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For many the glass seems half empty; for some it is indeed emptier than before. Thus in trying to answer the question "do we live better now than twenty years ago? There is certainly more freedom today, both in Europe and in the world as a whole. Most countries have also become more prosperous. However, quite a few societies have become less equal and several bloody conflicts have emerged whose facilitating circumstances at least if not their roots lay in those transformations.

For the grieving mothers, sisters and daughters of Srebrenica there is no consolation in the aggregate increase of freedom. True, for the Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians, as well as for most people in former Soviet central Asia and the Caucasus, the collapse of the Soviet Union for Vladimir Putin "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century" meant coveted independence; but many women in say Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan don't feel at all that they have become freer than when they were ruled from the Kremlin.

Independence does not always lead to an increase in freedom. The Caucasus has seen several bloody conflicts that have created immense human tragedies, where many find it hard to see the benefits of the post changes. The unravelling of federal states like the Soviet Union and socialist Yugoslavia left many ethnicities discontented. It is indeed difficult to explain I know it since I have tried it why the Croats, Slovenes or Georgians for example deserve independent statehood while the Kosovars, Abkhazians or South Ossetians don't; and, when the latter have thanks to external support also declared themselves to be sovereign nations, why some deserve recognition while others don't.

After all, the "uniqueness" of a case seems to be only in the eye of the beholder. A lesson of these twenty years is that authoritarian, multiethnic states may not survive transition intact; but that attempts to encourage dissolution and attempts to hold together entities whose parts don't want to live together can be equally dangerous. There aren't any ideal solutions; a choice between lesser evils is often all that is available.

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The enlargement of the European Union has in general been a blessing for those newly independent states already under Brussels's umbrella or close to it. The EU is criticised on account of its bureaucracy, its waste, its democracy-deficit and other real and exaggerated sins; but it has benefited those who were lucky to be close to this postmodern union. Nato's role has been more controversial, and its transformation from cold-war alliance into a collective-security entity has been too slow. All have impacted on central and eastern Europe.

The full influence of the Barack Obama administration is still to be felt; but in the region, its less confrontational attitude and more pragmatic foreign policy are not always to the liking of those who, having dismantled the old walls to the west would prefer to erect new fences to the east.

The human resources of Eastern Europe: A preliminary discussion

Where one stands depends on where one sits. During these twenty years I have lived in three capitals Moscow-Tallinn-London, and now again in Tallinn and worked for a while for the United Nations in central Asia. This experience has given me a multi-perspectival view of the developments unleashed by the attempts of Mikhail Gorbachev to reform the Soviet Union. Such a view is not better or worse; it is simply different.

An approach that may lack passion, and be capable of noticing the strengths of opposing policies and attitudes, tends to conclude in a recipe for reflection rather than a call to action. So be it. In any event, the balance-sheet is in my view positive, and not even every unintended consequence has been wholly negative; though with hindsight we see that sometimes too much was lost in the transition and too many left behind.

The year has a different significance to many Chinese people than it has for those in Europe. The fact that the most important event of that year happened on the same day as the first democratic elections in Poland makes clear why. On 4 June , the People's Liberation Army turned its guns on unarmed Chinese citizens who were demonstrating for clean government, social justice and civil liberties. The atrocities rocked Hong Kong to its foundation. Eight years later in , Britain handed Hong Kong over to Chinese rule. During all these years, the Hong Kong people would neither forgive nor forget the bloody crackdown.

This year, on the twentieth anniversary of the massacre, more than , people flocked to Victoria Park to attend the candlelight vigil. The events in Beijing two decades ago have left an indelible mark on the psyche of many Chinese people. They have sharpened the people's awareness of the need to condemn violation of human rights and strengthened the people's resolve to struggle for democracy.

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In , many people were thrown into jail without a fair trial and others were forced into exile. The Chinese government insisted the crackdown was necessary in order to avert chaos. Internationally, China became a pariah. In the past decade, significant economic advancements have turned China into a world power, with many countries queuing up to enter its enormous market.

There is concern that economic development may make political reform even more remote and unattainable. However, an increasing number of Chinese people recognise that democracy, human rights and the rule of law are core values cherished by civilised countries. They also know - as did the citizens of eastern and central European countries in - that these core values are not manna, and will not just fall from heaven. If China wants to become a respected member of the international community, it must adopt the international standard of behaviour and drastically alter the brutal way it treats its own people.

