Russia, Hungary and Poland. Politically, Britain would thus become part of the ‘New East’. I don’t know whether this would ever come to pass, but it is interesting that such arguments are now part of the conversation in the UK. The massive arrival of immigrants from eastern Europe poses one of the biggest challenges in Britain of the past twenty years. In previous decades, immigrants from the former British colonies reminded the English that they used to have an empire. Despite the social tension, the difference of the Indians and the Pakistanis, and their peculiar relationship to the English, made the English feel exceptional. But when all the Poles and Latvians turned up, they did not really care about trying to suck up to the English. Even more, there was a shock that eastern Europeans are actually quite similar: that they are football-loving, hard drinking, quite secular people. The English had a kind of nervous breakdown: they realized that they weren’t exceptional, that they See esp. Milan Kundera, ‘An introduction to a variation’, New York Times Book Review, 6 January 1985. Joseph Brodsky, ‘Why Milan Kundera Is Wrong About Dostoyevsky’, New York Times Book Review, 17 February 1985.


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weren’t all that different from eastern Europeans. Observed in this light, Brexit was a way of reacting to this horror of recognition, a way expressing that ‘no, we are different’. IP: Moscow is now full of immigrants from Central Asia. The Tajiks or the Uzbeks are not particularly close to the Russians culturally and they tend to irritate the Moscovites, but they also confirm to them that Moscow is an imperial capital. Nowadays, Ukraine is the most hated country in Russia, largely because Ukrainian independence has profoundly challenged the Russian concept of empire. PP: Yes, although Russia is often viewed as the East, certainly here in Prague, Russians think of Central Asia as the East. Russia can be then presented as an interesting mixed state. I was recently informed by some Ukrainian nationalist intellectuals – nationalist in the pejorative sense of the word, in this case – that historically, Ukraine was Russia’s connection to European culture and Christianity, and that now Ukraine has moved away, all that remains of Russia is a Mongolian type of regime and growing Islam. This is an intriguing theory, since it neglects all of Russia’s other connections to the West. Do you think that is indeed what we are likely to see: a Russia without Ukraine drifting further and further away from Europe? IP: You might call it a paradox that nowadays, Kyiv is the capital of the idea that central Europe belongs to the West and that Russia is practically Mongolian. This notion seems to have shifted eastwards since the end of the Cold War. PP: As you mentioned, Brodsky challenged Kundera and asserted that Russian culture was a part of European culture. I hear the same idea from Russian liberals today. But what do Russian intellectuals and artists more generally believe? Are they still saying what Brodsky said? IP: Yes, but Russia is a highly differentiated society. Russian culture was in fact founded by Europeans from further west, mostly by Germans – even the Romanovs were German by origin. Germans were invited to give Russia a political structure and to develop its education system. The upper echelon of Russian soci-


Igor Pomerantsev and Peter Pomerantsev

ety was German, partly French and in a way English too, while its inner feelings and complexes were often deeply different from those of western Europeans. Russia imported western rationalism – but it also Russianized and, to an extent, perverted it. Marxism, for which there was a large market in Russia, was also taken from the West. There was an instinctive sense of connection to Marxism in Russia, despite what Marx thought about the country. PP: Boris Groys and other Russian intellectuals have argued that Russia acts as a kind of subconscious for the West: as the place where western fears and fantasies play out, but which also functions as a distorting mirror that consciously takes on the role of the unconscious, so to speak. This idea is quite prevalent today: Russia as the edge of the West, where western ideas are played back in grotesque form. So are our ideas of ‘East and West’ just a diplomatic way of referring to the mutually reinforcing relationship between Russia and everything that is west of it? IP: I will speak as a writer. I believe we should be speaking not so much about East and West as about deep psychological phenomena like life and death drives. There are cultures where the death drive is stronger: just think of the Aztecs. Of course, such cultures can possess great aesthetic value and may have their heroic aspects. But the history of the twentieth century provides very strong evidence that this instinct is dominant in Russia as in few other countries. Russians have killed themselves, each other and other people millions of times over. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, in his classic novel Cancer Ward,2 found here a formula that is much stronger and more devastating than Reagan’s ‘evil empire’ – an expression that I believe Reagan took from C.S. Lewis. What is the meaning of Cancer Ward? Cancer exists at the expense of life textures and expands to the west but also to the east and the south. If we took this metaphor seriously, we could think of Ukraine as a country with an instinct for life: Ukrainians today do not want to be part of the cancer ward – most of them instinctively reject the idea of dying.


Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Cancer Ward, trans. Rebecca Frank, New York: Dial Press 1968.

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PP: I am aware of the idea of Russia as a suicidal culture. Other cultures have perpetrated genocides too, but self-destruction seems to be dominant in Russian society and culture in a rather special way. But let me get back to my previous point: is the duality of East and West just a way of talking about Russia’s cultural relationship with everything that is west of it? I must admit I don’t agree with all the articles that have come out in recent years arguing that western attitudes towards Russia are Orientalist. Orientalism presupposes a colonial relationship, whereas Russia is a partner in this relationship, and quite happily takes on the role of ‘the Other’. It articulates and exploits that position – it is far from a passive recipient of external narratives. Russia, especially Russian political elites, even delight in being the other. It is very interesting to observe how Donald Trump gets associated with Russia. I am not talking about the Russian operations to support his election campaign but about the cultural discourse around the Trump phenomenon. The words ‘Trump’ and ‘Russia’ are joined in many people’s imagination and that is often how he gets contextualized in the media. Trump is, of course, a creature straight out of the cultural unconscious – in his use of language, in his sexual desires, in his breaking of all kinds of norms, rules and the symbolic order. In his reality shows, he acted out the fantasy that anybody can become rich. The fact that he immediately becomes associated with Russia seems to be a way for western societies to make sense of the place he comes from within western society. There is a very good novel by the Russian writer Zinovy Zinik called Sounds Familiar or: The Beast of Artek, about how, during the Cold War, Russia was a luminous and perverse ideal for a certain type of leftist.3 Zinik tracks these leftists during the 1990s, when Russia became their nightmare. They develop the idea that Russia is where hell comes from. We see this attitude in parts of the western left today, which has gone from an absurd adulation of the Soviet Union to connecting Russia with everything that is malign. IP: What is shocking is that during the past hundred years, Russia has twice become the leader of destructive forces. You can go even Zinovy Zinik, Sounds Familiar: Or the Beast of Artek (London: Divus, 2016).



Igor Pomerantsev and Peter Pomerantsev

further back. In the nineteenth century, Russia was the ideological leader and most powerful member of the anti-liberal Grand Alliance. Russia may have changed ideologically, and may even have forgotten ideology, but it once again wages hybrid wars – only now in a cynical way, aiming to morally undermine the West. Such projects always have their allies in the West – whether in the US or in Europe. The Czech president Miloš Zeman even speaks about Russia as if he were its foreign agent. The regime in Hungary also has instinctive affinities with Russia. In Austria, right-wing parties found a mutual language, not to mention common financial interests with the Russian regime. The US President is evidently a sympathizer, even a fan of the Kremlin. Russia plays a colossal destructive role, not by opposing communism to capitalism, but by propagating a cynical attitude towards politics, in an attempt to undermine democratic institutions and structures. PP: There is also a self-destructive impulse behind Donald Trump and all the obsessive focus on him. The same goes for Brexit. Take the catchphrase ‘take back control’, the slogan of the leave campaign. Any psychoanalyst will tell you that it is a classic phrase used in self-harm: anorexics who cut themselves and people who attempt suicide always talk about having lost control; self-harm or even self-destruction is the way they can restore this. There is clearly too much anarchic, self-destructive energy in politics at the moment. With self-destruction being ascendant, does this favour Russia? Is this truly the only way Russia can define its role in its relationship with the West? Is there any way the relationship could become healthier and more productive? IP: I believe the balance between constructiveness and destructiveness has remained fairly stable across the centuries. Confrontation goes on. It may be impossible to provide an exact balance sheet between the two. For me, the idea of literature and art is that divine destiny pauses death: art continues to flourish after the physical life of the artist. This is my duty as a writer, and it is the duty of all those who prefer creativity and constructive activity. You could say that writing poetry is my personal position regarding death.


