European Societies: Fusion or Fission?

By Thomas P. Boje; Bart Van Steenbergen et al. | Go to book overview

15

Second thoughts on the transformation in Eastern and Central Europe

Michal Illner

INTRODUCTION

Societal transformation in the former socialist countries of Eastern and Central Europe has entered its seventh year. It has also been seven years since the processes of the transformation in this region became a major focus of interest in the social sciences. The first generation of comments and analyses brought many relevant ideas, mostly of a general character, on the nature, problems and potential future course of transformation. They were inspired by perceptive observation, theoretical reflections and sometimes by analogy with the earlier democratic transitions in Latin America and the Southern European countries (Ash 1990; Dahrendorf 1990; Habermas 1990; Musil 1992; Offe 1991; Sztompka 1992; Staniszkis 1991; Stark 1992).

The different aspects of transformation quickly became the subject of empirical research and a rich body of data and data-based knowledge has been accumulated, shedding light on the individual components of transformation and their interlinkages, on the temporal aspects of transformation as well as on the specific features it has acquired in the individual countries of the region. Many were comparative multinational projects which linked the findings from Eastern and Central Europe to the existing Western 'transitological' knowledge. In this way, the Eastern and Central European 'transitological' studies, as some have called the study of societal transitions or transformations, have become better informed. Attempts are made to verify and to elaborate further the initial observations and to propose new hypotheses. In addition, the societal development in Eastern and Central Europe itself has brought some new twists, not foreseen by the first generation of transitological studies, which call for explanation. 1

In this chapter, I wish to sketch several general propositions concerning the more advanced stage of the post-1989 societal development in Eastern and Central Europe. The propositions were inspired by the recent development in the region as well as by some more recent studies, both theoretical and empirical (Bauman 1994; Gorzelak et al. 1994; Machonin 1994; Mateju 1995; Srubar 1994; Sztompka 1993; van Zon 1994). In particular, the ideas expressed by van Zon on the study of the transformations in Eastern and Central Europe and the results of the comparative research project East-Central Europe 2000 (cf. Gorzelak et al. 1994; Illner 1993) were helpful in this context. My propositions are of a hypothetical character and are intended to stimulate discussion.

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