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Communist nostalgia and the consolidation of democracy in Central and Eastern Europe

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In recent years, public opinion surveys have testified to increasing levels of ‘communist nostalgia’ in Central and Eastern Europe: that is, growing numbers of citizens who feel that ‘a return to communist rule’ would in fact be a preferable option. These apparently non-democratic sentiments have been subject to two alternative explanations – one related to political socialization and the other to system output. In fact, communist nostalgia is a multidimensional phenomenon, encompassing both generational differences and general discontent. However, it is clear that nostalgia is more closely related to dissatisfaction with the present system's ability to produce output than to genuine non-democratic values.
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Journal of Communist Studies
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Communist nostalgia and the
consolidation of democracy in
Central and Eastern Europe
Joakim Ekman
a
& Jonas Linde
b
a
Department of Social and Political Sciences,
Örebro University, Sweden
b
Örebro University, Sweden
Available online: 12 Apr 2011
To cite this article: Joakim Ekman & Jonas Linde (2005): Communist nostalgia
and the consolidation of democracy in Central and Eastern Europe, Journal of
Communist Studies and Transition Politics, 21:3, 354-374
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Communist Nostalgia and the
Consolidation of Democracy in Central
and Eastern Europe
JOAKIM EKMAN and JONAS LINDE
In recent years, public opinion surveys have testified to increasing levels of ‘communist
nostalgia’ in Central and Eastern Europe: that is, growing numbers of citizens who feel
that ‘a return to communist rule’ would in fact be a preferable option. These apparently
non-democratic sentiments have been subject to two alternative explanations one
related to political socialization and the other to system output. In fact, communist nos-
talgia is a multidimensional phenomenon, encompassing both generational differences
and general discontent. However, it is clear that nostalgia is more closely related to dis-
satisfaction with the present system’s ability to produce output than to genuine non-
democratic values.
Introduction
This article deals with a phenomenon which has received very little attention
in the vast body of research on democratic consolidation in post-communist
Europe, namely ‘communist nostalgia’. In recent years, public opinion
surveys have alerted us to an emergent retrospective positive evaluation of
the old regime among the citizens in Central and Eastern Europe; in other
words, growing numbers of respondents feel that ‘a return to communist
rule’ would in fact be a desirable option. Does this kind of nostalgia constitute
a threat to democratic consolidation? Drawing on the New Europe Barometer
and other cross-national public opinion surveys, this study sets out to examine
Joakim Ekman is a doctor of political science and a research fellow at the Department of Social
and Political Sciences, O
¨
rebro University, Sweden. His publications include The Handbook of
Political Change in Eastern Europe, 2nd edn, co-written and co-edited with Sten Berglund and
Frank H. Aarebrot (2004). He is currently completing a book about public opinion in the EU.
Jonas Linde holds a Ph.D. in political science from O
¨
rebro University, Sweden. He has published
in European Journal of Political Research, Problems of Post-Communism and Perspectives: The
Central European Review of International Affairs. His current research interests are in the fields of
comparative politics, European politics and democratic consolidation.
Journal of Communist Studies and Transition Politics, Vol.21, No.3, September 2005, pp.354 374
ISSN 1352-3279 print=1743-9116 online
DOI: 10.1080=13523270500183512 # 2005 Taylor & Francis
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the determinants of ‘communist nostalgia’ and its implications for democratic
consolidation in Central and Eastern Europe. Two alternative explanations for
the emergence of nostalgia are put to the test: one hypothesis related to politi-
cal socialization and the other related to system output. The analysis thus con-
cerns two aspects of public opinion in new democracies: popular support for
the current democratic regime and public evaluations of the former non-
democratic regime.
A Mass-Level Perspective
Throughout the 1980s, a preoccupation with formal institutions and political
elites could be observed in studies of democratic transition and consolidation.
Much of the research focused on institutional and constitutional configur ations
conducive to successful democratization and consolidation of democracy. In
the 1990s, however, following the demise of communism in Central and
Eastern Europe, we have witnessed something of a renaissance of political
culture in democratization studies. Even though institutional engineering
and the strategies of political elites are important aspects of the uncertain tran-
sition phase, the process of democratic consolidation also requires system
support on the mass public level. Simply skilful institutional engineering
and elite-level manoeuvring cannot alone produce sustainable democracy.
1
Consequently, recent works on democratic consolidation have also empha-
sized the importance of public opinion in new democracies.
2
In this article,
such a mass-level perspective will be employed.
Since 1 May 20 04, eight of the countries analysed here have been
members of the European Union, and the remaining two (Bulgaria and
Romania) are expected to gain full membership in 2007. Furthermore, in
March 1999 the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland joined the North Atlan-
tic Treaty (NATO), and at a meeting in Prague on 12 December 2002, the
remaining seven countries in our sample were formally invited to join that alli-
ance as well. Recent studies have demonstrated widespread public support for
democracy in most of the countries in contemporary Central and Eastern
Europe, and thus it might seem un called for to wor ry about democratic break-
down in this part of the world.
3
However, ‘democratic consolidation’ is not
only about avoiding breakdown or ensuring democratic regime survival.
True, this ‘negative’ perspective on democratic consolidation has been the
most common in the literature on post-communist Europe.
4
In this study,
however, we adopt a ‘positive’ approach towards democratic consolidation,
focusing on the development or improvement of already existing democracies.
From this perspective, ‘communist nostalgia’ obviously needs to be con-
sidered when taking stock of the attitudinal consolidation of democracy in
post-communist Europe.
COMMUNIST NOSTALGIA IN CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE 355
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Conceptualizing Communist Nostalgia
‘Nostalgia’ is a multidimensional concept, and its usage is dependent upon
context as well as level of abstraction. According to Webster’s Third New
International Dictionary of the English Language, nostalgia could be either
‘a severe melancholia caused by protracted absence from home or native
place’ or ‘a wistful or excessively sentimental sometimes abnormal yearning
for return to or return of some real or romanticized period or irrecoverable
condition or setting in the past’.
5
Both of these definitions underline the funda-
mental emotional basis of nostalgia. In the poetic words of H.W. Longfellow
(1807 82), nostalgia is ‘a feeling of sadness and longing that is not akin to
pain, and resembles sorrow only as the mist resembles the rain’.
In everyday language, however, the concept seems to indicate more than a
mere sentimental longing for the good old days. Also, it arguably carries con-
notations of something not quite genuine, a selective image of the past, some-
times cast in a conservative or even reactionary form. When analysing
‘communist nostalgia’ in this article, we distinguish between four analytical
dimensions of the concept: one political ideologica l dimension, two socio-
economic dimensions, and one life biography dimension (see Figure 1).
Focusing mainly on the political ideological and the socio-economic dimen-
sions, we examin e different possible explanations for the existence of
FIGURE 1
DIMENSIONS AND INDICATORS OF COMMUNIST NOSTALGIA
356 JOURNAL OF COMMUNIST STUDIES AND TRANSITION POLITICS
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nostalgia. The two basic questions could be formulated thus: is the presence of
communist nostalgia an indication of genuine non-democratic values among
the post-communist citizens, acquired as the result of political socialization
in the old, communist system? Or, is the presence of nostalgia quite simply
brought about by a perceived output deficit, and related to a general discontent
with the democratic system’s performance ability? We shall return to this
discussion below.
The personal dimension of nostalgia has to do both with (selective) mem-
ories of the past and a retrospective revaluation of life under communism, as
well as evaluations of the personal post-comm unist socio-economic situation.
