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Between Past and Future

Sorin Antohi

I. Meanings of 1989: Present Significance of the Past

5. Habits of the Mind: Europe’s Post-1989 Symbolic Geographies

Sorin Antohi

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  • 1 The irony in this formulation targets the global vogue of the End of History concept, which reache (...)

1Ten years after the revolutions of 1989, Eastern Europe appears to be anything but a bloc. Despite decades of Soviet-style homogenization, this region’s historic structural differences are almost intact. But not quite intact—the already explosive ethnic, religious, social, and political interwar legacy has been complicated by mutant identities and boundaries produced by the practice of state socialism and proletarian internationalism, within and between the sisterly republics building the ultimate in sameness, Communism. The collapse of Soviet hegemony seemed finally, and happily, to bring back the “organic” dynamics of long-suppressed national histories, and of regional international relations free of Moscow’s divide et impera pressure. But the momentous changes of 1989 proved that this “end of Utopia” or “rebirth of History” was extremely problematic, and definitely not an idyllic End of History—the latter being a mesmerizing popular cocktail combining Hegel, Kojève, Rand, and Disneyland1.

2This paper has four parts: the first and longest, “Eastern Europe’s Symbolic Geographies”, examines several alternative, and sometimes conflicting, visions of the region’s mental map, trying to evaluate the contribution of knowledge, power, and imagination to the making of an aptly dubbed “other Europe”, or rather of several blurred “other Eu-ropes”; the second part, “Mimetic Competition and Regional Cooperation”, looks at Eastern Europe’s poor record of regional integration, at its internal tensions and conflicts, and suggests an interpretation based on the hard facts of history, and inspired by the theories of René Girard; the third part, “The Failures of Political Identity”, reviews Eastern Europe’s passage from multinational empires to ethnic Utopias, and some current processes of subnational fragmentation; the fourth part, “European Integration?”, discusses the postcommunist fantasy of continental homogeneity and some of the challenges facing the construction of an integrated, inclusive European system.

Eastern Europe’s Symbolic Geographies

3The fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War produced a series of spectacular changes on the mental map of Europe. In order to understand them, one has to go back several decades, and ultimately more than two centuries.

4In the bipolar discursive universe dominated by Churchill’s metaphor of the Iron Curtain, a circular transfer from geopolitics to journalism to collective consciousness—and back—had been successfully completed: a radical East-West cleavage had been singled out from among the multitude of endemic and ubiquitous, dynamic divisions of our continent. An ideological, political, military, and increasingly epistemological-cultural fault line appeared to separate two rival, parallel worlds. It was a fault line and not a mere border, as the separation seemed to extend from the minds of people into ontology.

5But there was something more dramatic to the post-World-War II map of Europe than this radical separation. The whole region stretching from the Atlantic strip (the Occident, sensu stricto) to the Soviet border was changing its structure, substance, and meaning: Germany, traditionally self-located in Mitteleuropa and almost obsessed with a Sonderweg that allegedly made her different from the West, was split into a Federal Republic engaged in a thoroughgoing process of Occidentalization, and a Democratic Republic that was drifting eastward, alongside the other Soviet satellites, some of which had been previously included in a loosely and often polemically defined Central Europe.

  • 2 I put Edward W. Said’s term in quotation marks to signal a special usage referring to Eastern Euro (...)

6To most Europeans educated after 1945, the East-West divide, as well as its “Orientalist” logic, according to which everything situated more to the West was necessarily superior to everything situated more to the East, seemed both natural and eternal. As a matter of fact, that cleavage and logic corresponded to a mental map already sketched during the Enlightenment2.

7Until the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Europe was envisioned as the juxtaposition of a civilized South, heir to the Greek and Roman world, and a barbarous North: in the last chapter of his Prince, Macchiavelli alluded to the invasion of Italy by the French king, Charles VIII (1494), as the coming of the barbarians, using much the same rhetoric as that used by St. Augustine one thousand years earlier to describe Alaric’s hordes ante portas. From the eighteenth century onward, this symbolic geography was reformulated, and Europe’s North-South “Orientalist” axis separating Barbarity from Civilization was redrawn as an East-West divide. Currently, a third formula combines an inverted North-South cleavage—with the Germanic, Protestant North being more “civilized” than the Latin, Catholic South—and the more recent East-West one, thus resulting in a complex diagram organizing the European space according—as it were—to a vernacular interpretation of Max Weber’s “Protestant Ethic”, from North-West to South-East.

  • 3 But Huntington’s metadiscourse is of course the tradition of Kulturpessimismus, as epitomized by a (...)
  • 4 Cf. Maria Todorova, “Hierarchies of Eastern Europe: East-Central Europe versus the Balkans”, in [A (...)

8Samuel Huntington’s more recent vision of the clash of civilizations relates to this pseudo-Weberian reading of the world in the way Fukuyama’s articles and book on the end of history relate to Kojève’s introduction to the reading of Hegel3. The other name of South-Eastern Europe, the Balkans, is widely used as a synthetic term, even a cultural metaphor, meaning everything from underdevelopment to political fragmentation to tribal warfare to ethnic cleansing. Thus Eastern Europe’s own “Orient” takes shape, according to the inner dynamics of “Orientalism4”.

  • 5 The best work on the endemic enemy brothers, Autochtonists and Westernizers, remains Andrzej Walic (...)