Note on bibliography: The bibliography contains only book publications, unpublished dissertations, and articles in scholarly and non-scholarly journals. It excludes all newspaper articles, news items, lectures, speeches, blogposts and statistics that have been referenced in the footnotes above. Acharya, Amitav. ‘After Liberal Hegemony: The Advent of a Multiplex World Order.’ Ethics and International Affairs 31, no. 3 (Fall 2017): 271–85. Ackerman, Bruce. The Future of Liberal Revolution. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992. Agamben, Giorgio. State of Exception. Translated by Kevin Attell. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2005. Anderson, Perry. ‘Why the System Will Still Win.’ Le Monde Diplomatique, 1 March 2017. https://mondediplo.com/2017/03/02brexit. Andreescu, Florentina C. ‘The Romanians are Coming 2015: Immigrant bodies through the British gaze.’ European Journal of Cultural Studies 22, nos. 5–6 (2019):  885–907. Anon. ‘A mi bátraink.’ Figyelő, 28 May 2018. http://figyelo.hu/szoveg/v/ami-batraink/. Anon. ‘Billionaires. The Richest People in the World.’ Forbes, 5 March 2019. https://www.forbes.com/billionaires/#2aa1b333251c. Anon. ‘The sick man of the euro.’ Economist, 3 June 1999. www.economist. com/node/209559. Appel, Hilary, and Mitchell A. Orenstein. From Triumph to Crisis: Neoliberal Economic Reform in Postcommunist Countries. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018. Applebaum, Anne. ‘A Warning From Europe: The Worst Is Yet to Come.’ Atlantic, October 2018. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/10/poland-polarization/568324/. Arendt, Hannah. On Revolution. New York: Viking Press, 1963. Arendt, Hannah. The Origins of Totalitarianism. San Diego, New York and London: Harcourt, 1968.

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Arndt, Agnes. Rote Bürger: Eine Milieu- und Beziehungsgeschichte linker Dissidenz in Polen (1956–1976). Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2013. Bakić-Hayden, Milica. ‘Nesting Orientalisms: The Case of Former Yugoslavia.’ The Slavic Review 54, no. 4 (Winter 1995): 917–31. Balcerowicz, Leszek. ‘Albo szybko, albo wcałe.’ Polityka, 48 (1989). Balcerowicz, Leszek, and Jerzy Baczyński. 800 Dni Szok Kontrolowany. Warsaw: Polska Oficyna Wydawnicza, 1992. Bauman, Zygmunt. Liquid Modernity. Cambridge: Polity, 2000. Bayat, Asef. Revolution without Revolutionaries: Making Sense of the Arab Spring. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2017. Beckwith, Ryan Teague. ‘Read President Trump’s Remarks on ‘Defending Civilization’ in Poland.’ Time, 6 July 2017. https://time.com/4846924/ read-president-trumps-remarks-on-defending-civilization-in-poland/. Berend, Iván T. Central and Eastern Europe 1944–1993: Detour from the Periphery to the Periphery. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Berend, Iván T. From the Soviet Bloc to the European Union. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. Betts, Paul. ‘1989 at Thirty: A Recast Legacy.’ Past and Present 244, no. 1 (August 2019): 271–305. Betts, Paul, and Katherine Pence (eds.), Socialist Modern: East German Everyday Culture and Politics. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2008. Beyrau, Dietrich. Intelligenz und Dissens: Die russischen Bildungsschichten in der Sowjetunion 1917–1985. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1993. ‘Big, bad Visegrad.’ Economist, 28 January 2016. https://www.economist. com/europe/2016/01/28/big-bad-Visegrád. Blum, Ulrich et al. Regionalisierung öffentlicher Ausgaben und Einnahmen – Eine Untersuchung am Beispiel der Neuen Länder. Halle: Halle Institute for Economic Research, 2009. Bohle, Dorothee, and Béla Greskovits. Capitalist Diversity on Europe’s Periphery. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2012. Böick, Marcus. Die Treuhand: Idee – Praxis – Erfahrung 1990–1994. Göttingen: Wallstein, 2018. Bolton, Jonathan. Worlds of Dissent: Charter 77, the Plastic People of the Universe, and Czech Culture under Communism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012. Borkowski, Marek. ‘Sprzedać, oddać, wydzierżawić.’ Polityka, 49 (1988). Boym, Svetlana. The Future of Nostalgia. New York: Basic Books, 2001. Bradley, Mark Philip. ‘American Vernaculars: The United States and the Global Human Rights Imaginatio.’ Diplomatic History 38, no. 1 (2014): 1–21.

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List of Contributors

Aleida Assmann is Professor Emerita of English and Literary Studies at the University of Konstanz, Germany. Since the 1990s, her specific interests have centred around the history of German memory since 1945, the role of generations in literature and society, and theories of memory. Assmann is a member of the Academies of Science in Brandenburg, Göttingen and Austria. She was the 2018 recipient, with Jan Assmann, of the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade. Florian Bieber is a political scientist and historian focusing on Southeastern Europe, nationalism and European Integration. He is a Professor of Southeast European History and Politics and Director of the Centre for Southeast European Studies at the University of Graz, Austria. He holds a Jean Monnet Chair in the Europeanization of Southeastern Europe and is coordinator of the Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group (BiEPAG) and has been providing policy advice to international organisations, foreign ministries, donors and private investors. He is also a Visiting Professor at the Nationalism Studies Program at CEU, has been a Visiting Fellow at the LSE and New York University, and held the Luigi Einaudi Chair at Cornell University. His most recent books include The Rise of Authoritarianism in the Western Balkans (2019); and Debating Nationalism. The Global Spread of Nations (2020). Dorothee Bohle is Professor of Political Science and Dean of Postdoctoral Studies at the European University Institute in Florence. Her research is located at the intersection of comparative and international political economy, with a special focus on East Central Europe. Her articles appeared in Studies in Comparative and International Development, Capital and Class, West European

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Politics, Competition and Change, Journal of Democracy, European Journal of Sociology, Comparative Politics, New Political Economy, Socio-Economic Review. Her book Capitalist Diversity on Europe’s Periphery, written together with Béla Greskovits, was awarded the 2013 Stein Rokkan Prize for Comparative Social Science Research. She was winner of the 2014 CEU Award for Outstanding Research (with Béla Greskovits). Robert Brier is a historian whose research focuses on the intersection between international politics, intellectual history, and transnational relations in contemporary European history, with a particular focus on the history of human rights, the Cold War, and Central Europe. Holly Case is a historian of modern Europe whose work focuses on the relationship between foreign policy, social policy, science, and literature in the European state system of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Her first book was Between States: The Transylvanian Question and the European Idea during WWII (2009). She recently completed The Age of Questions: Or, A First Attempt at an Aggregate History of the Eastern, Social, Woman, American, Jewish, Polish, Bullion, Tuberculosis, and Many Other Questions over the Nineteenth Century, and Beyond (2018). Case has written on European history, literature, politics and ideas for various magazines and newspapers, including the Guardian, the Chronicle Review, Aeon, the Nation, Dissent, the Times Literary Supplement, Eurozine, and Boston Review, and is a regular columnist for 3 Quarks Daily.  Niall Chithelen is a PhD student at the University of California, San Diego, where he studies violence and politics in modern Chinese history. He is one of the editors of Taxis magazine and is a columnist for 3 Quarks Daily. Previously, he taught at China Foreign Affairs University as a Princeton in Asia fellow. He holds a degree in China and Asia-Pacific Studies and History from Cornell University, where he also served as the editor-in-chief of the Cornell International Affairs Review. Barbara J. Falk is an associate professor in the Department of Defence Studies at the Canadian Forces College/Royal Military College of Canada, and author of The Dilemmas of Dissidence:


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Citizen Intellectuals and Philosopher Kings (2003) and Political Trials: Causes and Categories (2008). Her primary research interest is political trials, particularly in the persecution and prosecution of domestic dissent. She is currently writing a book on comparative political trials across the East-West divide during the early Cold War. Prior to her academic career, she worked in both the private and public sectors in human resources, labour relations and women’s issues. For more information, see: http://www. cfc.forces.gc.ca/136/277-eng.html. Simon Garnett is senior editor at Eurozine. Diana Georgescu is an assistant professor of Southeast European studies at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies at University College London. Her research focuses on the socialist and post-socialist periods, spanning interdisciplinary domains such as the transnational history of childhood and youth, memory studies and oral history, travel and consumption, gender history, and comparative nationalism. Tentatively entitled Ceaușescu’s Children: The Making and Unmaking of Romania’s Last Socialist Generation (1965–2010), her current book project integrates a cultural and social history of socialist childhood and citizenship in Ceaușescu’s Romania with an ethnography of the generational dynamics of post-socialist memory. Her research has also found expression in a series of scholarly articles and book chapters on post-socialist memory regimes, gendered representations of national and European identity, post-communist film, national identity and travel writing, and the teaching of regional history in post-socialist Eastern Europe. She has held fellowships at the European University Institute in Florence, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in DC and the New Europe College in Bucharest. Her research has been funded by the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Award, the Social Science Research Council in New York and the Council for European Studies at Columbia University. Béla Greskovits is University Professor at the Department of International Relations, and Department of Political Science, at Central European University. His research interests are the political economy of east central European capitalism, social movements, and democratization. His articles appeared in

