Interdisciplinary conference on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of 1989
06-08 November 2008, European University Institute
Villa Schifanoia, Via Boccaccio 121, I-50133 Firenze
The purpose of this workshop is to examine the impact of 1989 by inviting the broader research community dealing with European integration and European history to thoroughly reconsider the centrality of the impact of 1989 for some of the current problems Europe is facing in an interdisciplinary manner.
The revolutions of 1989 have had a paradoxical impact on the process of European integration. On the one hand, the divisions of the Cold War were overcome, subsequently enabling the enlargement of the Council of Europe to 47 member states and of the European Union to 27 member states. On the other hand, one could argue that since 1989 the process of European integration has become an object of discussion, including the explicit questioning of efforts at political and cultural integration. The new member states in Central Europe are hesitant to give up their newly won national sovereignty. The failed referenda for a European constitution in France and the Netherlands signal that citizens in Western Europe are distrustful about this new Europe that emerged as a result of the revolutions of 1989. Fear of migration, labour competition and a weakened welfare state seemingly prevails over the desire for a Europe united in peace and liberty.
The paradoxical impact of 1989 is also visible in discourses on the significance and meaning of this year. It is clear that the events of 1989 are of world-historical significance like those of 1789 or 1848 and not merely a ‘rectifying’ revolution by which Eastern Europe returned to the general and normal path of European integration. Debates on the significance and impact of 1989, however, occur mostly in national contexts. Moreover, Europe is still split into East and West in its memory of 1989. Although the changes impacted the entire continent, it is still seen as an event that took place in Eastern Europe and really changed only this part of the continent. It may be surmised that the failure to understand the true impact of 1989 for all parts of Europe and all Europeans is a major reason for the present impasse of European integration in the ideational and institutional domains.
After 1989, European social and cultural domains changed significantly. To date, however, 1989 has been perceived mainly as an event that occurred in and affected Eastern Europe only, hence the prominence of transition or transformation studies. This research has produced large amounts of published knowledge about the causes and effects of 1989 in a regional perspective.
Yet, to fully comprehend the significance of 1989, it is necessary to research the consequences of 1989 for the whole of Europe. After all, observers near and far have interpreted 1989 as ‘annus mirabilis’, and its unexpectedly peaceful political revolution as one of the great moments in human history. Instead of the divided past of the Cold War, Europe now has a joint future. Indeed, we ask how the opening of Europe might inspire new research agendas and we purposely reverse the prevalent perspective by exploring the impact of the East on the West.
We propose, initially, to return to the year 1989 and to re-consider explanations for the causes and events. The purpose is to deepen our understanding of the significance and impact of 1989. In what follows, the workshop is devoted to contemporary history and ongoing changes. It has been designed to develop and further research agendas on contemporary European affairs that are cognisant of the rupture and lasting consequences of 1989. As this joint European future is taking shape in a globalised world, we make an effort to extend consideration of the impact to Eastern Asia, and to post-Tiananmen China in particular.
We propose to systematically investigate the interrelation of the structural and cultural domain by offering the following hypothesis for further elaboration and qualification in a broader European research agenda:
The structural impact of 1989 in Europe has fostered economic and institutional integration, but the subsequent discursive shifts have lead to ideational divergence, reaffirming a difference between Western and Eastern Europe. The social and cultural domains are out-of-sync at the European level and potentially in contradiction and conflict.
For the social and cultural domain we will be tracing, firstly, evidence of interconnected change in Eastern and Western Europe; and, secondly, the meaning of the eastern impact for European projects. The structure of the project may be summarised schematically by its methodological focus, the interrelation of structural impact and discursive shifts, and its distinct levels of analysis, regional and European.
The project is driven by a comparative methodology, focusing on substantive comparative enquiry, comparative reasoning and the comparative appraisal of theories and hypotheses.
The appraisal of the main explanations and narratives offered on the causes and consequences of 1989 requires a comparative appraisal to ascertain their scope as well as validity and reliability.
The pursuit of the main research questions requires substantive comparative enquiry across countries and regions, not only with a focus on similarities and differences, but also intersections and transfers, including the building of empirical typologies.
In a reflexive turn, this requires an investigation into how comparison facilities intersection and transfer, including the way international organisations advocate comparison to induce contact, emulation and transfer.
In a strategic sense, we utilise comparative reasoning in developing the four main research questions on the impact of 1989, controlling the central hypothesis on institutional integration but ideational divergence and selecting units of analysis.