9Responsible for this new continental architecture were les philosophes, first and foremost Voltaire. The operation was inspired, documented, and perpetuated by a wave of Western travelers to the East. The Comte de Ségur (ambassador to Catherine the Great, winter 1784-1785), the Marquis de Custine (almost half a century later), and others like them invented and imposed as a hegemonic discourse the paradigm of Eastern European otherness, a necessary ingredient in the modern construction of Western identity, and an essential element in the process of self-identification started in the East by the local elites. Quite naturally, both Westernizers and Autochtonists, both ideal-types dominating the intellectual, social, and political life of the region, were born under these circumstances. From the “Slavophile controversy” epitomized by Chaadaev to this day, these two radical identities—one resulting frequently in alienation through imitation, the other collapsing into chauvinism— perpetually bordering on a stigmatic ethnic identity obsessed with a perceived normative gaze of the West, remained the major effect of the Enlightenment construction of Europe5.

10At the Russian border, at the latest, these noble travelers had the clear feeling that they were leaving Europe—Civilization—and entering the Barbaricum. A few decades later, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the opposite feeling was experienced by the increasingly numerous East European travelers going West. The more they advanced into “Europe” and “Civilization”, the more culturally shocked they were; on their way back home, they realized, much to their despair, how different, and backward, their countries were—compared to the West. These transcultural travelers—who sometimes seem to be time travelers— produced and disseminated a hegemonic discourse integrating, or rather (con)fusing, knowledge, power, and imagination, transforming the East-West difference into a durable and devastating stereotype.

11For example, the American John Ledyard, a former companion of Captain Cook’s, therefore someone who had experienced radical otherness and was likely to grasp the elements of European sameness beyond local differences (an educated person, he had the ambition of a philosophic geography), sighed with relief when he reached the lands inhabited by Poles on his adventurous way against the current, from Siberia to the West. Also at the end of the eighteenth century, the British William Coxe published his Travels into Poland, Russia, Sweden and Denmark, referring to these countries as the “Nordic Kingdoms of Europe”, a sign that the Enlightenment’s symbolic geography was not yet the only way of seeing the European space, and that local differences were not yet automatically arranged according to an “Orientalist” diagram. Meanwhile, the fictitious Persian aristocrat, Rica, in Montesquieu’s Persian Letters, although a prisoner of the bon sauvage convention and as such an embodiment of the Western critique of the West, could still challenge the superiority complexes of the Lumières.

  • 6 Golescu’s work, Însemnare a călătoriei mele, is written by someone who, while fully aware of the W (...)

12Some Romanian illustrations may be used to make a similar point: Wallachian boyar Dinicu Golescu’s 1826 travelogue, documenting his amazed “discovery” of the West, is by and large an expression of admitted inferiority, although one combined with, and redeemed by, an appeal to imitation; Jules Michelet’s transfiguration of the Danubian Principalities in his Légendes démocratiques du Nord, no matter how obliquely favorable to the Romanians, states their backwardness. Future politician D. Brǎtianu’s statement addressed to his former teacher, Michelet, “now I know: where France ends, nothingness begins”, is hardly a declaration of (symbolic) independence, but rather a formula that is reminiscent of the Duc de Richelieu’s dictum at Hertza: “Ici finit l’Europe6

  • 7 A comparison between the roles played by Russia and the Balkans, respectively, in the construction (...)

13But the most difficult exercise in post-1989 European symbolic geography would be to reconcile the East-West divide, or its radical subcategories, Russia and the Balkans, with the cultural mythology of Mitteleuropa7

  • 8 The whole construction of Central Europe as anti-(Soviet) Russia has been abundantly debated over (...)

14For the Visegrad countries, the regressive Utopian fantasy of a Central Europe rooted in K.u.K. bliss, as expressed mainly by Milan Kundera’s political texts of the 1980s, represented the way out of Soviet Eastern Europe8.

15Nevertheless, Kundera’s position, playing up an essentially imagined Central European specificity, explicitly or implicitly excluded others:

16Russia, in order to dramatize the opposition of Central Europe and Eastern Europe, and all Southeast European countries, possibly in order to help the West in an effort to limit its moral dilemmas. Thus, in the name of liberty and historical justice, another historical injustice was being reproduced and reinforced: the double exclusion of those Communist countries (and, after 1989, of their postcommunist avatars) that are Southeast or East European, not Central European. The case of Poland, the easternmost country included in Kundera’s Central Europe, is revealing for the symbolic manipulation of political space: although Poland’s spatial pendulum has moved east in the twentieth century, symbolic Poland was still granted the status of a Central European country, despite the limited support of such a mental mapping among Polish intellectuals, who tend to prefer Eastern Europe as a self-ascribed geocultural and geopolitical identity.

  • 9 I discussed the ambiguities of Romania’s symbolic geography in a chapter from my book mentioned in (...)

17Ironically enough, some of the countries affected by this double exclusion would not hesitate to exclude others whenever possible: Slovene and Croat authors would thus further exclude their former Yugoslavian counterparts; Serb authors would do the same with Bosnia, Kosovo, Albania, and Macedonia; Romania’s first postcommunist foreign minister tried to show that Central Europe’s eastern border was the river Dniester, thus “rescuing” his country, and Moldova, from their dismal East European place on the map9.

