by the Past & Present editorial team
2019 marks the thirtieth anniversary of the end of the state “socialist” regimes in central and eastern Europe. To reflect upon what did and didn’t change during momentous year, how the anniversary has been marked so far, and to consider what the long term effects might be, Past & Present is pleased to present our latest Viewpoint “1989 At Thirty: A Recast Legacy” by Prof. Paul Betts (St. Anthony’s, Oxford). It is available via open access.
“These days 1989 isn’t what it used to be. Not so long ago the wildfire revolutions that swept across Eastern Europe during that momentous year were routinely celebrated as the grand victory of liberal democracy over Soviet-style communism. However, recent developments in Poland, Hungary and elsewhere on the continent which in various ways all invoked 1989, either as inspiration or negative foil, behove us to reconsider the effects of that fateful year in Central Europe from a different perspective. The rise of xenophobia, resurgent populist politics on both the Radical Right and the Left, as well as the spread of ‘illiberal democracy’ across Europe, the US and elsewhere have predictably generated great alarm. Plenty of commentary on the comeback of authoritarian anti-liberalism in Central Europe has claimed that we are witnessing a kind of ‘return of the repressed,’ a dangerous repudiation of the golden principles of 1989 three decades after the uprisings. But construing recent developments in Central Europe as simply an anti-1989 backlash does not get us very far, not least because the unrest of 1989 carried within it the seeds of illiberalism as well. With distance, the inheritance of the ‘revolutionary autumn’ appears more mixed and precarious, and much harder to classify than it once was. Like all revolutions, 1989 brought in its train a mixed bag of dreams and disappointments, stark ruptures and stubborn continuities, and this article revisits some of the grey and even darker tones of the inheritance.”