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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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The emergence of the alterglobalist movement shook public opinion around the world. Images of street riots the ‘Battle of Seattle’ in November 1999 began to circulate and soon became icons of the new wave of anti-capitalist protests. It was not only the fact the riots took place, but also the event that triggered them (the meeting of the IMF – International Monetary Fund and WTO – World Trade Organization) that raised eyebrows. Contestation of the world order based on the neoliberal Washington Consensus was usually the domain of social movements in the so-called third world that had been most affected by these policies. Changes in the world economy and the ‘shrinking of the distances’ between ‘us’ and ‘them’ re-ignited the discussion about globalization. Suddenly many issues around the world were linked together, both by activists and academics. Environmental destruction, the new economy based on the free flow of finances and its effects on societies affected by cut-backs in social security programs were linked to the effects of neoliberal policies. At the level of international politics, globalization (as interpreted by the activists) was also seen to be at work in military operations, with the war in Iraq being the main example. Political elites were criticized, especially the ‘neoconservatives’, who married the liberalization of the economy with a right-wing moralistic discourse. The Washington Consensus, according to many scholars and activists, is nowadays considered as responsible for: privatization, deregulation and outsourcing, weakening of the nation state and expanding multinational corporations. In fact, many...

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