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Studies in Comparative and International Development, Labor History, Orbis, West European Politics, Competition and Change, Journal of Democracy, European Journal of Sociology, Global Policy, and Transfer: European Review of Labour and Research. He was winner of the 2014 István Bibó Prize of the Hungarian Political Science Association, and the 2018 laureate of the Danubius Award of the Institute for the Danube Region and the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research. Owen Hatherley received a PhD in 2011 from Birkbeck College, London, for a thesis published in 2016 as The Chaplin Machine – Slapstick, Fordism and the Communist Avant-Garde. He has had scholarly articles published in The RIBA Journal of Architecture, the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians and the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, among others, and has published chapters in many academic books. He works as a journalist and critic for Architects Journal, Architectural Review, Dezeen, the Guardian, the London Review of Books, New Humanist and Prospect. He is the author of several books: Militant Modernism (2009); A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain (2010); Uncommon – An Essay on Pulp (2011); Across the Plaza (2012); A New Kind of Bleak – Journeys through Urban Britain (2012), which was set to music by the group Golau Glau; Landscapes of Communism (2015); The Ministry of Nostalgia (2016); Trans-Europe Express (2018) and The Adventures of Owen Hatherley in the Post-Soviet Space (2018). He also edited and introduced an updated edition of Ian Nairn’s Nairn’s Towns (2013), and wrote texts for the exhibition Brutalust: Celebrating Post-War Southampton, at the K6 Gallery. He is the culture editor of Tribune. Bogdan C. Iacob is a researcher at the Institute of History of the Romanian Academy and a fellow at the Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies. He was a member of the international projects ‘1989 after 1989: Rethinking the Fall of State Socialism in Global Perspective’ and ‘Socialism Goes Global: Connections between the “Second” and the “Third” Worlds.’ He was principal investigator of the project ‘Socialist Experts during the Cold War’. He is co-author with James Mark, Ljubica Spaskovska, and Tobias Rupprecht of 1989. A Global History of Eastern Europe (2019) and editor of the special issue ‘Socialist Experts in Transnational Per-


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spective. East European Circulation of Knowledge during the Cold War’ of the journal East Central Europe (2018). Among his other recent publications are ‘Balkan Counter-circulation: Internationalizing Area Studies from the Periphery during the Cold War’ in Matthias Middell (ed.), Handbook of Transregional Studies (2018) and ‘Southeast by Global South: Balkans, UNESCO and the Cold War’ in Artemy Kalinovsky, James Mark, and Steffi Marung (eds.), Alternative Globalizations: Eastern Europe and the Global South 1945–1991 (forthcoming in 2020). Ivan Krastev is chairman of the Centre for Liberal Strategies, Sofia, Permanent Fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences (IWM) in Vienna, and a New York Times contributing writer. He is a founding board member of the European Council on Foreign Relations and a member of the Board of Trustees of The International Crisis Group. His most recent book is, together with Stephen Holmes, The Light that Failed: How the West Won the Cold War and Lost the Peace (Allen Lane, 2019). He is the author of After Europe (2017); Democracy Disrupted: The Global Politics on Protest (2014); and In Mistrust We Trust: Can Democracy Survive When We Don’t Trust Our Leaders? (2013).   Jarosław Kuisz (Ph.D.), editor-in-chief of the Polish political and cultural weekly Kultura Liberalna, senior lecturer at the Faculty of Law and Administration, University of Warsaw and chercheur étranger associé at the Institut d’histoire du temps present at CNRS in Paris. Kuisz was a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow at the University of Copenhagen (2016–18) and co-director of the Knowledge Bridges Poland-Britain-Europe Project at St Antony’s College, University of Oxford (2016–18). He is a former visiting scholar at the University of Oxford, University of Chicago Law School and Columbia Law School. He recently published the book Koniec pokoleń podległości (The end of occupation mentality generations, 2018). Ferenc Laczó is an assistant professor in European History at Maastricht University. A political and intellectual historian, Laczó holds a PhD from the Central European University and is the author of three books in twentieth-century Hungarian, Jewish and German history. He is the editor, most recently, of Confronting Devastation: Memoirs of Holocaust Survivors from Hungary

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(2019) and co-editor of Intellectual Horizons: Central and Eastern Europe in the Twentieth Century (forthcoming in 2020). Claus Leggewie Ludwig Boerne Chair at Giessen University, until 2017 director of the Kulturwissenschaftliches Institut (KWI), Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities in Essen (Germany). Leggewie studied sociology and history in Cologne and Paris, served as professor of political science at the universities of Göttingen and Giessen (1996–2017) and as fellow at the Institute of Human Sciences (IWM) Vienna (1994 and 2006), Max Weber Chair at New York University (1995–97), Remarque Institute New York (1997–98), Wissenschaftskolleg Berlin (1999– 2000). Main research topics: participatory and digital democracy, right-wing extremism and neo-conservatism in comparative perspective, Memory Studies, climate and cultures. Luka Lisjak Gabrijelčič is a Slovenian historian, political analyst and translator. He is the editor of the cultural magazine Razpotja, and op-ed writer for the daily newspaper Delo. He has edited a volume in Slovene on the contemporary legacy of humanist thought, and is the co-author of the volume A History of Modern Political Thought in East Central Europe: Negotiating Modernity in the ‘Short Twentieth Century’ and Beyond, 1918– 2018 (2018). His research interests include intellectual history, history of political thought, history of historiography and cultural aspects of nationalist movements, with a focus on east central Europe. He has published on identity disputes on the Slovenian-Italian borderlands, Catholic political thought and comparative analyses of processes of national identity formation in Central Europe and Spain. He is currently finishing his PhD at the CEU in Budapest, and teaching a course on intellectual history of nationalism at the CEU campus in Vienna. He has translated works of Hannah Arendt, and several Spanish, Catalan and Italian authors to Slovene, as well as Slovene authors to Catalan. Zsófia Lóránd is an intellectual historian of feminism in postWWII state-socialist Eastern Europe. Currently she is a Marie Curie Fellow at the Faculty of History, University of Cambridge. Her book, The Feminist Challenge to the Socialist State in Yugoslavia was published in the Palgrave Macmillan series ‘Genders


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and Sexualities in History’ in 2018. She got her PhD at the Central European University in Budapest and has held positions at the European University Institute in Florence and the Lichtenberg-Kolleg in Göttingen. Her further publications include articles about the history of feminist political thought in Croatia and Serbia after 1991, the problems of a missing women’s perspective in the nationalist commemorations of Hungarian history, the concept of sexual revolution in Yugoslavia. For eight years, she worked as an SOS helpline volunteer and trainer in the field of domestic violence. James Mark is Professor of History at the University of Exeter. He is the author of The Unfinished Revolution: Making Sense of the Communist Past in Central-Eastern Europe (2010), which was nominated for the Longman History Today Book Prize 2011 and selected as one of the best books of 2011 by Foreign Affairs. He is co-author of Europe’s 1968: Voices of Revolt (2013) and 1989: A Global History of Eastern Europe (2019), and co-editor of Secret Agents and the Memory of Everyday Collaboration in Communist Eastern Europe (2017) and Alternative Encounters: Eastern Europe and the Postcolonial World (forthcoming in 2020). Jill Massino is associate professor of history at UNC Charlotte, where she teaches courses on modern European and comparative history. Her research examines gender, citizenship, and everyday life in socialist and postsocialist Romania. She has published numerous articles and books, including Gender Politics and Everyday Life in State Socialist Eastern and Central Europe (co-edited with Shana Penn; 2009) and Ambiguous Transitions: Gender, the State, and Everyday Life in Socialist and Postsocialist Romania (2019). Her current project, ‘Cold War Collaborations’, explores Romania’s relationship with several countries in the Global South. Jannis Panagiotidis is Junior Professor of History and Migration Studies at the University of Osnabrück Institute for Migration Research and Intercultural Studies (IMIS). He received a PhD from the European University Institute in Florence in 2012. His research focuses on the history of co-ethnic migration, East-West migrations past and present, and on the history of free movement. His publications include the monograph The Unchosen Ones:

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Diaspora, Nation, and Migration in Israel and Germany (2019), and the edited volume (with Victor Dönninghaus and Hans-Christian Petersen) Jenseits der ‘Volksgruppe’: Neue Perspektiven auf die Russlanddeutschen zwischen Russland, Deutschland und Amerika (2018). His second monograph, entitled Postsowjetische Migration in Deutschland: eine Einführung is under contract with Beltz Juventa publishers. Réka Kinga Papp is editor-in chief at Eurozine since November 2018. Papp is a journalist specializing in environmental, social and human rights issues, anchoring a Hungarian speaking social science infotainment radio programme titled Professzor Paprika and author of a book on sex work and prostitution in Hungary, Aki kurvának áll: szexmunka sztorik (Once You Enrol As a Whore: Sex Work Stories, 2017). Igor Pomerantsev is a poet, critic, playwright and broadcaster. He broadcast with the Russian Service of the BBC and has worked with Radio Liberty in London, Munich, and Prague as editor and presenter. He is also the author of radio plays and several books of prose, poetry and essays, including Radio ‘C.’ The Book of Radio Stories (2002). Peter Pomerantsev is a Visiting Senior Fellow at the Institute of Global Affairs at the London School of Economics, an author and TV producer. He studies propaganda and media development, and has testified on the challenges of information war to the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, US Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the UK Parliament Defence Select Committee. He writes for publications including Granta, The Atlantic, Financial Times, London Review of Books, Politico and many others. His first book, Nothing is True and Everything is Possible, won the 2016 Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize, and was nominated for the Samuel Johnson, Guardian First Book, Pushkin House and Gordon Burns Prizes. It is translated into over a dozen languages. His second book has just been released under the title This Is Not Propaganda: Adventures in the War Against Reality. Joachim von Puttkamer studied modern and East European history in Freiburg and London. He received his PhD in Freiburg in 1994, where he also submitted his habilitation thesis in 2000. He


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is currently professor of East European history at Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena and one of the directors of the Imre Kertész Kolleg. His research interests include the history of state-building and nationalism, political violence during socialist rule, and museums and exhibitions in Central and Eastern Europe. More recent publications include Ostmittel­europa im 19. und 20. Jahr­ hundert (2010), Catastrophe and Utopia: Jewish Intellectuals in Central and Eastern Europe in the 1930s and 1940s, edited by Ferenc Laczó and Joachim von Putt­kamer (2017), and From Revolution to Uncertainty: The Year 1990 in Central and Eastern Europe, edited by Wlodzimierz Borodziej, Stanislav Holubec and Joachim von Puttkamer (2019). Tobias Rupprecht is a Lecturer in Latin American and Caribbean History at the University of Exeter. He has held research and teaching positions at the EUI in Florence, FU Berlin, Aarhus Universitet, the Catholic University in Santiago de Chile, Fudan University in Shanghai, and the German Historical Institute in Moscow. His research mostly addresses contacts between the Second and Third Worlds during the Cold War and its aftermath, the role of culture and religion in international relations, and the position of both Latin America and Russia in the global history of the late 20th century. His monograph Soviet Internationalism after Stalin. Interaction and Exchange between the USSR and Latin America during the Cold War (2015) explored Latin American encounters with the Soviet Union and the ways in which arts and culture shaped how people made sense of the Global Cold War. He is the co-author of 1989. A Global History of Eastern Europe (2019, together with Bogdan Iacob, James Mark, and Ljubica Spaskovska). He is currently studying the role of liberal economists in late state socialism and the ‘transition period’.  Richard Sakwa is Professor of Russian and European Politics at the University of Kent and an Associate Fellow of Chatham House. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics (BA Hons) and the University of Birmingham (PhD). He held lectureships at the Universities of Essex and California, Santa Cruz, before joining the University of Kent in 1987. He has published widely on Soviet, Russian and European affairs. Books include Communism in Russia: An Interpretative Essay (2010); The Crisis of Russian Democracy: The Dual State, Factionalism and the Medvedev Succession (2011);

List of Contributors 325

Putin and the Oligarch: The Khodorkovsky-Yukos Affair (2014);  Putin Redux: Power and Contradiction in Contemporary Russia  (2014); and Frontline Ukraine: Crisis in the Borderlands (2016). His latest books are Russia against the Rest: The Post-Cold War Crisis of World Order (2017) and Russia’s Futures (2018). Karl Schlögel is Professor Emeritus of Eastern European History at the European University Viadrina in Frankfurt an der Oder. He specialises in modern Russia, the history of Stalinism, the Russian diaspora and dissident movements, Eastern European cultural history and theoretical problems of historical narration. His most important works include Das Russische Berlin (2019); In Space We Read Time: On the History of Civilization and Geopolitics (2016); Moscow 1937 (2012); and The Soviet Century: Archeology of a Vanished World (forthcoming in 2020). He has been awarded the Leipzig Book Prize for European Understanding in 2009, the Deutscher Historikerpreis in 2016 as well as the award for the best non-fiction book of the year at the Leipzig Book Fair in 2018. Ondřej Slačálek is Assistant Professor at the Department of Political Science, Faculty of Arts, Charles University, Prague. He has published various scholarly articles on the history of radicalism, musical subcultures, national identity and nationalism in journals such as Patterns of Prejudice, Czech Sociological Review, Socio. hu, and Mezinárodní vztahy, among others. He has published the books Anarchism. Freedom against Power (2006, together with Václav Tomek, in Czech) and Prophets of Post-Utopian Radicalism: Aleksander Dugin and Hakim Bey (2018, with Olga Pavlova and Adam Borzič, in Czech). From 2006–2007 and 2008–2016 he was an editor at the streetpaper Nový Prostor, and he also publishes essays in Právo – Salon, A2 and A2larm. Julia Sonnevend is Assistant Professor of Sociology and Communications at the New School for Social Research in New York. She has held fellowships at the Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the Centre for Contemporary History in Potsdam, and the Yale Center for Cultural Sociology in New Haven. Her scholarship lies at the intersection of media studies, cultural sociology and international relations, and aims to show that we are far less rational in our political,


List of Contributors

social and mediated lives than we imagine ourselves to be. Her first book, Stories Without Borders: The Berlin Wall and the Making of a Global Iconic Event (2016), asks: how do particular news events become lasting global myths, while others fade into oblivion? Focusing on journalists covering the fall of the Berlin Wall and on subsequent retellings of the event (from Legoland reenactments to the installation of segments of the Berlin Wall in shopping malls), Sonnevend discusses how storytellers build up certain events so that people remember them for long periods of time. She also shows that the powerful myth of the fall of the Berlin Wall still shapes our debates about separation walls and fences, borders and refugees globally. While her first book focused on magical events in our international imagination, her next book considers a magical quality in human relations: it will analyse the importance of ‘charm’ in foreign affairs, business and everyday social life.  Marius Stan is a Romanian political scientist who holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of Bucharest. He served as editor of the journal History of Communism in Europe. He is the author of books published in several languages and of numerous articles in international scholarly journals. Most recently, he has co-authored (with Vladimir Tismaneanu) A Stalin Dossier: The Genialissimo Generalissimo (2014) and A Lenin Dossier: The Magic of Nihilism (2016). His research and teaching interests include twentieth-century European Communism and fascism, revolutionary political ideologies and movements, transitional justice, and the main intellectual biographies and debates during the Cold War.   Philipp Ther is professor of Central European History at the University of Vienna, where he also guides the Research Cluster for the History of Transformations (RECET). Previously he was professor of comparative European history at the EUI in Florence. His book Die neue Ordnung auf dem alten Kontinent: Eine Geschichte des neoliberalen Europa (2014) was awarded the non-fiction book prize of the Leipzig Bookfare in 2015. An English version titled Europe since 1989: A History was published by Princeton University Press (six more translations have been published or will be published in 2019). He previously published The Dark Side of Nation States: Ethnic Cleansing in Modern

List of Contributors 327

Europe (2014; German original: German 2011; Polish 2012; Czech 2017) and Center Stage: Operatic Culture and Nation Building in 19th Century Central Europe (2014; Czech 2008). He has co-edited twelve other books and published numerous articles in fourteen European languages. His most recent book is The Outsiders: Refugees in Europe since 1492 (2019). Vladimir Tismaneanu is professor of comparative politics and director of the Center for the Study of Post-Communist Societies at the University of Maryland, College Park. In 2006, he chaired the Presidential Commission for the Analysis of the Communist Dictatorship in Romania. In 2008–2009, he was a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. His research areas include comparative politics, political ideologies, revolutions, as well as the contemporary politics of Central and Eastern Europe. His books include Romania Confronts Its Communist Past: Democracy, Memory, and Moral Justice, co-authored with Marius Stan (2018); The Devil in History: Communism, Fascism, and Some Lessons of the Twentieth Century (2012); Stalinism for All Seasons: A Political History of Romanian Communism (2003); Fantasies of Salvation: Democracy, Nationalism and Myth in Post-Communist Europe (1998); and Reinventing Politics: Eastern Europe from Stalin to Havel (1993). Tismaneanu is a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Democracy and the Journal of Cold War Studies.   James Wang is completing his PhD in Modern European History at Brown University with a focus on German occupation politics during the First World War. He received his BA from Cornell University in 2012 and an MA in European Studies from Yale in 2014. His research interests include the history of nationalism and state-building in Central and Eastern Europe, the politics of European integration from the First World War to the present, and more broadly, nationalism in a comparative and trans­ national context. Jan Zielonka is Professor of European Politics at the University of Oxford and Ralf Dahrendorf Professorial Fellow at St Antony’s College. His previous appointments included posts at the University of Warsaw, Leiden University and the European University Institute in Florence. His work oscillates between the field of inter-


List of Contributors

national relations, comparative politics and political theory. Zielonka has produced eighteen books including Counter-revolution: Liberal Europe in Retreat (2018); Politics and the Media in New Democracies: Europe in a Comparative Perspective (2015); Is the EU doomed? (2014), and Europe as Empire: The Nature of the Enlarged European Union (2006). Zielonka frequently contributes articles for various European newspapers and online journals.


