In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Journal of Cold War Studies 4.4 (2002) 130-132

[Access article in PDF]

Book Review

The Break-up of Communism in East Germany and Eastern Europe

Feiwel Kupferberg, The Break-up of Communism in East Germany and Eastern Europe. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999. viii + 204 pp. $65.00.

This volume consists of nine previously published essays with a new introduction, all treating various aspects of the transition of Eastern Europe from Communism to post-Communism. The two critical positions taken at the outset are promising. First, Kupferberg criticizes the belief of some liberals that without Communism society will take its natural course toward liberal individualism. When ethnic violence, not liberalism, followed Communism in the former Yugoslavia, some fell back on the explanation of primordial "tribal hatreds." This explanation, Kupferberg claims, inadvertently credits Communism with keeping the lid on hostile ethnic identities and thereby misses the way Communism itself lay the groundwork for ethnic violence. Second, Kupferberg criticizes an antiliberal position that looks back with increasing nostalgia to the Communist era as a time when human needs were met by a paternalistic state. This position, he shows, ignores the effects of paternalistic regimes on individuals and the way they erode public trust and push individuals into an "overdeveloped private sphere" (p.22). These two criticisms offer an approach to the challenges of transition without succumbing to the demand for easy answers. They point to the need to investigate the way society and biography intersect and the way socially constructed identities either furthered or hindered social modernization. Unfortunately, it is precisely in the execution of the project—in the examination of concrete details—that this book fails to satisfy. The theoretical claims are not accompanied by serious empirical work.

The promise to connect the formation of militant ethnic identities within the post-Communist power vacuum with the sociobiographical contours of Communist society is not fulfilled. Kupferberg makes huge, overarching statements about a phenomenon [End Page 130] like Communism, including blaming "it" for the failures of post-Communist ethnic relations. He argues that Communism created ethnic identities either because it tried to exploit ethnicity to support its own declining legitimacy (as Kupferberg suggests at several points but does not illustrate) or because it presupposed an unworkable, "hyperrationalistic" sense of identity connected to a utopian ideology that seemed to rule out the possibility of ethnicity. Kupferberg probably hoped to indicate that both tendencies were at work and that the simultaneous drive to create an ersatz ethnicity and to assert a supraethnic identity marked a crisis of the Communist states. However, the chapters addressing this problem (5 and 6) do not convincingly bear out his argument. Most important, Kupferberg's repeated return to the failure of Communism per se is in tension with his own comments that Communism sought to solve the old problem of ethnic conflict in Eastern Europe by creating "citizenship-states, social integration and international cooperation" (p.97). Was Communism a Platonic ideal, a "hyperrational," utopian regime imposed on the world by intellectuals? Or was it a historically specific response to a specific kind of modernization crisis in Eastern Europe?

"Communism" is, in fact, a social phenomenon in need of investigation, not merely an ideal regime form. Kupferberg's discussion of the "overdeveloped private sphere" seems to point in this direction and to reveal one reason that "objective" modern society, to use the language of Georg Simmel, might be so difficult in a society that has systematically obliterated public trust. The next step might be to investigate these effects in the context of the economic crises, legal insecurity, and other challenges facing post-Communist Europe. But the author's observations seem impressionistic and fleeting rather than systematic and incisive. For example, the observation that prostitutes in Sofia in 1994 were "extremely aggressive" tells us nothing about what that phenomenon might signify (p.124). At the other extreme, Kupferberg describes Communism as an all-embracing system in which "individual lives in a sense lost their meanings" because the state had "eliminated all individual risks and abolished the...