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Between Past and Future

Sorin Antohi

Preface and Acknowledgements

Sorin Antohi et Vladimir Tismaneanu

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1The tenth anniversary of communism’s collapse in Eastern Europe offers academics, the media, policy-makers, and the surviving former “new men and women” an opportunity to contemplate the first postcommunist decade’s illusions, expectations, and balance sheet and to speculate on the years to come. This exercise is simultaneously exhilarating and sobering, nostalgic and anxious, passionate and lucid. Ironically enough, these short-term retrospective and prospective ruminations seem more likely at this point than any comprehensive examination of communism’s natural history; a process similar to Germany’s Vergangenheitsbewältigung has yet to start in earnest, although fragmented memories—both individual and collective—are currently being rescued and worked through, while topics such as the intellectual history of communist ideology, the comparative study of the Gulag’s international avatars, the reconstruction of everyday life under state socialism enjoy growing scholarly attention.

2As its title indicates by means of an Arendtian reference, this book examines the revolutions of 1989 and their aftermath from a dual perspective, looking back and thinking forward, spanning ten years of the recent past and ten years of the immediate future. To do so, we invited a number of outstanding scholars and public intellectuals that have been interested and/or involved in the roots, unfolding, and legacies of 1989 to engage in a critical assessment of their objects of expertise.

3To make sure that the resulting volume would be more than just a collection of excellent papers, we started the whole project by putting together a conference, held in Budapest at the Central European University from 26 to 29 March 1999. Early drafts of the chapters included in this book were presented and thoroughly discussed at that lively public debate, with the exception of Ivan Vejvoda’s text; due to the war in the former Yugoslavia, the author was unable to attend. Other conference paper-givers are unfortunately absent here: Ivo Banac, Daniel Chirot, Janos Kis, Gáspár Miklós Tamás. However, their contribution to the debates, alongside those of the panel moderators—including John Lampe and Alfred J. Rieber—enhanced the quality of the overall intellectual exchange. The book’s final chapter eloquently captures the atmosphere of the conference, while the other individual contributions preserve, beyond the somewhat definitive touch of all substantially rewritten presentations, much of their original polemical, provocative, tentative edge. Readers will also notice that the editors, while doing what they were supposed to do, refrained from pushing for artificial consensus or superficial homogeneity; for instance, as most terminological variations stem from full-fledged theoretical, methodological, ideological stances, frequently used notions as well as the names of the region(s) covered by this book have not been standardized. What keeps the book together is, the editors’ hope, a common quest for the meanings of what 1989 epitomizes and symbolizes.

4The conference went beyond the routines of academic gatherings in some other ways. Opened by Josef Jařab, then the Central European University’s Rector and President, and Gábor Demszky, Budapest’s Lord Mayor, it was prefaced by a media panel introduced by former U.S. Ambassador to Hungary Donald Blinken, moderated by Kati Marton, and featuring U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke; Flora Lewis, senior columnist of the New York Times Syndicate; R.W. Apple, Jr., chief correspondent for The New York Times; Barrie Dunsmore, former diplomatic and senior foreign correspondent for ABC News; James Carney, political correspondent for Time; and György Bolgár of Hungarian National Radio. Other academics, public intellectuals, politicians, diplomats, journalists, and students, including U.S. Congressman Tom Lantos, took active part in the three-day discussion. The epilogue was contributed by Timothy Garton Ash, who undertook the mighty task of wrapping up the conference’s explorations, and by Árpád Göncz, president of Hungary, himself an embodiment of the 1989 spirit, who reflected memorably on communism’s downfall, on its origins and consequences.

5The conference, sponsored by Central European University and the University of Maryland’s Center for the Study of Post-Communist Societies, was generously underwritten by the Peter Gruber Foundation, the U.S. German Marshall Fund, and the United States Information Agency. The book’s publication is also supported by a grant from the Peter Gruber Foundation. Our gratitude goes to these institutions and to the people working with them.

6The book’s speedy production would not have been possible without the painstaking, competent editorial assistance provided by Christine S. Zapotocky and without the professionalism and understanding of the team at CEU Press. Let them be thanked here once more.

7And finally, throughout the two years of on-again, off-again work on the whole project, our respective wives, Mona Antohi and Mary Sladek, have been, as always, helpers, critics, and advisers. We thank them wholeheartedly.


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.

Vladimir Tismaneanu is professor of government and politics and the director of the Center for the Study of Post-Communist Societies at the University of Maryland, College Park. He is also the editor of the journal East European Politics and Societies.

© Central European University Press, 2000

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