The latter kind of nostalgia is arguably the result of a feeling of having lost out
in the transition from communism to democracy. The personal biography
dimension, on the other hand, has to do with personal feelings and memories
whether authentic or not of life under communist rule. Unfortunately, we
lack indicators of this dimension in our data set. Nevertheless, the importance
of the personal biography dimension must not be forgotten. In order to illus-
trate this point, one might draw attention to empirical observations in the
former German Democratic Republic (GDR), where scholars have noted
such revaluations of the past to be quite common among East Germans,
partly in response to the perceived threat of a West German depreciation of
their life experiences. Following unification, the East Germans certainly
have had their share of negative experiences with the new institutions. In
the early 1990s, unemployment skyrocketed in eastern Germany; suddenly
about one-third of all jobs were lost. But it has also to do with how East
Germans perceive that they and their past are being treated in post-Wende
Germany. For example, it has been noted that, following the collapse of the
GDR, East Germans have been going through a serious identity crisis. The
end of the GDR meant loss of self-esteem for many East Germans, and, as
a consequence, they experienced confusion and frustration. Literally over a
single night, all the things that had been taken for granted were no longer
valid. The East Germans were forced to adjust to a completely new environ-
ment, with new norms and conducts of behaviour in everyday life. West
German arrogance and disdain accompanied this transformation, or so the
East Germans perceived it. As a result of all of this, not a few have held on
to the belief that ‘not everything was bad’ under communism.
6
Unique as
the East German road to democracy has been, a similar kind of retrospective
image of the ‘good old days’ may very well be expected to surface among the
citizens in other post-communist countries.
The four-dimensional classification (see Figure 1) may seem somewhat
simplistic, reducing the complex phenomenon of nostalgia to something
that could be quantified by a small number of discrete indicators. Still, since
this classification is compatible with a rather straightforward empirical
COMMUNIST NOSTALGIA IN CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE 357
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investigation, we shall retain the model as a framework for the analysis in this
study. Simplistic or not, we would argue that our indicators tap the most
crucial aspects of ‘communist nostalgia’, and thus the model is of practical
use when examining the implications of communist nostalgia for the consoli-
dation of democracy on the attitudinal level. We also consider the opposite of
nostalgia in our analysis, namely belief in the future, conceptualized as
support for membership of the European Union.
A Note on the Empirical Material
Our main data source in this article is the New Europe Barometer (NEB), a
cross-national public opinion survey covering ten countries in Central and
Eastern Europe. We will also utilize the Eurobarometer and the Candidate
Countries Eurobarometer.
The specific NEB data set we have used actually consists of the New
Europe Barometer (2001) and its forerunners, the New Democracies Barom-
eter (199198) and the New Baltic Barometer (19932000), which have been
pooled together into one single data file containing some 62,000 respondents.
The number of face-to-face interviews is approximately 1,000 for each
country and year, which is sufficient to represent public opinion accurately
to within a few percentage units. Each sample has been drawn on a proportion-
ate-to-population basis, stratified by region, town size and urbanrural differ-
ences. Primary sampling units have been randomly drawn within each city or
rural area. Within each household, the respondent was chosen by a random
method, such as the pre-selection of a name from a popular register. The
surveys were conducted under the direction of Professor Richard Rose and
his research team at the Centre for the Study of Public Policy (CSPP), Uni-
versity of Strathclyde, in collaboration with established opinion research
institutes in the ten countries.
7
The NEB survey questionnaire is explicitly designed for comparative ana-
lyses of public attitudes towards the democratic and market economic systems
in the post-communist countries. Thus, the NEB data set is arguably better
suited for our purposes than other comparable surveys, such as the Central
and Eastern Eurobarometer, the World Values Survey or the European
Social Survey, which contain relatively few items of intere st if we wish to
analyse the development of system support throughout Central and Eastern
Europe. Even more important for the present investigation is the fact that
the NEB contains questions that can be found nowhere else, namely questions
that explicitly ask respondents about a return to communist rule. At the time of
writing, no other or more recent major cross-national opinion survey has
covered these aspects of democratic consolidation. In short, without the
2001 NEB data, the present investigation would not have been possible.
358
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The Presence of Nostalgia
Turning next to some empirical observations, we return to our main concern in
this article: does communist nostalgia constitute a threat to democratic consoli-
dation? Figure 2 and Figure 3 highlight the way in which post-communist citi-
zens have responded when asked about their relative preference for the present
democratic system compared with the former communist system. The item
reads: ‘Our present system of government is not the only one that this country
had. Some people say that we would be better off if the country was governed
differently. What do you think? The respondents are then asked whether they
strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree or strongly disagree to
the introduction of a number of non-democratic alternatives. In the figures
below, respondents in Central and Eastern Europe (see Figure 2) and the
Baltic countries (see Figure 3) are prodded about a ‘return to communist rule’.
In Central and Eastern Europe, this kind of ‘nostalgia’ is undoubtedly
present, albeit with significant cross-national variation. In 2001, the share of
nostalgic respondents ranged between 15 and 30 per cent. The general ten-
dency throughout the region is one of increasing levels of support for
a return to communist rule. In the period under review in Figure 2
FIGURE 2
APPROVAL OF A RETURN TO COMMUNIST RULE IN CENTRAL AND EASTERN
EUROPE (%)
Source: New Europe Barometer (2001).
Note: The item has been dichotomized, and the percentages in the figure indicate the sum of
‘strongly agree’ and ‘somewhat agree’. ‘Don’t know’ and ‘No answer’ have been excluded.
COMMUNIST NOSTALGIA IN CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE
359
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(1993 2001), only Bulgaria and Hungary display a minor decrease in this
respect. In the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Slovenia and Romania,
the relative preference for a return to communist rule has increased by an
average of ten percentage points (1993 2001). Even in countries generally
perceived as consolidating democracies in the literature, such as the Czech
Republic, the share of respondents who feel that a return to communist rule
would be an acceptable idea has increased significantly.
8
In Figure 3, the share of nostalgic respondents in the Baltic countries is
highlighted (1995 2001). There is a striking difference between the post-
Soviet states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania on the one hand, and the
Central and East European countries on the other. In the former group,
levels of communist nostalgia are generally lower, and never at any point in
time does the level of support for the old system rise above 15 per cent. It
may be noted that this does not necessarily indicate more widespread feelings
of support for the principles of liberal democracy in the Baltic countries, in
comparison with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe.
9
Rather, we
would argue that the relatively low levels of com munist nostalgia in
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania reflect the post-Sovi et status of these countries.
Given the strong emphasis on national self-determination in the Baltic
transformation processes in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it would be
entirely plausible to assume that ‘communism’ and ‘communist rule’ are
FIGURE 3
APPROVAL OF A RETURN TO COMMUNIST RULE IN THE BALTIC COUNTRIES (%)
Source: New Europe Barometer (2001).
Note: The item has been dichotomized, and the percentages in the figure indicate the sum of
‘strongly agree’ and ‘somewhat agree’. ‘Don’t know’ and ‘No answer’ have been excluded.
360 JOURNAL OF COMMUNIST STUDIES AND TRANSITION POLITICS
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still intimately associated with lack of independence. In the countries of
Central and Eastern Europe analysed here, the problem of ‘statehood’ was
never a problem of the same magnitude.
10
What we have in the Baltic countries, though, is perhaps what one could
designate ‘strong man nostalgia’. When asked in the autumn of 2001 about
their relative preference for that particular type of non-democratic alternative,
more than 39 per cent of the respondents in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuani a actu-
ally agreed to the statement that it would be ‘best to get rid of parliament and
elections and have a strong leader who can quickly decide everything’. In
comparison, the average support for ‘strong man rule’ in the Central and
Eastern European countries in our sample was 25 per cent in 2001.
