Archive for the ‘East Germany’ Category

Rocking the State

Thursday, November 29th, 2007

Ramet, Sabrina Petra ed. Rocking the State: Rock Music and Politics in Eastern Europe and Russia. Boulder: Westview Press, 1994.

In Rocking the State, Sabrina Ramet compiles a comprehensive account of the socio-political effects of music in the last several decades of communist rule in the Eastern Bloc (with the exception of Albania and Romania which had no political music scene to speak of) and the Soviet Union.  The essays in Rocking the State revolve around the conflicts between proponents of a non-official youth culture and the cultural-commissars of the communist states.  Rocking the State is an appropriate follow up to A Carnival of Revolution as they both center on the destabilizing effects of youth-movements on their respective regimes.  Ramet and her contributors take their analysis of the youth driven musical movements further than the introduction provided by Kenney, addressing the trajectory of music through the eighties into the early nineties from an unofficial catalyst for political and social change into the arena of commodity rock.  Alex Kan and Nick Hayes clearly resent this metamorphosis asking: “Does anybody care if Poles can Rock and Roll with the best of Michael Bolton?” (53) (more…)

Kenney and his Carnival

Thursday, November 8th, 2007

Beth Gryczewski

Kenney, Padraic. A Carnival of Revolution: Central Europe 1989. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002.

Padraic Kenney, in A Carnival of Revolution, investigates the grassroots movement in the mid- to late 80s, which brought down communist regimes in Central Europe (3). Kenney aims to demonstrate that the people, regular, ordinary people, were speaking out against communist governments in subtle ways, “long before 1989” and glasnost and Gorbachev (3). In fact, part of Kenney’s point is that the revolution would not have occurred in 1989 (or ever?) without these various, subtle (many not-so-subtle) campaigns against the regimes in different countries. Kenney concentrates his investigation on four countries: Poland; Czechoslovakia; Hungary; and GDR, and parts of Yugoslavia and the western part of Ukraine (3). These countries, collectively, are considered by Kenney to be “Central Europe.” (more…)

The Walls Came Tumbling Down, by Gale Stokes

Wednesday, November 7th, 2007

The Walls Came Tumbling Down, by Gale Stokes 

Written in 1993, Gale Stokes’s The Walls Came Tumbling Down is an early effort to explain why the collapse of the Soviet bloc nations, which came as such a shock to most of the world in 1989, was actually a long time coming.


Stokes divides the era of Communist Eastern Europe into two halves: pre-1968 and post-1968. The argument is that from the end of World War II until 1968, whatever opposition there was within the bloc countries was almost entirely aimed at reforming and perfecting the socialist system, and that the idea of ending socialism was not even a consideration. But the events of 1968, culminating in the invasion of Czechoslovakia, convinced the oppositionists that reform was not possible. This was the start of “anti-politics”.


The author’s explanation of how anti-politics developed is very interesting. Since there was no chance of reform, and no way to resist the power of the state (backed by the Soviets), then there was no hope in any normal political opposition. Out of this hopelessness came the idea that the only thing to do was to live life “as if”, to go through life making moral choices and be unafraid of the consequences. And since the Communists claimed to be the sole keepers of truth and justice, living by your own rules, even in the tiniest instance and regardless of what ‘your rules’ might be, was in and of itself an act of opposition. By turning the idea of opposition from a political task to a moral one, the oppositionists did not have to agree on what the “correct” political solution might be. They just had to agree that the existing regime was a false one. This allowed people with widely divergent political leanings to be on the same side and to face down the regime together.


Eastern Europe in Revolution, after the fact

Wednesday, November 7th, 2007

Eastern Europe in Revolution ed. Ivo Banac.

            Eastern Europe in Revolution, published in 1992, presents a thoughtful recounting on the transitions from communism to miscellaneous political structures, as well as some as yet unfulfilled predictions about the future of the former satellite republics. Banac has collected individual chapters which recount the conditions and results in each country, rather than essays which generalize the situation of the entire region. This approach allowed greater comparison between countries, as each essay focuses on unique conditions of the countries. (more…)

Hockenos – Free to Hate

Tuesday, November 6th, 2007

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, my most recent paper for the course is on the presence and growth of radical right movements and the conditions that may have facilitated the expansion or emergence of these groups in the reunified German state.  I found Hockenos’ Free to Hate particularly useful pertaining to the state of radical right groups, both political and non-political, in Germany during the late 80s and early 90s.  (more…)

“Sovietization” is not just a cool sounding word.

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

Connelly, John. Captive University: The Sovietization of East German, Czech, and Polish Higher Education, 1945-1956. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000

Thoughts by Ammon Shepherd.

John Connelly seeks to look at the process of “sovietization” through the lens of universities of higher education. Before Connelly’s research, it was thought that the process and outcome of the Soviet Union’s control over East Europe was consistent and equal across the board. Studies of individual nationalities had been done previously, and each showed the process in which universities and other aspects of a nation were sovietized. By looking closely at three nationalities together- East Germany, the Czech Republic, and Poland- Connelly can compare the sovietization processes and see more intricately the similarities and differences. Connelly shows that while many aspects of the sovietization of the universities are similar, each nation was able to supplement their own societal and national differences into the process. Connelly includes extensive notes and an lengthy bibliography.


