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??? COHPAnATIST POST-COLD WAR NARRATIVES OF NOSTALGIA Claudia Sadowski-Smith There is more memory than remembrance. We do not reign over the past. It contains as many secrets as thefuture. Adam Zagajewski, "Der Verrat" iV Since the momentous changes of 1989 in Eastern Europe, developments in each of the former East Bloc countries have been uneven. Those countries situated at the greatest distance from the geopoUtical center of Europe—in the east and southeast—are also furthest removed from the goals ofWestern-style democracy and market economy. In countries like Bulgaria, Romania, and Serbia, which had initially started down what the West has labeled the "path of nostalgia," postcommunist rule is only now, in the late 1990s, declining. East Bloc countries closer to Europe's center—the former East Germany , Poland, Hungary, and the former Czechoslovakia—seem to have moved further in their Westernization efforts. But even this group is marked by major differences in the history of their transitions, in the makeup of the poUtical and business eUtes after 1989, as well as in current government structures and the development of a civil society. Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic have made enough progess toward a market economy and democracy to have been invited to join NATO by 1999 and to have been promised membership in the European Union. (Unification with West Germany has already brought the former East Germany into both organizations.) And yet, with the exception of the Czech RepubUc,2 aU these countries witnessed in the late 1990s the emergence of narratives of nostalgia for the socialist past. This nostalgia for the East in Hungary, Poland, and East Germany, which I wül label "Ostalgie" by re-appropriating a primarUy derogative term coined in Germany, has resulted in the election of postcommunists in 1993-1995.3 The importance of these new narratives has so far been overlooked or dismissed in the West. In Germany, Ostalgie is predominantly seen as a useless sentiment for an irretrievable temporality or, at its worst, as the longing to return to a totalitarian past. Alternatively, Ostalgie has been characterized as a waU in the heads ofeast Germans4 who have not yet managed to assimilate. In his short story entitled Die vier Werkzeugmacher [The Four Toolmakers], the east German writer Volker Braun describes how this typical view of Ostalgie characterizes east Germans as being "glued to something they were always indifferent to and from which they now have to become unglued violently" (36). The American researcher Richard S. Ebenshade has caUed East-Central European nostalgia another variation "ofever more powerful forgetting " (84). His view of Ostalgie reiterates a common assumption among Vol 23 (1999): 117 POST-COLD WAR NARRATIVES OF NOSTALGIA American scholars that nostalgia functions, in Susan Stewart's characterization , to avoid discussions ofcurrent problems in favor ofconstructing a more idylUc past. Nostalgia has frequently been theorized as a conservative sentiment which obscures the difference between a prelapsarian past and its "cleansed," narrativized representation in the present.5 I argue that this appUcation of Western experiences and theories of nostalgia to East-Central European Ostalgie overlooks its potential reformulative function in the post-Cold War restructuring of Europe since it represents the resurgence of a dissident "sub-pubUc." In contrast to what the weU-known east German writer Daniela Dahn caUs the "internaUzed subalternity" (Westwärts 180) of most Westerners with respect to their system, East-Central Europeans can look back to a strong tradition of "interior dissent" (201) to aU-pervasive socialist ideology. This tradition ofdissent also manifested itselfin the poUticization of art. The Hungarian writer György Dalos explains the political role of literature in the former East Bloc thus: "In view of the fact that these countries did not have any civü society and were isolated from abroad, culture also served as an indirect source of information and as a sanctuary for the soul" (9). He writes that, in spite of self-censorship and remnants of official censorship, every controversial issue in Hungary, such as the decrease in birth rates, the situation of Hungarian minorities in neighboring countries, and restrictions on personal freedom, received artistic treatment before 1989 (11). In East Germany, as Daniela Dahn has shown, the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-0887
Print ISSN
0195-7678
Pages
pp. 117-127
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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