11
This could perhaps mean that ‘the good old days’ in the Baltic states refer
not to the communist era, but rather to pre-war history. Indeed, in a historical
perspective, independe nce is not only associated with the liberal democracy of
the 1990s: in the Baltic context, national independence is also associated with
the charismatic nation-builders of the inter-war era Konstantin Pa
¨
ts, Karlis
Ulma¯nis and Antanas Smetona.
12
It is an interesting question whether this kind of suppor t for strong man
rule apart from democracy, the only other known regime alternat ive to com-
munism will survive in the years to come. There is arguably some evidence
to support the notion of Baltic respondents gradually learning to associate their
post-communist independence with the new, democratic systems. In Lithua-
nia, for examp le, the share of respondents who found strong man rule an
acceptable idea in 1993 hovered around 61 per cent; by 2001, the figure had
dropped to 40 per cent.
13
A Threat to Democratic Consolidation?
So far, we have merely pointed out the presence of what we have referred to
here as communist nostalgia in Central and Eastern Europe, that is the relative
preference for the old, communist systems in comparison with the new demo-
cratic systems. As we have demonstrated, this kind of for lack of a better
word nostalgia is not ubiquitous. It would nevertheless be wise not to under-
estimate the system-destabilizing potential of such popular sentiments. Larry
Diamond, for example, suggests that the consolidation of democracy (on the
mass public level) ideally involves at least 70 per cent of the population
sharing the belief that democracy is preferable to any other form of govern-
ment.
14
Before drawing any conclusions, however, we must stress again the
need to distinguish between different dimensions or aspects of communist
nostalgia (see Figure 1). It is far from obvious what Figure 2 and Figure 3 actu-
ally tell us about the prospects for democratic consolidation in the Baltic states
and in Central and Eastern Europe.
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Is nostalgia incompatible with the consolidation of democracy, then? Or,
to put it differently, does communist nostalgia or, for that matter, strong man
nostalgia actually reflect genuine non-democratic values, and consequently,
entail suppor t for non-democratic alternatives?
A brief excursion on the concept of support is in order here. When analys-
ing support for any political system, we need to distinguish between different
objects of support. A useful model of system support has been suggested by
Pippa Norris.
15
Drawing on David Easton, Norris distinguishes five levels
or objects of support: the political community, regime principles, regime per-
formance, regime institutions, and political actors.
16
These different objects
are treated as existing on a continuum, ranging from diffuse support (for the
national community) to specific support (for particular political actors). The
first object in this five-part model, the political community, is not different
from Easton’s original concept. Diffuse support for the political or national
community indicates a basic attachment or a sense of belonging to a political
system. The distinction between ‘regime principles’ and ‘regime perform-
ance’ is made in order to account for the difference between support for
‘democracy’ as a principle or a normative ideal as the best form of govern-
ment and attitudes towards the way democracy works in practice, in a par-
ticular country at a given point in time.
17
This distinction is, in other words, a
more sophisticated variant of Easton’s ‘regime values’. ‘Regime institutions’
is close to Easton’s notion of the ‘regime structure’. It concerns support for
political institutions, such as support for the constitutional function of a pre-
sidency rather than support for a particular president. It is worth noting,
however, that people may very well have d ifferent attitudes towards different
types of institutions. Lack of confidence in the parliament does not necessarily
entail lack of confiden ce in courts, the police or the bureaucracy, and so forth.
The final object, ‘political actors’, is similar to Easton’s ‘the authorities’. It has
to do with support for a particular person or a particular party.
18
Returning to our examination of communist nostalgia, we shall use this
framework the multidimensional model of support when analysing
survey data and discussing system support. In terms of this model, we shall
look exclusively at two dimensions: support for democracy as a principle
and support for the performance of democra cy. This distinction corresponds
fairly well to that between the political ideological dimension and the
socio-economic dimension of communist nostalgia (see Figure 1).
Nostalgia, Age and Non-Democratic Values
How should we account for the presence of the phenomenon referred to here
as communist nostalgia? At least two hypotheses are possible. According to
the first hypothesis, communist nostalgia is above all the outcome of political
362
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socialization. When controlling for age, a clear division is to be expected.
Departing from the assumption that fundamental valu es are acquired in child-
hood and early adulthood, it would be entirely plausible to expect the older
respondents, socialized for decades in paternalistic, authoritarian societies,
to be more ‘nostalgic’ than the younger respondents, who have experienced
only the erosion and downfall of communism.
19
According to the second
hypothesis, communist nostalgia is the result of distrust, disappointment, or
a combination of these, in the democratic system’s ability to produce
output. When controlling for age, a distinct generation or socialization
pattern is not to be expected. To the extent that differences between age
cohorts can be found, this has more to do with the realities of post-communism.
The transformation process has produced both winners and losers, and it is
likely that losers are more readily found among the older respondents faced
today with poorly developed welfare arrangements and institutions than
among the younger respondents, who following the collapse of communism
have gained new opportunities, and objectively could be classified as
winners of the transition. Since we are dealing with subjective perceptions of
the status as ‘winners’ and ‘losers’, however, a clear generation divide is not
necessarily to be found. Rather, nostalgia should be interpreted here, according
to the second hypothesis, as general discontent with what the newly installed
democratic regime delivers.
20
We will start by looking at the socialization hypothesis. To begin with, we
need not bother with the nature of this phenomenon, that is, whether commu-
nist nostalgia indicat es genuine non-democratic values, or simply reflects a
retrospective reassessment of life under communism. Rather, we want to
find out whether the age patter n is manifest or not.
In Table 1, we have analysed again the ‘communist nostalgia’ item (cf.
Figure 2), this time controlling for age. A clear pattern emerges: the older
the respondents, the more likely they are to approve of a return to communist
rule. Only Latvia, and to a lesser extent Estonia and Hungary, deviate from
this general pattern. In Estonia and Hungary, no strai ghtforward relationship
between age and nostalgia is found. In Latvia, there is no difference at all
between the youngest and the oldest respondents in this respect. It may also
be noted that the levels of communist nostalgia among the young respondents
(18 29) do not exceed 20 per cent in any country. Among the old respondents
(50þ) the corresponding figures range between eight and 42 per cent
(Table 1).
However, we cannot from the figures in Table 1 alone draw conclusions
about the nature of this kind of communist nostalgia. We have noted that nos-
talgia is more common among the older generation. What about non-demo-
cratic sentiments? Does the age pattern in Table 1 imply that the younger
respondents have some kind of basic democratic mind-set, in contrast to the
COMMUNIST NOSTALGIA IN CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE 363
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older respondents, soci alized into an authoritarian frame of mind? Or, more
pointedly, would it make sense to speak about the presence of an ‘authoritarian
personality’ among the older citizens in post-communist Europe?
21
By
‘authoritarian personality’ we mean a distinct human type
which has made a substantial negative contribution to politics in modern
times. The authoritarian personality is the one who introduces questions
of authority into all areas of social life, and in particula r into areas where
they are inappropriate or unnecessary, with the result that nothing
happens by willing cooperation or natural sympathy, but only by
command and obedience.
22
Although lacking an explicit measurement of the ‘authoritarian personal-
ity’, we do possess an indicator of the total opposite, namely an indicator of
public rejection of authoritarianism. Table 2 highlights the share of respon-
dents in Central and Eastern Europe who have firmly rejected all authoritarian
regime alternatives.
