Post-totalitarian Societies in Transformation

From Systemic Change into European Integration

by Elżbieta Mach (Volume editor) Grzegorz Pożarlik (Volume editor) Joanna Sondel-Cedarmas (Volume editor)
©2022 Edited Collection 334 Pages
Open Access


This study considers the multidimensional nature of the construction of the active civil society in the post-totalitarian reality of Central and Eastern Europe, covering the period of systemic transformations in the region in 1989 to the EU accession of 2004. The analysis was carried out using a multidisciplinary research perspective which incorporates historical, sociological, and legal insights, as well as those from political science. The volume illustrates the dynamic character of the process of constructing an active civil society process in a broader comparative perspective against the background of post-totalitarian societies, Germany and Italy, which underwent the process of democratic transformation in 1945 and went on to actively forge the European Community in the 1950s.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction (Joanna Sondel-Cedarmas/Grzegorz Pożarlik/Elżbieta M. Mach)
  • Part One. From Systemic change to European integration
  • Post-totalitarian societies in Western Europe: A comparative case study analysis of Italy and Germany (Joanna Sondel-Cedarmas/Witold Stankowski)
  • Models of systemic-economic transformation in Central and Eastern Europe (Tadeusz Kopyś)
  • European socio-political and cultural changes after 2004 in the context of the shaping of active citizenship (Elżbieta M. Mach/Zdzisław Mach)
  • Part Two. Models of political transformation, reconstruction of the rule of law and politics of memory
  • Denazification in the BRD/DDR: An Outline of the Legal Aspects (Witold Kulesza)
  • ‘A difficult inheritance:’ On the defascistization of public space in Italy in 1946–2019 (Joanna Sondel-Cedarmas)
  • The phantom revolution of 1989 in Poland (Tomasz Scheffler)
  • The legacy of the Polish People’s Republic in the doctrine and constitutional law in the first years of Poland’s transformation (Ewa Kozerska)
  • The Czech memory of the most important figures and events of the communist period in Czechoslovakia (1945–1989) (Krzysztof Koźbiał)
  • Memory of a difficult past in Hungary: The Holocaust and the Treaty of Trianon (Tadeusz Kopyś)
  • Part Three. Rebuilding social ties and shaping active European citizenship in post-totalitarian societies
  • From a divided society to a united and European one: The reunification of Germany, the transformation in East Germany and Germany in Europe (Witold Stankowski)
  • Citizenship skills: A historical perspective in the European and Italian context (Andrea Natalini, Antonella Nuzzaci, Paola Rizzi)
  • The sociological vacuum in Poland: Reflections 30 years after the transformation (Paweł Kubicki)
  • Civil society in post-1989 Poland as a contentious society: Systemic transformation and the Europeanisation of civil society (Grzegorz Pożarlik)
  • The shaping of active european citizenship in the Slovak society (Jana Pecníková/Daniela Mališová)
  • The social determinants of political change in Hungary and its perception of the European Union (1989–2018) (Tadeusz Kopyś)
  • Preparing students for life in a common Europe: Reflections from Poland 17 years after the expansion of the EU (Elżbieta M. Mach)
  • Series index

Joanna Sondel-Cedarmas/Grzegorz Pożarlik/Elżbieta M. Mach


The construction of active civil society at the European level in post-totalitarian societies is a subject that has not been elaborated in the literature, despite its individual elements having been widely discussed in the academic discourse for a long time.1 This study tackles the multidimensional nature of this process in Central and Eastern Europe, covering the period from the systemic transformations of these countries in 1989 to their accession to the EU in 2004. It does so in a broader comparative perspective, against the background of the experiences of classic post-totalitarian societies in Western and Southern Europe (German and Italy), which already underwent a process of democratic transformation in 1945 and went on to actively forge the European Community in 1950s. Such an approach allows for an in-depth analysis of the evolution of post-totalitarian societies in the so-called transition period between the undemocratic system and democratic consolidation,2 while emphasizing the common features and fundamental differences related to political transformations.

