Between Utopia and Disillusionment: A Narrative of the Political Transformation in Eastern Europe

By Henri Vogt | Go to book overview

Introduction

There are two main aims of this book. One is to provide the reader with descriptive insights into the 1989 revolutions and the subsequent process of change, and to do this in a more tangible manner than has been usual in the analyses of post-communism. For this purpose, a specific story, a narrative based on interviews with students and young intellectuals in the Czech Republic, Eastern Germany and Estonia will be constructed in the course of the study. The second is to create and develop conceptual tools with which to analyse and better comprehend the social and political developments in Eastern Europe over the first post-communist decade and, perhaps, even in the future. The interest of knowledge is thus primarily heuristic: whatever wishes one might have for this work, if it contributes to a better historical understanding of this profound societal change, it has fulfilled its most essential task.

There is naturally a more precise point of departure than these general aims. According to a widely held view, the revolutions of 1989 were first and foremost a result of people’s needs to get rid of the lamentable communist rule: a rotten, corrupt and inefficient system, saturated with a double standard of morality and hopelessly lagging behind the West. This study does not in itself challenge this view — evidence provided in the ensuing chapters in many respects supports it. However, it does suggest that this view may have become too dominant, and that, due to this, Eastern Europe’s revolutions and the developments thereafter have too often been interpreted from the perspective of the events that had already been, not of those that were expected to come, of the future possibilities that ‘ordinary’ people awaited when they took to the streets. In other words, the fact that the events of 1989 were not merely a manifestation of the old system’s impossibility, but also an expression of people’s dreams of a new kind of society, of their hopes of achieving true political and legal rights, material welfare and individual freedom, of their desire for a better life, has been overlooked, at least in scholarly debates. In any event, these hopes have been seen too narrowly — say, as a desire to attain Western material living standards or as a quest for membership in the EU (European Union) and NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation).

In what follows, these dreams and aspirations are given a common, and undoubtedly controversial, name: utopia. Hence, this is an analysis

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