It is our great pleasure to present you with the 3rd Special Issue of Remembrance and Solidarity. Studies in 20th Century European History magazine. It is devoted to the “second” anniversary being celebrated in this “extraordinary year” of European remembrance, which is the 25th anniversary of the fall of communism in Central and Eastern Europe. The careful observer can see that the anniversary referred to above, at least in Western Europe, has been pushed into the background by the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War. However, the year of 1989, while symbolizing events less dramatic, bloody and harrowing as those of 1914, would seem to be of similar significance in terms of periodization of European history. In fact, a number of historians subscribe to the belief articulated by Eric Hobsbawm that 1914 marked the beginning of “the short 20th century”, which symbolically ended in 1989. In light of recent events in the eastern part of Europe, I would like to express my wish that Hobsbawm be proven correct in his belief that “the age of extremes” has come to a close.
In one of his short stories, Mark Twain writes about a painter who put his canvas opposite a mirror, and the artist’s cat goes and brings his animal friends to see the masterpiece. A donkey, however, says that he did not see anything special in the painter’s room apart from... “a handsome and friendly ass.” A bear, in turn, said that the donkey had lied, and asserted that the apparently beautiful painting shows an ordinary bear. All the other animals went one after other to the painter’s room, and all they ever saw was their own reflections for they unintentionally and unknowingly stood between the mirror and the masterpiece. The author of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer concluded that “You can find in a text whatever you bring, if you will stand between it and the mirror of your imagination.”
While preparing the current issue of Remembrance and Solidarity. Studies in 20th Century European History we were driven by the idea of looking at the year of 1989 from two extreme perspectives: that of a painting and of its reflection in a mirror. We were especially interested in showing this groundbreaking period by juxtaposing the views presented by two generations: renowned scholars and researchers who witnessed or otherwise took part in the turbulent transformations at one extreme, with the other extreme composed of younger generation who, for natural reasons, could not be fully conscious observers of the Autumn of Nations and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Thus the first five articles represent the voice of the “older generation” (the quotation marks are vital here). They touch upon the heritage of 1989 in individual countries of Central Europe in an attempt to draw comparisons between processes. In these texts you will find an analysis of the influence of the events of 1989 on the political scene and its stability (e.g. the presence of politicians active in 1989 in present-day affairs); the public debate on decommunization after 1989; the contours of the economic transformation; foreign politics (the process of Central Europe’s reorientation towards the West, revisiting the relationship with Russia).
The remaining six articles are the work of younger scholars engaged in a kind of a “dispute with the older generation” (Bálint Ablonczy vs. Ignác Romsics), or who are beginning to explore entirely new areas (Paweł Gotowiecki, Robert Brier).
The first voice of the older generation is the article by the Polish historian Prof. Antoni Dudek, The Consequences of the System Transformation of 1989 in Poland. Prof. Dudek’s paper presents a range of attitudes expressed by Polish politicians, historians and the general public towards the events of the year 1989, which in Poland are viewed primarily as the Round Table talks, and refers to public debates concerning decommunization, the direction of economic transformation and the shape of the political system.
The next article in this group is The Opposition Movement in Slovakia in the Period of Normalisation by Beata Katrebova-Blehova. The Slovakian historian and political scientist analyzes resistance movements and their ideological premises. She also studies the forms of resistance which made the Czech and Slovak anti-communist movements different from each other. Passing the Torch, Despite Bananas. The Twentieth-Anniversary Commemorations of 1989 in Central Europe by the Canadian professor James Krapfl is a major contribution to the discussion of the heritage of 1989. This article provides an interpretation of various patterns of observance regarding the Autumn of Nations’ twentieth anniversary in the political culture of Central European countries. He analyzes individual national meanings of the peaceful revolution of 1989, emphasizing its significance in shaping political awareness.
The Better We Understand Dictatorship, the Better We Can Shape Democracy – on Dealing with the Heritage of the Ministry for State Security in Germany by Roland Jahn is the last voice of the “older generation.” The author, a former East German dissident, was expelled from his country in the 1980s for open criticism of the communist authorities. Since 2011 he has held the office of Federal Commissioner for the Records of the State Security Service (Stasi). In his article, Jahn analyses the activities of the Stasi Records Agency and its usefulness in studying the history of the communist dictatorship in East Germany.
Joseph M. Ellis and Keeley Wood of Wingate University, NC (USA) devoted their article to the “revolution by song” in Estonia, analyzing the function of choral singing as a key component of Estonian social capital and as a contribution to the country’s liberation from Soviet dominance.
Dimitar Ganev, PhD candidate at Sofia University (Bulgaria) has composed an article that examines the relatively little-known role and influence of the Bulgarian Round Table on the democratic transition in that country.
Paweł Gotowiecki, a historian and journalist from Ostrowiec Świętokrzyski (central Poland), writes about the complicated relationships between the Polish pro-independence diaspora in the West and the national democratic movement fighting communism in Poland.
Burkhard Olschowsky, a scientific associate in the Federal Institute for Culture and the History of Germans in Eastern Europe in Oldenburg, investigates political relationships between Poland and the Federal Republic of Germany and presents previously unknown facts, drawing mainly on the archives of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The article by Hungarian historian and journalist Bálint Ablonczy focuses on the characteristics of the Hungarian communist regime and the circumstances surrounding the democratic takeover.
Robert Brier, an employee of the German Historical Institute in Warsaw, examines the role of respect for human rights as one of the most important drivers of the transformation which eventually led to the demise of communism in Central and Eastern Europe.