18Ten years after 1989, shortly after the admission of Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic to NATO, and against the background of the wars in ex-Yugoslavia, Europe’s symbolic geography seems to be more dynamic and blurred than ever.

  • 10 Speaking of the post-1989 changes in Romania’s symbolic geography, I suggested the notion of geocu (...)

19Central Europe appears to have lost its attraction, and to be relapsing willingly into posthistorical routine. Most postcommunist Central Europeans hope that their Mitteleuopa, coming closer to Austria, will become just as prosperous and just as geopolitically boring. The Kunderian mythology of the region survives in the latter’s margins, enjoying a provincial afterlife. From Hungarian and Czech authors, the cultural motif of Mitteleuropa, especially its emancipatory potential, migrates to Romanian, Slovakian, and Western Ukrainian writers and audiences. Consequently, the centrality of Central Europe is gradually supplanted by its liminality, while its fashionable relics become the Banat, Bukowina, Galitia, or cities such as Temeswar, Czernowitz, and Lemberg (to use their nostalgic German names, generally rejected by the present-day majority populations10).

20The Balkans have come violently into the global media spotlight, with their perceived untamable negativity and otherness. They had almost vanished after World War II, when Greece had been assimilated by the West, Yugoslavia had escaped into the extraterritorial geopolitical realm of the “non-aligned” countries, Albania had entered its dystopian non-time and non-space, while Bulgaria and Romania had been assigned to the ideological-symbolic territory of Eastern Europe. Despite attempts to discursively water down the threatening otherness of the Balkans by the less loaded, almost politically correct phrase “Southeast Europe”, media and popular usage is adamantly sticking to the “marked category”. Maria Todorova, in an excellent sequel to her Imagining the Balkans, sums up the whole process:

  • 11 Maria Todorova, “Is ‘the Other’ a Useful Cross-cultural Concept? Some Thoughts on its Implication (...)

While, as a whole, the attention toward the Balkan region seems to have been motivated by the fear of contagion and the accompanying quarantine policies, as well as by the whole negative spectrum from devastating but at least passive derision to high-minded but activist punitive impulses, there have been also efforts to mark out the Southeast European (or Balkan) region as an object of genuine concern and compassion. But marking out is not an innocent act. Complex notions (like region, nation, race, gender, etc.) are socially constructed systems of marked and unmarked categories (...). The complex notion of Europe comprises both marked categories such as Southeast Europe (the Balkans), East Central Europe, Eastern Europe, and unmarked categories, e.g. Northwest Europe, Southwest Europe, West Central Europe11.

  • 12 The “Carpathian Basin” is frequently used in Hungary, for obvious reasons, as the notion includes (...)

21Thus Europe seems to have lost its East—”Eastern Europe” is less and less frequently used as a geopolitical category and it has been officially replaced in most state documents by “Central Europe”—to have purged its Center of its culturalist fantasies, and to have pushed further into Otherness the countries of the Balkans and of the former Soviet Union, with the exception of the Baltics. Alternative symbolic geographies have been suggested, especially in the process of the (re)invention of national and regional identities, but notions such as the “Carpathian Basin”, the “Danubian Region”, the “Black Sea Region” and the like have not gained sustained international attention12. Russia’s rediscovery of its “Eurasian” identity, another shift in the post-1989 European symbolic geography, represents for some local public intellectuals and politicians the best reaction to the tacit new exclusion of that country from our continent. It is essentially a rejection of, and escape from, Europe, like other discourses that I describe as ethnic ontologies.13

22The next sections of this chapter will also show that most projects of regional cooperation and European integration built upon such failed, or parochial and conflicting symbolic traditions fail as well.

Mimetic Competition and Regional Cooperation

  • 13 René Girard’s most relevant books for this text are: Violence and the Sacred, translated by Patric (...)

23In a number of controversial books published in the 1970s and 1980s, René Girard, a French-born literary theorist whose main teaching career is related to Stanford University, put forward the concept of mimetic competition, in the framework of a wide-ranging, sweeping theory of culture based on the idea that human communities, from the origins of mankind to this day, are rooted in, and based on, violence13. The perpetual transfer of an original, endless, circular, generalized violence into the regulated, limited, targeted violence of subsequent human communities by means of the invention and manipulation of exclusion mechanisms can be defined as scapegoating. By offering the scapegoat (the ostrakon)—somebody who is both an insider and an outsider—to the violence of the community, this fundamental exclusion mechanism breaks the circle of generalized violence, and offers collective life a stable foundation, at least for a while; of course, the mechanism starts again when new accumulations of circular violence threaten the cohesion of the community.

24It is not my intention to elaborate on this model, as I do not follow Girard in some of his theoretical propositions, although his attempt to overcome and refute a number of established reductionisms (Freud and the Oedipus complex, classical theories of the sacred, and so on) is appealing and refreshing. Let us simply go back to the idea of “mimetic competition”. According to Girard, desire is mimetic: I desire what others (or the Other) desire(s); consequently I, the object of desire, and the Other enter a kind of love triangle. This mimetic desire is something deeper, and stronger, than the mere desire to emulate models, the kind of relatively serene imitation implied by Plato’s theory of mimesis. This is a conflictual type of imitation, the “acquisitive mimesis”, the mimesis of appropriation: the desire to have as a (temporary, partial) replacement of the desire to be.

