The Perils of Normality

В рамках проекта «Тридцать лет постсоветской Европе» представляем главу Ивана Крастева об отрицании идей либеральной демократии постсоветскими странами. Крастев – эксперт в области международных отношений и исследователь стран Восточной Европы. Автор уверяет, что безальтернативность внушила враждебность к западному мироустройству. Эмиграция в поиске «нормальной» жизни и разочарование в капитализме проложили дорогу крайне правым партиям. «Имитация – это слабость, а не сила» – лозунг контрреволюции

Ivan Krastev

Three decades ago, in 1989, a US State Department official pithily captured the spirit of the time. Writing a few months before the Germans would joyfully dance on the sledge-hammered remains of the Berlin Wall, he proclaimed the Cold War effectively over. The comprehensive victory of liberalism over communism had been sealed by a decade of economic and political reforms initiated in China by Deng Xiaoping and in the Soviet Union by Mikhail Gorbachev. The elimination of ‘the Marxist-Leninist alternative to liberal democracy’, Francis Fukuyama argued, signalled ‘the total exhaustion of viable systematic alternatives to Western liberalism’. Having been crowned by Marxists as the culmination of ‘History’ in the Hegelian sense, communism was suddenly demoted to ‘history’ in the American sense of something of negligible significance. ‘Western liberal democracy’, under these circumstances, could be called ‘the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution’. After the downfall of ‘the fascist and communist dictatorships of this century, the only form of government that has survived intact to the end of the twentieth century has been liberal democracy’. Because ‘the basic principles of the liberal-democratic state’ were ‘absolute and could not be improved upon’, the sole task left to accomplish for liberal reformers was ‘extending those principles spatially, such that the various provinces of human civilization were brought up to the level of its most advanced outposts’. Fukuyama maintained that liberalism ‘would eventually become victorious throughout the world’. But his real point was that no ‘ideologies which claimed to be more advanced than liberalism’ could hereafter arise.[1]

What did the recognition of capitalist democracy as the final stage of mankind’s political development mean in practice? Fukuyama was somewhat evasive on this point. But his argument undoubtedly implied that Western-style liberal democracy was the only viable ideal toward which reformers everywhere had to strive. When he wrote that the last ‘beacon for illiberal forces’ had been extinguished by Chinese and Soviet reformers, he meant that America’s liberal beacon alone was lighting mankind’s pathway to the future.[2]

This denial that any globally appealing alternative to the Western model existed explains why Fukuyama’s thesis felt self-evident at the time even to dissidents and reformers living behind the Iron Curtain.[3] A short year earlier, in 1988, some of the most ardent proponents of democratic pluralism in the Soviet Union had published a collection of articles under the title Inogo ne dano,[4] which can be roughly translated as ‘There Is No Other Way’. The Bible of Soviet reformism, too, was a book arguing that there were no viable alternatives to Western capitalist democracy.

Formulated in our terms, 1989 heralded the onset of a thirty-year Age of Imitation. We aim to show that, after an initial bout of excitement at the prospect of copying the West, revulsion against the politics of imitation arose in a world characterized by a lack of political and ideological alternatives. This lack of alternatives, rather than the gravitational pull of an authoritarian past or historically ingrained hostility to liberalism, is what best explains the anti-Western ethos dominating post-communist societies today.[5] The very conceit that ‘there is no other way’ provided an independent motive for the wave of populist xenophobia and reactionary nativism that began in Central and Eastern Europe and is now washing across much of the world. The lack of a plausible alternative to liberal democracy became a stimulus to revolt since ‘human beings need choice, even just the illusion of it’.[6]

Populists are rebelling not so much against a specific (liberal) type of politics as against the replacement of communist orthodoxy by liberal orthodoxy. The message of insurgent movements on both the left and the right is that a take-it-or-leave-it approach is wrong and that things can be different, more familiar and more authentic.