Acharya, Amitav, 25 Ackerman, Bruce, 288 Adamowicz, Paweł, 274n, 288 Adorno, Theodor, 64 Africa, 56, 124 Algeria, 200 Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), 79 Alternative for Germany (AfD), 32, 44, 49–50, 54, 55, 66, 67, 73, 82, 101, 102, 185 Americanization, 125 Amnesty International, 164, 170–71 Andropov, Yuri, 144 ANO, 79, 213 Antall, József, 288 anti-communism, 126, 131, 205, 211, 256, 283, 284, 287–89 anti-fascism, 48 anti-liberalism. See illiberalism. antipolitics, 163 antisemitism, 79, 127, 190, 204 Apartheid, 164 Applebaum, Anne, 117 Arendt, Hannah, 30, 59, 64, 202, 208 Ash, Timothy Garton, 134, 191–92 Asia, 26, 33, 56, 102, 129. See also Central Asia Assad, Bashar al, 66 Assmann, Aleida, 9, 264, 282, 286–88 Attlee, Clement, 70 Austria, 72, 73, 81, 82, 119, 149, 150, 215, 225, 228, 270, 283, 286, 296 Austrian Empire. See Habsburg Monarchy authoritarianism, 49, 66, 74, 103, 111, 127–28, 137–38, 141–42, 148, 183, 187–88, 196–200, 269, 273, 284, 292; neo-authoritarianism, 113, 117, 122, 138; semi- or soft authoritarianism, 76, 118; and communism, 283; and religion,

217; and technology, 203–4; competitive, 16 Babiš, Andrej, 19n, 79, 93, 102, 189, 190, 213, 216 backwardness, 71, 86, 123, 126, 127, 244–46, 248, 248 Balcerowicz, Leszek, 34–35, 61 Balkans, 74, 76, 80, 134, 232, 240, 243, 247–48, 283; western, 5, 11, 16–17, 80–81, 140 Balkanization, 80 Baltic Sea, 20 Baltic states, 21, 73, 131, 140, 146, 152, 235 Banac, Ivo, 134 Bannon, Steve 102–3, 134, 283 Băsescu, Traian, 94 Benda, Václav, 166, 187, 199 Berend, Iván T., 147 Berlin Wall, 30, 48, 229–30; fall of, 1, 8, 37, 46, 60, 70, 97, 103, 137, 228, 228, 229 Berlusconi, Silvio, 80, 225 Berman, Paul 256–57 Bibó, István, 139 biopolitics, 283 Blair, Tony, 43 Bogoraz, Lariza, 158, 160 Böick, Marcus, 32, 39 Borcuch, Jacek, 254–55 Bosnia and Herzegovina, 41, 76, 80 Bosnian Spring, 148 Boym, Svetlana, 82 Brecht, Bertolt, 284 Bren, Paulina, 175 Brexit, 4, 26, 47, 56, 73, 77, 78, 82, 99, 102, 149, 222, 235, 293, 296 BRICS, 27 Britain, Great. See United Kingdom Brodsky, Joseph, 292, 293 Brzezinski, Zbigniew, 276 Bukharin, Nikolai, 61

330 Index

Bulgaria, 46, 71, 73, 128, 130, 140, 145, 222, 226, 235, 236, 237, 240, 241, 248, 249, 251, 264, 280, 282 bureaucracy, 62, 127, 141, 167, 215, 227, 259 Bush, George H. W., 268 Bush, George W. 119, 215 capitalism 21, 32, 61, 85–86, 102–3, 112, 181–82, 186, 208, 214, 217, 220, 226, 268; anti-capitalism, 148, 267, 287; crony, 211; and democracy, 11, 15, 28, 33, 85–86, 92–93, 101, 103, 109, 270–72, 276, 287, 289, 296; financial, 33, 127; in the peripheries 12–14, 248 Čaputová, Zuzana, 93, 188, 190 Cassin, René, 267 Catholicism, 33n, 34, 72, 128, 132, 144, 162, 164, 166, 209, 211, 212, 217 CDU (Christian Democratic Union, Germany), 37, 44, 49 Ceaușescu, Nicolae, 82, 88, 130 145, 219, 242, 269, 282 Central Asia, 293 Central Europe. See under Europe Central European University (CEU), 9, 68, 134, 189 Charter 77, 159, 162, 164, 168, 169, 188, 268 Chicago School, 33, 35–36, 44, 61 Chile, 33, 129, 164 China, 24–25, 27,29, 40, 65, 97–100, 102–3, 108–10, 111, 116, 124, 126, 128, 131, 200, 203, 213, 263, 275, 278, 279 Chinese Communist Party, 97–99 Christian democracy, 33, 35, 37, 122 Christianity, 56, 104, 105, 121, 124, 127, 129, 131, 165, 167, 240, 247, 293; see also de-Christianization Churchill, Winston, 20, 258 civil disobedience, 130, 165, 189 civil rights, 52, 85, 205, 207, 268. See also human rights civil society, 5, 7, 57, 135, 179, 187, 188–89, 200, 203, 205–8, 211. See also uncivil society civilization; European, 127, 150, 247, 252; Western, 124–25, 214, 258;

civilizational divide, 144, 249; civilizational hierarchies, 2, 129, 246, 256 Clinton, Hillary, 123 Cold War, 2, 5, 21–23, 103, 129, 172, 176, 276, 278; imagery of, 4, 222, 230, 248, 266, 252, 263; triumphalism, 32, 180–81, 188, 190, 193, 204, 248, 268; end of, 2, 11, 20, 23, 26, 28, 29, 142, 188, 190, 287; divide, 7–8, 20, 70, 75, 97, 104, 106, 145, 230, 232, 234, 251; second, 20–22, 25, 59, 145, 224, 279 colonialism, 62, 167, 177, 222, 248, 252, 269, 274, 277, 292, 295; anti-colonial, 129, 279; neo-colonial, 23, 124, 127; post-colonial, 2, 49, 101; self-colonization, 249 Comecon, 38, 48 communism, communist parties, 31, 34, 49, 60, 79, 81–82, 87, 97–99, 113, 121, 124–31, 139, 141, 149, 151–53, 199, 210–14, 219–21, 223, 228–29, 234, 254–55, 260–61, 263, 268, 273, 276–79, 289, 296; reform communism, 132; and gender, 154–76, 182, 185, 190–91; and nationalism, 283–84; Communist Manifesto, 120 Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), 48, 154, 174 conservatism, 3, 78, 84, 128, 129, 132– 33, 137, 287 corruption, 11, 17–18, 62, 69, 78–79, 99, 130, 138, 142, 147, 191, 193, 211, 263; anti-corruption movements, 84–95, 148, 188, 190, 199–200, 252 cosmopolitanism, 124, 127, 129, 270, 271, 288 Crimea, 22 Crimean Tartars, 165 Croatia, 17, 73, 78, 145, 236 Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), 17 Cuba, 277 Cultural Revolution, 97 Cyprus, 77, 235

Index 331

Czech Republic, 11, 40, 41, 44, 45, 56, 72–73, 77, 79, 93, 102, 126, 131, 136, 140, 146, 149, 188, 190, 212, 213, 215, 216, 232, 291 Czechoslovakia, 31, 36, 37, 38, 41, 128, 131, 144, 159, 163, 166, 175, 180, 187, 188, 190, 192, 195, 196, 205– 6, 268, 287, 291 Dahrendorf, Ralf, 66, 136, 259 Daniel, Julij, 160 Dawisha, Karen, 138 Dayton Agreements, 148 Debord, Guy, 59 de-Christianization, 56, 137 de-industrialization, 50, 101 democracy, democratization, 22, 52, 74–75, 76–79, 106, 111–12, 127, 136, 138, 148, 175, 188, 249, 257, 259, 272, 276, 281, 287, 296; direct, 130, 208, 210; and the EU, 15–16, 19, 269; and nationalism, 283–84; democratic movements, 190–209 demography, 120, 281, 283, 284 demographic panic, 124, 281, 282 Deng Xiaoping, 97 Denmark, 79, 225 Deregulation, 12, 33, 129, 201, 236, 272 Diner, Dan, 67 discrimination, 65, 154, 155, 242, 244, 246 dissidents, dissent, 7, 9, 48, 64, 100, 128, 130, 136, 141, 144, 153, 155– 76, 180, 188, 203, 205, 209, 211, 212, 217, 268, 269, 270, 286–89 Dmowski, Roman, 137 Donert, Celia, 174 Dostoyevsky, Fyodor, 111, 292 Dragnea, Liviu, 91, 142 East Germany. See German Democratic Republic Eastern Bloc, 2, 20, 22, 23, 35, 49, 56, 71, 73, 92, 98, 156, 158–59, 162, 164, 165, 169, 171, 173, 174, 176, 234, 256, 262, 268–89. See also Wasaw Pact economy, 3–5, 11–15, 18–19, 25–26, 31–47, 53–54, 56, 61–62, 71–72,

