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

By Henri Vogt | Go to book overview

Chapter 4
Utopia Not Fulfilled:
Disillusionment

Some two years after the Velvet Revolution, President Václav Havel described the state of his country with the following perplexity:

We are witnesses to a bizarre state of affairs: society has freed itself, true,
but in some ways it behaves worse than when it was in chains. Criminal-
ity has grown rapidly, and the familiar sewage that in times of historical
reversal always wells up from the nether regions of the collective psyche
has overflowed into the mass media, especially the gutter press. But there
are other, more serious and dangerous symptoms: hatred among nation-
alities, suspicion, racism, even signs of fascism; politicking, an unre-
strained, unheeding struggle for purely particular interests, unadulterated
ambition, fanaticism of every conceivable kind, new and unprecedented
varieties of robbery, the rise of different mafias; and a prevailing lack of
tolerance, understanding, taste, moderation, and reason. There is a new
attraction to ideologies, too — as if Marxism had left behind it a great, dis-
turbing void that had to be filled at any cost. (Havel 1992: 2; cf. Jarausch
1995: 305; Glasman 1994: 214)

Havel’s list of problems is, no doubt, fairly comprehensive as regards the difficulties of post-communism, not only in the Czech Republic but in other Eastern European countries as well; add material hardship and the list would be more or less complete. It is also true that many of these difficulties prevailed throughout the 1990s, not only at the beginning of the decade. As a consequence, a substantial number of Eastern Europeans felt profoundly disappointed or, worse, disillusioned, during the first post-communist decade. Seven years after Havel had recorded his critical remarks, Antonin, one the Czech essayists of this study, depicted this undesired dimension of the transformation:

Antonin: I often encounter people, who profoundly hated communism,
totalitarianism and full of enthusiasm welcomed ‘democracy’. Today?
Today under moral marasmus they wave their hands and say the hereti-
cal words: ‘During communism things were better.’ If one understands
this inner disappointment correctly, one cannot be angry at them. It has

-140-

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