Obviously, no single factor can explain the simultaneous emergence of authoritarian anti-liberalism in so many differently situated countries in the second decade of the twenty-first century. Yet resentment at liberal democracy’s canonical status and the politics of imitation in general has, we believe, played a decisive role, not only in Central Europe, but in Russia and the United States as well. To begin making this case, we call two of Central Europe’s most articulate critics of liberalism as our opening witnesses. A Polish philosopher and conservative member of the European Parliament, Ryszard Legutko, is irate that ‘liberal democracy has no alternative’, that it has become ‘the only accepted course and method of organizing collective life’ and that ‘the liberals and the liberal democrats have managed to silence and marginalize nearly all alternatives and all nonliberal views of political order’.[7] An influential Hungarian historian concurs: ‘We don’t want to copy what the Germans are doing or what the French are doing,’ announced Maria Schmidt, Viktor Orbán’s intellectual-in-chief. ‘We want to continue with our own way of life.’[8] Both statements suggest that a stubborn unwillingness to accept ‘the total exhaustion of viable systematic alternatives to Western liberalism’ helped turn the West’s soft power to inspire emulation into weakness and vulnerability rather than strength and authority.

A refusal to genuflect before the liberal West has become the hallmark of the illiberal counter-revolution throughout the post-communist world and beyond. Such a reaction cannot be casually dismissed with the trite observation that ‘blaming the West’ is a cheap way for non-Western leaders to avoid taking responsibility for their own failed policies. The story is much more convoluted and compelling than that. It is a story, among other things, of liberalism abandoning pluralism for hegemony.

In the immediate aftermath of 1989, the global spread of liberal democracy was envisioned as a version of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale where it sufficed for the Prince of Freedom to slay the dragon of tyranny and kiss the princess in order to awaken a previously dormant liberal majority.  But the kiss proved bitter, and the revived majority turned out to be less reliably liberal than had been expected.

In the spring of 1990, John Feffer, a twenty-six old American, spent several months crisscrossing Eastern Europe in hopes of unlocking the mystery of its post-communist future and authoring a book about the historical transformation unfolding before his eyes.[9] He was no expert, so instead of testing theories, he buttonholed as many people from as many walks of life as possible and ended up both fascinated and puzzled by the contradictions he walked into at every step. East Europeans were optimistic but apprehensive. Many of those he interviewed at the time expected to be living like Viennese or Londoners within five years, ten years at the most. But these exorbitant hopes were mingled with anxiety and foreboding. As Hungarian sociologist Elemér Hankiss observed, “People realized suddenly that in the coming years it would be decided who would be rich, and who would be poor; who would have power and who would not; who would be marginalized, and who would be at the center. And who would be able to found dynasties and whose children would suffer.”[10]

Feffer eventually published his book, it did not become a bestseller and over the next two decades, he never returned to the countries that had captured his imagination in 1989. Then, 25 years later, he decided to re-visit the region and to seek out those with whom he had spoken in 1990. Eastern Europe was richer, but roiled by resentment. The capitalist future had arrived, but its benefits and burdens were unevenly, even crassly distributed.  Feffer comes to the point: “For the current generation in the region, liberalism is the god that failed.”[11]

The question is, why did Central Europe turn against its 1989 liberal dream?

When the Cold War ended, racing to join the West, as it had been imagined from behind the Iron Curtain, was the shared mission of Central and East Europeans. Indeed, becoming indistinguishably Western was arguably the principal aim of the revolutions of 1989. The enthusiastic copying Western models, accompanied as it was by the evacuation of Soviet troops from the region, was initially experienced as liberation.  But after two troubled decades, the downsides of a politics of imitation had become too obvious to deny.  As resentment grew, illiberal politicians rose in popularity and, in Hungary and Poland, acceded to power.

In 1989, liberalism was generally associated with appealing ideals of individual freedom, legal fairness, and governmental transparency.  By 2010, the Central and East European versions of liberalism had been tainted by two decades of association with rising social inequality, pervasive corruption, and the massive redistribution of public property into the hands of a few.  The economic crisis of 2008, in turn, bred a deep distrust of any type of elites and the prevailing mood was an explosive mixture of anger and conspiracy fantasies. The West was not to be trusted any more. Confidence that the political economy of the West was a model for the future of mankind had been linked to the belief that Western elites knew what they were doing.  Suddenly it was obvious that they didn’t.