The June 4th massacre brings back painful memories. Hopefully the victims did not die in vain. One of the most amazing aspects of the magic year of is that no one really seems to care about it anymore. The happy feelings of those legendary months have clearly disappeared somewhere along the way. The manichean dichotomy of the world - west vs east or reds , good vs evil - vanished too, leaving us all with a more complex and confusing world devoid of a universal "grand narrative".

In the west, the general sentiment regarding this undivided Europe is rather mixed, and even shows a touch of resentment towards the newcomers from the east; a subtle taboo may make this difficult to express openly, but in the fifteen countries that composed the European Union before the big enlargement of there is a widespread feeling that "we should not have let the barbarians in".

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By contrast, the people in question - the liberated, elevated populations of the east - tend to forget and ignore the freedom they claimed so recently. In the early s the favorite metaphor to describe this stage was that of a hangover: after the carnival of history, dizziness and disorientation. Now it seems that we are caught up in a permanent and growing condition of distrust, social and political polarisation, rising extremism and a frustrated, violent public discourse. This, perhaps, may be the real if hidden relevance of Instead of the westernisation of the east, the easternisation of the west: that is, the general spread of a crisis of legitimacy, growing mistrust in political institutions, and the disaffection from democracy itself.

These problems are no longer the property of an exotic other, but increasingly appear in various stages and degree all over the developed world. But eastern Europe, lacking the democratic tradition of checks-and-balances, arguably faces a harder time in coping with these dangerous trends. The tabloidisation and increasing asininity of the public sphere, for example, has an even more harmful impact in the region than in areas where quality segments of the media have had time to develop.

But a famous comment attributed to Zhou Enlai - that it is too early to judge the French revolution's impact on world history - certainly applies to the mere two decades since It is indeed impossible to say whether Europe's east and west alike are sinking further into ineffectiveness and indifference, or whether they have touched bottom and can find a road back towards a vital, operating democracy.

The good and bad news is that, characteristic of an age when everything has speeded up, we will not have to wait years for an answer. Neal Ascherson is a journalist and writer. He was for many years a foreign correspondent for the London Observer , and reported on events in east-central Europe. What amazes me now is how long it took us - we in the west - to see what was happening. For journalists, it was a case of a great story blotting out a world-changing one. The communist regimes of Europe were transforming themselves, quarrelling openly. In the first part of that year , the East Germans snarled at the Poles, the Hungarians hinted that they would license free political parties, the Czechoslovak regime became slightly more tolerant to protest demonstrations.

Reflections on in Eastern Europe | Taylor & Francis Group

It was all very exciting. Careful sources cultivated over years were suddenly becoming wildly indiscreet, while Mikhail Gorbachev and his spokesmen muttered about "the Sinatra doctrine" "I did it my way". But it would be naive, wouldn't it, to think the Soviets meant literally that any communist country could now take any course without fear of Soviet tanks. So we thought that several nations - Poland, Hungary at least - would become almost free societies, communist in name and Warsaw Pact allegiance, but democratic in their tolerance of diversity. The East Germans and the Czechs would become angry and isolated, but would not succumb to the new freedoms around them.

Above all, Moscow would never let go of Germany. Communism in Europe was brain-dead, but still had huge muscles. It wasn't until June that I realised what was underway. In the Europejski Hotel in Warsaw, we journalists read the inrush of election-result printouts and realised - suddenly - that Polish communism had collapsed. And even then , realising that a non-communist Polish government was about to upset the whole balance of Europe, we did not quite get it.

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  8. Even then, none of us understood that the whole imperium from the Bug to the Rhine was no more than an old wasps' nest hanging from a roof - dried-out, abandoned by the stinging hordes, ready to fly to dust at a blow. But the people did get it. They had lost something - not exactly their fear, but their patience. Suddenly it seemed unbearable to go on accepting these systems, these portly little idiots in their blue suits, for another year, and then for another day, another hour. That special sort of impatience is the power-surge of revolution. As they poured into the streets in Leipzig and Prague and Tbilisi and Riga, did they think they might be shot?

    Yes, possibly.

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    In Georgia and Latvia and Lithuania, many were. But, with their patience, the people in the street had also lost their respect for the men with guns, the portly idiots in uniform.

    They could kill, but they were no longer real. A future without them had all at once become very real. We know so much more now about how happened. The fall of the wall was consequence, not cause: it was made inevitable by the opening of the Polish roundtable the year before. Above all, by Gorbachev , who went round Europe and the world unlocking the gates and telling everyone that the tanks would not come.

    Western diplomats and journalists didn't take him seriously. The party leaderships beyond the Elbe did, and they knew real fear. It was a real revolution. But with one missing feature.