Unlike the aforementioned post-fascist countries, where the totalitarian systems collapsed rapidly as a result of the downfall of dictatorships and the end of World War II, the post-totalitarian societies in Central and Eastern Europe had ←7 | 8→a longer route from communist totalitarianism to authoritarianism and – as a consequence of the systemic transformations in 1989 –to democracy.3

The reconstruction of the democratic rule of law, the transition from a command economy to a market economy, the rebirth of a civil society based on social pluralism, combined with an attempt to reckon with the totalitarian (or authoritarian) past, are, however, a common denominator to post-fascist Italy, post-Nazi Germany and post-totalitarian authoritarian regimes in Central and Eastern Europe regardless of different historical context in which these transformations took place. Undoubtedly, the social developments in Poland, (Czecho)Slovakia and Hungary, which initiated the democratization process in Central and Eastern Europe, are interlinked by a number of factors, such as a relatively high level of advancement of democratization, a certain community of political traditions, geographical proximity, economic cooperation or the similarity of strategic political goals.4

Central European experiences, however, differ substantively from those of Italy or Germany, where the systemic transformation underwent in 1943–1945 and which, due to their constitutive role in European integration processes, need to be acknowledged as founding nations of the European Community. In contrast to the ‘young democracies’ from Central and Eastern Europe – which declared their aspirations to join the EU immediately after the formation of the new political system in 1989 that followed the end of communism5 – in Italy and in Germany, the transition to democracy occured almost simultaneously with the process of the laying down of the foundations of a common Europe in the 1950’s.

The contributors to this volume, drawing on case study analyses of their own countries and societies, discuss the changes that have taken place at two ←8 | 9→key historical moments: 1) after the systemic transformation and/or political revolutions following 1989 and 2) after the EU’s Eastern enlargement. The analysis was carried out using a multidisciplinary research perspective, taking into account historical, sociological as well as political science and legal insights. This study draws on findings from the research and educational project entitled: ‘Shaping of the European citizenship in the post – totalitarian societies Reflections after 15 years of EU enlargement’. The project focused on the analysis of data on the condition of European society in Poland, Slovakia, and Italy seventeen years after the EU’s Eastern enlargement.

The volume is divided into three parts. The first part, introducing the conceptual matrix, presents and analyses – on the example of fascist Italy and the Third Reich – two different models of totalitarianism and totalitarian societies in Europe as well as discusses the models of political transformation in Central and Eastern Europe in 1989 after the fall of the Berlin Wall the the EU’s Eastern enlargement.6

The monograph opens with the chapter by Joanna Sondel-Cedarmas and Witold Stankowski entitled ‘Post-totalitarian societies in Western Europe: A comparative case study analysis of Italy and Germany.’ In this chapter the process of the systemic transformation in Italy and Germany in 1945– 46 is examined. A special emphasis is given to difficulties associated with building the democratic rule of law and coping with the legacy left by the previous undemocratic system. As noted by Sondel-Cedarmas and Stankowski, the process of strengthening democracy in both Germany and Italy coincided with the pro-European choice of the governments of Konrad Adenauer and Alcide De Gasperi to support the project of a common Europe. The following chapter by Tadeusz Kopyś, entitled ‘Models of systemic-economic transformation in Central and Eastern Europe,’ is a comparative analysis of the various models of systemic transformations in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe in and after 1989. According to Kopyś, communist societies cannot be seen exclusively in terms of being oppressive and economically burdensome to maintain, but also as organisms that functioned and created specific legal and constitutional conditions. Assuming that the situation in the individual countries of Central and Eastern Europe was different, the author analyses the various communist systems, their social roots and genesis, ←9 | 10→distinguishing several models of transformation. The chapter by Elżbieta Mach and Zdzisław Mach is a panoramic analysis of the political and socio-cultural changes in Poland and Europe after 2004, i.e. at the time when the countries of Central and Eastern Europe acceded to the European Union. Perceiving one’s own social identity through the prism of the European identity and the European community of values was hampered in this cultural setting due to a deficit of liberal institutional mechanisms, a limited adherence to the civic concept of the political community, and the refusal to accept European diversity and pluralism. An important limitation in this context was the understanding of the nation as an ethnic community and (often unconscious) acceptance of populism, nationalism and xenophobia in their various incarnations. Such constraints were especially visible in Poland, where national-conservative Catholicism and nationalist sentiment limited the perception of the European Union solely to that of a donor, whose duty should be to support a Polish nation that was harmed by history.

