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In the Shadow of the Iron Curtain

Central and Eastern European Alterglobalists

Grzegorz Piotrowski

This book examines the alterglobalist activists in Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary. Based on lengthy ethnographic fieldwork and numerous in-depth interviews with key figures of the movement, it covers mobilizations and actions between 1998 and 2011 and analyzes the process of adapting the alterglobalist way of thinking, claims and organizational modes in post-socialist countries. By pointing out the main challenges the movement faced, the author discusses the ways it tried to overcome these. The main argument is that the post-communist legacy (expressed in low levels of mobilization, in rejection of leftist ideals and discourse and in deep mistrust towards political life) had a tremendous impact on the formation and the shape of the alterglobalist movement in the region.

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Chapter 4: Postsocialism


Many observers tend to explain the low social participation in Central and Eastern European countries as a result of the ‘postsocialist’ environment. However, I questioned my informants on the topic, whether they believed this to be true, if they felt this category still makes sense years after the transformation; and what they perceive as the distinctive features of postsocialism, apart from a history of an oppressive regime. During the interviews several characteristics that can be labeled as post-socialist came to light, such as the left/ right wing confusion; the ‘cultural anticommunism’; and – a deeply rooted – social apathy, which directly affected social movements in the region, at least according to their participants. In that sense, my interviewees provided an alternative narration of the changes and the transformation period, and its consequences. This line of argumentation does not presume to give an objective description of the postsocialist condition in the region, instead, it is more focused on the discussions about this issue among the activists, and how these discussions – or rather contestations – fit into the framework of academic and political discourse on postsocialism. The main arguments for the postsocialist influence on social movements in the region – being the ‘delegitimation’ of the left, the continuation of struggles (including both the history of contentious groups before the regime change and the heritage of anti-systemic movements), and a general situation of social apathy.

On my second visit to the Czech Republic, all of my informants – and many other people I occasionally...

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