As before, an age pattern is manifest in Table 2. Save for Hungary, Lithua-
nia and Romania, a clear inverse relationship between age and rejection of
authoritarianism is found. The younger the respondents, the higher the likeli-
hood of rejection of all authoritarian alternatives. In other words, the no tion of
the younger respondents having some kind of democratic mind-set seems to be
correct. By contrast, the older respondents stand out as sceptical towards
democratic government. This, in turn, could arguably be interpreted as the
outcome of long-term political socialization in various authoritarian systems.
At the same time, it must be noted that even among the oldest respondents
(50þ), a majority does not find any of the authoritarian alternatives very
TABLE 1
APPROVAL OF A RETURN TO COMMUNIST RULE BY AGE (%)
Country 18 29 30 49 50þ Total
Bulgaria 14 20 31 24
Czech Republic 8 12 29 18
Estonia 6 6 10 8
Hungary 15 15 18 16
Latvia 8 6 8 7
Lithuania 12 14 15 14
Poland 19 20 28 23
Romania 13 15 24 19
Slovakia 18 26 42 30
Slovenia 18 22 26 23
Source: New Europe Barometer (2001).
Note: The item has been dichotomized, and the percentages in the figure indicate the sum of
‘strongly agree’ and ‘somewhat agree’. ‘Don’t know’ and ‘No answer’ have been excluded.
364 JOURNAL OF COMMUNIST STUDIES AND TRANSITION POLITICS
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attractive (see Table 2). It would thus be incorrect to assume that the o lder
generation of post-communist citizens en masse belong to some kind of
‘lost generation’ of deformed non-democrats, despising the present systems
and dreaming about the past. In fact, it could be argued that, as a rule, the citi-
zens of Central and Eastern Europe are very much oriented towards the future.
One indicator of belief in the future and arguably the total opposite of
communist nostalgia is support for the European Union (EU). Figure 4 high-
lights generalized support for membership of the EU (‘Generally speaking, do
you think that [our country’s] membership of the European Union would be a
good thing, neither good nor bad, or a bad thing?’). The bars in the figure indi-
cate the share of respondents who claim to support their own country’s mem-
bership of the EU (polled in October 2001 and February March 2004). The
average level of support for the EU in Central and Eastern Europe 52 per
cent in 2001 and 47 per cent in 2004 should be contrasted with the corre-
sponding figures recorded among citizens in the 15 old member states,
where the average levels of support for membership of the EU was 48 per
cent, in both 2001 and 2004.
23
Still, despite such widespread ‘euro-friendliness’ and belief in the future
among the respondents in Central and Eastern Europe (if not in the Baltic
countries), a pessimistic reading of Table 2 is possible as well. If we were
to use Diamond’s working definition of a consolidated democracy which
stipulated that some 70 per cent of the citizens should have no reservations
about democracy as the preferred form of government only two of our
TABLE 2
REJECTION OF AUTHORITARIANISM BY AGE (%)
Country 18 29 30 49 50þ Total
Bulgaria 67 60 48 56
Czech Republic 85 80 65 75
Estonia 64 63 53 60
Hungary 75 76 72 74
Latvia 68 65 56 61
Lithuania 59 59 47 53
Poland 63 60 56 59
Romania 65 66 51 59
Slovakia 72 63 48 60
Slovenia 66 65 56 61
Source: New Europe Barometer (2001).
Note: The respondents are presented with three non-democratic alternatives, and asked whether
they agree or disagree to the introduction of these forms of government. The alternatives are
as follows: ‘We should return to communist rule’, ‘The army should govern the country’,
and ‘Best to get rid of parliament and elections and have a strong leader who can quickly
decide everything’. In Table 2, the figures indicate the share of respondents who have rejected
all these alternatives.
COMMUNIST NOSTALGIA IN CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE
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ten countries (the Czech Republic and Hungary) would be considered conso-
lidated on the mass public level.
24
Returning to the question of the relative
danger of communist nostalgia, we have seen that, to the extent that traces
of an authoritarian mind-set can be identified, it is chiefly a phenomenon
found among the older respondents. This generation divide could perhaps
be interpreted as a lingering effect of political socialization.
When analysing the development over time within each age category,
however, a somewhat ambiguous pattern is found. The general tendency of
increasing levels of nostalgia is found among the youngest as well as the
oldest respondents. For each of our ten countries, we have cross-tabulated
the respondents’ approval of a return to communist rule by age and year,
using the following age categories: 1829, 30 49 and 50 þ. In the 18 29
age group, we find increasing levels of nostalgia in nine out of ten countries.
25
This is clearly not compatible with the socialization hypothesis. Even if we
find a general generation gap the older respondents being more likely than
the young people to display feelings of nostalgia or sympathy for the commu-
nist era we also find increasing levels of nostalgia among the youngest post-
communist citizens. This is not the outcome of political socialization under
communism, but something that has taken place in recent years. Furthermore,
looking at it from a different angle, this is not a problem that will take care
of itself. If communist nostalgia were to be found solely among the older
FIGURE 4
SUPPORT FOR MEMBERSHIP OF THE EUROPEAN UNION (%)
Source: Candidate Countries Eurobarometer (2001.1; 2004.1).
366 JOURNAL OF COMMUNIST STUDIES AND TRANSITION POLITICS
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respondents, it would be a phenomenon that would eventually disappear, as
time went by and the old people passed away.
Why would young people want a ‘return to communist rule’, then people
who were only children in the 1980s? Does it make sense even to use the term
‘nostalgia’ in this case? Arguably, yes. Communist no stalgia, as understood
here (see Figure 1), does not necessarily presuppose thorough experiences
with life in a communist society. People who were not yet adults before
1989 can still think about the communist era as the ‘good old days’, since
they may share certain ‘collective memories’ or discourses about the past
today. Perceptions of the past are always influenced by experiences in the
present.
One can discriminate among three different observabl e ‘layers’ or aspects
of ‘collective memory’.
26
The first aspect comprises ‘authentic’ memories
for example, how an individual or a number of persons experienced a histori-
cal phenomenon, a time, a place, or a historical event. Only those who actually
experienced these phenomena at first hand could be said to have such ‘auth-
entic’ memories. This would apply to the middle-aged and the older respon-
dents in our sample. The second aspect of ‘collective memory’ has to do
with how these memories are bein g described, labelled or conceptualized in
society at large, in retrospect. For example, communism could be conceptual-
ized as ‘totalitarian rule’, as in the Latvian Occupation Museum in Riga,
where the atrocities committed against Latvians during the Nazi occupation
as well as during the Soviet era are documented. The third observable
aspect has to do with the wider framework of these ‘collective memories’
in wha t context are certain stories told, and for what purposes? In order to
rationalize, to come to terms with the past, or to legitimize specific policies
and actions?
Even those with no actual or authentic memories of a phenomenon, such as
Nazi terror or Soviet occupation, can be said to share a certain ‘collective
memory’, then, by taking part in the public discussion about this period, or
simply by passively accepting certain tales about the past. For example, the
belief that ‘not everything was bad’ under com munism may be shared even
by people with only vague childhood experience of communist rule.
Nostalgia as General Discontent
Turning next to the loser winner hypothesis, an alternative explanation for
the presence of communist nostalgia will be tested. As we have seen, age
alone is not sufficient to explain this phenomenon. In order to shed further
light on the dangers of this kind of nostalgia we need to find out whether
discontent with the present system’s ability to produce output is in fact a
more powerful determinant of communist nostalgia than non-democratic
COMMUNIST NOSTALGIA IN CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE 367
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values. This has to do with the socio-economic dimension of communist
nostalgia (see Figure 1).