Look Back in Anger

According to George Orwell, “All revolutions are failures but they are not all the same failure.”[12] So, what kind of failure was the revolution of 1989, given that its aim was Western-style normality? To what extent was the liberal and therefore imitative revolution of 1989 responsible for the illiberal counterrevolution unleashed two decades later?

The idea of “normal society” has been the utopia of 1989. How does it happen that Central Europeans got betrayed by their run after normality?

As earlier revolutions, thought to be a leap in time from a dark past to the bright future.  The 1989 revolution of normality was rather imagined as a movement across physical space, as if all of post-communist Europe would be relocating to the House of the West, long inhabited by others but previously seen by Easterners only in photographs and films.  The unification of Europe was explicitly analogized to the unification of Germany.  In the early 1990s, in fact, many Central and East Europeans burned with envy at the astonishingly lucky East Germans who had collectively migrated overnight to the West, waking up miraculously possessed of West German passports and with wallets packed with all-powerful Deutsche Marks. The 1989 revolution was a region-wide westward migration. The well-known American legal scholar and former chief counsel for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Stephen Legomsky, once observed that “countries do not immigrate, people do.”[13]  In the case of post-communist Central and Eastern Europe, he was wrong. But revolution as a migration turned to be more problematic than many expected.

Revolutions as a rule force people to cross borders—moral borders if not territorial ones. When the French revolution broke out many of its enemies scattered abroad. When the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia, millions of white Russians left the country and lived in exile for years without unpacking their suitcases in the hopes that the Bolshevik dictatorship would eventually collapse.  The implicit contrast with the end of communism could not be starker.  After 1789, and again after 1917, the defeated enemies of the revolutions were the ones who left their countries.  After 1989, the winners not the losers of the velvet revolutions were the ones who chose to decamp.  Those most impatient to see their own countries changed were also the ones most eager to plunge into the life of a free citizenry and were therefore the first to go to study, work and live in the West.

In order to grasp the almost-irresistible allure of emigration for Central and East Europeans after 1989, we should keep in mind not only the significant difference in standards of living between West and East and the logistical ease of the move but also one of the least discussed legacies of communism, namely the memory of how bureaucratically difficult it had been under communism to change one’s place of residence.  After initially forcing people to move from the countryside into the cities, communist authorities began to impose strict limits on the freedom to change domicile within each country.  Permission to relocate from rural areas to the cities was experienced as a social promotion. Being a worker was much more prestigious than being a peasant. But, at the same time, moving from one town to another in search of gainful employment, particularly coming to live and work in the capital, was more problematic under the previous regime than is traveling to work abroad today.  As a result, communism, by turning relocation from the cultural and political periphery to the cultural and political center into a rare privilege, played a role of making geographical mobility not only desirable but also synonymous with uncommon and prized social success.

The dream of a collective return of formerly communist countries to Europe made the individual choice to abscond abroad both logical and legitimate. Why should a young Pole or Hungarian wait for his country to become one day like Germany, when he can start working and raising a family in Germany tomorrow?  It is no secret that changing countries is easier than changing one’s country.  When borders were opened after 1989, exit was favored over voice because political reform requires the sustained cooperation of many organized social interests, while the choice to emigrate is basically a solo or single-family operation, even though (like a bank run) it can become a cascade.  The mistrust of ethno-nationalist loyalties and the prospect of politically united Europe also helped make emigration the political choice for many liberal-minded Central and East Europeans. 

