Albany, NY – In today's Academic Minute, Dr. Kristen Ghodsee of Bowdoin College explains why after only two decades, many former Eastern Bloc countries are developing a growing nostalgia for communism.
Kristen Ghodsee is the John S. Osterweis Associate Professor of Gender and Women's Studies and Director of Gender and Women's Studies Program at Bowdoin College. She is also a fellow of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. Her current research involves the ethnographic study of post-communist nostalgia in Eastern Europe and the contributions of state socialist women's organizations to the international women's movement between 1968 and 1990. In 2011 she published, Lost in Transition: Ethnographies of Everyday Life After Communism.
Dr. Kristen Ghodsee - Nostalgia for Communism
2011 marks the twentieth anniversary of the final demise of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. As democracy swept across the former Eastern Bloc, a brighter future of peace and prosperity seemed imminent for those who had long toiled under rigid, totalitarian communist regimes. Now, only two decades later, there is a growing sense of nostalgia across the region. Why would people, even young people born in the late 1980s, long for a system with limited freedom, state surveillance and economic shortages?
My research explores this phenomenon by focusing on the lived experiences of ordinary men and women who went to school, made friends, fell in love, had children and grew old together under a system they knew and understood, one that guaranteed political stability and economic security. Unfortunately, the political freedoms that came with democracy were packaged with the worst type of unregulated, free market capitalism, which completely destabilized the rhythms of everyday life and brought crime, corruption and chaos where there had once been a comfortable predictability. Abstract rights usually play second fiddle to the material and social conditions of our interactions with colleagues, family and friends. People vote every four years, but they share meals three times a day.
Only by examining how the quotidian aspects of daily life were affected by great social, political and economic changes can we make sense of the desire for this collectively imagined, more egalitarian past. Nobody wants to revive 20th century totalitarianism. But nostalgia for communism has become a common language through which ordinary men and women express disappointment with the shortcomings of parliamentary democracy and neoliberal capitalism today.