Wednesday 4 April 2018 8.30 - 10.30O-1 - POL01 : 1989/91 in the Central and East European Politics of History
PFC/02/026 Sir Peter Froggatt Centre
The break down of communism meant a profound transformation of political and social fabric, as well as a revolution in intellectual life in countries such as Ukraine and Belarus. It can be argued that paradoxically this change was simultaneously more radical and less successful compared to the experiences of other ... (Show more)
The break down of communism meant a profound transformation of political and social fabric, as well as a revolution in intellectual life in countries such as Ukraine and Belarus. It can be argued that paradoxically this change was simultaneously more radical and less successful compared to the experiences of other East Central European countries. The change of regime meant that political and ideological frameworks collapsed, but also importantly basic state structures and institutional models provided by the Soviet Union were no longer viable and needed to be quickly replaced. Transition meant first and foremost independence and only then democratization and liberalization. Thus the task of post-Soviet state- and nation-building quickly surpassed all other challenges, as for example is reflected in the focus on statehood and nationhood among the Ukrainian feminists of the 1990s, who in other regional contexts tended to be rather critical of both. In this paper I will argue that it is because of this emphasis on state and nation that contemporary and subsequent reflections on transition often focus on the symbolic move from the East to the West (or from Russia to Europe), making cultural (and for that matter professional historical) debates key to the understanding of competing standpoints, and slightly marginalizing other issues such as economy, for instance. These cultural optics may help explain why during both 2004 and 2013 Ukrainian crises pro-European choice was presented primarily in terms of belonging rather than economic or political interest.
At the same time, de-Sovietization in Ukraine and Belarus was far less successful and took much longer, arguably it has never been fully completed, than in neighboring Lithuania or Poland. In both cases, the importance of Russian cultural and intellectual connections emerged in opposition to building independent and democratic nations, or national emancipation from Russian dominated soviet imperialist project. Ukraine saw a sharp political polarization, usually presented in terms of the regional East-West divide, which in many ways is based on the attitude to and narrative of independence and transition. The pro-European and democratic Western regions of Ukraine are often juxtaposed to South and East, which continue to employ Soviet symbols and rhetoric and are culturally (and linguistically) closer to Russia. This ethno-cultural division becomes especially visible when one looks at the development of historical disputes over the Second World War and the victims of Stalinist period, i.e. the debate on Holodomor in Ukraine and on Kurapaty in Belarus. To sum up, despite the obvious differences in political realities in both Ukraine and Belarus the narratives of transition apart from capturing democratization and opening up of political space have at least three further dimensions: as narratives of formal independence and state-building, as narratives of cultural freedom from ‘imperial’ Russian influence and nation-building, and finally as narratives of a ‘move to Europe’. (Show less)
Michal Kopecek : “Coming to Terms” with the Transitional Past: East Central Europe on the Way from “Liberal Consensus”
Around the turn of the century 20th and 21st century with the transition dynamics weakening, the chance of EU accession fairly high, and the ascendancy of national conservative forces all over the region, a strong criticism of the so-called “liberal consensus” of the early post-communist era evolved. The criticism, ... (Show more)
Around the turn of the century 20th and 21st century with the transition dynamics weakening, the chance of EU accession fairly high, and the ascendancy of national conservative forces all over the region, a strong criticism of the so-called “liberal consensus” of the early post-communist era evolved. The criticism, however, was first expressed less in social, but rather in cultural and symbolic terms. What kind of historical narratives and memory initiatives particularly in relation to the “transition period” this brought about in Czechia, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, will be the focus of the proposed presentations.
Dealing with the “totalitarian past” (both fascist and communist) was understandably at the center of the post-socialist identity formation. Yet at the turn of the century, the divergences of opinion regarding the negotiated nature of democratic transition triggered veritable “culture wars” that came to dominate the political landscape. If in the 1990s liberal politics of history an attempt was made to conceive the 1989 as a positive part of national identity based on democracy and national-political freedom, now the neoconservative take rejected the allegedly instrumentalized memory of the “victorious 1989.” The new ideological paradigm inherited some elements from the anti-communist discourses of the early 1990s—the concern over the persistence of a totalitarian mindset among the population, the presence of underground structures deriving from the former secret police, the lack of democratic traditions—but it also transcended them in many ways. Particularly it was palpable in showing the 1989 as a betrayal, a moment of great opportunities lost, or a historical mythology providing “cultural ballast” to support unwanted forms of Western political hegemony and economic colonization.
Next to the neoconservative challenge a colorful variety of “new left” groupings emerged in the region after 2000 as a response to the social, economic, and cultural contradictions of the transition. Focusing on social conflicts, which in their opinion needed to be dealt with in the sphere of the “political,” and not in technocratic decisions, the “new left” in fact too questioned the hegemonic liberal historical narrative. In their rejection of the “negotiated” nature of the transition the leftist “politics of memory” in many ways overlapped with the discourse of the neoconservatives and the radical right albeit drawing different practical conclusions.
