Jacobin interview with Prof. James Mark: When Eastern Europe Left the World Behind

We at the Forum are delighted to draw your attention to the magazine Jacobin, which has just published an interview with Prof. James Mark about the new book 1989: A Global History of Eastern Europe, co-authored with Exeter colleagues Bogdan Iacob, Tobias Rupprecht, and Ljubica Spaskovska. Here is the introduction:

When Eastern Europe Left the World Behind: An Interview with James Mark

On the thirtieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, commemorations of the “end of communism” proved rather muted. The Washington Post lamented the dismantling of the democratic institutions so hard-won in 1989, accusing Hungary’s far-right premier Viktor Orbán of antics that would make his communist predecessors “blush.” Writing in the Guardian, liberal historian Timothy Garton-Ash also felt that the “dictators [are] coming back,” but insisted the “spirit of 1989” could resist the spread of so-called “illiberal democracy.”

Both readings conform to a commonplace understanding of what happened in central-eastern Europe after 1989 — a wave of democratic mobilization, cruelly beaten down by new Moscow-aligned autocrats who do not want to embrace “Western values.” This perception has been fueled by the public declarations of many leaders in the “Visegrád” countries (Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia) who have insisted on the preservation of their Christian and national culture as against “globalism” and multiculturalism.

Yet as historian James Mark argues, it would be mistaken to understand these processes only in terms of their relation to the West — or as a purely post-1989 development. When we take a wider view of globalization, looking beyond European shores, we can see that even in the years up to 1989 Eastern Bloc countries were in full retreat from the kinds of internationalism to which they had long laid claim. In this logic, the current nationalist turn in countries like Poland and Hungary is less a break with the logic of 1989, than a way of entrenching it.

Co-author of the recent book 1989: A Global History of Eastern Europe, the historian spoke with Ondřej Bělíček, an editor of the Czech online daily A2larm.cz, about the “long transition” from the late socialist period to neoliberalism in Eastern Europe, the disintegration of solidarity with the Third World in the 1970s and 1980s, and the new racist and nationalist offensive continuing into the present. [read the full interview at Jacobin]