Fantasies of Salvation: Democracy, Nationalism, and Myth in Post-Communist Europe

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Eastern Europe has become an ideological battleground since the collapse of the Soviet Union, with liberals and authoritarians struggling to seize the ground lost by Marxism. In Fantasies of Salvation, Vladimir Tismaneanu traces the intellectual history of this struggle and warns that authoritarian nationalists pose a serious threat to democratic forces.

A leading observer of the often baffling world of post-Communist Europe, Tismaneanu shows that extreme nationalistic and authoritarian thought has been influential in Eastern Europe for much of this century, while liberalism has only shallow historical roots. Despite democratic successes in places such as the Czech Republic and Poland, he argues, it would be a mistake for the West to assume that liberalism will always triumph. He backs this argument by showing how nationalist intellectuals have encouraged ethnic hatred in such countries as Russia, Romania, and the former Yugoslavia by reviving patriotic myths of heroes, scapegoats, and historical injustices. And he shows how enthusiastically these myths have been welcomed by people desperate for some form of "salvation" from political and economic uncertainty.

On a theoretical level, Tismaneanu challenges the common ideas that the ideological struggle is between "right" and "left" or between "nationalists" and "internationalists." In a careful analysis of the conflict's ideological roots, he argues that it is more useful and historically accurate to view the struggle as between those who embrace the individualist traditions of the Enlightenment and those who reject them.

Tismaneanu himself has been active in the intellectual battles he describes, particularly in his native Romania, and makes insightful use of interviews with key members of the dissident movements of the 1970s and 1980s. He offers original observations of countries from the Baltic to the Black Sea and expresses his ideas in a vivid and forceful style. Fantasies of Salvation is an indispensable book for both academic and nonacademic readers who wish to understand the forces shaping one of the world's most important and unpredictable regions.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
The heady optimism shared by many Western countries that the demise of the Communist systems in Eastern Europe would lead quickly and inevitably to liberal democracies has been tempered by the refloresence of a nationalism that tends to exhibit virulent xenophobic and illiberal tendencies. Tismaneanu (government, Univ. of Maryland at College Park; The International Politics of Eurasia, M.E. Sharpe, 1995) chronicles a steady rise in anti-Semitism in a number of Eastern European countries, even though the Jewish population has shrunk considerably or nearly disappeared entirely in some regions. Other minority religious and/or ethnic groups also suffer in the post-Communist countries because of this authoritarian nationalistic sentiment. Tismaneanu concludes that some Eastern European countries will evolve into some version of liberal democracy, while others may not. Some of the author's observations may be dark or unsettling, but the book as a whole compares well with other books published on Eastern European politics. A scholarly work worthy of all academic and larger public libraries.Stephen W. Green, Auraria Lib., Denver
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691144382
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 6/8/2009
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Vladimir Tismaneanu is Professor of Government and Politics, University of Maryland at College Park. He is the author of "Reinventing Politics: Eastern Europe from Stalin to Havel" (Free Press).

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Table of Contents

Preface: Why Eastern Europe and Why Care?
Introduction: After Marx: The Return of Political Myth 3
1 Resurrecting Utopia: Ideology versus Mythology 23
2 The Leninist Debris, or Waiting for Peron 38
3 Vindictive and Messianic Mythologies: Post-Communist Nationalism and Populism 65
4 Scapegoating Fantasies: Fascism, Anti-Semitism, and Myth Making in East Central Europe 88
5 Is the Revolution Over? The Myth of Decommunization and the Quest for Political Justice 111
6 A Velvet Counterrevolution? Dissidents, Dreamers, and Realpolitik 141
Conclusion: The Mythological Construction of Reality: Political Complexity in a Post-Communist World 153
Notes 169
Index 211
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"Vladimir Tismanueanu is a prominent essayist and an expert on contemporary policy. He knows everything about Central and Eastern Europe. . .I warmly recommend this book—it is as controversial as it is inspiring."—Adam Michnik, author of Letters from Prison, editor of Wyborcza (Warsaw)

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