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

By Henri Vogt | Go to book overview

Chapter 6
Collective Utopias: From National
Independence to Europe

Nations are destroyed by first robbing them of their memory. Their books are
destroyed, their learning, their history. And then someone else writes different
books, gives them a different kind of learning and invents a different history
.

Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

The conclusions of the previous chapter raise an essential question: if the emergence of new individualism has been the utopia of post-communism par excellence, what, then, has been — and will be — the role of collective modes of thinking, national ones in particular? In which ways have they been, and possibly will be, important?

Needless to say, the dramatic political and economic changes since 1989 have also transformed people’s collective points of reference. Above all, people can now develop their identities without the controlling mechanisms of the communist system, a system that actually claimed to represent the identity, the essence of the community over which it reigned. One can therefore easily understand why one of the central dreams of post-communism has been the creation of ‘natural’ and ‘normal’ nations and national identities. Moreover, the mental location of these countries on the map of the old continent has profoundly changed — as the often-heard phrase goes, they have returned to Europe. The formation of collective identities has no doubt been influenced by this return. The aim of this chapter is to describe what these various changes have meant in concrete terms, and to provide conceptual tools with which we can better comprehend them.154

The key terms, or starting points, of the analysis are the notions of nationalism, the idea of nation and national identity. Three points concerning these terms need to be mentioned at the outset. First, nationalism is a phenomenon that emerges from the need to politicise people’s ideas of their nation and national identity, to assign new meanings to them, to increase awareness of them, and in the end make people act according to this awareness. Importantly, this definition acknowledges that although nationalism is primarily a political ideology used by the ‘nationalist’ to mould society towards a preferred ‘national’ direction,

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