The assumption of discontent could perhaps be tested by examining the
respondents’ subjective perceptions of being losers or winners on the aggre-
gate (macro) level, by identifying whether society at large has benefited or
not from the transformation from planned economy to market. All assessments
must ultimately rest on comparison, and few are in a better position to judge
the market economy of the 1990s to the old socialist economy than the post-
communist citizens themselves. In the New Europe Barometer, the citizens of
Central and Eastern Europe were asked to evaluate how the old economic
system worked, on a scale from 100 to þ100. In Table 3, only the positive
assessments are displayed (þ1toþ100).
Interestingly, we find that a majority of the post-communist citizens evalu-
ate the socialist economic order in rather favourable terms. Only the Czech
Republic stands out as a deviant case, where fewer than a third of the respon-
dents acknowledge the socialist economic system (see Table 3). As for the
development over time, this kind of ‘economic nostalgia’ has increased in
all countri es, except for Lithuania. The age pattern we have encountered
above is visible here as well the older the respondents, the more likely
they are to be nostalgic. Also, the increasing levels of nostalgia are most
evident among the oldest respondents (50þ).
When it comes to citizens’ evaluation of the post-1989 economic order, a
somewhat paradoxical pattern is found (Table 4). With the exception of
TABLE 3
EVALUATION OF THE SOCIALIST ECONOMIC SYSTEM (%)
Country
Positive evaluation
2001 (Within brackets
change compared to 1991
)
Positive evaluation by age (2001)
(Within brackets change compared
to 1991
)
18 29 3049 50þ
Bulgaria 56 (þ26) 42 (þ23) 51 (þ23) 65 (þ29)
Czech Republic 31 (þ8) 19 (þ1) 25 (þ5) 43 (þ13)
Hungary 67 (þ16) 55 (þ8) 68 (þ18) 72 (þ17)
Poland 61 (þ27) 53 (þ27) 62 (þ27) 65 (þ27)
Romania 55 (þ29) 42 (þ20) 55 (þ29) 61 (þ30)
Slovakia 61 (þ17) 48 (þ12) 58 (þ7) 72 (þ29)
Slovenia 64 (þ26) 55 (þ6) 66 (þ23) 67 (þ33)
Estonia 61 (þ13) 50 (þ4) 61 (þ14) 67 (þ15)
Latvia 63 (þ15) 55 (þ5) 65 (þ15) 65 ( þ18)
Lithuania 54 (2 3) 50 (2 5) 55 (þ1) 56 (2 4)
In the Baltic countries change is measured in comparison with 1993.
Source: New Europe Barometer (2001).
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Slovaks and Lithuanians, we find that a majority of all respondents are
ready to endorse the current market economic system. At the same time, as
noted in Table 3, nostalgia for the socialist economic system was found
among a majority of the respondents as well. In other words, the average
post-communist citizen claims to be pleased with the present economic
system; but this positiv e evaluation does not presuppose a rejection of the
old economic system.
The figures in Table 3 could be interpreted as reflecting some kind of
socio-economic or performance-driven nostalgia. Still, the age pattern in the
table could at the same time be taken to reflect the outcome of political socia-
lization, and thus points to some kind of principle-driven nostalgia. In order to
confirm (or reject) the winner loser hypothesis, we need to test the explicit
relationship between a perceived output deficit, communist nostalgia and
non-democratic values. In Table 5, we have tested the relative strength of
two performance items and one principle item, using ‘we should return to
communist rule’ as the dependent variable. We have also included the stan-
dard socio-demographic variables in the model.
The regression model clearly indicates that our performance item s ‘sat-
isfaction with the way democracy works’ and ‘satisfaction with the current
economic situation of one’s household’ have more predictive power than
the item relating to principle (‘A unity government with only the best
people should replace government by elected politicians’). In other words,
communist nostalgia seems to be a phenomenon related to dissatisfaction
TABLE 4
EVALUATION OF THE CURRENT ECONOMIC SYSTEM (%)
Country
Positive evaluation 2001
(Within brackets change compared
to 1991
)
Positive evaluation by age (2001)
(Within brackets change compared
to 1991
)
18 29 3049 50þ
Bulgaria 63 (2 1) 72 (2 8) 70 (þ2) 55 (2 2)
Czech Republic 76 (þ5) 81 (þ5) 77 (þ7) 74 (þ5)
Hungary 76 (þ18) 78 (þ20) 74 (þ16) 75 (þ20)
Poland 66 (þ15) 69 (þ19) 69 (þ15) 62 (þ11)
Romania 50 (2 19) 51 (2 16) 51 (2 20) 50 (2 20)
Slovakia 38 (2 12) 46 (þ4) 37 (2 18) 34 (2 17)
Slovenia 75 (þ26) 80 (þ26) 74 (þ26) 73 (þ24)
Estonia 69 (þ15) 73 (þ13) 71 (þ15) 65 (þ17)
Latvia 52 (þ11) 67 (þ21) 54 (þ18) 45 (0)
Lithuania 46 (2 2) 51 (þ2) 47 (2 1) 44 (2 5)
In the Baltic countries change is measured in comparison with 1993.
Source: New Europe Barometer (2001).
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with the present system’s ability to deliver the goods material or non-
material rather than a phenomenon reflecting some kind of ‘legacy of the
past’. This finding supports the second hypothesis in the sense that communist
nostalgia above all seems to be the outcome of a perceived lack of system
output.
As for the socio-demographic variables, only education stands out as rel a-
tively important, which could be interpreted as yet another indication of the
validity of the second (performance) hypothesis. The higher the level of edu-
cation, the less likely the respondents are to approve of a return to communist
rule. This in turn ties in neatly with the winner loser argument. It is also inter-
esting to note that when controlling for other variables (see Table 5), the
relationship between age and communist nostalgia loses much of its import-
ance (cf. Tables 1 and 2).
Conclusions
To summarize the findings of this study, communist nostalgia is clearly a mul-
tidimensional phenomenon. On the one hand, we have found that nostalgia is
indeed related to age. The older the respondents, the more likely they are to
express feelings of nostalgia for the old, communist system (see Table 1).
This could be taken to support the notion of generational differences and
the existence of non-democratic values as brought about by political sociali-
zation under communism. On the other hand, our findings indicate that
TABLE 5
APPROVAL OF A RETURN TO COMMUNIST RULE: REGRESSION ANALYSIS
Independent variables Beta t Sig
Satisfaction with democracy 2 .146 2 9.930 .000
Economic situation 2 .074 2 4.660 .000
Support for elite rule 2 .037 2 2.618 .009
Income 2 .089 2 5.495 .000
Town size 2 .064 2 4.279 .000
Education 2 .125 2 7.852 .000
Age .014 .994 .320
Gender .049 3.492 .000
Adjusted R
2
¼ .254
Source: New Europe Barometer (2001).
Note: Dependent variable: ‘We should return to communist rule’ (1 ¼ strongly disagree, 4 ¼
strongly agree). Independent variables: ‘Satisfaction with democracy’ (1 ¼ very dissatisfied,
4 ¼ very satisfied); ‘Satisfaction with the current economic situation of household’ (1 ¼ very
dissatisfied, 4 ¼ very satisfied); ‘A unity government with only the best people should replace
government by elected politicians’ (1 ¼ strongly disagree, 4 ¼ strongly agree); ‘Income’
(quartiles, 1 ¼ lowest, 4 ¼ highest); ‘Town size’ (1 ¼ small village, 13 ¼ Capital); ‘Age’ (Five
categories); ‘Gender’ (Male ¼ 1, Female ¼ 2).
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nostalgia is mainly output-o riented. When looking at the determinants of
the phenomenon referred to here as communist nostalgia, we find that our
performance items have significantly more explanatory powe r than the
principle item used here (see Table 5).