  • 14 Eugen Lovinescu’s Istoria civilizaţiei române moderne was first published staring in 1924. The bes (...)
  • 15 Gabriel de Tarde (1843-1904), Les lois de l’imitation: étude sociologique , (Paris: Félix Alcan, 1 (...)

25East European philosophers, literary critics, publicists, and politicians have had a lot to say about imitation in the last one hundred and fifty years or so, after the onset of inescapable processes of modernization in the region: for instance, Romanian literary critic and spiritus rector Eugen Lovinescu has advocated during the interwar period a thorough, systematic imitation of the West as the key to his country’s development14. As a theoretical authority, Lovinescu used Gabriel de Tarde’s “imitation laws”, a version of the acculturationist/diffusionist principle according to which human civilization proceeds basically through imitation, be it conscious or not15. And indeed, in most countries of Eastern

26Europe, modernization and development have often been, and still are, synonymous with Westernization, i.e. imitation. The whole series of disputes opposing Autochtonists to Westernizers tends to organize itself around questions and answers related to ideas such as foreign models, cultural/historical authenticity (i.e. consistency with local models, ideas, and experiences—often regressive, almost always imaginary), alternatives to the Western canon, local knowledge and creativity. In such arguments, historical facts and the social imaginary, statistics and wishful thinking, pragmatic opportunism and (the manipulation of) collective fantasies are inextricably interwoven.

  • 16 See the article by Milica Bakić-Hayden and Robert M. Hayden mentioned in note 2.

27The poor record of East European cooperation shows how mimetic competition is constantly disabling regional integration, and also how conflictual mimesis can disintegrate all cultural and political systems. Thus, “Orientalism” can acquire circular, and metonymic dimensions: circular, because it can be used almost irrespective of actual geography; metonymic, because it can be used at regional, national, and intranational levels. For instance, the tragic wars in ex-Yugoslavia have been prepared by “Orientalist” discourses by which Slovenes, Croats, and Serbs established the East-West divide on the Slovenian-Croatian border, on the Croatian-Serbian, or on the Serbian-Bosnian (or Serbian-Albanian) ones, respectively. These disputes have systematically used ethnic, linguistic, religious, and political “evidence”, from the split of the Roman Empire to the Catholic-Orthodox schism to the superiority of Protestants ( in Slovenia, a country with only a few Protestants, there has been much talk about a local “Protestant ethic”) as compared to their Catholic, Orthodox, Muslim lesser enemy brethren16. Along the same lines, although in a considerably less violent key, one encounters an anti-Slovak Czech “Orientalism”; tensions between Bohemians and Moravian-Silesians have been added; the difficult integration of “Ossies” in the united Germany; Transylvania vs. Regat discussions in Romania; Ruthenian vs. Ukrainian debates. And so on.

  • 17 In a succint treatment of this topic, Jacques Rupnik was brushing a similarly disheartening balanc (...)

28The list of failed cooperative projects in Eastern Europe is too long to be remembered. Nevertheless, a few of them may be mentioned: the variable geometry of the two pre-World-War I Balkan wars, with their unpredictable, and unstable alliances; the “Green International” of peasant parties between the world wars; the collapse of the Little Entente, despite the important cohesive foundation of a common enemy/scapegoat, Hungary; the difficult cooperation between the countries of the Visegrad Triangle, now the Visegrad Four, most likely due to Vaclav Klaus’s “Orientalist” vision of his neighboring partners; and CEFTA, which has to include alongside the Central European states their embarrassing Eastern counterparts. This summary does not include the integration projects suggested, or imposed, from outside Eastern Europe, such as the French federalist projects; the COMECON; the Valev Plan; and, more recently, the project of a Southeast European Zollverein. The current fierce competition for access in structures such as NATO, the European Union, and so on, is only the most recent example of an apparently endemic mechanism17.

29Ten years after their annus mirabilis, the countries of the former Soviet bloc are focused on their individual trajectories, and are interested in their neighbors only to the extent that they perceive them as competitors for the limited resources of the West. The mimetic competition goes on.

The Failures of Political Identity

  • 18 Cf. Irina Livezeanu, Cultural Politics in Greater Romania. Regionalism, Nation Building, and Ethni (...)

30Another recurrent problem in Eastern Europe is the difficulty in establishing, and reproducing, political identities. After the fall of Austria-Hungary, most successor states were as multinational as the Double Monarchy, but chose ethnicity as a principle of political integration. And it was the ethnicity of the majority population that was imposed as a normative collective identity, sometimes by the very elites that had fought discrimination based on ethnicity before 1918. The Romanian case is quite typical: before Trianon, the Romanian Kingdom counted 8 percent minorities, while Greater Romania—that included Transylvania, the Banat, Bessarabia, and Northern Bukovina, regions with Romanian majorities, but with sizable ethnic minorities—jumped to 28 percent minorities. Instead of formulating a political contract for the new state, Romanian elites devised ever more radical Autochtonist definitions of ethnicity. The state engaged in very active Romanianization policies, thus betraying the spirit of the Paris Treaties, and the tolerant program of Transylvanian Romanian elites who, upon agreeing to join the Romanian Kingdom, had insisted that substantial minority rights be guaranteed18.

