Erwartung ist „vergegenwärtigte Zukunft, sie zielt auf das Noch-Nicht, auf das nicht Erfahrene, auf das nur Erschließbare. Hoffnung und Furcht, Wunsch und Wille, die Sorge, aber auch rationale Analyse, rezeptive Schau oder Neugierde gehen in die Erwartung ein, indem sie diese konstituieren.“
Much of the history of the 1989 revolutions has been lost or remained hidden until now. A good part of it, however, can be retrieved by reconstructing the expectations (both elite and popular) prevailing at the time. On June 15-16, the IWM organized, in cooperation with the Jena Center of 20th Century History, the Institute of Political Science at the Vienna University and the Renner Institut, an international conference on revisiting the pre-1989 visions of the much-awaited world after communism. The conference program was worked out by Rainer Gries, Dieter Segert and Janos Matyas Kovacs in a joint effort. We are grateful for the generous support given by the Bundesstiftung zur Aufarbeitung der SED Diktatur, Berlin.
The fact that many of the pre-1989 expectations have been neglected during the past two decades makes the historical assessment of those visions which were eventually put into practice (or those practices which were not guided by vision) extremely difficult. In order to avoid deterministic/teleological explanations, one is advised to revisit also those hopes and fears which did not come true. In doing so, one may even make cautious counter-factual hypotheses to check some of the unexploited opportunities implied by these visions. Of course, reconstructing pre-revolutionary expectations (i.e., writing a “parallel history” of 1989) need not be tantamount to their justification.
By expectations/visions the participants of our conference meant both, popular hopes, beliefs and prophecies as well as systematic predictions, programs and scenarios put forward by the elites. Owing to the lack of a comprehensive history of expectations made on the eve of the 1989 revolutions, the conference was exposed to at least two kinds of ideological/emotional extremes. On the one hand, quite a few analysts tend to consider those images of the future simply utopian (therefore fairly useless), which have not been implemented during the past twenty years. On the other, a number of scholars prefer to focus on some „innocent and colourful visions“ of the time, and contrast them with the „corrupted and grey reality“ today. Evidently, the former are inclined to endorse what has actually happened in the region since 1989, while the latter would rather reject it. Instead of indulging in these rival approaches, the conference papers provided a balanced view of the expectations in their own contexts, and set them against the emerging types of „really-existing capitalism“ in the region.
In this way, we managed to test a few hypotheses that have almost become truisms by today. They portray the elite expectations as unnecessarily pessimistic as compared to the actual weakness of the communist regimes, and the popular ones as too optimistic as compared to the actual socio-economic advantages of post-communist societies. Both kinds of visions reckoned with a lengthy transition that would be based on lasting compromises with the remnants of the communist regimes. According to these assumptions, the transition has proven more radical/liberal in terms of capitalist development than initially expected by a great majority of people in Eastern Europe. Allegedly, the economies have turned to be more privatized and marketized, the politics more party-based and business-centered, and the societies more polarized and less solidary than originally predicted. The civil society was weaker whereas the populist/nationalist pressures stronger than anticipated; Realpolitik overshadowed social imagination, risk-taking and innovation; and the project of a direct democracy with strong communitarian, ecological, cultural, etc., commitments, including self-management, profit-sharing, cooperative regimes, basic income schemes, non-profit organizations, etc. have faded away. Imitation replaced experimentation.
Is the gap between the pre-89 expectations and post-89 realities so large indeed? Were the above-mentioned visions clearly articulated (and largely “innocent”)? What kind of discourses and symbols did they use? How did they vary in terms of countries (types of communism), social strata, generations, etc, and how did they affect each other? What led to their success/failure? Have they disappeared for good? To what extent do the current varieties of capitalism in the region comply with the expectations? Do present-day realities preserve the traces of past hopes and fears? Questions like these were asked by the participants who supported their answers by in-depth analyses of the various pre-revolutionary transition programs and/or of the current capitalist arrangements.
The 20th anniversary of the revolutions may tempt those who want to remember to indulge in nostalgic thoughts or, on the contrary, to pass quick judgments with the “unbearable lightness” of hindsight. Our conference took yet another approach by choosing a concept (expectations) that is rather difficult to study, especially if it comes to the popular mind under late communism, and asked the participants to collect new historical material and/or revise the interpretation of the old one. In the hope of generating research in the near future, we focused on three crucial fields. First the popular expectations and the elite programs were discussed; then we revisited the alternative views of German unification; finally the pre-1989 expectations were compared with the social realities of Eastern Europe in our time.
Of course, the conference was not able to answer all the questions raised by the paper authors. Nevertheless, it pointed to an interesting cycle in researching the post-communist transformation. In the early 1990s, the research projects were preoccupied with the strength of the communist legacy in shaping the transition. The idea of path dependency, however, faded away by the end of the century as the analysts witnessed a surprisingly rapid progress of liberal institutional change in most countries of the region – a fact that seemed to devaluate the historical prerequisites of nascent capitalism. Experiencing during the past couple of years that capitalist development throughout Eastern Europe did not eradicate the national varieties of the new regimes, the past(s) have been brought back into research. And the expectations, radical or moderate, exaggerated or realistic, were an integral part of those past(s) …
The following collection presents the results of the conference. In some cases the authors publish the manuscripts as they were presented at the event
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