77–78, 85–88, 97–99, 101–3, 115, 126, 128–29, 139, 145–47, 175, 193, 201, 238, 257–58, 278–79, 281 Eisenstadt, S. N., 141 emigration. See migration Engels, Friedrich, 112, 210 England, 102, 183, 247. See also United Kingdom Engler, Wolfgang, 52 Enlightenment, 145, 247, 258, 266, 276 Enzensberger, Hans Magnus, 60, 64 Erdoğan, Recep Tayyip, 67, 123 Estemirova, Natalya, 69 Estonia, 72, 235, 236 ethno-nationalism, ethnocracy, 82, 104–6, 110, 118, 121, 123, 125, 133, 137, 142, 148, 281–83 Europe; central, 7, 11, 30, 68, 76, 77, 78, 80, 81, 92, 134, 144–53, 154, 163, 168, 174, 215, 216, 254, 255, 291– 93; central and eastern, 7, 14, 56, 72, 135, 136–42, 154, 157, 217, 220, 221, 224, 225, 232, 254, 275, 277, 278, 281, 283, 285, 287, 288; east central, 4, 6, 36, 42, 67, 98, 102, 103, 112, 113, 119, 120, 121–22, 156n, 177–86, 189, 199, 257–62; eastern, 1–9, 11, 12, 16, 18 19, 30, 31, 48, 61, 63, 70–72, 74, 84, 86, 92, 100, 102, 108, 123–33, 134, 140, 144, 158, 163, 165, 177, 179, 181–85, 187, 188, 203, 219, 220, 221, 222, 224, 232–40, 241, 248– 49, 252, 254, 256, 257, 258, 260– 63, 264, 266, 269, 273, 274, 278, 281, 284, 285–87, 290, 291–93; north-western, 77, 221; southern, 30, 56, 75, 77, 82, 126, 145–47, 215, 225, 238, 252; southeastern, 30, 78–81, 172, 236, 239, 240; western, 2–3, 12, 39, 46, 71, 74, 81, 82, 97, 100–101, 104, 121, 123, 125, 126, 133, 137, 140, 169, 216, 219, 234, 236, 238, 240, 242, 254, 258, 262, 279, 283, 284, 290, 294 European civilization. See under civilization European Parliament, 17, 72, 79, 81, 134, 151

332 Index

European People’s Party (EPP), 17, 79 European Union (EU); accession to, 11–12, 15–16, 32, 39, 46, 74, 78, 79, 85, 87, 139–40, 183, 215, 242, 248–49, 252, 259, 262–63; expansion of, 3, 60, 70, 93, 128, 263, 140; secession from, 77, 225 (see also Brexit); funds, 53, 56, 71, 87, 92, 94, 146, 213, 215–16; public support for, 91, 94, 138, 260– 61; and migration, 8, 18, 264, 222, 235–37, 243–44, 251; and national sovereignty, 48, 270–71, 284; and human rights, 267–69; as a normative power promoting liberal democracy, 15–16, 19, 94, 140–42, 149, 182, 271–72; and neoliberalism, 13–14; and illiberalism, 16–18, 81, 116, 120, 138, 224, 265, 273; anti-EU sentiments, 49, 101, 116, 121, 124, 126, 129, 190, 236, 241 Europeanization, 7, 15, 68, 78–80, 190, 215, 249, 262 Europeanness, 2–3, 11, 124, 249–50 Euroscepticism, 51, 78, 93, 208, 241, 259–61, 265 eurozone, 3, 18, 73, 262 Farage, Nigel, 241, 243, 246 Fascism, 138, 22; post-fasiscm, 71 feminism 93, 154, 161–63, 166–68, 171, 174, 176, 177–86 Fidelis, Małgorzata, 154, 174 Fidesz—Hungarian Civic Alliance, 7, 79, 81, 115, 116, 122, 124, 132, 134, 189, 288 Finland, 73 Five Star Movement, 102 Fortuyn, Pim, 72 Forza Italia, 17 France, 72, 73, 74, 87, 102, 121, 148, 149, 150, 170, 184, 211, 213, 225, 235, 237, 247, 250, 251, 258, 261, 289, 294 Franco, Francisco, 71, 129 Frankfurt School, 178 Freedom Party (FPÖ, Austria), 72–73, 82 French Revolution, 267, 290

Friedman, Milton, 36, 61 Fukuyama, Francis, 6, 31, 63, 114, 142, 260, 271, 276 Galizia, Daphne Caruana, 69 Gauck, Joachim, 51 Gazeta Wyborcza, 117, 287 Gellner, Ernest, 134 gender issues, 7, 124, 155–68, 169–76, 177, 180–86, 199, 208 Geremek, Bronisław, 134, 259, 287 German Democratic Republic (GDR), 22, 31–32, 36–39, 48–52, 54–57, 78, 101, 111, 125, 180 192, 206, 229, 234, 268, 270, 281 Germany, 4–5, 30–32, 35, 38–47, 48–57, 63, 65, 68, 71, 72, 73, 74, 79, 81, 97, 101–2, 125, 126, 144, 146, 149, 161–62, 213, 215, 221, 233, 235, 236–38, 240, 267, 270, 284–86, 289, 293–94; Nazi, 48, 67, 150, 285; unification of, 2, 22, 31–32, 35, 36–39, 50–56, 67, 70, 101–2, 180, 270, 285 Giedroyc, Jerzy, 64 gilets jaunes, 102 Gliński, Piotr, 151 globalization, 30, 66, 68, 105, 112–13, 127, 142, 149, 259, 269, 271–72 Golunov, Ivan, 131 Gorbachev, Mikhail, 23, 28–29, 60, 67, 174, 191–92 Gorbanevskaya, Natalya, 158 Gorky, Maxim, 69 Goven, Joanna, 175 Greece, 71, 77, 121, 146, 149, 189, 225 Greens, the (Germany), 42–43, 161 Grillo, Beppe, 73 Gross, Jan, 287 Groys, Boris, 294 Habermas, Jürgen, 64, 210 Habsburg Monarchy, 70, 233, 258 Haider, Jörg, 72 Hartz reforms, 43–44 Havel, Václav, 64, 69, 130, 136, 141, 162–63, 166–68, 191, 193–94, 196–97, 211, 212, 215, 217, 268, 287, 289, 291 Hegel, Georg W. F., 210, 276 Heller, Ágnes, 289

Index 333

Helsinki Accords, 159, 169, 234, 268, 269 Helsinki Committees, 161, 268, 288 Herder, Johann Gottfried, 283 Hassner, Pierre, 139 Hobbes, Thomas, 247 Höcke, Björn, 125 Holmes, Stephen, 8, 92, 120, 265–67, 269–74, 275, 276, 279, 282 Holocaust, 150–52, 191 homo sovieticus, 291 homophobia, 183, 190 homosexuality. See LGBT Hong Kong, 131, 197 Horkheimer, Max, 64 Horn, Gyula, 132 Houellebecq, Michel, 149 House of Terror, 132 Hron, Madelaine, 155 human rights, 95, 154–76, 182, 234, 269, 286–87; and foreign policy, 266–67; opposition to 203, 279, 288. See also civil rights Hungary, 9, 11, 17, 38, 41, 43, 56, 71, 73, 74, 79, 81, 102, 104, 107, 112–13, 115–122, 124–25, 128, 132, 137, 138, 140, 144, 146, 147–48, 149, 152, 174, 179–80, 181, 183–84, 188, 189, 191, 197, 203, 204, 206, 213, 224, 225, 227–31, 232, 235, 259, 260, 265, 281, 282–84, 286, 287, 288, 289, 292, 296 identitarianism, 49, 202 identity politics, 271 illiberalism, 11, 15–18, 72–84, 105–10, 114–18, 120–33, 138, 142, 188–91, 201–5, 207–8, 225, 265, 269–70, 275, 278, 281–82, 296 immigration. See migration imperialism, 65, 85, 127, 221, 267, 274, 286 India, 25, 26, 27, 116, 250, 292 individualism, 144 individualization, 271 inequality, 105, 113, 212–13, 216, 224, 230, 243; global, 184, 201; social, 43, 52, 66, 82, 92, 193, 212, 217; structural, 55, 244 Iraq, 24, 119, 201, 204; war in, 105, 124