We have selected the following topics for further consideration:
A. Explaining the causes and consequences of 1989
A comparative appraisal of explanations for the causes and events of 1989 in their world-historical context - i.e. Cold War rivalry, the exhaustion of socialist welfare regimes, the demise of the communist party, or the rise of national movements for independence – sets the scene for this project. That the events of 1989 had consequences for the whole of Europe is evident if one also considers that a) the integrity of the Soviet Union had been fatally undermined in 1989 not only by the conflict between Azeris and Armenians, but also by the annulment of the Hitler-Stalin pact by the Congress of Peoples’ Deputies in December 1989; and b) the divergent path of the PR China, symbolized by the Tiananmen massacre of June 1989, has had a long-term impact. Reliable explanations of 1989 necessarily have, firstly, a comparative element to them (e.g. Europe, the Soviet Union and China), as well as a genuine European dimension in exploring the conditions that made 1989 possible.
Subsequently, by examining the consequences of 1989, we clarify and elaborate the central hypothesis about structural integration and ideational divergence in more detail. What are the differences in perception between Eastern and Western Europe? Can it be said that citizens in Western Europe have a more positive attitude towards European institutions, but are more sceptical about other Europeans, in particular from the new member states, while citizens in Eastern Europe fear the reinforcement of regional disparity and ethnic stratification, but have more positive attitudes about other European societies?
B. How the socio-economic transformation of the East changes the West and shifts in the discourse on Europe
By analysing the structural impact of the socio-economic transformation in the East on the West the first aim of the workshop is achieved, i.e. to reverse the perspective of regionalist transition studies. For Western European nation-states and economies as well as for the European Union and its Lisbon agenda the question is: In what ways have they been affected by the rise of eastern competitors and what do these effects consist of?
By examining institutional integration and public discourses in selected countries the second aim is achieved, namely to link the analysis of structure and culture at the regional and European level. Case studies on Great Britain, France, Germany and Poland are envisaged as well as comparisons between them. Germany constitutes both a ‘special’ and a ‘critical’ case for the purpose of comparison. Because of its internal composition, the mutual perception between Western and Eastern Germany may mirror the mutual, asymmetrical perception of western and eastern Europeans. In particular we raise the question, when and how the larger Europe and the enlargement of the European Union turned from an opportunity to a threat in public perception.
C. The diversification of democracy and the reconfiguration of political parties on the left
The end of the Cold War and collapse of the communist regime ended geo-political confrontation in Europe as well as impacting political parties, particularly on the left. By asking how political cultures have regionalised and diversified post-1989 in East and West, we ascertain in how far the period up to 2004 constitutes a distinctive transformation that includes the co-transformation of Western societies. After the bloc confrontation, how have political cultures reconfigured? Will consolidated national democracies increasingly diverge? What is the connection to regionalisation?
In focusing on the impact on political parties, on the left in East and West, we further pursue the question of co-transformation. To be sure, the Bolshevik Revolution, the advance of the Soviet army to Berlin and Budapest and the Prague Spring have impacted political parties in Western Europe, but 1989 fundamentally changed the political landscape in new ways. How have political parties on the left adapted to the end of bloc confrontation? Has this process been similar or different in Eastern and Western Europe?
D. Flows and perceptions of East-West migrants: Education versus labour migration
Migration has been a major social consequence of 1989 and is also one of the most controversial European topics. Migrants have a structural impact. It is often assumed that emigration, especially of the highly skilled, reduces productivity, while it is also proposed that immigration might resolve skills shortages. Receiving western European countries typically, however, are not willing to fully integrate migrants. Indeed, some western European countries continue to purposefully deny freedom of movement to Eastern Europeans. Restrictions typically are aimed at labour migrants. In response they must seek to circumvent these restrictions or lead a semi-legal existence.
Moreover, discursive shifts on migration and migrants are observable. Before 1989, migrants from the East were received mostly sympathetically as political refugees in the West - although economic motives were often present too. Conversely, in much of Eastern Europe idealised perceptions about life in the West existed. Since 1989 perceptions about migration to the West have shifted – both in sending and receiving countries. Is there any relation between the flows of migrants (quantity, type of migrant) and public discourse? Do discourses on migration reveal hostile perceptions and ideational divergence?
Florence, 30 September 2007
Chris Armbruster, Christian Domnitz and Philipp Ther