The massive flow of population out of the region in the post-Cold War period, especially because so many young people were the ones voting with their feet, had profound economic, political and psychological consequences. It took place in societies suffering demographic decline and not surprisingly it triggered demographic panic.   In the period 1989-2017, Latvia hemorrhaged 27 percent of its population, Lithuania 22.50 percent, Bulgaria almost 21 percent. Two million East Germans, or almost 14 percent of the country’s pre-1989 inhabitants, went to West Germany in search of work and a better life. 3.4 million Romanians, a vast majority of them younger than 40, left the country only after the country joined the EU in 2007. More Central and East Europeans left their countries for Western Europe as a result of the 2008-2009 crises than all the refugees that came there as the result of the war in Syria. Indeed, “Bulgaria experienced the largest percentage drop in population not attributable to war or famine for a country in the modern era. Every day, the country was losing 164 people: over a thousand a week, over 50,000 a year.”[14]. The combination of an aging population, low birth rates and an unending stream of out-migration is arguably the unspoken source of demographic panic in Central and Eastern Europe. It also explains the overwhelming hostility to the foreigners expressed in the course of 2015 refugee crisis.  

The effect of the de-population is the least studied factor for the illiberal turn in Central and Eastern Europe. When a doctor leaves the country, she takes with her all the resources that the state has invested in her education and deprives her country of her talent and ambition. The money that she would eventually send back to her family could not possibly compensate for the loss of her personal participation in the life of her native country. The exodus of young and well-educated people has also seriously, perhaps fatally, damaged the chances of liberal parties to do well in elections.  Youth exit may also explain why, in many countries across the region, we find beautiful EU-funded playgrounds with no kids to play in them. It is telling that liberal parties perform best among voters who cast their ballots abroad.  In 2014, for example, Klaus Johannis, a liberal-minded ethnic German, was elected President of Romania because the 300,000 Romanians living overseas voted massively in his favor.  In a country where the majority of young people yearn to leave, the very fact that you have remained, regardless of how well you are doing, makes you feel like a loser. 

In a world of open borders, the threat that Central and East Europeans confront is similar to the one that GDR faced before the Berlin Wall was erected.  It is the danger that working-age citizens will evacuate their homelands to pursue lives in the West, particularly if we keep in mind that businesses in countries such as Germany are desperately seeking workers while Europeans in general are increasingly reluctant to allow non-Europeans to settle permanently in their countries.  An otherwise inexplicable panic in the face of a nonexistent immigrant invasion of Central and Eastern Europe can be understood as a distorted echo of a more realistic underlying fear that huge swaths of one’s own population, including the most talented youth will leave the country and remain permanently abroad.

The trauma of people pouring out of the region explains what might otherwise seem mysterious, the strong sense of loss even in countries that have benefited handsomely from post-communist political and economic change. Across Europe, analogously, the areas that have suffered the greatest hemorrhaging of population in the last decades are the ones most inclined to vote for far-right parties. This correlation strongly suggests that the illiberal turn in Central Europe, too, is deeply rooted in the mass exodus of people, especially young people, from the region and the demographic anxieties that this “expatriation of the future” has left behind.

The Unbearable Ambivalence of Normality

A populist revolt against the utopia of Western-style normality has proved so successful in Central and Eastern Europe because, over the past three decades, post-communist societies have come to see the downsides of normality however defined. They have confronted the schizophrenic nature of post-communist normality.

In The Normal and the Pathological (1966), the French philosopher and physician Georges Canguilhem explains that the concept of “normality” has a double meaning, one descriptive and the other normative. “Normal” can refer to practices that are factually widespread or to practices that are morally ideal.  The tragedy of post-communist transitions was that that these two different meanings of normality have clashed in Central and Eastern Europe.

After 1989, the gap between the presumptively normative and the actually descriptive meaning of normality became the source of multiple miscues and misunderstandings in between West, on the one hand, and Central and East Europeans, on the other.[15]

For instance, when a visitor from the IMF would explain in Sofia or Bucharest that giving and taking bribes was “not normal,” their Bulgarian and Romanian interlocutors could be excused for not understanding what in the world was meant.  How could not be normal something that is massively practiced?

