Eastern Europe: Continuity and Change (1987–1995)

by Irena Grudzinska-Gross (Volume editor) Andrzej W. Tymowski (Volume editor)
©2014 Edited Collection 302 Pages


The book consists of articles from East European Politics and Societies, a journal published in the United States that first appeared in 1987. This selection is composed of papers written by the journal’s founders and early authors, among them Zygmunt Bauman, Tony Judt, Katherine Verdery, Vladimir Tismaneanu, Elemer Hankiss, Vesna Pusic, Maria Todorova. The first section Before the Change consists of texts written in the late 1980s; its authors tried to identify the cracks that would undermine or reform the existing system. In the second part of the book Alternative Futures contributors sketched the directions of the changes as they were just getting underway. The authors hoped that politics, economics, and societies were now free to reinvent themselves. The texts in the third section, Legacies of the Past, written before, during, and after the time of most drastic changes, show how the shadows cast by the histories of individual nations and the region as a whole continued to burden political strategies as well as daily lives.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Titel
  • Copyright
  • About the Editors
  • About the Book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Eastern Europe: Continuity and Change, 1987-1995
  • Before the Change
  • Intellectuals in East-Central Europe: Continuity and Change: Zygmunt Bauman
  • The Dilemmas of Dissidence: The Politics of Opposition in East-Central Europe: Tony Judt
  • The Failure of the Socialist State
  • The Language of Rights
  • Living “As If”
  • Political Economies and Workers
  • Opposition Issues
  • Compromise or Isolation? The Intellectuals’ Dilemma
  • The End of an Era
  • On Making Central Europe: Ferenc Fehér
  • The Problem; The Concepts; The Theories
  • Does Europe Have a Center? Or, Legitimation Through History
  • Scenarios for Making Central Europe
  • The Dramatis Personae of History: Ernest Gellner
  • Alternative Futures
  • Alternative Futures for Eastern Europe: The Case of Hungary: Ivan Szelenyi
  • Post-Communism in Eastern Europe
  • Alternative Futures
  • The Third Way: Emphasis on Domestic-Capital Accumulation and Development of a National Propertied Bourgeoisie
  • Social Criticism, False Liberalism, and Recent Changes in Czechoslovakia: Václav Klaus and Tomáš Ježek
  • New Introduction after a Revolution
  • Introduction
  • Liberalism and Czechoslovak Society
  • Main Platforms of Social Criticism in Czechoslovakia
  • A Non-Traditional Interpretation of the Existing System
  • Two Stages of a Socialist Economy
  • How to Proceed with Reform?
  • A Postscript Written by a Finance Minister and His Adviser
  • A Country by Any Other Name: Transition and Stability in Croatia and Yugoslavia: Vesna Pusić
  • Our Recent Pasts: Recent Developments in East Central Europe in the Light of Various Social Philosophies: Elemer Hankiss
  • The Liberal Interpretation
  • The Conservative Approach
  • The Social Democratic Approach
  • The Neo-Marxist Approach
  • The Nationalist Approach
  • A Pragmatic Approach
  • The Legacies of the Past
  • Homage to a Transylvanian Peasant: Katherine Verdery
  • Social Consequences of War: Preliminaries to the Study of Imposition of Communist Regimes in East Central Europe: Jan T. Gross
  • Ethnicity, Nationalism and the Communist Legacy in Eastern Europe: Maria Todorova
  • Romania’s Mystical Revolutionaries: The Generation of Angst and Adventure Revisited: Vladimir Tismaneanu and Dan Pavel
  • Political Radicalism and Historical Fundamentalism
  • The Generation’s Appeals: The Myth of the National Revolution
  • Fascism and the Romanian Intelligentsia
  • The Importance of Revisiting the Generation
  • Modernity Versus Traditionalism
  • Nae Ionescu: Prophet and Seducer
  • Conclusions
  • A Fatal Compromise? The Debate Over Collaboration and Resistance in Hungary: István Deák
  • Introduction
  • Monarchists, Democrats, Bolsheviks, and Counterrevolutionaries
  • The Strangest of Bedfellows
  • Jewish Assimilation: Success and Dilemma in Hungarian Politics
  • Jews as a Decisive Factor in Hungary’s Relations With Nazi Germany
  • How to Resist, Whom to Resist?
  • Three Great Crises
  • The Catastrophe on the Don
  • The Failure of Resistance
  • The Holocaust and National Conscience
  • Epilogue and Conclusion
  • Dates of Original Print Publication In East European Politics & Societies

Eastern Europe: Continuity and Change, 1987-1995

It is by now a well-worn commonplace that Communism “fell” or “imploded” in 1989, the annus mirabilis foretold by events such as the re-legalization of Polish Solidarity, the seepage of East Bloc citizens across the Hungarian and then the East German borders, and the dismantling of the Berlin Wall by deliriously happy citizens from east and west of it. The changes in the following years are also often treated as predetermined. Yet, the present collection of articles will show some of the intellectual and political preparations and effort that went into the not-so-spontaneous events of 1989 and their aftermath.

