Socialism: Ideals, Ideologies, and Local Practice

By C. M. Hann | Go to book overview

Chapter 11

Ethnic relations, economies of shortage, and the transition in Eastern Europe 1

Katherine Verdery

The collapse of communist party rule in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union has been accompanied by severe ethno-national 2 tensions throughout the region. Ceauşescu was barely in his grave before Romanians and Hungarians began spilling one another's blood and that of Gypsies (Roma); the Czech and Slovak parts of 'Czecho-Slovakia' began their post-communist history by quarrelling over a hyphen; the former entities 'Yugoslavia' and the 'Soviet Union' have ceased to exist as such, owing to seemingly irreconcilable differences among their nationalities; and anti-Semitism is on the rise throughout the region, even in places such as Poland where Jews are almost non-existent.

Only those external commentators who knew little about the region saw this as something new (or, more often, as a resurgence of something old). Those with more experience knew that far from disappearing, ethnonational tensions had persisted and perhaps even intensified under socialism. This fact, and some of the reasons for it, are important to bring out in any discussion of the prospects for 'transition' during the 1990s and beyond. In this chapter I suggest why ethno-nationalism was in certain ways 'built into' the organization of socialism, manifesting itself differently in different countries but fully absent from none. My account is partial, inasmuch as its research base is Romania, a non-federated type of polity. The forces encouraging nationalism in the federations-Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union, and perhaps Czechoslovakia-thus require comment beyond what I offer here. None the less, my account offers at least a start at thinking about ethno-nationalism in the socialist context, with implications for its place in post-socialist societies.

My arguments are primarily of a macro-systemic, structural kind, even though I recognize that ethno-national sentiments are also lodged in persons, as aspects of self-conception, and manifest themselves in micro-interactions. Emphasizing the systemic element as opposed to the interactional, the psychological, or the micro-level, helps to clarify ethnicity's particular place, or role, in particular social orders, thereby enriching the significance of the micro-level data that ethnographers more

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