Celebrated Romanian film director Cristian Mungiu’s 2016 film, “Graduation,” powerfully captures the tragic divide between being “normal” in the sense of adapting to the shabbiness of one’s local environment and being “normal” in the sense of embracing expectations taken for granted in the West.[16] 

The protagonist of the story, Romeo Aldea, is middle-aged doctor employed at a local hospital. He lives with his daughter and his wife in a tatty apartment on a grisly Ceausescu-era estate in the city of Cluj-Napoca in northwest Romania. In the universe of his small provincial town, he is a successful man, but it is clear that he wants to be somewhere else. Aldea and his wife are intensely, almost desperately proud of their daughter who has an offer of a scholarship from a British university to study psychology after graduating from high school, conditional on top marks in her final exams. This means that their daughter could have a normal education and the normal life her parents were always hoping for. But the day before she is scheduled to take her exams, Eliza is attacked and almost raped.  Although she isn’t harmed physically, she is in no psychological state to do well on her exams.  Under these circumstances, Aldea is forced to exploit his position as a doctor to give someone an under-the-table favor in exchange for helping Eliza.  A local politician should get a liver transplant that, according to the rules, should go to somebody else.  For the illicit scheme to work, moreover, his daughter’s conscious participation is required.

The key scenes in the film involve Aldea trying to convince his daughter that she has to wise up.  Romania isn’t like the West, where no such underhandedness is required. If she wants to study in a normal country, she first has to adapt to the grubby and unethical normality here.

Once communist authority was overthrown, many in the West genuinely believed that liberal democracy would pop out like toast out of a toaster.   When the expected miracle failed to materialize, some Western observers concluded that Easterners simply “didn’t get it.”  The rise of nationalist populism in the region was interpreted not as an understandable backlash against democratization as imitation, but an inexplicable backsliding which has whatever nothing to do with the way the West has treated the East.  Indeed, “backsliding” has become the all-purpose term used to make sense of the authoritarian and xenophobic reversal in countries like Hungary and Poland. Central and Eastern Europe’s shocking repudiation of Western liberalism is viewed as a kind of regression in the Freudian sense of a relapse into an earlier, childish stage of development. 

“Backsliding” also turns out to have strong religious connotations. It was originally used by missionaries to refer to the way recently converted Christians fell back into their pre-Christian habits.  Backsliders were not those who openly cast off their Christianity and reverted to paganism, but those who outwardly continued to style themselves Christians while secretly practicing their pagan rituals and beliefs. “Backsliding” is conversion that has turned to be a fraud.

But the illiberal turn in Central and Eastern Europe is not a backsliding, it is a backlash against the ambiguous idea of normality that marks transformation as imitation.

Adapting to such local expectations and patterns of behavior is a necessary condition for successful action and interaction in every society.  In order to govern, therefore, post-communist elites in Central and Eastern Europe had no choice but to adjust, at least at first, to the habitual practices in their countries. Romanians operating inside of Romania, for example, had to adapt their behavior to the routine conduct of fellow citizens.  Just so, a businessman in Bulgaria who wants to keep his integrity by stubbornly refusing to give bribes, soon becomes an ex-businessman. At the same time, such national elites are seeking global legitimacy under Western eyes.  This depends on their doing what is perceived as normal in the West—refusing to give or accept bribes, for example.  To adjust their behavior with the lofty expectations of their Western colleagues, in other words, Central and Eastern European elites were pressured to turn their backs on the expectations that prevailed in their own societies.  The opposite was also true.  To coordinate their behavior with that of their proximate neighbors and kin, they had to defy the expectations of their Western mentors and colleagues.  Thus, in order to be effective, post-communist elites had to accept bribery locally and, simultaneously, campaign against corruption globally.  Straddling two identities, parochial and cosmopolitan, they were unlikely to feel at home in either.  Trying in vain to combine two contradictory ideas of what is normal, they began to feel chronically phony, if not schizophrenic, and often ended up mistrusted both at home and abroad.