31But even the post-Trianon Hungarian state engaged in increasingly chauvinistic policies, although its population—due to territorial losses and the success of post-1867 aggressively assimilationist measures—was theoretically homogeneous: the “pure” Hungarians turned against the recently Magyariazed minorities that had vitally contributed to the making of a controversial Hungarian majority, and “unmasked” them as alien. Overall, the interwar European Zeitgeist and political practices were not exactly favorable to non-ethnic political contracts, or non-ethnic collective identities.

32After 1945, under Soviet control, the radical ethnic identities of the region, which had by and large degenerated into chauvinism, and had sometimes ruthlessly treated some minorities—especially the Jews and the Gypsies —, were suppressed in the name of proletarian internationalism, which regarded all expressions of ethnicity, or “national character”, as dangerous bourgeois relics. For some years, it seemed that Eastern Europe was finally being straitjacketed into the moulds of political identity: Yugoslavism and Yugoslavia survived World War II in a Communist guise, despite the horrible experience of mutual atrocities and the continued de facto Serbian hegemony; the other interwar political identity based on real ethno-linguistic affinities and on Utopian federalism, Masaryk’s Czechoslovakia, was successfully reassembled after years of separation; even Stalin’s genocidal project of a melting-pot Soviet post-national identity was apparently yielding its first genuine results, boosted by the shared traumas of World War II, further forced migrations, interethnic marriages, Union-wide military service, educational, and occupational mobility.

33Theoretically, East Central Europe’s political identities were quite confusing: they retained elements of the federalist schemes invented by the underprivileged minorities of Austria-Hungary, from Palacky to Aurel C.Popovici, in which assertive Risorgimento-type nationalisms were tamed by imperial loyalty; also, the Stalinist “solution” to the nationality problem could not fail to remind one of the Austro-Marxist federalism rooted in Marx’s idea (Renner, Bauer) that ethnic conflicts would disappear after the proletarian revolution, as all the other forms of false consciousness. On a huge scale, the Soviet Union offered the example of a new political contract that, while manipulating ethnicities and nationalisms (by changing borders, inventing languages and ethnicities, granting “autonomous” status to various populations, regions, and republics), was preparing the monolithic Soviet “nation”.

34After 1989, these political identities disintegrated, and a new ethno-national process of fragmentation began: Yugoslavism disappeared in wars that cruelly prove how artificial this political project has been; Czechoslovakia fell apart, and not only in a “velvet” way. And ethnic minorities are politically active everywhere, with ethnic political parties lobbying for different forms of autonomy, self-determination, collective rights, devolution, subsidiarity, federalism.

European Integration?

35These phenomena indicate that European integration is not at hand. Since the problems associated with the Maastricht Treaty, the European single currency, the acquis communautaire and similar topics are constantly covered by Western media and scholarship, I would merely add a few Eastern European footnotes to this discussion.

36The fantasy of a homogeneous European political, economic, social, and cultural space is painstakingly promoted in Eastern Europe by a number of international organizations, NGOs, and state institutions. Very often, the former issue optimistic reports on the prospects of at least selected East European countries to be granted membership in NATO and the European Union; so far, while Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Poland have become NATO members and are talking dates for their accession to the European Union, most East European states are included in structures clearly designed to appease, rather than integrate them: the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, the Partnership for Peace, not to mention the endless series of summit meetings, are not the real thing, and everybody knows it. In some East European countries, such as Romania, the discourse about Euro-Atlantic integration is enthusiastically appropriated by the postcommunist political leaders (people who otherwise have exceptional demagogic skills, refined by years in the Communist apparat): this has been a great way of silencing the Westernizers while they were not in power, or rather of confiscating the lat-ter’s virtually unique legitimating discourse.

37Going “back” to Europe is however increasingly problematic, especially when the concrete problems are approached: economic reforms, infrastructure development, trade liberalization (the extension of the Western European common market to the East), adjustment of legislation, the reform of the military. As a matter of fact, East European governments and political parties do not always explain their constituencies what European integration is really about. This is why the least reformed postcommunist countries have the most “Euro-optimistic” populations: the Eurobarometer and other survey figures are telling—when less than half of the Hungarian and Czech national samples were supportive of the idea of European integration, over ninety percent of the Romanian population were ready to go for it. In principle, of course. When a group of Romanian pro-Western political annalists and lobbyists claimed that Romanians should wait for the success of European integration in order to establish closer links with Moldova, rather than choose a decisive course of action leading to the reunification with Romania, they received some praise only from a few Romanian idealists, and from many Westerners. The Romanian public opinion was shocked by the proposition, which amounted to the betrayal of the national interest even in the opinion of the Opposition.

38On the other hand, the European Union cannot import East European regional conflicts. Basic treaties are behind schedule among the concerned countries: Hungary’s interest in the fate of Hungarian minorities living in the neighboring countries, potential territorial and sovereignty disputes, the revival of nationalisms and irredentisms are major obstacles. When such treaties are eventually signed under Western pressure, as those between Hungary and Slovakia, or between Hungary and Romania, they are not perceived by all as durable and are only supported by some in the hope that they will be denounced some day.

  • 19 Cf. Jacques Rupnik, “L’Europe dans le miroir des Balkans”, Transeuropéennes, 1213, (Spring-Summer (...)