An overriding concern in this article relates to the consolidation of democ-
racy on the attitudinal level in Central and Eastern Europe, and the question
we are interested in is whether or not the kind of nostalgia we are dealing
with here poses a threat to democratic consolidation. In the literature, there
is no agreement on this issue in general. Some scholars claim that, in order
for democracy to be considered ‘the only game in town’, a majority of the
population should firmly reject the old non-democratic type of regime.
Others have taken a more pragmatic stance, arguing that there is no immedia te
need for people in general to reject the non-democratic past altogether, as long
as they lend sufficient support for the new, democratic regime.
27
All in all, our findings in this article go well with the second of these per-
spectives. Communist nostalgia, as understood here, does not pose a direct
threat to democracy in post-communist Europe today. Even if we find a dis-
turbing pattern increasing levels of communist nostalgia in recent years
(see Figures 2 and 3) this is clearly not a phenomenon that goes hand-
in-hand with a total rejection of the advantages of liberal democracy (see
Tables 2 and 4). This may seem somewhat contradictory. Communist nostal-
gia, however, clearly encompasses more than just non-democratic principles.
We have noted here that nostalgia above all spells general discontent, moti-
vated by a perc eived output deficit. It is also likely that nostalgia is brought
about by such factors as personal memories of life under communism. This
may include a number of selective memories of ‘what it was really like’ in
the good old days, as well as retrospective revaluations. Moreover, it is
quite understandable if the post-communist citizens express some kind of
sympathy for the old days, considering the realities of the democratization
processes. The simultaneous political and econom ic transformation has been
no stroll in the park. Political freedom is welcomed, but the economic
changes are sometimes considered unfortunate. Even if only the occasional
die-hard Stalinist misses the totalitarian order, quite a few post-communist
citizens may miss the security of the past, when they knew that they would
get a pension they could live on and when they did not have to worry about
jobs, prices or rents. The psycho-social effects of the substantial changes in
the 1990s have been described in the literature as nothing short of a ‘cultural
shock’.
28
At the same time, one should perhaps not underestimate the potential
danger of ‘communist nostalgia’ (see Table 5, Figures 2 and 3). If nostalgia
is the result of disappointment in the democratic system’s ability to produce
output, and at the same time this kind of discontent is increasing, it may in
COMMUNIST NOSTALGIA IN CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE 371
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the end constitute a substantial challenge to the legitimacy of democracy in
post-communist Europe.
29
Former communist parties may or may not gain
from such public dissatisfaction, but it would be more accurate to say that
protest parties in general may capitalize on such sentiments.
30
Then again,
this is of course not something that is unique to Central and Eastern
Europe. In fact, the democratic regimes that were installed following the
demise of communism have been able to cope with a number of significant
challenges in the 1990s, and the relevant question today does not concern
the risk of democratic breakdown. Rather, it is a question of creating as
favourable conditions as possible for the practical realization of democracy.
This process, usually referred to in the literature as the consolidation of
democracy, is not fundamentally different from the day-to-day process of
coping with the challenges to democracy in Western Europe. The main
concern regarding the future development of democracy in Europe as a
whole relates to the deepening of democracy in the face of European int e-
gration, globalization, the rise of xenophobia and societal fragmentation, to
mention just a few challenges to democracy in contemporary Europe. The
post-communist citizens may be ever so critical, sceptical, dissatisfied and
disappointed. Still, a majority of them support the principles of democracy
just the same.
NOTES
1. Ronald Inglehart, ‘Political Culture and Democratic Institutions: Russia in Global Perspec-
tive’, paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association
(2000), p.17.
2. See, for example, Juan J. Linz and Alfred Stepan, Problems of Democratic Transition and
Consolidation: Southern Europe, South America, and Post-Communist Europe (Baltimore,
MD and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996); Richard Rose, William Mishler
and Christian Haerpfer, Democracy and Its Alternatives: Understanding Post-Communist
Societies (Baltimore, MD and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998); Larry
Diamond, Developing Democracy: Toward Consolidation (Baltimore, MD and London:
Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999); Jonas Linde, Doubting Democrats? A Comparative
Analysis of Support for Democracy in Central and Eastern Europe (O
¨
rebro: O
¨
rebro
Studies in Political Science 10, 2004).
3. See Linde, Doubting Democrats?, pp.2568.
4. Andreas Schedler, ‘What is Democratic Consolidation?’, Democratization, Vol.9, No.2
(1998), pp.91 107.
5. Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language (Cologne:
Ko
¨
nemann, 1993).
6. See, for example, Thomas Bulmahn, ‘Taking Stock: German Unification as Reflected in the
Social Sciences’, Discussion Papers FS III 98 407 (Berlin: Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin fu
¨
r
Sozialforschung, 1998); Joakim Ekman, National Identity in Divided and Unified Germany:
Continuity and Change (O
¨
rebro: O
¨
rebro Studies in Political Science 3, 2001). One aspect of
nostalgia that we have failed to discuss in this article, related to the personal biography dimen-
sion (see Figure 1), concerns nostalgia as consumption. There are plenty of examples from all
over Europe of this phenomenon. Young people are drawn to communist memorabilia by the
kitsch factor of the communist aesthetic: Lenin T-shirts, Pioneer shirts, badges, brands (like
372 JOURNAL OF COMMUNIST STUDIES AND TRANSITION POLITICS
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the Ostalgie products in the former GDR), CDs with official communist sing-along songs, and
so forth. Such an interest in communist products may be seen as ironic mockery as well as a
post-modern search for identity. At the more extreme end of the spectrum we find communist
theme parks, such as businessman Blasko Gabric’s ‘Yugoland’, located in Subotica, a small
northern Serbian village, or the memorial site in Grutas Park, southern Lithuania (unofficially
named ‘Stalinworld’), where some 75 statues of Lenin, Stalin, Marx and Engels have been
preserved. The construction of a similar theme park in Berlin has been seriously discussed
as well. Such culturalcommercial expressions are of course interesting, but not really
important when analysing the prospects for democratic consolidation.
7. We are most grateful to Professor Sten Berglund (O
¨
rebro University, Sweden) and Professor
Richard Rose (University of Strathclyde, UK) for allowing access to this valuable data set:
New Europe Barometer, Machinereadable datafile, Conditions of European Democracy,
O
¨
rebro University and Centre for the Study of Public Policy (CSPP), University of Strathclyde
(2001).
8. See, for example, Sten Berglund, Frank H. Aarebrot, Henri Vogt and Georgi Karasimeonov,
Challenges to Democracy: Eastern Europe Ten Years After the Collapse of Communism
(Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2001), pp.120 21; Terry D. Clark, Beyond Post-Communist
Studies: Political Science and the New Democracies of Europe (New York: M.E. Sharpe,
2002); Joakim Ekman, Sten Berglund and Frank H. Aarebrot, ‘Concluding Remarks’, in
Sten Berglund, Joakim Ekman and Frank H. Aarebrot (eds.), The Handbook of Political
Change in Eastern Europe, 2nd edn. (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2004).
9. See Linde, Doubting Democrats?, pp.21136.
10. See Ekman, Berglund and Aarebrot, ‘Concluding Remarks’, pp.599 605.
11. New Europe Barometer.
12. Kristian Gerner and Stefan Hedlund, The Baltic States and the End of the Soviet Empire
(London and New York: Routledge, 1993), pp.57 8.
13. New Europe Barometer.
14. Diamond, Developing Democracy, p.68; compare Linz and Stepan, Problems of Democratic
Transition and Consolidation, p.6.
15. Pippa Norris, ‘Introduction: The Growth of Critical Citizens?’, in Pippa Norris (ed.), Critical
Citizens: Global Support for Democratic Governance (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
1999), pp.1 27.