As it turns out, a revolution in the name of normality has generated not only psychological disquiet but also political turbulence. Rapid changes undergone by the Western model itself have exacerbated the gnawing sense of self-betrayal among its would-be imitators. In the eyes of conservative Poles in the days of the Cold War, for instance, Western societies were normal because, unlike communist systems, they cherished tradition and believed in God. But today, suddenly, Poles have discovered that Western “normality” means secularism, multiculturalism and gay marriage. Should we be surprised that some Central and East Europeans felt “cheated” when they found out that the conservative society they wanted to imitate had disappeared, washed away by the swift currents of modernization?  From the West’s perspective, it should be said, illiberal efforts to refashion the political order in post-communist countries on the model of a now-surpassed sexist, racist, and intolerant version of the West not only represent a futile attempt to turn back the clock.  They also come across as attacks on the West’s hard-earned “moral progress,” and are thus roundly condemned as expressions of anti-Western animus.

There is a second way in which many Central and East Europeans associate Westernization with betrayal: an important dimension of the ongoing culture war between the two halves of Europe concerns the troubled relations between generations after communism.  One consequence of the unipolar Age of Imitation is that school children began to be taught to look westward for role models.  As a result of reforms in public education, they found the prospect of imitating their parents less and less attractive.  For those born after 1989, in particular, it was easy to “synchronize” their attitudes and behavior with Western standards.  For the same reason, to “coordinate” their expectations with those of earlier generations seemed uncool.  In post-communist societies, as a result, parents lost their ability to transfer their values and attitudes to their offspring.  How the parents lived and what they achieved or suffered under communism ceased to matter in either material or moral terms. The young were not really revolting against their parents, as happened in the West in 1968.  Instead, they started feeling sorry for them and otherwise ignoring them.  The emergence of social media also meant that communication took place predominantly within distinct generational cohorts. Hooking up across state borders became more straightforward than talking across generational lines. Faced with their inability to program their children with their own values, parents in the region began, somewhat hysterically, to demand that the state should do it for them.  Government rescue squads must be dispatched to liberate the children from their insidious Western kidnappers.  This cri de coeur may sound pathetic.  But it is an important source of the popular appeal of the region’s illiberal populists.  Children must be compelled to hear in school what they refuse to listen to at home. The collapse of parental influence, even though it is actually a characteristic feature of every revolution, is now blamed squarely on the West. Operating through the EU, the West had taken over national education and thereby corrupted the children. Nowhere does the cultural war in Central and Eastern Europe rage more fiercely, in fact, than it does around teaching about sex in the schools.[17]

It is sometimes asked how former dissidents such as Orbán and Kaczyński can describe themselves as counterrevolutionaries.  Well, the answer lies here.  The normalizing revolution of 1989, in their view, produced a social order in which the national heritage and traditions of post-communist societies came under serious threat of obliteration under the invitatioin to imitate Western-style morality.  To reclaim “the spirit of combat” that Havel himself described as having gone missing in post-communist societies, illiberal populists fulminate against what they consider the absurd “belief in the ‘normalcy’ of liberal democracy.”[18]  Strange as it may seem, this is how dissidence and counterrevolution can indistinguishably merge.  And this is how a Westernizing Revolution can trigger an anti-Western counterrevolution, much to the shock and consternation of the West.

A final perverse effect of the double meaning of normality should be briefly mentioned here. In order to reconcile the idea of “normal” (meaning what is widespread and habitual) with what is normatively obligatory in the West, cultural conservatives in Central and East Europeans sometimes seek to “normalize” the Western countries by arguing that what is widespread in the East is also ubiquitous in the West, even though, on the populist account, Westerners hypocritically pretend that their societies are different. Populist leaders help their followers relieve the normative dissonance between giving bribes to survive in the East and fighting corruption to be accepted in the West by alleging, in a classic expression of resentment, that the West is just as corrupt as the East but that Westerners are simply in denial and hiding the ugly truth.

Hungarian and Polish governments defend the constitutional shell games and political cronyism for which they are regularly criticized in Brussels along the same lines. They try to show that what they are doing is common practice in the West, too, but that Westerners are not ready to confess it. Here we find another paradox of the Age of Imitation.  Central and Eastern European populists justify their own provocative illiberalism by pretending that they are, in fact, perfectly faithful disciples of Western ways, which this time means that they are just as bad as the West.

