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The Europe of the Cold War has disintegrated. Instead of two once homogeneous regions – “the East” and “the West” – there are now fragments, enclaves, and islands. Yet disintegration is a form of renewal, a time both of disillusionment and enlightenment. Thus writes Karl Schlögel in an excerpt from his book “Marjampole, or Europe’s return from the spirit of the cities”, translated into English here for the first time.

The origins and elements of imitation democracies

Political developments in the post-Soviet space

Throughout the territory of the former Soviet Union, diverse regimes have established themselves behind a democratic façade while concentrating power in the hands of a president. A comparison of the Eastern Slavic states with those of Central Asia and the Caucasus shows not only that these imitation democracies have the same source, but that these one-man regimes also draw on the same elements and practices of political rule. Contrary to their purported power and stability, they are dysfunctional in their claims of control, their means of creating legitimacy, and their socio-economic productivity. They all contain the seeds of their own downfall.

In order to understand modern Catalan nationalism, it is necessary to examine the emergence of “anti-Catalanism” in Castilian Spain during the Late Middle Ages and Renaissance, writes Antoni Simon.

Bathroom tales

How we mistook normality for paradise

The death of toilet paper may not have been the sole reason for the collapse of communism, but it’s an apt metaphor for a regime unable to fulfil its subjects’ basic needs. Although Slavenka Drakulic’s bathroom is better stocked these days, she’s still prone to doubt: was the normality she and her fellow eastern Europeans longed for just another false paradise?

Normality or normalities?

From one transition to the next

For eastern Europeans, the myth of a free and prosperous West, of western normality, has been replaced by the observation of normalities, writes Mircea Vasilescu. Now that Romania is an EU member, it turns out that the West has problems of its own, problems by no means as exotic as once believed.

Expansion without enlargement

Europe's dynamism and the EU's neighbourhood policy

The European Neighbourhood Policy was designed as an alternative to enlargement that would allow the expansionary dynamic of the EU to continue without the burden of acquiring new member states. Rather than offering membership to its neighbours, the EU offers a special relationship in exchange for these countries maintaining stability on the periphery. How successful the ENP is depends on the periphery’s readiness to cooperate. Are the neighbouring states willing to make the same amount of effort as they would in the framework of the enlargement policy for a distinctly lower return from the EU?

Perpetrators, victims, and art

The National Socialists' campaign of pillage

Between 1933 and 1945, privately and publicly owned works of art, books, and archives were extorted, “aryanized”, “secured”, and stolen, first in Germany, then throughout Europe. Special offices and organizations were involved and the victims of these campaigns of pillage were political opponents: union officials, socialists, freemasons, and priests. The Jewish population was hit especially hard. With the attack on Poland and the invasion of the Soviet Union, the peoples of eastern Europe, categorized as “racially inferior”, were plundered. The National Socialist campaigns of pillage for cultural assets are not just a subject of historical research. They continue to hinder the search for mutual understanding within Europe to this day.

Unlike the extremist parties of the 1930s, new populist movements worldwide do not aim to abolish democracy: quite the opposite, they thrive on democratic support. What we are witnessing today, writes Ivan Krastev, is a conflict between elites that are becoming increasingly suspicious of democracy and angry publics that are becoming increasingly illiberal.

State socialism in eastern Europe, though intolerably authoritarian, offered security and the opportunity for upward mobility, writes G.M. Tamás. Members of the middle class resist becoming déclassé but cannot identify with the communist institutions to which they owe their status. In order to defend social relations before 1989 without losing face, they portray the neoconservative destruction of the welfare state as the work of communists. The new counter revolutionaries can, then, be described both as left- and as rightwing – as the anti-communist enemies of communist privatizers and globalizers.

Right turn

Polish politics at the beginning of the twenty-first century

The “shock tactics” to which the Polish economy was subjected during the 1990s have discredited liberalism as a political movement in the country. Over the last five years, Poland’s two major rightwing parties have come to dominate the political landscape. Their anti-communism, national conservatism, and distrust of “moral relativism” find ample support among the electorate. The Centre-Left, meanwhile, tarnished by corruption scandals, fails to offer convincing alternatives. With re-elections set for 21 October, it seems unlikely that Poland will alter its political course rightwards.

Filmmakers like Bergman and Antonioni have taught us to think in pictures. diplo editor Truls Lie on the two recently deceased film greats.

Directly after the fall of communism, hopes burgeoned for democracy and capitalism in a “new” Eastern Central Europe. What does the current climate of populism, and in many cases an accompanying extremist nationalism, mean for these hopes? How does it affect these countries’ relations with the EU? The apprehension and opposition towards European integration that populist movements share could make current EU member states even more resistant to extending further east and could erode the political bonds within the EU. Although the EU has experienced populism before without toppling, just how far can its “absorption capacity” stretch?

Polish memory of World War II has returned with force. German-Polish relations are overshadowed by the perception of Germany’s contrition – or lack thereof – for wartime damages, with Polish commentators warning that a process of reinterpretation of wartime memory is underway in Germany. Anti-Russian feelings are also widespread and strengthened through Russia’s refusal to make even a symbolic gesture of wartime reparation. Polish-Ukrainian antipathy over the Volhynia massacres is still alive though in decline thanks to efforts of politicians and academics. But the biggest problem in the Polish concept of history is Poles’ wartime relationship to Jews, namely the suffering inflicted upon Jews by Poles themselves. It’s time to wake up to the notion that suffering experienced does not negate suffering inflicted, writes Krzysztof Ruchniewicz.

Europe is taking not just a post-national form, but also a post-western shape, argues Gerard Delanty. He offers a new assessment of the periphery, which can be seen as a zone of re-bordering. In the periphery, he writes, the relation between the inside and the outside is complex and ambivalent; while often taking exclusionary forms, the periphery can also be viewed as the site of cosmopolitan forms of negotiation.

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