39The continuing crisis in ex-Yugoslavia is definitely complicating Europe’s post-1989 order, as it epitomizes the failure of much of what the idea(l) of Europe stands for. Just like the “spiritualization of frontiers”, European integration is still ahead of us19.


1 The irony in this formulation targets the global vogue of the End of History concept, which reached even the popular media in the aftermath of Francis Fukuyama’s bestselling articles and book. Hegel’s themes (the end of history, the last man) have a vast bibliography; for the intellectual origins of their twentieth-century discussion, initiated by Alexandre Kojeve, see Lutz Niethammer, Posthistoire: Ist die Geschichte zu Ende? (Reinbeck bei Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1989) (English edition: Verso, 1992).

2 I put Edward W. Said’s term in quotation marks to signal a special usage referring to Eastern Europe, Europe’s internal “Orient”. Cf. Said, Orientalism: Western Conceptions of the Orient (London: Penguin Books, 1978, 1995) (with a new afterword); for Said’s reception and (attempted) instrumentalizations, see Gyan Prakash, “Orientalism now”, History and Theory, 34 :3 (1995): 192-212; Sorin Antohi, Imaginaire culturel et réalité politique dans la Roumanie moderne. Le Stigmate et l’utopie, translated from the Romanian by Claude Karnoouh and Mona Antohi (Paris-Montréal: L’Harmattan, 1999): 290-292 (the original Romanian version of the relevant chapter was published in 1997). In several articles, Milica Bakić-Hayden, sometimes writing with Robert M. Hayden, has applied Said’s concept to Southeast Europe and proposed a similar notion, “nesting Orientalism”; see Bakić-Hayden and Hayden, “Orientalist Variations on the Theme ‘Balkans’: Symbolic Geography in Recent Yugoslav Cultural Politics”, Slavic Review, 51, no. 1, (Spring 1992): 1-15; also Milica Bakić-Hayden, “Nesting Orientalisms: The Case of Former Yugoslavia”, Slavic Review, 54, no.4, (Winter 1995): 917-931. Larry Wolff, in his pathbreaking Inventing Eastern Europe: The Map of Civilization on the Mind of the Enlightenment (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1994), suggested yet another term for the same notion: “demi-Orientalism” (p. 7), and demonstrated the links and similarities between it and parallel Enlightenment inventions, such as Hellenism and Africanism. Many of my historical examples of “Orientalism” in the text are borrowed from Wolff’s erudite work. Maria Todorova, in several articles (especially “The Balkans: From Discovery to Invention”, Slavic Review, 53, no. 2, (Summer 1994) and her excellent Imagining the Balkans (New York, London: Oxford University Press, 1997), offered another application of the concept to Southeast Europe, thus proposing “Balkanism”. Similar notions, ultimately based on Foucault’s reminder that knowledge and power are intricately related (cf. Foucault’s theory of discourse), can be constructed to denote similar practices by which the West reworks its modern selfidentity in (frequently ambiguous) opposition to other regions. Such practices tend to be hegemonic, metonymic, and holographic (i.e., they can be replicated indefinitely according to a pars pro toto generation principle), and palimpsestic (i.e., they overlap both spatially and chronologically). More generally, all self-identities tend to be organized around such spatial-temporal-historical-cultural discourses, which may be summed up as symbolic geographies.

3 But Huntington’s metadiscourse is of course the tradition of Kulturpessimismus, as epitomized by authors such as Oswald Spengler and, in the English-speaking world, Arnold Toynbee.

4 Cf. Maria Todorova, “Hierarchies of Eastern Europe: East-Central Europe versus the Balkans”, in [Association for Democracy in the Balkans], Culture and Reconciliation in Southeastern Europe, (Thessaloniki: Paratiritis, 1999): 11-65. This is arguably the best piece ever written on the interplay between several “Orientalisms”, both Western and Central European. Todorova places what she calls “Balkanism” in all its contexts, including several Central European (negative, with rare exceptions, most remarkably that of Oscar Halecki’s writings) (di)visions of Europe, such as the most famous one, Jenő Szücs’s essay, “The Three Historic Regions of Europe. An Outline”, published in English in 1983 (Acta Historica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae, 29, 2-4, pp. 131-184; original Hungarian version, 1981).

5 The best work on the endemic enemy brothers, Autochtonists and Westernizers, remains Andrzej Walicki’s The Slavophile Controversy. History of a Conservative Utopia in Nineteenth-Century Russian Thought, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975) (English translation by Hilda Andrews-Rusiecka). For an analysis of ethnic stigma in Eastern, Central, and Southeast Europe, see chapter VI of my book mentioned in note 2, “Cioran et le stigmate roumain. Mécanismes identitaires et définitions radicales de l’ethnicité” (the original Romanian version of the chapter was published in 1994). For a link between Chaadaev’s view of Russianness and the Soviet times, see Julia Brun-Zejmis, “Messianic Consciousness as an Expression of National Inferiority: Chaadaev and Some Samizdat Writings of the 1970s”, Slavic Review, 50, no. 3, (Fall 1991) 646-658. In my view, ethnic stigma, originally an “Orientalism” internalized by the “Orientals”, can develop into a “native category” through its instrumentalization by fractions of the local elites; thus, ethnic stigma is shared by Autochtonists (who repress and deny it) and Westernizers (who use it to call for imitation of, or emulation with, the West, as well as to maintain the boundaries of their in-group).