16. The five-part model suggested by Norris should be compared to Easton’s well-known typol-
ogy: see David Easton, A Framework for Political Analysis (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-
Hall, 1965); David Easton, ‘A Re-assessment of the Concept of Political Support’, British
Journal of Political Science, Vol.5 (1975), pp.435 57.
17. See Jonas Linde and Joakim Ekman, ‘Satisfaction with Democracy: A Note on a Frequently
Used Indicator in Comparative Politics’, European Journal of Political Research, Vol.42,
No.3 (2003), pp.391408.
18. Norris, Critical Citizens, pp.9 12; Hans-Dieter Klingemann, ‘Mapping Political Support in
the 1990s: A Global Analysis’, in Norris (ed.), Critical Citizens, pp.338.
19. On childhood socialization, see, for example, Ronald Inglehart, The Silent Revolution:
Changing Values and Political Styles (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1977).
20. See Linde and Ekman, ‘Satisfaction with Democracy’, pp.391 408.
21. The classic work on authoritarian values is Theodor W. Adorno, The Authoritarian Person-
ality (New York: Free Press, 1950).
22. Roger Scruton, A Dictionary of Political Thought (London: Macmillan, 1996), p.35.
23. Candidate Countries Eurobarometer 2001.1 (Brussels: European Commission, 2002), field-
work: October 2001; Candidate Countries Eurobarometer 2004.1 (Brussels: European Com-
mission, 2004), fieldwork: February March 2004; Eurobarometer 61 (Brussels: European
Commission, 2004), fieldwork: March 2004.
24. Diamond, Developing Democracy, p.68.
25. We have analysed the development from 1993 to 2001 in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic,
Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia; in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the
NEB time series runs from 1995 to 2001.
COMMUNIST NOSTALGIA IN CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE
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26. Mary Fulbrook, German National Identity after the Holocaust (Cambridge: Polity Press,
1999), pp.143 6; Peter H. Merkl, ‘German Identity Through the Dark Mirror of the War’,
in Peter H. Merkl (ed.), The Federal Republic of Germany at Fifty: The End of a Century
of Turmoil (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1999), p.341.
27. Geoffrey Pridham, ‘Confining Conditions and Breaking with the Past: Historical Legacies and
Political Learning in Transitions to Democracy’, Democratization, Vol.7, No.2 (2000),
pp.36 64; Alexandra Barahona De Brito, Carmen Gonzale
´
z-Enriques and Paloma Aguilar
(eds.), The Politics of Memory: Transitional Justice in Democratizing Societies (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 2001); Rose, Mishler and Haerpfer, Democracy and Its Alternatives;
Linz and Stepan, Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation; see also Diamond,
Developing Democracy, pp.17885; Linde, Doubting Democrats?
28. Wolf Wagner, Kulturschock Deutschland (Hamburg: Rotbuch Verlag, 1996); see also Wolf
Wagner, Kulturschock Deutschland: Das zweite Blick (Hamburg: Rotbuch Verlag, 1999).
Similar accounts of the difficulties involved in the transformation process, and retrospective
revaluations of life under communism, can be found in the rich flora of personal recollections
of life in the GDR. In the wake of the German unification, the field of Alltagsgeschichte has
emerged as an interesting branch of GDR history. In the 1990s and early 2000s, a large
number of books have been written, describing various aspects of everyday life in the
GDR. Such ‘oral history’ studies or ‘life stories’ make up a vast body of documents, and
should be regarded as rather important for our understanding ‘communist nostalgia’ and
post-communist public opinion. A recent study that touches upon such issues from a socio-
logical point of view is Carol Harrington, Ayman Salem and Tamara Zurabishvili (eds.),
After Communism: Critical Perspectives on Society and Sociology (New York: Peter Lang,
2004).
29. See Easton, A Framework for Political Analysis.
30. Ekman, Berglund and Aarebrot, ‘Concluding Remarks’, pp.599 605.
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... Despite the initial euphoria surrounding the introduction of democracy after the fall of communism (Gibson, 1996;Reisinger, 1994), normative commitment to democracy has declined over the course of the transition. Existing work indicates that many in the region favor a return to communist rule (Ekman & Linde, 2011;Klingemann et al., 2006;Pop-Eleches & Tucker, 2017). The recent rise of populist, extremist, and protest parties with dubiously democratic credentials and agendas seems to attest to "the rejection of consensual politics" (Krastev, 2007;Vachudova, 2020) and to confirm this questionable democratic orientation. ...
... Evans & Whitefield (1995) find that individual evaluations of democratic systems in the 1990s strongly shaped support for the regime in East-Central Europe. Similarly, Ekman & Linde (2011) show that dissatisfaction with political outcomes drives communist nostalgia in the region. This approach also finds support outside postcommunist societies. ...
... Positive assessments of one's own and one's country's current and future economic situation also translate into higher satisfaction. This is in line with existing work, which has documented a close association between economic and political evaluations (Ekman & Linde, 2011;Gunther & Montero, 2006). As before, more informed respondents, who presumably have access to more detailed information about the functioning of the regime, report lower satisfaction. ...
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Survey research has revealed that post-communist citizens are skeptical towards democracy. Despite a substantial body of literature that has researched the origins and determinants of these attitudes, consensus has not yet emerged. A major challenge has been to distinguish between individual support for democracy as an ideal political regime and satisfaction with the way democracy is practiced in one’s country. Using structural equation modeling with latent variables, we improve measurement validity and account for feedback effects to better understand the relationship between these attitudes. Consistent with our performance-based theory, we find that positive assessments of political performance drive normative support for democracy. The impact of satisfaction with democracy on democratic support suggests that we should not rush to view post-communist citizens' mindset as anomalous and inherently anti-democratic. Rather, post-communist skepticism of democracy might be generalized to contexts characterized by flawed implementation and unmet expectations of this form of government.
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Geographers have studied memory for decades, but there is currently a renewed interest in places of postmemory: sites to which memories of a past are connected, that engage those who have no living memory of the past in question. By combining a process-tracing approach to several post-communist surveys with in-depth interviews with members of the younger generation about their postmemories of the communist past, this paper explores places associated with postmemories of communism amongst young people in contemporary Romania, focusing on two types of place: (1) mega-constructions, prisons and deportation sites; and (2) sites connected to everyday life (home, shops, hospitals). The findings suggest that "postmemories in places" are reproduced and co-produced by younger people in a nuanced and complex way. Spatial postmemories of communism are not simply formed by parental or grandparental experiences of communism itself, but are also shaped by experiences of the initial post-communist period. Younger people's complex range of "postmemories in places" towards the communist past are politically multivalent: postmemory of specific sites related to the cultural welfare of the communist past did not necessarily indicate a political commitment to its restoration amongst interviewees; and postmemories of political violence associated with particular sites did not preclude unilateral pride in national achievements prior to 1989. Furthermore, "postmemory in place" is not a passive process, but one that is shaped by both a critical attitude to the responses of older generations towards particular places, and the challenges of the capitalist present.
... It is assumed that with age people are more aware of the benefits of government services, through the increased need for the security of their pension funds, availability of adequate health care and in general increased demand for social protection [19]. People who have lived in the pre-transition period might be additionally more inclined to favor a more generous welfare system [40]. We include dummy variables for the persons aged 18-25, 26-35, 36-45 (reference category), 46-55, 56-65 and older than 66. ...
... Contrary to some previous findings, we do not find the effect of the socialist legacy system in New Europe, in a way that older cohorts experiencing life in a previously presumably more generous and egalitarian system would be disproportionally more in favor of progressive taxation than the same age cohorts in Old Europe [40]. We also do not find that political orientation in New Europe supports the traditional left-orientation-more government pattern that can be found in the data for Old Europe. ...