Ireland, 12, 81, 222, 235, 237 Iron Curtain, 2, 3, 20, 48, 64, 144, 145, 180, 186, 234, 238, 239, 255, 256, 257, 262, 268 Islam, 27, 49, 125, 240, 293; Muslims, 56, 72, 121, 124, 125 Islamic State, 27, 66, 201 Islamophobia, 102, 208, 284 Italy, 17, 47, 71, 72, 73, 74, 77, 80, 102, 146, 149, 150, 162, 168, 204, 225, 236, 238, 250 Jedwabne massacre, 152 Jews, 150, 152, 165, 220, 233 Jowitt, Ken, 139–40 Judt, Tony, 134–36 Kaczyński, Jarosław, 6, 72, 78, 112, 113, 115–17, 120, 122, 126, 132, 137, 142, 150, 189, 259–60, 274, 277, 281, 284, 288 Kaczyński, Lech, 116, 132 Kádár, János, 122, 174, 289 Kaldor, Mary, 154, 163 Kaplan, Robert, 80 Kaufmann, Sylvie, 139 Kellner, Petr, 212–13 Kenney, Padraic, 175, 192, 195 Keys, Barbara, 171 Khrushchev, Nikita, 72 Kimmage, Michael, 266 Kiossev, Alexander, 249 Kis, János, 187, 289 Kissinger, Henry, 134 Klaus, Václav, 36, 38, 136 Kleptocracy, 62, 69, 79, 138 Kohl, Helmut, 38, 42, 50, 60, 144 Kołakowski, Leszek, 64, 135–36, 166 Kołodko, Grzegorz, 35 Kosovo, 100 Kőszeg, Ferenc, 288 Kotkin, Stephen, 61, 287 Kovács, János Mátyás, 134 Kövesi, Laura Codruţa, 90, 94 Krastev, Ivan, 8–9, 48, 92, 100, 120, 264–67, 269–274, 275–90 Kravchenko, Viktor, 64 Krytyka Polityczna, 130, 223 Kuciak, Ján, 69, 148, 190 Kundera, Milan, 7, 64, 144–46, 149– 51, 153, 256, 292–93

334 Index

Kuroń, Gaja, 161 Kuroń, Jacek, 130, 161, 166, 168, 187, 287 Kuus, Merye, 248 labour relations, labour market, 13–15, 35, 42–46, 52, 54, 172, 222, 244, 281 Labour Party (UK), 43, 73, 226 Laclau, Ernesto, 26 Laqueur, Walter, 74 Latin America, 26, 32, 33 Latvia, 11, 71, 72, 77, 128, 222, 225, 235, 236, 292 Le Carré, John, 222, 262 Le Pen, Jean-Marie, 72 Le Pen, Marine, 125, 150 Lebow, Katherine, 174 LeftEast, 226 Lega (Italy), 77, 102 Leggewie, Claus, 5, 48, 101 Lenin Shipyard (Gdańsk), 268 Lenin, Vladimir Ulyanov, 219, 224, 268; Leninism, 135, 138, 140 Lennon Walls, 131 LGBT, 164, 183, 252 liberalism, 103, 114–15, 120, 127, 133, 190, 193, 208, 263, 265, 272, 279, 286, 288; civic, 136, 140, 192; and dissidence, 63–64, 127–28; and nationalism, 15, 66, 270–71; ordoliberalism, 35. See also neoliberalism liberal democracy, 3, 5–6, 8, 15, 31, 47, 53, 79, 82, 84, 86, 98, 99, 101, 103–5, 107, 117, 120, 128–29, 133, 141, 148–49, 182, 190, 205, 217, 265, 269, 271, 276, 278–79 Linke, die, 49, 67 Lithuania, 72, 145, 152, 165, 222, 235, 236, 237 Litvinov, Pavel, 158 Lübbe, Hermann, 51 Lübbe-Wolff, Gertrude, 272 Lukács School, 178 Macedonia (North), 134 Machcewicz, Paweł, 151 Macron, Emmanuel, 74 Magyar Nemzet, 117 Maidan protests, 130

Malta, 235 Mao Zedong, 97 March of Justice, 130 Margalit, Avishai, 265 markets, market economy. See capitalism Martial Law (Poland), 130, 144, 159, 206, 223 Marx, Karl, 62, 69, 112, 120, 202, 294 Marxism, 135, 178, 182, 276, 294 May, Theresa, 222 Mazowiecki, Tadeusz, 166, 256 Mearsheimer, John, 25 Medvedev, Kirill, 226 memory politics, 150–52, 191 Mencinger, Jože, 77 Merkel, Angela, 51, 67, 72,124 messianism, 138 Mexico, 102 Michnik, Adam, 64, 166, 187, 206, 267, 287, 289 Middle East, 124 Mieroszewski, Juliusz, 260 migration, 55, 66, 81, 85, 89, 102, 124, 147, 149, 153, 201–2, 232–40, 255, 265, 273; East European to West, 14, 18, 37-38, 46, 54, 120–21, 145, 209–10, 222, 227–28, 235–38, 241–52, 292–93; of Jews from the Soviet Union, 165; anti-migrant discourse, 6, 11, 72–73, 79, 115, 119, 191, 217, 281 militarization, 20–21, 202 Milošević, Slobodan, 1, 131, 135, 203, 284 Miłosz, Czesław, 64 Milward, Alan, 15n Mlađenović, Lepa, 184–85 Modernization, 14, 31, 45, 62, 67, 128, 255, 258, 261, 267 Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, 151 Mrozik, Agnieszka, 185 multiculturalism, 3, 124, 125, 266 multipolarity, 25, 27 Mungiu, Cristian, 84n Museum of the Second World War (Gdańsk), 150–51, 274n Museum of the Ulma Family, 152 Nadrealisti (The Surrealists), 76

Index 335

Nagy, Imre, 132 Năstase, Adrian, 91 Nathans, Benjamin, 165 nationalism 14–15, 48, 68, 94, 99–102, 118–19, 121, 123–25, 127, 137, 208, 225, 238, 270, 273, 281, 285, 293; economic, 11, 18–19; leftwing, 73; Romantic, 283 nativism, 102, 123, 125, 225 NATO, 142, 266; accession to, 138, 199, 242, 259, 262; enlargement of, 22, 248; operations in Serbia, 100; and Russia, 21–22, 24, 29, 152, 199 Nazism, 51, 67, 101, 150, 151, 233, 285–86. See also under Germany Němcová, Dana, 159 neoliberalism, 84–87, 105–6, 115, 116–18, 191, 193, 225, 270, 286, 288. See also liberalism Népszabadság, 117  Netherlands, 72, 73, 80, 121, 215, 237, 261 Neumann, Franz, 64 Non-Aligned Movement, 27 North Korea, 277 Norway, 237 Norwid, Cyprian, 258 Obama, Barack, 109, 266, 275 Orbán, Viktor, 6, 17, 72–73, 78, 82, 102, 104, 112–20, 122, 124–26, 129, 132, 134, 137–38, 142, 149– 50, 189, 224, 232, 259, 274, 277, 281–284, 288–290 orientalism, 250n, 295 Orthodoxy, 144 OSCE, 122 Palach, Jan, 268 Party for Freedom (Netherlands), 80 Pegida, 49, 55–56, 101 Penn, Shana, 155, 159, 162 People’s Party (Partido Popular, Spain), 71 periphery, 12–13, 71, 83, 146–47, 215, 243, 247–48, 252 peripherization, 126, 132 Piketty, Thomas, 213 Pinochet, Augusto, 33, 129