The book consists of articles from East European Politics and Societies, a journal published in the United States that first appeared in 1987. It was committed to analyzing the region from a variety of disciplinary perspectives articulated by scholars and other astute observers. Many of its authors were themselves dissidents, but most had established or were establishing their careers in western academia. The present volume is composed of articles written by the journal’s founders and early authors. We call them “classics.”

The first section—Before the Change—consists of texts written in the late 1980s; its authors never believed that Communism would fall of its own accord—it would have to be pushed. They try to identify where the “pushing” forces could come from. In the second part of the book—Alternative Futures—contributors sketched the directions of the changes as they were just getting underway. The authors hoped that politics, economics, and societies were now free to reinvent themselves. But in what language, and in what direction? One article, Klaus and Jezek’s, straddles the period, with the main part written before Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution and a postscript added immediately after. Not all articles are ordered in historical sequence. The texts in the third section, Legacies of the Past, written before, during, and after the changes, show how the shadows cast by the histories of individual nations and the region as a whole continued to burden political strategies as well as daily lives.

The articles form a sort of dossier documenting the events themselves but also the mental trajectory of an international community of scholars and participants involved in them. When read today, they trace not only attempts by the authors to understand what they saw taking place before their eyes, but also their visions of the future. Their texts, therefore, have the immediacy of intellectual and political reportage. Reading them allows us to retrace the steps analysts took in recording and assessing momentous transformations. Their writing retains an uncanny power, because their authors wrote before anyone could know the turns history would take. We can see the unexpectedness of the changes, the uncertainty they caused, and the forces that determined their shape. And the traps that minds fell into as they wrestled with the ungraspable present.

The Editors

← 7 | 8 → ← 8 | 9 →

Before the Change

← 9 | 10 → ← 10 | 11 →

Intellectuals in East-Central Europe: Continuity and Change

Zygmunt Bauman

Shortly after the Polish October of 1956, C. Wright Mills came to Warsaw to learn from the experience of Polish intellectuals then fresh from the battlefields of the revolution they first spurred and later helped to contain. A few days after his arrival the new political leader, Władysław Gomułka, went on the radio to criticize, in no uncertain terms, the views of the undisputed intellectual leader, the philosopher Leszek Kołakowski. The censured professor and his friends were non- plussed; they remembered only too well the times when names appeared in public speeches only to disappear from public life. But Mills was elated. “However hard did I try to push and kick the American political establishment and spit in its face,” he reminisced, “no one paid attention. In your country,” he went on, “the word counts. And so the word can change things. What you, intellectuals, do,” he concluded, “matters.”

One of the most brilliant social scientists among recent émigrés from the Soviet Union had written and published a collection of short stories. His first literary venture had been warmly received by the critics. Still, he felt uneasy. “Were I still in the Soviet Union,” he complained, “I would know for sure who I am. If I became a member of the Union of Soviet Writers, I would be a writer. If not, I would not.” This was a joke, of course. But the voice was serious.

These two true anecdotes set the parameters for our theme. They provide the two axes against which intellectual life in communist regimes is plotted. First, there is the uniquely central location of intellectual activity and its products in the processes of systemic and social integration which draws intellectuals into direct engagement and competition with political power. Second, there is a degree of regimentation of intellectual practices unknown in the West, and a continuous pressure to incorporate and assimilate centers of intellectual authority within the structure of officialdom.

Numerous writers in the West and East alike stress the essential similarity of intellectual work, whatever the systemic context in which it happens to be located. Intellectual pursuits are, so to speak, jeux sans frontières deriving their crucial characteristics from their inner nature: the values they serve and the pragmatic rules of conduct such values unambiguously determine. The common nature of intellectual work casts the incumbents of intellectual roles in similar molds, again ← 11 | 12 → with no regard to the political coloring of the society inside which the roles are to be played. Countries differ, of course, as to the conditions they create for intellectual role-playing. Countries may promote the kind of work and attitudes typical of intellectuals, they may merely tolerate it, or worse still, they may contain, hamper, or arrest it; but they hardly ever alter the nature of the intellectual vocation. Commitment to the universal character of intellectual work is likely to persist and be restated on both sides of the great divide because of the major role it plays in the defense of the identity and status of intellectuals against other kinds of power. Such a defense cannot be carried out in any but universalistic terms. Zhores A. Medvedev, one of the pioneers of the Soviet intellectuals‘ campaign for repossession of vocational rights, provided a telling example of the intimate link between the argument of universality and the claim to the uniqueness of status:

There is only one social group of people in the world which, not only on account of its position in society but simply on account of the humane qualities inevitably inherent in it, on account of its selection of people for these qualities and on account of the character of its daily activity, is connected in a world-wide mutually dependent, mutually advantageous, a mutually respecting system of friendship independent of national frontiers, constantly sharing among itself all possible help and interested to the utmost in the progress of mankind, of which it is the standard-bearer and motive force. This group consists of the scholars, the scientists, the intelligentsia, in the sense of the scientific, technical and culturally creative intelligentsia, and not simply that class of people who have had a secondary or higher education.1

Not for the first time in history world authority is claimed in the name of a kingdom “which is not of this world.”

More importantly for our theme, what hides behind the rhetoric of universality is the conception of a soi-disant “extraterritoriality” of intellectual activity, its essential independence from social determination, or its ability to raise itself above the level of social pressures and necessities. This conception has been permanently present in the intellectual discourse since the self-constitution of the intellectual vocation in the Age of Enlightenment. It was expressed originally in the idea of the precedence of eternal and immutable Reason before transient and imperfect man-made laws and institutions. The idea is of an intellect fully formed and whole before the determining force of man-made realities is brought to bear. Reason, therefore, can be reached directly. The road can be obscured, but not blocked, by social obstacles erected on an entirely different level. Karl Mannheim gave the old conception its modern rendition, better attuned to an age of advanced sociological awareness, in the idea of the frei schwebende intelligentsia: a loosely knit aggregate of people who collectively and ex post facto attain independence from ← 12 | 13 → particularizing social determinants, as they draw liberally from all particularized and socially determined categories and hence are not “at home” in any.

In order to understand the substance and the dynamics of intellectual life in the specific context of the East-Central European communist regimes one must distance oneself from the rhetoric generated within the self-constituted concerns of intellectual tradition. However justifiable the claims to extraterritorial universality may or may not be (a question we deliberately leave open), our task demands that intellectuals and their unique role be re-positioned in their specific historical and territorial context. We need to separate the conditions under which the intellectual mode, with its characteristic pursuit of universality, was brought into being, from the quite distinct conditions under which it was borrowed, absorbed and adapted far from the time and place of its origin. In the part of Europe we are scrutinizing the latter conditions provide the key to the history and social location of intellectuals.

The word “intellectual” is of quite recent usage—it became common during the course of the infamous Dreyfus affair. The concept behind it, however, can be traced further back. How far back depends on whether we are simply interested in the presence of a separate category of people assigned the role of manipulation and interpretation of the elusive but crucial factors of social integration called values, meanings, and symbols. On the other ← 13 | 14 → hand, we might be looking for a distinct “intellectual mode,” “idiom,” or “pattern” articulated, codified and practiced by such manipulators and interpreters simultaneously as a tool of self-definition and as part of a bid for social power. In the first case, the ancestry of the modern intellectual would be as old as human society; it would include not just the millenia of clerisy, not just the scribes of ancient bureaucracies, but would reach the obscure beginnings of social life in the form of Mircea Eliade’s “shamans” or Paul Radin’s “primitive philosophers.” In the second case, the birth of intellectuals is well defined in historical space: it occurred during the Age of Enlightenment.2

The framework of this essay allows us only to note that the birth of an intellectual idiom was not a matter of spiritual discovery. It was a product of complex social and political development, which included among other processes the dissipation and progressive bankruptcy of the traditional mechanism of communal and parish social control, the gradual re-integration of society in the centralized form of an absolutist state, and the concomitant articulation of the problem of social control as an exercise in bodily and spiritual drill performed by professionals and calling for expert skills. These processes have been amply documented and illuminated in the writings of Michel Foucault and his followers.3 On the other hand, the possibility generated by structural dislocations had been actualized and given shape by the gradual disengagement of the educated elite from its former administrative and economic functions, which led to the formation of les sociétés de pensée with their illusory autonomy of thought and independence of discourse, argument, and truth from political and economic power and influence—a process brilliantly analyzed by François Furet.4

Once born, the intellectual idiom did in fact acquire autonomy of sorts. Its birth would have been impossible had it not been for a unique complex of structural dislocations within a specific corpus of local West European tradition. Since its articulation, however, the idiom has become detachable, to a degree, from its original context and, in principle, transferable. It was subject to what anthropologists call the “diffusion of stimulus,” a process which takes place when a cultural concept, an ideal, a postulate, or a norm, travels without the corresponding structural transformations which had made it a functional possibility in the first place. Having traveled alone, as a stimulus, or as an ostensibly purely spiritual influence, cultural patterns are often grafted onto wholly uncorrelated structures. In the process, they undergo substantive and functional changes, sometimes of a truly radical nature, while preserving at least the visibility of original kinship bonds. Neither the affected structure nor the foreign graft emerge from the process unscathed, though the concealment of this fact is more often than not the very condition of successful transplantation.

