The project seeks to place the current anti-liberal and anti-democratic
backlash in Eastern Europe, arguably manifesting the all-European
socio-political and ideological crisis in its most acute form, into a
comparative historical perspective. It raises fundamental questions
concerning the intellectual contribution and responsibility of those
local and international actors (scholars, experts, think-tanks, NGOs,
public intellectuals, etc.) who devised roadmaps for the transition to
liberal democracy and market economy, and the interplay of these
roadmaps and the realities “on the ground”. Drawing on the rather
divergent experiences of three Central European (Czech Republic,
Hungary, and Poland) and three Southeast European (Bulgaria, Romania,
and Serbia) countries, it aims at unravelling the various scenarios of
post-socialist transition projected by local and external social
scientists and experts and how these scenarios themselves became actors
in the very process of transformation.
Historicizing this period necessarily entails a reflection on the
“pre-history” of the transition, focusing on the different projections
of regime change elaborated and debated by the dissident and
technocratic expert circles during the 1980s, and tracing the way the
very narrative of transition became a key component of the political
struggles. Thus, the project entails not only the analysis of policies
and societal reactions but also that of the immense corpus of knowledge
which shaped these policies, starting with the very model of transition
which was transferred from the academic sphere to the political one.
Obviously, an engagement with different social-scientific
knowledge-regimes and methodological specificities requires the
cooperation of different disciplines.
The historical reconstruction of “what went wrong” is meant to
contribute to the rethinking of the modalities of interaction of
academia and politics in a moment of deep moral, institutional and
epistemological crisis. In order to understand the current situation and
draw some lesson for the future, we need to reflect critically on the
contribution of academic knowledge to facing societal challenges. The
analysis of paradigms of transitology offers ample food for thought.
Hence, the participants in the project will critically reconsider the
various scripts of post-socialist social, economic and cultural
transformation as formulated by scholarly and expert communities,
focusing especially on cognitive dissonances among the different actors,
which shaped the process of transition and led to increasing gaps
between spaces of experience and horizons of expectation.
The project will be implemented between 1 November 2019 and 31 October
2022, and envisages the following activities: regular workshops,
individual and team research work, international conferences, preparing
research results for publication, other forms of dissemination reaching
broader public and higher education institutions (web-based and media
platforms), curriculum development on contemporary history of the
The direct beneficiary group is a cohort of young social scientists from
six countries in East Central Europe, who will be brought together to
develop, under the supervision of a group of established scholars, the
analytical instruments to interrogate critically the capacities of their
disciplines to meet the challenges of our future. The indirect
beneficiaries are a number of interest groups – academics, public
intellectuals, NGOs, participants in public debates and politicians –
who possess the authority and resources to bring their knowledge to bear
on societal decision-making and raise public awareness on major
critical issues of our time.
It is funded by the Porticus Foundation.