Liberal Nationalism in Central Europe

Liberal Nationalism in Central Europe

Liberal Nationalism in Central Europe

Liberal Nationalism in Central Europe


After the collapse of communism there was a widespread fear that nationalism would pose a serious threat to the development of liberal democracy in the countries of Central Europe. This book examines the role of nationalism in post-communist development in Central Europe.


The nations of Central and Eastern Europe and their nationalism(s) have been seen in the West as backward and barbaric. One of my favourite examples which illustrates this view comes from the great gothic novel of 1897 by Bram Stoker, Dracula. It starts with the impressions of a traveller who has embarked on a long journey to Transylvania. He complains repeatedly about the inconvenience of travelling to the East. Having had to wait for more than an hour for his train to depart from Budapest, for example, he concludes 'that the further East you go the more unpunctual are the trains' (Stoker 2002:28). And long before arriving in the mountains of Transylvania, which are populated by vampires and other beasts, he sees some truly remarkable creatures:

The strangest figures we saw were the Slovaks, who are more barbarian than the rest, with their big cowboy hats, great baggy dirty-white trousers, white linen shirts…. They are very picturesque, but do not look prepossessing. On the stage they would be set down at once as some old Oriental band of brigands. They are, however, I am told, very harmless and rather wanting in natural self-assertion.

(Stoker 2002:29)

Not many people would today form their views of Central and Eastern Europe by reading Dracula, and not many Slovaks these days wear 'baggy dirty-white trousers'. Yet there are many more sophisticated accounts of different national and political cultures in postcommunist Europe that still rely on a conceptual division between the civilized West and the backward East. This is especially true for Slovakia. Ruled until 1998 by a former boxer, Vladimír Mečiar, the Slovaks have been seen as being trapped in their own history, which in turn is characterized by illiberal regimes and an endless struggle for national survival. Just as Stoker's hero encountered ever more backwardness as he travelled further East, nationalism is assumed to have gained an ever more illiberal character as it moved in the same direction. Many scholars argue that nationalism degenerated as it 'travelled' from the West to the East, changing from its more civilized and progressive forms into barbarity. In line with this, it was assumed that contemporary nation-

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