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

By Henri Vogt | Go to book overview

Chapter 1
Narratives of the Revolutions

Communism was overthrown by life, by thought, by human dignity.

Václav Havel, Summer Meditations

The synchronic and diachronic structure that any written history presents is often unjustifiable. Things are made to look diachronic even though they take place in different spaces and ages; events that essentially follow the logic of different times are made to appear simultaneous. People comprehend and sense things at varying tempos, although their clocks may tick at exactly the same time; revolutionary leaders usually appear more progressive than lay people, but sometimes, for example in East Germany in 1989, ordinary men and women in the streets are more radical in their demands than those who sit at the negotiating table. The extent to which a historian can take into account these interpenetrating and overlapping histories of different actors is always limited, even if the historian aims to describe the phenomena of just one single night from dozens of different angles.

From the perspective of the present chapter this problem is particularly relevant. There are two general reasons for this. First, the events that will be under scrutiny are, for all intents and purposes, extremely far-reaching and complicated — a source of an unlimited number of interpretations, worth mountains of brilliant books. Second, in a sense, the Eastern European revolutionary changes have already become a myth. A myth can no longer be completely undressed — the mythical level is always there, capable of resisting even the most sophisticated analysis. In addition, there are two more specific reasons, resulting from the methodology of the study. The first is the fact that the presentation starts off from three different spatial points, from three countries with deep-rooted individual characteristics. Second, in addition to this country variation, the presentation also seeks to convey to the reader the interviewees’ divergent and sometimes mutually contradictory interpretations of the revolutionary events; even in each individual interview, many different histories, micro and macro, exist side by side.

Hence, the more the historian tries to bring these stories, these different levels of historical happening, under the umbrella of one general narrative, the more obviously she or he risks drowning in the

-18-

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