East European Protests in Focus

Recent developments in countries of Central-Eastern Europe – proposal of refugee quotas was met with utter reluctance by Visegrad countries, Hungary and Poland adopted policies aimed at building majoritarian regimes – prompted many analysts and commentators to question a widely shared assumption that the region was one of the few examples of successful democratic transformation. But popular explanations of the alleged ‘democratic backsliding’ with failed internalization of democratic values do not provide satisfactory answers, as they inevitably turn out to be circular. From this standpoint countries of Central-Eastern Europe are increasingly undemocratic, because their citizens never truly embraced values of human rights, pluralism, and individualism. In short, CEE proved to be undemocratic, because it failed to democratize.

To go beyond such truisms, one has to look into complex social landscape of the region and its neighboring countries, both in and outside of the EU, and try to present it as a field of contesting political interests and narratives stemming from local context as well as influenced by particular reception of European and global challenges, such as the recent economic and refugee crises. And the best way to start analyzing this landscape is to look into social protests and demonstrations in Central and Eastern Europe. Contributions to this series of articles in Transit Online, curated by Pawel Marczewski, attempt to move beyond simplistic and circular explanations. Providing insights into demands voiced by revolted crowds, their ways of mobilization, and responses of political elites and public opinion, articles in this collection present the region as a battlefield for the future of democracy, rather than as a majoritarian, anti-democratic monolith build on parochial, nationalistic foundations.

  • Shedding Light on Corruption: A Small Romanian Victory

    “We see you”. This short message, projected on a building near the Romanian government's headquarters, was the main message from hundreds of thousands of people to their politicians. At 9 PM local time, on Sunday, 5 February 2017, some 250,000 people turned on their mobile phones' flashlights, in a symbolic gesture of “shedding light on corruption”. A total of 600,000 people gathered in Romania that night, making it the largest protest movement in the country since 1989.
    Read more

  • Between ‘the Russian World’ and ‘the Ukrainian Nation’: Kyiv Pride before and after Euromaidan

    Ukrainian LGBT movement is the logical product of the Ukrainian social, economical, and political context. For queer politics to appear in Ukraine, different conditions and possibilities have to be created. It will take years for currently isolated queer activists to rearticulate the existing heteronormative order through many scattered tactical interventions into the public sphere.
    Read more

  • Self-Reflection Through the Visual: Notes on Some Maidan Documentaries

    On a formal level, the images win a subjectivity of their own, in a similar way to the people -- the main protagonist of all the abovementioned films -- who gain their political subjectivity during the course of revolutionary struggle. If there is any universal truth about Maidan, then it can be articulated like this: people with their own hands, their own efforts and will ousted the oppressive political regime from power.
    Read more

  • Committee for the Defense of Democracy in Poland: Rebellion of the “Beneficiaries of the Transformation”?

    KOD is avoiding sensitive subjects, which could divide its sympathizers, but at the same time with its moderate postulates it discourages those Poles who blame the former centrist government for its cultural conservatism and economic neoliberalism. By integrating different party groups, KOD is building its political capital, but at the same time it pays a high price for it. It is easy for PiS to frame these social protests as a revolt by those who lost the election and cannot accept their defeat.
    Read more

  • An Unruly Younger Generation? Student Protest and the Macedonian Crisis

    Student protest has been a regular occurrence in the Balkans in recent years. While the actions of students against austerity policies and budget cuts at Greek universities or the Gezi protests in Istanbul gained wider international notoriety, it was the western Balkan countries that provided for a model of student protest action that has been emulated throughout the region.
    Read more

  • When Corruption Kills: A Romanian Tragedy

    On November 3, around 30,000 demonstrators gathered in the center of Bucharest. They demanded the resignation of the prime minister, Victor Ponta, who had been accused of corruption-related crimes months before. There were cries of “Assassins” and “Shame on you”, and some people had banners reading “Corruption kills”. Ponta announced his resignation the next morning.
    Read more

  • Student Protest as the Trigger for the Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine

    By now it has been nearly forgotten how the events started that led to Yanukovych relinquishing power. Nevertheless, it was exactly on the grassroots level that some of the most interesting developments took place such as the appearance of a student protests movement which became crucial for the Euromaidan movement and whose fate paradoxically directly triggered the Revolution.
    Read more

 

UkraineInFocus

  • Countrering Fake News… with Fake Expertise?

    The Czech state has set out to fight for the truth and against disinformation using untrustworthy representatives, inspired by a controversial think tank that employs problematic methods. To oppose a disinformation campaign by Russia based on spreading fake news, we have the fake expertise of a think tank that exerts influence on the state administration. Under such circumstances it is not surprising that a center that was meant to confront Russian propaganda has thus far managed only to defend its own existence.
    Read more

  • Shedding Light on Corruption: A Small Romanian Victory

    “We see you”. This short message, projected on a building near the Romanian government's headquarters, was the main message from hundreds of thousands of people to their politicians. At 9 PM local time, on Sunday, 5 February 2017, some 250,000 people turned on their mobile phones' flashlights, in a symbolic gesture of “shedding light on corruption”. A total of 600,000 people gathered in Romania that night, making it the largest protest movement in the country since 1989.
    Read more

  • From Theresienstadt to Santa Teresa: The Inexpressible in the Last Novels of W.G. Sebald and Roberto Bolaño

    Consciously or not, nearing the end of their lives both authors felt that they should go straight to the "heart of darkness" in their next work. In the middle of the 1990s, when each of the two had already achieved considerable literary recognition and as the end of 20th century drew near, they took up subjects with a link to mass violence and death and created works of dark gravity which obsessively circle around a kind of black hole that gradually sucks in the characters and the readers.
    Read more

  • Washington Has Sealed Aleppo’s Fate

    In recent months, the diplomatic posturing in Washington about a cease-fire in Aleppo barely obscured its acquiescence in Bashar al-Assad’s winning the war before the end of the Obama administration. The fall of Aleppo makes us examine who we are. Despite generally honest media coverage, an international mobilization for the besieged city never materialized.
    Read more

  • What Lessons Can European Leaders Learn from Trump’s Victory?

    As the news about the victory of Donald Trump in the US presidential elections have shocked many in Europe, it is high time for European leaders to learn lessons from the outcome of these elections and – to quote Winston Churchill – not let a good crisis go to waste.
    Read more