6 Golescu’s work, Însemnare a călătoriei mele, is written by someone who, while fully aware of the West’s superiority, recommends its systematic emulation. Jules Michelet, by placing the Romanian Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia in the North, is following a largely pre-Enlightenment symbolic geography and offers an ambiguous image of the North (i.e., East): barbarous, but healthy, energetic, unspoiled, primitively virtuous, etc.—a Rousseauvian model for the seemingly exhausted, overcivilized post-1789 French nation. Brătianu, possibly in order to please his former teacher at the College de France, brings the hopeless distances between France and his native country to an ontological climax very similar to Chaadaev’s extreme anti-Russian lines.

7 A comparison between the roles played by Russia and the Balkans, respectively, in the construction of both Western and Central Europe, would be instructive. Todorova’s Imagining the Balkans could be supplemented with works on the images (or the “ideas”) of Europe in the region, such as those contributed by the late Romanian scholar Alexandru Dutu on his country. An article by another Bulgarian scholar, Alexander Kiossev, provides a combination of (self-)irony, psychoanalysis, and cynicism: “Mitteleuropa und der Balkan. Erotik der Geopolitik. Die Images zweier Regionen in den westlichen Massenmedien” (Neue Literatur, Neue Folge, 1, 1992: 102¬119), suggesting that the Balkans have been institutionalized in the Western media as Europe’s subconscious; more self-irony, coupled with a devastating critique of the West’s self-serving interest in post-1989 Eastern Europe, in Slavoj Žižek’s much quoted essay on “Eastern Europe’s Republics of Gilead”, now in his Tarrying with the Negative: Kant, Hegel, and the Critique of Ideology (Durham: Duke University Press, 1993). Žižek gives the discussion a Lacanian twist: “Eastern Europe functions for the West as its Ego-ideal: the point from which the West sees itself in a likeable, idealized form, as worthy of love”. For the Russian case, a good starting point is Iver B. Neumann’s “Russia as Central Europe’s Constituting Other” (East European Politics and Societies, 7, no. 2, Spring 1993); see also Neumann’s Russia and the Idea of Europe. A Study in Identity and International Relations (London, New York: Routledge, 1996). Whoever attempts to write such books should probably start by reading Federico Chabod’s splendid Storia dell’idea d’Europa (Bari: Laterza, 1965).

8 The whole construction of Central Europe as anti-(Soviet) Russia has been abundantly debated over the last two decades or so. Todorova’s article on the “hierarchies of Eastern Europe”, mentioned in note 4, is a good introduction to the matter, from a viewpoint that I largely share, including some historical mises au point (e.g., Friedrich Naumann’s predecessor, Joseph Partsch; Szűcs’s inspiration, István Bibó). To retrieve most elements of the controversy, see George Schöpflin and Nancy Woods, eds., In Search of Central Europe, (Totowa, N.J.: Barnes and Noble Books, 1989); Peter Stirk, ed., Mitteleuropa. History and Prospects, (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1994) (especially Stirk’s text, “The Idea of Mitteleuropa”, pp. 1-35). In my text, “Kundera” is an oversimplification of a plurality of discourses, ranging from Tomas Masaryk’s image of a “family of small nations” spread from Cape Horn to Cape Matapan, but excluding Germany, to various texts by Czech and Hungarian authors presenting Central Europe as a geocultural realm of widely shared high cultural practices and values, ethnic, linguistic, and confessional pluralism, tolerance, nostalgic joie de vivre, sophisticated lifestyles, self-irony, black humor, and the like. Timothy Garton Ash has noted that the phrase “Eastern Europe” was used in negative contexts by Kundera, Havel, Konrád, while “Central Europe” and “East Central Europe” were used only in positive, affirmative contexts; Adam Michnik and other Polish authors departed from this stereotype. According to Jacques Rupnik, Poles state their Europeanness rather than their alleged Central Europeanness, possibly due to their understanding of Mitteleuropa as a German tradition (cf. Jacques Rupnik, The Other Europe, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1988, a valuable combination of symbolic geography, history, and geopolitics).

9 I discussed the ambiguities of Romania’s symbolic geography in a chapter from my book mentioned in note 2, “Les Roumains pendant les années 90. Géographie symbolique et identité sociale”. Romanian claims for inclusion in Central Europe are inherently ambiguous, and potentially self-defeating, since the only territories that have a record of Central European identity are Transylvania and the Banat, objects of Hungarian irredentism; by insisting on the Central European character of the two provinces, the other historic territories incorporated by the Romanian nation-state may appear under their “real” light, as fragments of Eastern Europe or Southeast Europe. Transylvanian authors of Hungarian (and, more recently, Romanian) ethnic descent who support the Central Europeannness of their region are “exposed” as enemies of the nation; the same thing happens with a Timişoara-based group of authors who try to “revive” the “true” Central European identity of the Banat, although their activity is cautiously packaged as a research project in cultural studies. An older article by Radu Stern and Vladimir Tismaneanu is still a good introduction to the context of these Romanian symbolic tribulations: “L’Europe centrale. Nostalgies cutlurelles et réalités politiques”, Cadmos, 39 (1987).

