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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For eastern Europeans, the myth of a free and prosperous West, of western normality, has been replaced by the observation of normalities, writes Mircea Vasilescu.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.

Cover for: Counter-revolution against a counter-revolution

Gáspár Miklós Tamás (1948–2023) was among the most famed Hungarian thinkers of our time. He sought freedom and morality across oppressive regimes: first under communist dictatorships, and later in hybrid authoritarian Hungary. In this text, published shortly after the Gyurcsány debacle in 2006, he brilliantly analysed the forces that would soon lead to Orbán’s return to power.

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.

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.

The term “reform” has re-entered the political lexicon of numerous post-Socialist states. For the Hungarian government since 2006, it has meant raising taxes and “slimming down” the State; for the opposition, “reform” means “the restoration of moral order” or “lustration”. The inflation of use – and misuse – of the term calls for an enquiry into its origins, as well as those of “revolution”, reform’s next-of-kin. In the second instalment of this two-part essay, Csaba Gombár notes that the term “revolution” nowadays repels more than it attracts, in part due to the faltering belief in progress, in part due to wariness brought by experience. In liberal circles in Kádár-era Hungary, “reform” was used as a cover for democratic change; now democracy is often seen as a revolutionary anachronism by younger generations of post-socialist states. Be that as it may, concludes Gombár, no political reformer today can bypass the “State”: reform is integral to state formation.

"And I am gay"

Interview with Hungarian secretary of state Gábor Szétey

“My name is Gábor Szétey, secretary of state for human resources for the government of the Republic of Hungary. I believe in God, in love, in freedom, and in equality. I am a Hungarian and a European… A partner, a friend, sometimes an enemy. And I am gay.” Gábor Szétey, Hungarian secretary of state, spoke these words at the opening ceremony of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transsexual Festival in Hungary in July. Two days later, people taking part in the festival were assaulted. Szilvia Szilágyi asked Szétey about his decision and whether intolerance towards homosexuals is growing in Hungary today.

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