... The separation of Germany after the end of World War II and the subsequent existence of two German states-the German Democratic Republic (GDR; East Germany) and the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG; West Germany)-between 1949 and 1990 offers an opportunity to study the influence of factors such as socialization and social and political transformation on mental health. The distinct societies and cultures were not synchronized immediately in the course of reunification (1,2). Instead, they assimilated over time (3,4). ...
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A substantial body of research has shown worse health conditions for East- vs. West-Germany in the wake of reunification. In the present study, we investigate how these differences between the two formerly divided regions developed and what maintains them. Specifically, we consider the associations between health status, income satisfaction, and health-related locus of control. In a quasi-experimental and longitudinal study design, we are particularly interested in the differences between individuals who stayed in East-Germany and those who were born in the East but migrated to West-Germany. To this end, we examined data from seven waves of the Saxony Longitudinal Study (2003–2009). Specifically, we tested a cross-lagged panel model with random effects, which evinced very good model fit. Most parameters and processes were equivalent between individuals who stayed in East-Germany vs. moved to West-Germany. Crucially, there was the expected pattern of positive correlations between health, income, and locus of control. In addition, we found substantially lower values for all three of these variables for the individuals who stayed in East-Germany (vs. moved to West-Germany). A possible explanation is the increase in socio-economic status that the internal migrants experienced. These findings present an important contribution of research in order to foster a better understanding on the social dynamics in Germany related to internal/domestic migrants and implications in the context of health outcomes (e.g., significantly more unemployment in East vs. West-Germany), especially since almost 20–25% of East-German citizens migrated to West-Germany. Until now, there are no similar studies to the Saxony longitudinal project, since the data collection started in 1987 and almost every year an identical panel has been surveyed; which can be particularly useful for health authorities. The study mainly focuses on social science research and deals with the phenomenon of reunification, approaching several subjects such as mental and physical health, quality of life and the evaluation of the political system. Yet even though many people have experienced such a migration process, there has been little research on the subjects we approach. With our research we deepen the understanding of the health consequences of internal migration.
... In many post-socialist countries in Central and Eastern Europe, the value change generated so-called socialist nostalgia as a retrospective utopia, a wish and hope for a safe world, fair society, true friendships, mutual solidarity, and well-being in general (Velikonja, 2009). However, socialist nostalgia is more closely related to dissatisfaction with the present situation in post-socialist countries (in terms of performance indicators) than to ideological efforts to recall the past (Ekman & Linde, 2005;Š uligoj, 2018). ...
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Chapter
In this chapter, I examine the nostalgic narrative, viewing post-communist nostalgia not as part of contemporary popular culture (though I touch upon that too, bringing in M. Velikonja’s concept of neostalgia), but rather as a biographical and life-world phenomenon. The argument is based on about 100 narrative interviews with persons born in the 1920s and 1930s, conducted in five places in Bulgaria in the course of two oral history projects focused on the memory of communism ‘from below’. I discuss the main topoi and tropes of the nostalgic narrative. Wherever possible, I refer to studies of post-communist nostalgia in other CEE countries. I view nostalgia as a longing for an idealized past, which is a way to point to the deficits of the present. However, in contrast to views of nostalgia as an escapist stance, or at best a compensatory and sentimental critique of the present, I stress its potential for symbolic coping with post-communist changes, and in particular, as a resource for the first communist generation, whose active life coincided with the communist period and who, to a large extent, identify with it.
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Retrospective rhetoric is considered to be one of the most influential political master frames used in response to the multiple crises in Europe. However, there are significant knowledge gaps in this area. First, there is no comprehensive analytical tool for studying the display of nostalgia in politics. Second, there is limited knowledge regarding the role of social media in disseminating nostalgic narratives. Third, there is a lack of data on citizens’ responses to nostalgia during election campaigns. This article addresses these gaps by identifying the patterns of political nostalgia in the Facebook communications of the Hungarian political forces running for seats in the 2019 European parliamentary election. In addition to a qualitative content analysis of the nostalgic posts, the paper investigates their reception by the social media users who reacted to the messages. The data was gathered during the seven-week official campaign period until the election on May 26. The study confirms that right-wing, nationalist politicians expressed nostalgia more often than left-leaning leaders, and the analysis also shows that nostalgic messages are not very efficient in terms of user engagement and the numbers of emoji responses. Our results therefore mitigate the concerns about the influence of political nostalgia in Hungary.
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What explains how citizens living in young democracies feel about their authoritarian past? While the impact of autocratic legacies on support for democracy and left–right placement has been thoroughly studied, we know less about the determinants of attitudes toward the past in post-authoritarian democracies. This study relies on survey data collected in Southern and Central European countries ten years after their transitions to democracy in order to test context-dependent variance in the relevance of ideology and party identification on citizen attitudes toward the past. The results show that classical factors such as regime type and mode of transition are not the main determinants of the politicization of attitudes toward the past and that the existence of a strong authoritarian successor party is associated with stronger politicization of the past.
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This paper represents an effort to investigate the impact of perceived new media credibility on citizens’ online political efficacy (OPE) in new democracies. Unlike their counterparts in mature democracies and outright authoritarian states, citizens of new democracies face the challenge to reconcile their democratic present with the authoritarian past. Their online political behaviors therefore are likely to be shaped by the interaction between democratic realities and authoritarian legacies or memories. The current study argues that in new democracies, the relationship between credibility of new media and OPE is contingent upon citizens’ authoritarian experience. Since authoritarian experience delivers a sense of relative acquisition through a comparison mechanism, it is expected to play a positive role in moderating the association between credibility of new media and OPE. We test the proposition by studying a sample of Taiwanese residents interviewed during the 2015 Taiwan Communication Survey (TCS). Our empirical analyses produce strong supportive evidence for the positive conditioning effect of authoritarian experience and the result is robust to different model specifications and alternative measures of authoritarian experience.
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Review of an essay collection on the state of Germany in the late 1990s.
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Fifty years after the formation of the Federal Republic and a decade after German unification, we stand on the cusp of a new century and a new millennium of German history. At the same time EMU marks a giant stride towards European integration and the end of the Deutschmark. In this book, leading international scholars reflect on the dramatic transformations of Germany's past and on Germany's future prospects. Post-war democratic and economic renewal is set in the context of continuing debates about German identity. There are assessments of all major leaders, parties and ideologies; of the still unfinished agenda of integrating East and West; of how the next generation of German leaders will interact with ageing governmental structures; of the Bundesbank and the successes and failures of economic policy, the trade unions and the media; and of Germany's emerging new role in Europe and the world.
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This book contends that beneath the frenzied activism of the sixties and the seeming quiescence of the seventies, a "silent revolution" has been occurring that is gradually but fundamentally changing political life throughout the Western world. Ronald Inglehart focuses on two aspects of this revolution: a shift from an overwhelming emphasis on material values and physical security toward greater concern with the quality of life; and an increase in the political skills of Western publics that enables them to play a greater role in making important political decisions.
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This thoroughly revised and updated edition of The Handbook of Political Change in Eastern Europe provides an authoritative and thorough analysis of the political changes which have occurred in Central and Eastern Europe since the demise of communism. It offers an historical, comparative perspective of the region and focuses on the social consequences of the democratization process throughout the 1990s and the early years of the 21st century. Significantly, this new edition includes an examination of the South East European countries of Croatia, Serbia and Moldova, which are often overlooked in studies on post-communist political development. © Sten Berglund, Joakim Ekman and Frank H. Aarebrot 2004. All rights reserved.