Contested Legacies of 1989

Geopolitics, Memories and Societies in Central and Eastern Europe

by Nicolas Maslowski (Volume editor) Kinga Torbicka (Volume editor)
©2022 Edited Collection 228 Pages


Strongly affected by modern history and facing dilemmas of modernity, Central and Eastern Europe has been healing fresh wounds for the past 30 years. The present volume analyzes the contemporary challenges related to the heritage of 1989. The peaceful revolution brought substantial socio-cultural, institutional and strategic transformations, setting a long-term course for Central and Eastern European policymaking. Recently, however, these legacies, namely the geopolitical aspects of the transformation, the policies of collective memory, and even intrasocietal issues, have been questioned more than ever. It seems the region is approaching the end of a revolutionary cycle of transition. This volume tries to investigate this phenomenon as it unfolds.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction: The Post-Communist Order Contested
  • The End of a Historical Sequence (Nicolas Maslowski)
  • Spreading the Seeds of Doubt: The Divisive Effect of Russian “Sharp Power” in Europe (Anaïs Marin)
  • Unpredictable Security: US and Russian Games on NATO’s Eastern Flank: The Example of Poland (Kinga Torbicka)
  • Europe’s Multi-Temporality and Twentieth-Century Memories after 1989 (Pierre-Frédéric Weber)
  • Constructing Memory: The Polish Church and the Round Table Agreement of 1989 (Mikołaj Rakusa-Suszczewski)
  • Contested Memories of the East German Peaceful Revolution: Appeals to 1989 by the Populist PEGIDA Movement (Sabine Volk)
  • The Present’s Ever-Changing Past: Post-1989 Memory of the “Rescue of the Bulgarian Jews” (Nadège Ragaru)
  • Three Responses to the Rise of National Conservatism in the Central and Eastern Europe of the 2010s and the Legacy of 1989 (Pavel Barša)
  • What is Happening to the Polish Civil Society? (Grzegorz Piotrowski)
  • Contest over EU Values: Poland and the Rule of Law Crisis (Camille Dobler)
  • Contributors
  • List of Tables
  • Series index

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Introduction: The Post-Communist Order Contested

Abstract: In 1989 the Cold War ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall. The countries of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) have been liberated from the totalitarian regime. The social, cultural and political order in this region has been redefined. This introduction chapter analyses the historical, social, geopolitical and symbolic legacy left by the events in this region after communist order and their contemporary contestation.

Keywords: Central and Eastern Europe, post-soviet era, transformation, memory, legacy

The fall of the Iron Curtain, and shortly later, of the Soviet Union brought about the need for a change, highlighting the challenges that arose in the post-communist era for the international community and for the region. Social, civilization and political challenges were clearly visible in Central and Eastern Europe. Strongly affected by modern history, divided between empires, facing the dilemmas of modernity, this part of the European continent has been healing fresh wounds for 30 years.

The political transition began in 1989, later called annus mirabilis, a miraculous year: the communist regime was falling in Central and Eastern Europe, democracy was winning over the totalitarian regime, the political tragedy that this part of the European continent was ending. The vision of a united democratic Europe, without walls and wars was giving hope to the whole continent. “Le temps d’un ébranlement européen est arrivé” [The time has come for the European revolution] (Plasseraud 2000: 14). “Nous sommes sans doute les témoins et les acteurs des transformations géopolitiques si importantes qu’il est aujourd’hui impossible d’en mesurer la portée réelle” [We are undoubtedly witnesses and actors of geopolitical changes so important that it is impossible today to measure their actual extent] (Kolossov, Treivish, Tourovsky 1993: 81). The geopolitical transformation culminated in 1991 with the disaggregation of the USSR.

Central and Eastern Europe (Halecki 1944: 9–18) was historically a very diversified region, culturally, economically, politically. Central and ←7 | 8→Eastern Europe was not only describing this poor “Zwischeneuropa” (Forst de Battaglia 1954), but it was also an analytical tool with a hidden political project: to overpass this geopolitical uncomfortable situation of nations divided between empires in the nineteenth century, between the USSR and Germany in the twentieth century. It became the result of the consciousness of a community of destiny, under the soviet rules, of the part of the western civilization being dominated by the Eastern bloc (Halecki 1944, Kundera 1984, Miłosz 1986, Szűcs 1985, Bibó 1986, Kiš 1989).

After the fall of the communist regime and the disaggregation of the USSR, in the face of the political transformation and the redefinition of the international order, the societies from the region unanimously opted for a return to democracy, seeing it as the only way to rebuild statehood and stability. The aim was to rejoin the Western types of democracies and societies. The internal political changes in the region were made possible by the geopolitical transformation of the world.

The states had to make, very quickly, a general redefinition of their action, as actors on the international arena, as a framing organization of their economies (the evolution of socialist economies towards capitalism), the reconstruction of the civil societies and of the trust, cultural evolutions (religion, mores, nationalism).

In the opinion of the authors of this monograph, contemporary challenges related to the heritage of 1989 and the subsequent sociocultural, institutional, and strategic transformations, permanently shape the policy of Central and Eastern Europe. In this context, the research into transition countries creates new research perspectives, and past events can and are used in contemporary political and geopolitical struggles.

In order to investigate the processes taking place, the problems faced by this part of Europe and the challenges it faces, the presented monograph seeks answers to research questions: does the 1989 heritage still have the same value and price? Will the current situation lead to a crisis of liberal democracy and, as a consequence, to the strengthening of authoritarian rule in this part of Europe? Will the consequence of this evolution be the isolation of these countries in the European arena? Is the memory of the 1989 legacy properly interpreted by contemporary generations of researchers and society? Can all these changes influence the geopolitical ←8 | 9→faith of the Central and Eastern Europe when Russia is contesting the 1991 great transformation?

Thirty years later, the post-soviet transformation is contested. First, and quite quickly, the geopolitical post-cold war “cold peace” was perceived by Russia as illegitimate. Russia itself identified progressively as the geopolitical continuator of the Soviet Union, which was not the preferred identity in the first years of its independence.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2022 (February)
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2022. 228 pp., 5 tables.

Biographical notes

Nicolas Maslowski (Volume editor) Kinga Torbicka (Volume editor)

Nicolas Maslowski, Ph.D., is director of the CCFEF, the French-Polish center of Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Warsaw. His research centers around issues in Central and Eastern Europe, collective memory and historical sociology. Kinga Torbicka, Ph.D., is a research fellow at the CCFEF at the University of Warsaw. She focuses her research on geopolitics and the security of Central and Eastern Europe.


Title: Contested Legacies of 1989
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230 pages