Matt Hobbs – Reid & Crowley’s “Style and Socialism: Modernity and Material Culture in Post-War Eastern Europe”

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

Susan Reid and David Crowley’s Style and Socialism: Modernity and Material Culture in Post-War Eastern Europe

The study of material culture is a subset of the wider field of cultural history. While a cultural historian will “read” the texts of various events, places, and subjects such as fairs and expositions, r the development of specific themes within a culture’s art, the material culture historian will look at the physical aspects of these same things. To continue the examples used, the material culture historian may be more interested in the commemorative trinkets produced for the exposition than in attendance or specific exhibits, or the actual physical production, exhibition, and/or sale (consumption) of art of a specific genre within a culture. It is important to remember that historians in this field are not antiquarians or appraisers. There interest in the physical ephemera of past times is important only because it tells us about the people of that time, not the physical items themselves. Style and Socialism is a collection of essays from historians of Eastern Europe who specialize in material culture, and what it can say about the societies of the Soviet bloc during the 1950s and 1960s.


A Return to Diversity and the Pitfalls of Historical Surveys

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

By Laszlo Taba

Joseph Rothschild and Nancy Wingfield, Return to Diversity: A Political History of East Central Europe Since World War II (1999)

Joseph Rothschild’s and Nancy Wingfield’s Return to Diversity: A Political History of East Central Europe Since World War II is well written, though it shares some of the typical problems of historical survey literature. For an area of history that is complex and difficult to explain, they do an admirable job of organizing their subject. The problems with the book predominantly have to do with its structure.


Ramet’s The Radical Right

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007

Sabrina Ramet’s The Radical Right: in Central and Eastern Europe Since 1989 addresses radical right movements in several European countries.  As Mr. Taba stated a few weeks ago, theoretical foundations are provided in the initial chapters in order to provide context for the subsequent examinations of countries.  Ramet demonstrates the diverse nature of radical right concepts by addressing the various manners in which historians and other academics define the radical right.  While Ramet’s text explores several countries, I have focused on her theoretical definition/s of the radical right and the manifestation of radical right groups in reunified Germany for the upcoming paper. (more…)

Jedwabne massacre

Tuesday, October 16th, 2007

Kraman: Reading Response #6, October 16, 2007

Jan T. Gross, Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland. New York, NY: Penguin, 2002.


Forum on Jan Gross’s “Neighbors,” Slavic Review, Vol. 61, No. 3. (Autumn, 2002), pp. 453-489.

In his book, Neighbors, Jan T. Gross, Professor of Politics and European Studies at New York University, describes the massacre of the Jewish population of the small rural community of Jedwabne, Poland on July 10, 1941. Jedwabne, in the Białystok district of north central Poland, was occupied briefly by the Wehrmacht during the Polish-German War in October 1939, then turned over to the Soviet Army under the terms of the German –Soviet Non-Aggression Treaty of September 25, 1939. The Soviet Army occupied the Białystok district of Poland, including Jedwabne, for 21 months until June 22, 1941, when the Wehrmacht attacked the Soviet Union, and quickly reoccupied the district. In searching for documentation of the massacre, Gross examined the daily summary reports of the SS Einsatzgruppe B operating in the Białystok district in June-July 1941, but found no reported Einsatzkommando activities in or around Jedwabne on or about July 10, 1941. The sources that Gross was able to use relating to the massacre were a report by Szmul Wasersztajn in 1945; the record of the Łomża trials in 1949 and 1953; the Jedwabne Jews memorial book of 1980; and the Agnieszka Arnold interviews of 1998. The testimony of alleged perpetrators during court trials, rather than victims, provided the bulk of the documentation used by Gross to support his argument that, except for a few German military personnel who photographed the events of July 10th, resident Poles of Jedwabne and the surrounding area were wholly and solely responsible for the massacre of virtually all the Polish Jews in Jedwabne.

In his attempts to understand and explain the Jedwabne massacre, Gross did not use the results of the extensive research and psychological experiments of Philip G. Zimbardo, a social psychologist from Stanford University, on changes in human behavior. Zimbardo demonstrated with his Stanford Prison Experiment and other experiments that ordinary people can be easily transformed into perpetrators by the power of social situations that alter the mental representations and behavior of individuals, groups, and nations. To demonstrate this social phenomenon, Zimbardo used the example of Christopher Browning’s Ordinary Men. In 1942, 500 elderly, untrained, and inexperienced family men from Hamburg, who were too old for regular military service, were drafted and assigned to the Wehrmacht’s Reserve Battalion 101 and served in Poland. After some initial reluctance by some members, this group of ordinary men systematically shot to death at point blank range death 38,000 Jews in a four-month period. This cannot be used to excuse or to rationalize the behavior of the Poles in Jedwabne, but it does warn that all of us may be capable of incredible and deadly cruelty in certain situations.

One cannot argue with the testimonies of the Polish participants in the massacre, but Gross’s conclusions seems to hold the entire Polish population of Jedwabne responsible for the massacre of all the Polish Jews. At the same time, he downplays or ignores any tacit or active SS participation in or responsibility for the massacre. Some of Gross’s generalities are unfair and inaccurate – and unhelpful — especially given the sensitivities of the Jewish and Polish communities in such matters. It is not clear what Gross’s motivations and objectives were in publishing such a slanted analysis.