While the dynamics was comparable, the actual stakes of the political debate were rather different in the individual countries. Czechia retaining to much extent the liberal framework demonstrated relative success in retaining the memory of 1989 in a larger historical narrative that highlighted traditional fight for democracy and freedom. In contrast, Hungary and Poland saw struggle framed not in terms of political competition within a procedural framework of democracy but a clash of fundamentally incompatible Weltanschauungen, for which a much broader historical narrative covering the whole period of “national modernity” and its betrayals has been forged. Slovakia with much less outspoken “liberal anti-communist consensus” in the 1990s and more pronounced national reconciliation narrative represented a specific case staying in some ways in between the Czech and Hungarian cases. (Show less)
Eva Clarita Pettai : Legacies of Political Struggle: Competing Memories and Narratives of Re-independence in the Baltic States
The paper sets out to comparatively explore the extent to which competing historical narratives of the independence struggle and early democratization have shaped the politics and public cultures in the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania after 1991. 25 years after these three Soviet republics re-gained their independence ... (Show more)
The paper sets out to comparatively explore the extent to which competing historical narratives of the independence struggle and early democratization have shaped the politics and public cultures in the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania after 1991. 25 years after these three Soviet republics re-gained their independence and embarked on the path to liberal democracy, the political legacies of the independence movements and the early transition period are still highly contested among political leaders and camps. At the same time, the types of divisions along which historical narratives have emerged and political identities forged differ remarkably across these three seemingly most similar cases. The paper will provide a thorough comparative analysis of the distinct patterns of mnemonic and historiographical contestation across the three states that yield much insight into present-day politics. It will show that memory political divisions in Lithuania run along an ex- /anti-communist cleavage that emerged early on in the transition. It is characterized by strong party-political polarization and extreme policy shifts in the area of public commemoration and retrospective justice. Latvia’s history politics revolves mostly along ethnolinguistic cleavages between ethnic Latvian and Soviet-era, mostly Russian-speaking political forces. At its center are highly antagonistic narratives of state independence as well as of earlier historical periods. Despite an equally sizable Russian-speaking minority among the citizenry, Estonian memory contestations in the public and political sphere have not evolved along ethnopolitical lines, but are rather based on old political rivalries from the independence struggle between radical nationalists and more moderate Popular Front activists. In both the Lithuanian and Estonian cases memory political struggles have, over time, translated into simply different concepts of the democratic state, not least in socio-economic terms, and have thus become part of the normal democratic competition. In Latvia, however, the diverging historical interpretations are cutting to the very core of state identity and have consistently undermined the democratic institutions and political culture. (Show less)
Nikolai Vukov : The Complexities of Geopolitical Belonging and the Politics of History in Bulgaria after 1989
Alongside the new venues of political and social development after 1989 in Bulgaria, the contestations between new political parties and the challenges of the post-communist transition, the two post-communist decades were characterized also by intensive public debates about the geopolitical orientation of the country, as related to the exiting of ... (Show more)
Alongside the new venues of political and social development after 1989 in Bulgaria, the contestations between new political parties and the challenges of the post-communist transition, the two post-communist decades were characterized also by intensive public debates about the geopolitical orientation of the country, as related to the exiting of the Soviet sphere of interest and enhancing the links with West European states and US. Taking grounds from the attempts of Bulgarian society to establish a political and evaluative distance to the decades of communist rule, these debates were ossified with historical reminiscences and pushed forward a set of historical themes, whose discussion and interpretation turned instrumental for Bulgaria’s coming to terms with the recent, as well as more distant past. Whilst in the first years after 1989, the main symbolic fights were around the antifascist resistance and the veil of legitimacy that it used to cast on the communist discourse, gradually the overtones about the choice of country’s geopolitical orientation occupied the center of political contestations largely dominated the clashes related to politics of memory and history writing after 1989. Recurrently appearing on the occasion of public commemorations and national celebrations, it intensified particularly around Bulgaria’s accession to EU and keeps on resonating in public debates until today.
The current paper will discuss the complexities around the geopolitical orientation of Bulgaria after 1989 and the involvement of historical memory in the public debates during the period of post-communist transition. Among the themes that will be addressed are, on the one side, Bulgarian national revival during the nineteenth century and the links of Bulgarian intelligentsia with Russian lands; the Russian-Ottoman war of 1877-1878 and the discourse of historical brotherhood between Bulgarian and Russian people; the role of the Soviet army in the country’s development at the close of World War II; on the close interaction between the two states in all spheres of social, economic and cultural life during the communist period. On the other side, the West-oriented perspective will be evoked through the themes about the cultural influences of the West since the nineteenth century; the modernization processes in Bulgaria as resulting from the close contacts with Western Europe before 1945; and the attempts of restoring the previously disrupted links with the West after 1989. On the basis of analysis of the public debates and discourses about the East-West belonging of Bulgaria after 1989, the paper will outline the role that historical memory played in shaping the political processes during the post-communist transition, as well as how the privileging of a certain geopolitical orientation rerranges historical narratives and shapes political and cultural identities in a long-term perspective. (Show less)