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Category: History and Memory

No bloody revolution

The year 1989 unfolded quite differently for Hungary than the rest of the Central European states where there was some sort of revolution. As opposed to all other countries in the Eastern bloc, the new political system that came into place was seemingly designed in advance.

The consensual term for the historical events that took place in Hungary in 1989 is rendszerváltás. In Hungarian it literally means “changing of the system”, as in Changing of the Guards. There are two other versions: rendszerváltozás (“the change of the system”, using an intransitive verb) and rendszerváltoztatás (“making the system change”, with a transitive and causative verb), reflecting some politico-linguistic subtleties that may be hard to grasp for a non-Hungarian speaker. The word “system” has special Hungarian connotations here, meaning the constitutional order or form of state.

May 2, 2019 - János Széky

Beyond nostalgia

The 30th anniversary of the fall of communism is an important milestone for Romania. Yet this anniversary is not present within the public space. Instead, today’s challenges appear to be far more pressing for society.

For many Romanians, the fall of the communist regime in 1989 was an unexpected moment that brought hope for a different way of life and a better future. Nicolae Manolescu, a Romanian literary critic, public intellectual and politician in The Right to Normality (published in 1991) pleaded for the restoration of normalcy after the political, social and cultural “rupture” brought by the communist regime in Romania. But what did this “normality” mean, and who was asking for it?

May 2, 2019 - Eugen Stancu

Bulgaria’s taboo

In recent years, Bulgarians have gained better clarity about what happened during communism because of the efforts of researchers who dared dig up the dirt and make their findings available to a broader audience. And it is only now that the crimes of communism have been included in the mandatory school curriculum. This transparency is essential for understanding the political processes in Bulgaria post-1989.

I was born in Bulgaria in 1985, but I first learned about the particularities of communism in an academic setting in 2003 when I started university in the United States and enrolled in various classes on political science and history. Until then, my understanding of communism was entirely based on conversations with my family and the obscure samizdat books which my grandfather kept in his library.

May 2, 2019 - Radosveta Vassileva

Saving the forgotten homes of the borderland

Centuries ago, thousands of Dutch and German Mennonites fled religious persecution and settled in the Żuławy region of Poland, introducing their arcaded houses, windmills and dykes to the area. Though this rich cultural history has deteriorated since the Second World War, some inhabitants are determined to revive it.

April 2, 2019 - Máté Mohos

The emergence of new countries in Eastern Europe after the First World War: Lessons for all of Europe

A new report and exhibition from a project led by WiseEuropa revisits the developments in Eastern Europe in 1918 and their relevance for Europe today.

March 20, 2019 - New Eastern Europe

War was not inevitable

A conversation with Dominic Lieven, professor of history at Cambridge University. Interviewers: Adam Reichardt, Andrzej Zaręba and Edmund Young (New Eastern Europe).

NEW EASTERN EUROPE: Could you tell us a little about you relatives from the old Russian aristocracy?

DOMINIC LIEVEN: Well, they were Russian in the broadest sense of the term. They would often be described as Baltic German. Ultimately, they were Livonian. They were there when the German knights arrived. And of course in terms of identities and mixtures, they were everything you could imagine – but Russian can be a good shorthand here.

March 4, 2019 - Adam Reichardt Andrzej Zaręba Edmund Young

The second homeland. Georgian Jews throughout the centuries

In the spring of 2018 the Georgian government officially recognised the “26 centuries of Georgian-Jewish friendship” as an intangible cultural heritage of the country. Yet, the story of Georgian Jews still leaves many questions and further research is required.

"When I went to Tbilisi, I went to the synagogue one evening… it was packed. Tbilisi is the capital of Georgia, from which there's a major movement." Marshall Weinberg's Report on his trip to the USSR to the JDC Administration Committee, October 25th 1972.

The movement which is mentioned in the 1972 report refers to the movement of Georgian Jews outside the Soviet Union, mostly to Israel. “Every single Jew we met, there were 80 or 90, was talking about Israel, Israel, Israel,” Weinberg wrote. As soon as the Soviet Union lifted the ban on Jewish emigration in the 1970s, thousands of Georgian Jews moved to Israel.

March 4, 2019 - Yulia Oreshina

The other history of Ukraine

The recently released book The Pages of Jewish history of Ukraine is an important achievement. Despite the fact that it was written as a textbook for high schools, it is accessible to readers from different backgrounds and gives a comprehensive overview of the 2,000 years of Jewish presence in Ukraine.

In May 2018 the Kyiv city council passed a decision to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Koliyivshchyna – a peasant revolt which spread through right-bank Ukraine in 1768-1769 and was a response to the Bar Confederation (a political and military revolt of the Polish nobility against the politics of King Stanisław August Poniatowski, a protégé of Catherine the Great which took place partially on Ukrainian territories resulting in victims among Ukrainian orthodox civilians). The Koliyivshchyna rebellion could be seen thus as an episode of Ukraine's religious wars.

March 4, 2019 - Kateryna Pryshchepa

Words matter. Bulgaria and the 30th anniversary of the largest ethnic cleansing in cold war Europe

Bulgarian communist dictator Todor Zhivkov led campaigns of forced assimilation and ethnic cleansing against non-Bulgarian minorities, particularly Turks and Muslims. Three decades after the 1989 ethnic cleansing and the subsequent transition to democracy, Bulgaria still has yet to reconcile with its past.

February 25, 2019 - Tomasz Kamusella

Ukraine’s prelude to Babyn Yar

Boris Maftsir has crafted a film which hardly shies away from historical controversy and nuance.

January 10, 2019 - Nikolas Kozloff

Women’s rights in imperial Russia. Outcasts of history

The thaw of the 1980s allowed Russian historians to become re-acquainted with the pre-revolutionary and non-Marxist methods of interpreting historical events. These approaches paved a new way for interpreting history, allowing a departure from merely descriptive methods. Since the 1990s a new understanding of women’s rights in pre-Bolshevik Russia began to emerge.

I grew up listening to Soviet propaganda, praising the regime for giving women so much: education, ability to have a career and money on par with men, benefits for mothers, divorce and so on. To a certain extent, reality was confirming the party message. Women worked as teachers, doctors, and engineers. Valentina Tereshkova even went to space. Would something like this be possible during the tsarist rule? No, of course not. That is why our history textbooks presented life in pre-revolutionary Russia as full of suffering and exploitation, accompanied by rebellions and wars. Then the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution came, which changed Russia and the world, or at least that is what we were taught.

January 2, 2019 - Irina Yukina

The failure of mapmaking and territorialisation of statehood in Polesia and Belarus in 1918

For various reasons, the Brest-Litovsk Peace Treaty, signed on March 3rd 1918 between the Central Powers and Soviet Russia, was published without the agreed upon map. This insufficiency may have had dire consequences on the success of an independent Belarusian People’s Republic, which was later overtaken by the establishment of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Belarus in 1919.

Why was the map of the Brest-Litovsk Peace Treaty neither published nor handed down? It was an integral part of the binding international treaty that was adopted on March 3rd 1918. Instead of a written definition of the border demarcation, Article III of the treaty contained a fleeting reference to a map in the annex. The border was drawn according to a map kept in the Political Archive of the Foreign Office in Berlin since June 1918 at the latest. The original map is very large, on a scale of 1:800,000, and allowed the territorial assignment of places that are only ten kilometres apart. However, this graphic representation was never used.

November 5, 2018 - Diana Siebert

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