In the second part, the volume offers insights into various aspects of the transformation process itself in the above-mentioned post-totalitarian societies, taking into account the need to come to terms with the totalitarian past and the historical memory of that period. Consequently, Witold Kulesza, in his contribution entitled ‘Denazification in the BRD/DDR: An outline of the legal aspects,’ considers the process of ‘denazification’ which aimed at removing from public life all those who had been involved in the establishment and consolidation of the Nazi state. However, while the ‘nazification’ process had been successful, the ‘denazification’ process was quickly abandoned. This essentially led to the ‘renazification’ of the Federal Republic of Germany, especially with regard to lawyers, including officials, judges and prosecutors. Lawyers returning to the judiciary of the Federal Republic, who had been through the test and purge of ‘nazification’ in 1933 and proved that they were loyal followers of National Socialism, largely emerged unscathed from the ‘denazification’ proceedings, in what has been described in the literature as ‘renazification’ (Renazifizierung).

Similarly, Joanna Sondel-Cedarmas in her chapter entitled ‘A difficult inheritance: On the defascistization of public space in Italy in 1946–2019’ discusses the difficulties associated with breaking with the fascist heritage in Italy referring to de-fascisation of public space in Italy in the period of 1946–2019. Sondel-Cedarmas – emphasising the topical nature of this problem in contemporary Italy – analyses normative acts concerning the ban on the promotion of fascism, as well as initiatives undertaken to clear the territory of Italy of fascist remnants and covers the period from 1943–1946 to the present day.

Ewa Kozerska’s and Tomasz Scheffler’s chapters, discuss the complexity and turbulent character of institutional changes introduced during the process of ←10 | 11→the systemic transformation in Poland. Kozerska, in her contribution entitled ‘The legacy of the Polish People’s Republic in the doctrine and constitutional law in the first years of the transformation period in Poland,’ deals with selected problems of doctrine and constitutional law until the entry into force of the so-called Small Constitution of 1992. She highlights the fact that the direction of the changes initiated at that time related to the process of transforming the People’s Republic of Poland into a democratic rule of law was determined essentially during the ‘Round Table’ meetings held by the ruling party with the Solidarity democratic opposition in Magdalenka. The chapter claims the temporary normative solutions developed at that time indicated a more-likely verbal transformation of Poland’s systemic structures into the rule of law model than a genuine change.

As a consequence, the normative regulations developed made it impossible for the society to radically break with institutional relics and political ties of communist origin. They also inhibited the process of building the values and principles of the legal order of the Third Republic from scratch. Similarly, Tomasz Scheffler’s chapter on ‘The phantom revolution of 1989 in Poland’ argues that although the elite of the Third Republic in the official narrative proclaimed the rejection of the legacy of communist rule and a desire to restore independent Polish statehood as a continuation of the interwar irredentism, the actual source of legitimacy for the Third Republic was a system which had been formed in the communist Polish People’s Republic.

Tadeusz Kopyś and Krzysztof Koźbiał, on the other hand, take up the issue of historical memory and generational memory as a means of creating national identity after 1989. Tadeusz Kopyś in his chapter ‘The Memory of a Difficult Past in Hungary (The Holocaust and the Treaty of Trianon)’ draws attention to the events such as the peace treaty in Trianon, the extermination of Jews during the Second World War, and the evaluation of the activities of Miklós Horthy, János Kádár and Imre Nagy, which are pivotal, complex and subject to political instrumental treatment in Hungarian public debate of 20th century national history. Krzysztof Koźbiał in his contribution on ‘The Czech memory of the most important figures and events of the communist period in Czechoslovakia (1945–1989)’ argues insightfully that despite functioning in one state organism, the Czech memory of the communist period is unquestionably different from the Slovak memory of that time. It consists mainly of momentous events, including the Prague Spring of 1968, and the memory of important – symbolic figures such as Jan Palach and Milada Horáková. This is evidenced by the multitude of monuments, celebrations and other commemorations in public space, such as street names. Interestingly, this memory usually lacks references to the presence ←11 | 12→and role of the Red Army in the history of post-war Czechoslovakia. Post-war Czechoslovakia was not a benchmark for the construction of an independent Czech state, with this role undoubtedly being played by the so-called First Republic which functioned in the years 1918–1938. For this reason, as indicated by public opinion polls, the vast majority of Czechs positively assess the changes that took place after the fall of communism in 1989.

The third part of the volume touches upon various manifestations of the creation of an active European civil society. There is no doubt that the transition from totalitarianism/authoritarianism to democracy took place on two levels in all of the analysed cases: 1) institutional – covering the issues of the processes of political and economic system reform, structural transformations, as well as their depth, scope, pace and manner changes and 2) social, concerning social, mental and psychological transformations, triggered by the above-mentioned institutional changes. In this part of the volume, while analysing the process of the construction of an active civil society at the European level, the contributors identify common features in all of the analysed post-totalitarian societies and draw attention to the national or regional differentiations of this process.