Soon after its birth, the intellectual idiom embarked on an adventurous journey that remains unfinished to this day. From the very start, however, it traveled not merely as a pattern for contemplation or spiritual refinement. What really brought it into salience and rendered it an object of envious and hopeful emulation was its explosive and spectacular application in the French Revolution. The question of who was the true agent of the Revolution, which class was its principal actor, has been asked again recently and has yielded some surprising and unconventional answers. 5 But whatever answer might turn into the scholarly canon of the next decade or so, one thing can hardly be in doubt. A revolution (as distinct from a rebellion or a coup d’état)—a daring, perhaps audacious, intent to transform a total system of society through the sheer legislative effort and education of minds, an active attempt to impose a complete model conceived in the course of intellectual analysis upon a society different from it in virtually every detail, a stubborn insistence on treating every gap between the a priori approved model and recalcitrant reality as so much ignorance, superstition and moral evil –all this could derive its authority and self-confidence only from the phenomenon ← 14 | 15 → described above as the “intellectual idiom.” By the very fact of offering such authority and confidence to the boldest, most shocking, and hence the most consequential event of the modern era, this idiom gained a wholly new dimension of significance and acquired an important, though contentious, place in the political thought and action of our times. Having culminated in the Revolution, the intellectual idiom, as pieced together and codified by successive generations of les philosophes and les idéologues, instilled in the European mind of the nineteenth century the belief that thought could be potent enough to destroy and create social realities. The more reluctant the local reality was to change, the keener and more radical this belief would tend to be—a connection which Marx spotted early, in a socially stagnant Germany as it gazed avidly at the breath-taking pace of social change across the Rhine.

The event described as “the birth of the Russian intelligentsia,” and the less studied rise of local (later to become national) intelligentsias throughout East-Central Europe in the second quarter of the nineteenth century, was the most poignant case of the early diffusion of the intellectual idiom. This part of Europe was well behind its western counterpart by all standards of economic and political development. It had neither crushed its peasantry nor politically dispossessed its aristocracy. The states that ruled this area were no more than urban based bureaucratic systems imposed upon peasant communes, ruled by custom, and upon small to large, sometimes very large, local fiefs and baronies ruled by traditional landowners. Even the spreading market could be absorbed and adapted to the benefit of these landowners. The dynasties identified with the states wielded what Michel Foucault dubbed a “sovereign power” (and Ernest Gellner, a “dentist power”—extraction by torture . . .); they confined their governing ambitions largely to revenue rising, and were essentially unconcerned with the administration of the daily lives or productive initiatives of their subjects. They had few, if any, moralizing and proselytizing aspirations. Cutting across many an ethnic and linguistic boundary, the dynasties also held uneasily together heterogeneous mixtures of otherwise unrelated ethnic groups, languages, cultures, and customs, which could hardly look toward vesting their group identities—either symbolically or politically—with the state. The latter appeared foreign to many, too noncommittal to most, distant and indifferent to all.

Two distinctive features of the East-Central European scene proved to be of particular relevance both to the urgency with which the stimulus of the intellectual idiom was embraced and to the seminal transmogrification this idiom underwent in the course of its adoption and adaptation.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (March)
Intellektuelle Osteuropa politische Oppostion Gesellschaftskritik Politics of Opposition
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 302 pp.

Biographical notes

Irena Grudzinska-Gross (Volume editor) Andrzej W. Tymowski (Volume editor)

Irena Grudzińska Gross is co-editor in chief of East European Politics and Societies – and Cultures and teaches at the Department of Slavic Literatures at Princeton University (USA). She is Professor at the Institute of Slavic Studies, Polish Academy of Science. Andrzej W. Tymowski is a member of the editorial board of East European Politics and Societies – and Cultures. He is Director of International Programs at the American Council of Learned Societies and assistant professor in the Faculty of Artes Liberales at the University of Warsaw.


Title: Eastern Europe: Continuity and Change (1987–1995)
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305 pages