PiS (Law and Justice), 81, 112, 116, 124, 132, 137, 259, 288 pluralism, 26, 76, 84, 86, 87, 130, 200, 211, 280, 282 Poland, 11, 34–35, 37, 38, 40, 41, 43, 44, 56, 60, 61, 70–74, 81, 98, 112–113, 116–18, 120, 124–25, 128, 130, 132, 137–38, 140, 144, 146–47, 149, 151–52, 157, 159, 161–62, 164–66, 170, 175, 180, 184, 187– 91, 203, 206, 213, 223, 235–39, 254, 256–62, 265, 267, 274n, 279, 282, 283, 286, 287, 289, 292 Polanyi, Karl, 61 political correctness, 124 Politkovskaya, Anna, 69 Pollack, Detlef, 157 Ponta, Victor, 90 populism 26, 72–74, 82, 94, 111, 123– 33, 202, 216–17, 282, 285 post-socialism, 18, 80, 82, 86, 87, 243, 248, 252 Potsdam agreement, 27, 70 Prague Spring, 31 Praxis school, 135, 178 Preobrazhensky, Yevgeni, 61 Primakov, Yevgeny, 27 Protestantism, 51, 72 Prussia, 70, 258 Public Against Violence (Verejnosť proti násiliu), 131 Putin, Vladimir, 29, 51, 66–67, 72, 103, 116, 123, 138, 150, 152, 189, 199, 273, 278 Pyzik, Agata, 222 racism, 3, 6, 49, 50, 105, 119, 121, 138, 142, 202, 210, 222, 246, 250 Radio Free Europe, 204, 291 Radio Liberty. See Radio Free Europe Ranke, Leopold von, 61 Reagan, Ronald, 145, 270, 294 religion, 62, 72, 164–67, 176, 195, 200, 220, 245, 268, 271 Republican Party (USA), 123, 124, 227 Rhodes, Ben, 275 Riemen, Rob, 138 Roma people, 8, 210, 240, 242, 244, 246, 248, 250

336 Index

Romania, 46, 71, 72, 73, 78, 81, 84, 86–95, 118, 120, 136, 138–141, 142, 145, 148–49, 219, 222, 226, 235, 236–38, 240, 241–52, 269 Romanian Social Democratic Party (PSD), 79, 90–92, 94 Romanticism, 258, 283 Romaszewski, Zbigniew, 161 Romaszewski, Zofia, 161 Roosevelt, Franklin D., 258 Roșia Montană mine, 90 rule of law, 15, 17, 47, 78, 124, 130, 141, 148–49, 193–94, 201, 260 Rumsfeld, Donald, 124 Rupnik, Jacques, 134 Russia 3, 7, 9, 20–24, 26–29, 36, 61, 66, 67, 69, 70, 99, 100, 103, 107, 115– 16, 126, 129, 131, 138–39, 144, 150, 152, 158, 172, 193, 199, 203–4, 206, 213, 217, 224, 233, 247, 258, 273, 275, 277–79, 291–96 Sachs, Jeffrey, 12, 61 Sachse, Carola, 155 Sakharov, Andrej, 64 Salvini, Matteo, 125, 150 Sarmatism, 258 Scandinavia, 43, 215 Šćepanović, Vera, 14 Schäuble, Wolfgang, 35 Schengen area, 65, 149 Schmidt, Mária, 283 Schöpflin, George (György), 115, 134 Schröder, Gerhard, 42, 67 Schulze, Ingo, 271 Schüssel, Wolfgang, 72 Schwarzenberg, Karel, 193, 212 Securitate, 87 Serbia, 1, 100, 119, 128, 131, 137, 232 sexism, 186, 202, 245 sexual abuse, 186, 155, 282 Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), 27 Shleifer, Andrei, 31, 46 shock therapy, 4, 30–31, 35–36, 39–40, 46–47, 287 Sierakowski, Sławomir, 116, Sighet Museum, 152 Šiklová, Jiřina, 169 Silesia, 70

Sima Guang, 99 Singapore, 129 Slovakia, 40, 44, 71, 73, 81, 93, 130, 140, 146, 188, 190, 213, 222, 232, 235 Slovenia, 74, 77, 140, 225, 235 Smer, 130 Smolensk accident, 115, 132 Snyder, Timothy, 107, 111, 113 socialism, 86, 115, 118, 122, 128, 142, 146–47, 163, 172–75, 178, 182, 185, 220, 224–25, 234, 243, 248, 270 Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), 42, 49 Solidarity (Solidarność, Poland), 34–35, 60, 98, 118, 128, 130, 132, 157, 159, 161–62, 172n, 188, 204, 206n, 223, 268, 298, 274n, 287, 289 Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr, 64, 69, 160, 166, 294 Sonderweg, 38, 67 Soros, George, 124, 134, 204 South Africa, 27, 164 sovereignism, 18, 19, 48, 66, 78, 127, 129, 191, 284 Soviet Bloc. See Eastern Bloc; see also Warsaw Pact Soviet system, 23, 48, 63, 98, 114, 116, 154, 165, 175, 181, 206, 234, 265, 268, 276, 289 Soviet Union, 21, 23, 39, 60, 62, 64, 67, 70–71, 78, 98, 99–100, 129, 131, 145, 151, 154, 157–61, 165, 170, 174, 191, 216, 219–20, 224, 229, 237, 256, 258, 261, 277, 285, 291– 92, 295 Sovietization, 116, 257 Spain, 71, 72, 77, 111, 129, 146, 225, 236, 237, 238 Stalin, Josif Jughashvili, 70, 220, 258; Stalinism, 151, 173–75, 176, 185, 220 Stansell, Christine, 184 Stephan, Anke, 163 stereotype, 67, 74, 80, 127, 161, 181, 240, 245, 246, 262 Štiks, Igor, 80 Stilnović, Mladen, 180 Strache, Heinz-Christian, 150,

Index 337

Streeck, Wolfgang, 271–72 Sweden, 73, 169, 222, 225, 235 Switzerland, 121, 146, 215 Syria, 66, 89, 195n, 204, 243, 245n Syriza, 77 Talmon, Jacob L., 138 Tamás, Gáspár Miklós, 269, 273, 289 Teodorovici, Eugen, 238 Thatcher, Margaret, 102, 225, 270; Thatcherism, 32, 34 Tiananmen Square, 1, 97–100, 200 Tolstoy, Leon, 292 Tory Party, 246, 247 totalitarianism, 63, 64, 138, 144, 157, 166–68, 191, 276 Toynbee, Arnold, 121–22 transition 25, 56, 61–63, 78–83, 127– 29, 135–36, 139–41, 179–80, 193, 257, 278, 285, 287; from authoritarian rule, 200 Transylvania, 118, 145, 248 Treisman, Daniel, 31, 46 Troeltsch, Ernst, 65 Trotsky, Leon, 219–20, 224, 281; Trotskyism, 219–20, 224 Truman, Harry S., 70 Trump, Donald, 47, 66, 68, 99, 102, 108–10, 124, 134, 149, 184, 189, 224, 227, 275, 278–79, 286, 295– 96 Turkey, 113, 116, 123, 197 Tusk, Donald, 116, 259 Tygodnik Mazowsze, 159, 162 UKIP, 236, 241, 245 Ukraine, 22, 46, 66, 67, 68, 118, 130, 152, 198n, 219, 238, 239, 293–94 uncivil society, 287 United Kingdom, 8, 47, 72, 73, 74, 102, 113, 170, 213, 215, 220, 221, 222, 224, 225, 233, 235, 237, 241–42, 244–47, 249, 250, 251, 252, 258, 292 United Nations, 22–24, 29, 159, 169, 204, 247 United States of America (USA), 24–26, 29, 32, 44, 66, 68, 74, 97–98, 100, 102, 104, 108–110,

114, 123, 126, 134, 138, 139, 169, 171, 184, 195, 204–5, 215, 221, 225, 227–31, 233, 234, 257, 262, 266– 68, 275, 278–79, 284, 286, 296 Velikanova, Tatyana, 158 Velvet Revolution, 130–31, 188, 192, 194–95, 198, 206, 209, 216–17 Viereck, Peter, 137 Visegrád states, 41, 119, 232, 235, 239, 255, 262 völkisch, 49, 125 Vučić, Aleksandar, 131 Waigel, Theo, 35 Walentynowicz, Anna, 159, 173n65 Wałęsa, Lech, 132, 289 Warsaw Pact, 48, 224, 267, 268 Washington Consensus, 32–34, 39 welfare state, 42, 51, 53, 57, 66, 224, 271 West Germany. See Germany westernization, 7, 44, 51, 127, 129, 134, 271, 287 Wielgohs, Jan, 157 Wilczek reforms, 34 Wilders, Geert, 80 Women Against Violence (NANE), 179 women’s movements, women’s rights, 155, 161, 163, 165, 170, 172, 176, 177–78, 174–85, 252. See also feminism World War I, 142, 267 World War II, 22, 27, 28, 47, 150–52, 256, 261, 283, 286 xenophobia, 3, 8, 49, 50, 54, 55, 65, 74, 137, 190, 202, 208, 232, 247, 273 Xi Jinping, 110, 123 Xidan Wall, 97 Yalta, treaty of, 22, 24, 27, 48 Yeltsin, Boris, 28–29, 99 Yugoslav wars, 24, 60, 68, 76, 81, 118, 137, 140, 215, 248, 283 Yugoslavia, 76–77, 81, 135, 142, 178– 79, 180, 181, 182, 184, 186, 224, 225, 234, 239 Zeman, Miloš, 126, 296 Zhivkov, Todor, 130 Zinik, Zinovy, 295