Utopia and Dystopia after Communism: Visions of an Ideal Society among Zagreb University Students

By Malesevic, Sanisa | East European Quarterly, Summer 1996 | Go to article overview

Utopia and Dystopia after Communism: Visions of an Ideal Society among Zagreb University Students


Malesevic, Sanisa, East European Quarterly


"Whenever the utopia disappears. history ceases to he a process leading to an ultimate end." (Mannheim, 1960: 253).

INTRODUCTION

Many theoreticians have argued that there is no place for utopia) after the two great nightmares of the twentieth century. Fascism and Communism in its Soviet form have showed, they say, what accomplished utopias look like. With the 1989 revolutions in Eastern Europe, these attacks reached their peak, and even the word "utopia" was proscribed.

The majority of social theoreticians (eastern as well as western) were optimistic about the changes and extremely critical towards the past. The key term in economics, politics, education, etc. of Eastern European countries was "transition." The market economy and liberal democracy were unquestionable imperatives.

However, five years later it is very hard to find any really optimistic social theoretician. Wars, nationalism, Mafia, tremendous socio-economic inequalities and poverty constitute the everyday life of the majority of present-day Eastern European societies. It has become more apparent that in view of the great differences in value systems, tradition, history, etc., is very hard to speak about simple transition (Western-type modernization and integration into the Western world which implies a certain "imitation" of the Western model that is more or less an illusion) but rather about transformation (the search for an alternative development solution, with undefined aims).

In both cases (transition or transformation) we are on the field of utopia. Simple transition to the Western model is a "mechanistic" utopia which glorifies imitation by simplifying and idealizing a complex, and in many ways contradictory, system of organization of social life. On the other hand, transformation means change to somewhere, but this "where" is an unknown entity. Such an approach leaves room for many different utopias.

Croatian society is an example of Eastern European society. it is society affected by the war and nationalism, exposed to a general worsening of the life quality that is reflected in general insecurity (the fall of standard of living, unemployment, social insecurity, crisis of education and of all other social services and infrastructures). Echoes of the 1989 hopes for European Community membership can no longer be heard. The majority of the population is depressed and pessimistic. In period of huge crisis, people do not think about a possible future, they merely try to survive the next month or even the next day.

With that purpose (to identify existing visions of an ideal society - a society where respondents would like to live), we have conducted this survey. Our aim was not only to see in which direction(s) "most promising young people" would like to see possible changes in the development of their society, but also to observe, through the visions of a perfect society the respondents' attitudes toward their present-day society.

SOME THEORETICAL REMARKS

It seems that all global social theories may be classified into two general groups: utopianists and anti-utopianists. While antiutopianists underline the totalitarian results of utopias which are present in utopia's aims, utopianists highlight the dynamics and social change in development of societies with a view to betterment. Generally, utopianists are accused by anti-utopianists to be totalitarianists, collectivists, and "false rationalists," while anti-utopianists are described by utopianists to be functionalists, those who glorify the present and the status quo, and egoistic individualists.

According to Popper (1965), utopianism is misplaced rationalism. "It believes that all rational political action must be based upon a more or less clear and detailed description or blueprint of our ideal state, and also upon a plan or blueprint of the historical path that leads towards this goal." Kolakowski (according to Kumar, 1991: 90) attacks the utopian striving for perfect equality and perfect harmony among people that should lead to the suppression of the conflict and diversity which are an inescapable and enriching part of human life. …

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