10 Speaking of the post-1989 changes in Romania’s symbolic geography, I suggested the notion of geocultural bovarism to describe the tendency to think that that country can symbolically leapfrog out of its real location and be a neighbor to France or Belgium (Romanians have a tradition of calling Bucharest “Little Paris”, or Romania the “Belgium of the Orient”—the latter being inadvertently an “Orientalist” statement in itself). See my article quoted in note 9. I think this tendency is common to other cultures. It may be useful to remember how Webster’s Third International Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged (I use its 1965 edition) defines bovarism or bovarysm: “a conception of oneself as other than one is to the extent that one’s general behavior is conditioned or dominated by the conception; esp.: domination by such an idealized, glamorized, glorified, or otherwise unreal conception of oneself that it results in dramatic personal conflict (as in tragedy), in markedly unusual behavior (as in paranoia), or in great achievement”.

11 Maria Todorova, “Is ‘the Other’ a Useful Cross-cultural Concept? Some Thoughts on its Implication to the Balkan Region”, Internationale Schulbuchforschung/ International Textbook Research, 21: 2 (1999) 170. I would add to the discussion of the Balkans the relatively recent trend, more obvious among Serbs during the wars in Yugoslavia, consisting in the proud, virile, bellicose showing off of the Balkan stigma; it is precisely the danger of contagion that is defiantly held against the West, an active version of the traditionally passive, “Orientalist”, Balkan identity. Thus “the Balkanization of the West” is the just revenge of the stigmatized, their way to respond to Western hegemony.

12 The “Carpathian Basin” is frequently used in Hungary, for obvious reasons, as the notion includes Transylvania. The “Danubian Region” is also popular in Hungary, as it includes even more territories lost by Hungary after Trianon; the possible non-conflictual meaning of the same phrase is brilliantly illustrated by Claudio Magris’s book Danubio (Milan: Garzanti, 1986; English translation by Patrick Creagh, Danube, New York: Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 1989). The “Black Sea Region” (whose historical traditions have been splendidly researched by the Romanian historian Gheorghe I. Brǎtianu in a pioneering book which almost shared the author’s tragic fate) is even less successful as a cultural notion. Other (sub)national and regional symbolic geographies, such as “Balto-Skandia”, related to the discourses on Eastern Europe, are equally reasserting themselves after 1989. For a good introduction to the revival of geocultural discourses, see David Hooson, ed., Geography and National Identity, (Oxford, U.K., and Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1994). The book can also serve as an introduction to the theoretical and methodological problems related to symbolic/mental/conceptual/cultural/historical/philosophical geography. Such problems were outside the scope of my text. For a discussion of territoriality and (post)modernity, see Stefan Immerfall, ed., Territoriality in the Globalizing Society: One Place or None?, (Berlin, New York: Springer, 1998); some sections of this text draw freely on my unpublished paper presented at the conference that inspired Immerfall’s edited volume, held at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in April 1996. I thank Stefan Immerfall and the other conference participants who have commented on that presentation.

13 René Girard’s most relevant books for this text are: Violence and the Sacred, translated by Patrick Gregory, (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977) (original French edition, 1972); The Scapegoat, translated by Yvonne Freccero, (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986) (original French version, 1982); Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, translated by Stephen Bann and Michael Meteer, (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1987) (original French version, 1978); the first, rather oblique, statement of Girard’s theory, in his Deceit, Desire, and the Novel. Self and Other in Literary Structure, translated by Yvonne Freccero, (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1965) (original French version, 1961); more recent application to literary texts, To Double Business Bound: Essays on Literature, Mimesis, and Anthropology, (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978).

14 Eugen Lovinescu’s Istoria civilizaţiei române moderne was first published staring in 1924. The best edition of his opus magnum is that contributed and introduced by Z. Ornea (Bucharest: Minerva, 1997).

15 Gabriel de Tarde (1843-1904), Les lois de l’imitation: étude sociologique , (Paris: Félix Alcan, 1890). English edition: The Laws of Imitation, translated from the second French edition by Elsie Clews Parsons, with an Introduction by Franklin H. Giddins, (Gloucester, Mass.: P. Smith, 1962)

16 See the article by Milica Bakić-Hayden and Robert M. Hayden mentioned in note 2.

17 In a succint treatment of this topic, Jacques Rupnik was brushing a similarly disheartening balance sheet of regional cooperation: “Europe Centrale: Les atouts et les limites de la coopération régionale”, Pouvoirs, 74, (1995): 183-189. He noted that the Central European were not taking advantage of the post-1989 chance of reconciling their Western culture, their Eastern politics, and their Central geography.

18 Cf. Irina Livezeanu, Cultural Politics in Greater Romania. Regionalism, Nation Building, and Ethnic Struggle, 1918-1930, (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1995).

19 Cf. Jacques Rupnik, “L’Europe dans le miroir des Balkans”, Transeuropéennes, 1213, (Spring-Summer 1998): 117-126. In his After 1989. Morals, Revolution and Civil Society (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997), Ralf Dahrendorf gives a synthetic picture of the entire post-1989 order; the book’s last chapter captures the shifting agendas and the difficulties of European integration: “From Europe to Europe: A Story of Hope, Trial and Error”


Sorin Antohi is associate professor of history at the University of Bucharest, and at Central European University, and is currently a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford.

© Central European University Press, 2000

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