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

By Henri Vogt | Go to book overview

Chapter 2
Revolution as a Utopia

The future was a time that called into question everything that became before it.

Ivan Klíma, Waiting for the Dark, Waiting for the Light

The events of 1989 opened up completely new spheres of life for the citizens of Eastern Europe, possibilities that they had only dreamt of before. The aim of this chapter is to shed light on the nature of this opening, above all through two themes: freedom and future. The chapter will also argue that the legacy of the revolutions did not just fade away after the first problems associated with the new circumstances had appeared. On the contrary, it has lived and will live on in most people’s minds.

Many Eastern Europeans belonging to older generations than the interviewees of this study, had of course experienced something similar to this disclosure earlier. At regular intervals throughout the era of communism, sudden gusts of wind seemed to bring about new opportunities for the people of the Soviet bloc: in 1953 in the GDR, 1956 in Hungary, 1968 in Czechoslovakia, and 1971 and 1980 to 1981 in Poland. Unfortunately, these gusts always died down after the hopeful enthusiasm — and the attention of the world — in a few months. In a similar vein, new horizons of hope surely emerged when Mikhail Gorbachev initiated the celebrated policies of perestroika and glasnost in the Soviet Union in the mid 1980s; Margaretha Mathiopoulos (1992: 419), for one, has even remarked that ‘Mit Glasnost und Perestroika wurde der Geist der Freiheit aus der Flasche gelassen’ (glasnost and perestroika let the spirit of freedom out of the bottle).

However, there is one crucial difference — other than the different outcome, of course — between these memorable events of history and those of 1987 to 1991. It is related to a conspicuous structural feature of communist societies: the very real absence of any mechanisms for selfevaluation or self-criticism; there was no, or at least very little, societal feedback from the grassroots to the ruling-party level. With this in mind one can interpret the earlier revolts as, first and foremost, projects of self-criticism, as attempts to establish functioning links between the masses and the nomenklatura. Hence, the reformists of the earlier decennia had their points of departure in the existing conditions to a

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