EDITORIAL: Central Europe Re-Enters history

The specter of post-totalitarianism is again hanging over Central Europe.

This term was coined years ago by Václav Havel. The author of The Power of the Powerless (1978) realized that the system prevailing in his country was a completely new socio-political phenomenon, the essence of which was a combination of dictatorship and consumer society.

The post-totalitarian system survived wherever the citizens were content with the status of consumers: in the shape of the monarchy of Putin, Lukashenko’s state-owned farming estate, or the post-nomenclature oligarchies of Ukraine.

Their fate was not determined by Huntington’s phantasms, but by the lack of a real perspective for a democratic integration (not only in terms of capital, production or trade) with the West.

More than twenty five years ago Mikhail Gorbachev provoked communist elites in Central Europe to support the changes desired by the most active sections of the societies when it turned out that a necessary condition of internal reforms initiated by him in the USSR was the deepening of economic dependence of the region. At the same time, he himself encouraged them to act by ruling out military intervention in the region. He probably imagined that it would be possible to combine a relative democratization (glasnost’) and the consolidation of society around the Communist elite, allowing economic reforms to be carried out (perestroika).

But it did not happen. The drive for freedom of the nations of Central Europe and the Soviet Union in the years 1989–1991 led to the greatest geopolitical changes since the Second World War. In the area between the Adriatic Sea, the Baltic and the Black Sea, the best remedy for the challenges of globalization, structural backwardness of the region and lawlessness was seen in a “return to Europe.” Perhaps history is repeating itself now.

Perhaps the post-totalitarian regime of Putin, trying to preserve its influence in Ukraine, provoked some local oligarchs to support the libertarian and pro-Western aspirations of the most active segments of the

Ukrainian society. If so, the best remedy for the post-totalitarianism of Ukraine is a “return to (Central) Europe”.

This is how Central Europe re-enters history.

Aleksander Kaczorowski

Aleksander Kaczorowski is an editor-in-chief of Aspen Review Central Europe, a Polish bohemist, journalist and author. His recent books include biographies of Václav Havel, Bohumil Hrabal, Ota Pavel and Isaac Babel. He won the Václav Burian Prize for cultural contribution to the Central European dialogue (2016).

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