Self-criticism in Public Discourse: A Device of Modernization? The Case of Eastern Europe

JVF Conference Papers

This article discusses the vitality of the concept of self-criticism as a communicational and discursive phenomenon in Eastern Eu­rope undergoing modernization. In the present study, self-criticism is understood as a reckoning of one’s self and criticism directed at its own subject. The idea of self-criticism dates back to the ancient Greek maxim of epimeleia heautou (‘care of the self’) as well as the Christian call for examination of the self and the auto-da-fé rituals. In Eastern Europe under the communist regime public acts of self-criticism constituted an official procedure of expressing one’s loyalty to the ruling party. Readiness to perform self-criticism could result from one’s opportunism or from extreme pressure put on the individual e.g. in show trials of so-called “enemies of the party”.

Growing disillusionment with communism among intellectuals led to self-criticism aimed at self-reckoning with their engagement in the regime. In post-communist times, self-criticism condemning one’s communist past has become an important element of public and political communication. It was quickly accompanied by transition disillusionment’s self-criticism stemming from the disappointment with the political, economic and social outcomes of modernization implemented in Eastern Europe after the change. Nowadays, self-criticism plays the role of a litmus test of social tensions deriving from the contradictory approaches to modernization scenarios in the region.

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