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

By Henri Vogt | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
Utopia Not Yet Fulfilled:
Ambivalence after the Revolutions

Two different conceptions of ambivalence seem relevant for shedding light on the change in Eastern Europe. In this study they will be termed post-revolutionary ambivalence and, in the absence of a better term, postmodern ambivalence.

These two conceptions have many common elements; distinguishing between them is often like drawing a line over water, or perhaps merely changing one’s perspective. Yet in a temporal sense the difference appears clear. Post-revolutionary ambivalence is, or in most cases was, transient. It characterised the era when the old and the new existed side by side in the societies which experienced revolution, when both the old and the new seemed to offer alluring opportunities or memories. As people adapted to the new circumstances and learned how to cope with them — which often proved surprisingly difficult — the characteristics of this era gradually vanished. Postmodern ambivalence, in contrast, seems to imply a more or less permanent state of affairs. It is, allegedly, an essential element of the present Zeitgeist, at least in the sense it has been depicted in the Western world. The societies of Eastern Europe presumably joined this Zeitgeist after having ousted the Communist regimes.

There are other aspects that distinguish post-revolutionary ambivalence from postmodern ambivalence, such as the mood they lead to and the reference points through which they come into being. Table 1 tries to summarise the most important of these aspects. It is meant to serve as a simplified guide to the chapter, to be consulted if need be; consequently it is not explained in any detail at this stage.

Before turning to the empirical analysis, two points must be mentioned. Firstly, while ambivalence has usually appeared in psychological or sociological contexts, in this study the notion is used, above all, as a societal attribute (societal ambivalence). In other words, the fate of society, the rapid post-revolutionary development, sets the frame in which, and as a result of which, individuals sense various forms of ambivalence; for example, the changes individuals see in society may be strongly at odds with their personal expectations. Conversely, the vari-

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