Issue 01: Democracy
If there was a single emotion that could describe the mood of most of the pro-democracy and independence movements in Central and Eastern Europe in the 1990s, that emotion must have been hope. For people protesting in the streets of Gdansk, Bucharest, Riga, or Prague, that time represented an immense opportunity to strive towards the political organisation of their societies that is fairer, more open, and just. The ensuing three decades brought this slightly naive hope down to earth: the newly independent nations have struggled to ensure a fair transition for everyone, had to deal with ethnic tensions, and maintain fragile newly established institutions. Some of the democracies persisted, some experienced backsliding, while others reverted to various forms of authoritarianism.
Or so, at least, a synthesis of the most common narratives on the subject would sound. With this first issue of the CEE Affairs Review, we try to provide a more nuanced account of the relationship between the region and one of the Western world's most significant political ideas. Extending our lens geographically, conceptually, and temporally, at CEE Affairs Review we believe in the value of diverse epistemic standpoints, contrasting analytical approaches, and the importance of detailed accounts in shaping our understanding of broader developments. With this vision in mind, in this issue, our authors tackle questions surrounding the past, present, and future of democracy in Central and Eastern Europe.
A few of our authors focus on the present and examine the state of democracy in the region, as well as various approaches to explain the problems faced by it. Jodie Bradshaw scrutinises the successes and pitfalls of populist parties in the CEE; while Marcelina Palamar explores the erosion of democracy in Poland driven by the rise of the Law and Justice party.
Our writers also examine transitions—political and cultural, successful and failed ones. Toby Mayhew looks into Russia's failed democratic experiment in the 1990s and the undermining of institutions during its volatile post-autocratic years. Uncovering the fate of the Greek-Catholic Church in Romania, Cristina Brăgea explores the reconfiguration of the relationship between politics and religion in a newly developing democratic state after the breakdown of a totalitarian regime.
Other contributors leave the traditional approaches of political science aside and turn to the historical examination of the past. Some highlight the powerful and inspiring stories that can be discovered when looking back: Lis Riveros delves into the fascinating case of underground education in German-occupied Poland during the years of the Second World War; Michal Vojtech explores musical resistance against the 1969 Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia through the works of Czech singer, poet, and revolutionary Karel Kryl. Others see the past as a source of insights as well as potential tensions: Tatiana Gnuva looks into the weaponization of Bosnian monuments and repercussions of ethnic nationalism; Hamish Kennedy unpacks the diverging visions of a political community in the 1989 speeches of Václav Havel and Viktor Orbán, charting the impact of their ideas on Hungarian and Czech democracies.
Finally, our writers also analyse how different temporal categories interact together. Flora McIntyre contemplates how the past and present shape the future prospects of democracy in Georgia; Mirko Savković stresses the importance of understanding nostalgia and alternative visions of the future as the key reasons behind the need to study Yugoslavia. Reviewing the recent International Booker prize winner Georgi Gospodinov's Time Shelter, Joseph Ronan explores the tension between the inescapability of the past and ignorance of the present: what if, for instance, we could have a democratic vote on which decade in history to return to?
As our first issue hopefully shows, there is more to democracy in Central and Eastern Europe than just a simple story of a clash between hope and harsh reality throughout the last 30 years. As open-ended concepts, democratisation and democracy bring with them a distinct set of ideas about the past, present, and future. They are more optimistic than Walter Benjamin's angel of history, who, with his face turned toward the past, sees only 'a single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet.' Yet they are also less naive than the mood that characterised the region in the 1990s. As an idea, democracy forces one to look to the past—for all the complexities, diverging legacies, and difficulties—while also stressing the need to keep an eye open to the future—for hope, inspiration, and guidance.
This issue is the result of the work of many talented and dedicated people. We would like to extend our endless gratitude to our team of editors, our authors, as well as prospective readers. A special thanks also goes to the Cambridge Centre of Geopolitics for supporting us on this journey.
Justas Petrauskas & Emilė Petravičiūtė (Managing Editors)
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