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 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.

EE Protests

  • 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.
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  • 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.
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  • 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.
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  • 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.
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  • 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.
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  • 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.
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  • 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.
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Recent Transit online Articles

  • Gott ist Russe

    Der Russe blickte dem Teufel ins Auge, er legte Gott auf die Couch des Psychoanalytikers und begriff, dass seine Nation die Welt erlösen kann. Ein gequälter Gott erzählte dem Russen eine Geschichte vom Scheitern. Am Anfang war das Wort, Reinheit und Vollkommenheit, und das Wort war Gott. Doch dann beging Gott eine Jugendsünde.
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  • Hungary’s Real Indians

    Native Americans have long been beloved in Hungary, where ‘Indians’ stand for what is real, endangered and exceptional. Viktor Orbán has used the trope to channel demographic anxiety and bolster his anti-migrant rhetoric, but it could also spell trouble for his politics of fear.
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  • Can It Happen Here? Our Central European Future

    Austria may come to play an ominous role in the deepening conflict between East and West, writes Carl Henrik Fredriksson. The future of the EU will be decided in Central Europe.
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  • Suspekte Solidarität. Gesellschaftlicher Protest in Polen nach 1989

    Solidarität als Prinzip und Bewegung gehört zum Gründungsmythos des postkommunistischen Polen. Dass Vertreter unterschiedlichster Gruppen der Gesellschaft zusammenarbeiteten und gemeinsam Widerstand leisteten, wird oft als Hauptmerkmal des polnischen Wegs aus dem Kommunismus betrachtet. Angesichts dieses Erbes ist es umso merkwürdiger, dass sich in den polnischen öffentlichen Debatten der 1990er Jahre ein Stereotyp herausbildete, demzufolge die Mehrzahl der sozialen Proteste in Polen von gesellschaftlich, politisch oder ökonomisch Ausgeschlossenen ausgeht.
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