So, in short the crisis that Central Europe goes through today strongly resembles the crisis of the second generation of migrants in Western societies.

[1] Francis Fukuyama, ‘The End of History?’, National Interest (Summer 1989), pp. 12, 3, 5, 8, 13; The End of History and the Last Man (New York: Free Press, 1992), p. 45

[2] Fukuyama, ‘The End of History?’, p. 12.

[3] If describing American-style liberalism as the final stage of history felt unremarkable to many Americans, it felt the same not only to dissidents but also to ordinary people who grew up behind the Iron Curtain. This was because Fukuyama justified the defeat of the Leninist regimes in the language of Hegelian-Marxist dialectics. Schooled in the idea that history had a predetermined direction and a happy end, many ex-communists, seeing the writing on what was left of the Wall, were conceptually and temperamentally prepared to accept Fukuyama’s reading of events.

[4] Inogo ne dano (Progress, 1988).

[5] To ‘explain’ political trends in the region today by saying that they remind us of political patterns in the past, as do many students of post-communist illiberalism, is to mistake analogy for causality.

[6] In 2008, the MIT behavioural economist Dan Ariely conducted an experiment in which participants played a computer game that presented three doors on the screen, each of which paid out different sums of money when clicked on. The sensible strategy would have been to identify the highest-paying door and stick to it until the game was up, but as soon as the neglected doors began to shrink – ultimately to disappear – participants started wasting clicks trying to keep the less lucrative options open. It’s dumb but we can’t help it. Human beings need choice, even just the illusion of it. George Eliot once wrote that choice was “the strongest principle of growth”. How can we grow if we can’t choose to?’ Yo Zushi, ‘Exploring Memory in the Graphic Novel’, New Statesman (6 February 2019).

[7] Ryszard Legutko, The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies (Encounter Books, 2018), pp. 63, 20, 80.

[8] Cited in Philip Oltermann, ‘Can Europe’s New Xenophobes Reshape the Continent?’, The Guardian (3 February 2018); to these two exponents of the post-communist anti-imitation ethos, we can add the voice of a retired Russian military officer who holds the official title of Head of Counterintelligence for the Ministry of State Security of the Donetsk People’s Republic: ‘I want a Russian idea for the Russian people; I don’t want the Americans to teach us how to live. I want a strong country, one you can be proud of. I want life to have some meaning again.’ Quoted in Shaun Walker, The Long Hangover: Putin’s New Russia and the Ghosts of the Past (Oxford University Press, 2018), p. 4, emphasis added.

[9] John Feffer, Shock Waves: Eastern Europe after the Revolutions (Boston: South End Press, 1992).

[10] Cited by Feffer from Nick Thorpe, ‘89: The Unfinished Revolution (London: Reportage Press, 2009), pp. 191–2.

[11] John Feffer, Aftershock: A Journey into Eastern Europe’s Broken Dreams (Zed Books, 2017), p. 34.

[12] George Orwell, The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters. Vol. 3 (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1968), p. 244.

[13] Cited in Liav Orgad, The Cultural Defense of Nations: A Liberal Theory of Majority Rights (Oxford University Press, 2017), p. 19.

[14] John Feffer, Aftershock, p. 34.

[15] In the social-science literature, a classic example of the insensitivity of outside observers to the historical connotations in the region of the word “normality” is a well-known essay by Andrei Shleifer and Daniel Treisman, “Normal Countries. The East 25 Years After Communism,” Foreign Affairs (November/December 2014).   

[16] Peter Bradshaw, “Graduation review – a five-star study of grubby bureaucratic compromise,” Guardian (May 19, 2016).

[17] Ruzha Smilova, “Promoting ‘Gender Ideology’: Constitutional Court of Bulgaria Declares Istanbul Convention Unconstitutional,” Oxford Human Rights Hub, 22nd August 2018.

Available at

[18] Ryszard Legutko, “Liberal Democracy vs. Liberal Democrats,” Quadrant Online (April 2015).

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