European values and ideas par excellence refer essentially to liberal views, attaching great importance to the diversity of values and multiculturalism, human rights, and the doctrine of the rule of law and free market principles.7 These values, however, are contextualized through the diverse historical experience of other Central European societies in terms of the consequences of communist totalitarianism for the understanding of the national community, state community and civil society. In our analysis, we place a particular emphasis on explaining their distinctiveness, despite the similarities in the process of Europeanization of active civil society in Central and Eastern Europe compared to the experiences of Western and Southern European countries.

The symbolic anchor connecting the two parts of this volume is the contribution by Witold Stankowski, entitled ‘From a divided society to a united and European one: The reunification of Germany, the transformation in East Germany and Germany in Europe,’ showing the consequences of World War II for the German state and nation. This saw the emergence of the post-war bipolar division of the world, and at the same time an acceleration of integration tendencies in Western Europe. The fall of the Third Reich, who had been responsible for the outbreak of the armed conflict, led to questions about the future and shape ←12 | 13→of Germany being introduced into the fora of international politics. During the atmosphere of the Cold War, two German states emerged: West Germany, which functioned within the family of Western European democracies, and the GDR, a satellite of the Soviet Union and one of the countries of the so-called people’s democracies. After the reunification of Germany, the social divisions which had been perpetuated by the Cold War partition persisted. This is perhaps most clearly discernible in the ascription to the inhabitants of the former East Germany of the nickname ‘Ossis,’ with Germans from the western part being known as ‘Wessis.’

In a similar vein we find the contribution by Andrea Natalini, Antonella Nuzzaci, and Paola Rizzi. In their piece, entitled ‘Citizenship skills: From the European to the Italian context,’ they touch upon the role of education in building civic skills. The case study here is the experience of the Italian educational system in transmitting constitutive values related to active citizenship. The chapter covers developments in this area since the establishment of European citizenship under the terms of the Maastricht Treaty.

Paweł Kubicki, in his contribution on the ‘Sociological vacuum in Poland: Reflections 30 years after the transformation’ deals with the shifts in civil society in Poland from the political transformation of 1989–1990 to the accession of both countries to the EU in 2004. Kubicki addresses the issue of the sociological vacuum in the era of the Polish People’s Republic, something which he considers a consequence of the anti-civic policy of the communist authorities and a typical feature of a society operating under an authoritarian and anti-civic regime. He then highlights the role of the systemic transformation at the social level, which he conceptualizes as ‘the trauma of a great change.’ The chapter refers to current developments in Polish civil society by outlining different forms of civic mobilization in social movements and NGO organizations in Poland.

The issue of the Europeanization of Polish civil society is also raised by Grzegorz Pożarlik in his work entitled ‘Civil society in post-1989 Poland as a contentious society: Systemic transformation and the Europeanisation of civil society.’ Civil society in post-1989 Poland as a (predominantly, although not exclusively) contentious society. A major assumption of his contribution is that contention has been within the DNA of Polish civil society during the communist period and it still appears to be a significant mobilizing force in the public sphere in Poland nowadays. Grzegorz Pożarlik claims that European values as expressed in the EU’s constitutional framework and European civil society networking are referred to by civil society actors in ←13 | 14→Poland, who challenge what Jacques Rupnik identifies as ‘democratic backsliding’ in Central Europe.8


ISBN (Hardcover)
Open Access
Publication date
2022 (April)
Post-totalitarian societies Systemic change Memory of totalitarianism/authoritarianism EU enlargement (Central Europe) Active citizenship European identity
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2022. 334 pp., 12 fig. b/w.

Biographical notes

Elżbieta Mach (Volume editor) Grzegorz Pożarlik (Volume editor) Joanna Sondel-Cedarmas (Volume editor)

Elżbieta M. Mach is Assistant Professor at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków. Her research focuses on the development of educational systems. Grzegorz Pożarlik is Senior Lecturer and at the Jagiellonian University’s Institute of European Studies. His research focuses on the sociology of power, international security in the Post-Cold War era, and the civil society. Joanna Sondel-Cedarmas is Associate Professor of Political Science at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland. Her research interests include Nationalism, Fascism, and the Far Right, as well as the memory of totalitarianism and authoritarianism.


Title: Post-totalitarian Societies in Transformation