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John Feffer


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In this unique, panoramic account of faded dreams, journalist John Feffer returns to Eastern Europe a quarter of a century after the fall of communism, to track down hundreds of people he spoke to in the initial atmosphere of optimism as the Iron Curtain fell – from politicians and scholars to trade unionists and grass roots activists.

What he discovers makes for fascinating, if sometimes disturbing, reading. From the Polish scholar who left academia to become head of personnel at Ikea to the Hungarian politician who turned his back on liberal politics to join the far-right Jobbik party, Feffer meets a remarkable cast of characters. He finds that years of free-market reforms have failed to deliver prosperity, corruption and organized crime are rampant, while optimism has given way to bitterness and a newly invigorated nationalism. Even so, through talking to the region’s many extraordinary activists, Feffer shows that against stiff odds hope remains for the region’s future.

'John Feffer is our 21st-century Jack London.'
Mike Davis, author of Planet of Slums

‘John Feffer brings to this story a traveller’s eye, a rich store of experiences, and a wise perspective. His thoughtful book is a reminder that few nations, anywhere, easily throw off the heritage of tyranny.’
Adam Hochschild, author of Spain in our Hearts and King Leopold’s Ghost

‘Both a merciless political history and a compassionate political psychology of central and eastern Europe’s post-Cold War transformation.’
Miklos Haraszti, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Belarus

‘Feffer’s vivid, finely crafted chronicle, stocked with real-life characters, explains what went awry in Eastern Europe after communism’
Paul Hockenos, author of Berlin Calling: A Story of Anarchy, Music, the Wall, and the Birth of the New Berlin

‘An essential account of our post-liberal times.’
Padraic Kenney, author of A Carnival of Revolution: Central Europe, 1989

‘A brisk, vivid and wide-ranging survey of a region in the grip of neoliberalism. As Feffer makes clear, this is hardly just a book about Eastern Europe, as the challenges there now seem to be spreading throughout the world. Feffer’s sense of the future evinces both pessimism of the mind and optimism of the will.’
Lawrence Weschler, author of Vermeer in Bosnia and Calamities of Exile

‘A breath-taking whirlwind tour through the transformations of eastern Europe over the past 30 years. With its account of the travails of contemporary capitalism, it is also astonishingly relevant for understanding pressing political problems in the United States as well.’
David Ost, author of The Defeat of Solidarity: Anger and Politics in Post-Communist Europe

'A searching, analytical work that tries to make sense of where the former East bloc countries are today and why they arrived there. The lucid, gripping narrative is a joy to read and packed with ideas.'
International Politics and Society

John Feffer is a freelance journalist and director of the Foreign Policy In Focus programme at the Institute for Policy Studies. His journalism has spanned Eastern and Central Europe, the Middle East, and East Asia. His previous books include the novel Splinterlands (2016) as well as Shock Waves: Eastern Europe After the Revolutions (1992) and Crusade 2.0: The West’s Resurgent War on Islam (2012).

Table of Contents

Section Title Page Action Price
Cover Cover
Title Page\r iii
Copyright iv
Contents\r v
Acknowledgements vii
Introduction: Exile Off Main Street\r 1
Glass Half Full 6
The Same River Twice 11
The Rise and Fall of Liberalism 20
Mind the Gap 29
The Trauma Known as Eastern Europe 36
A Tale of Two Eastern Europes 42
Part I: Stepping Backward\r 45
1. Pyramids of Sacrifice\r 47
The Ideology of Sacrifice 57
From First to Last 62
From Heroes to Victims 70
From the Margins to the Hinterlands 81
Self-Defeating Sacrifices 87
2. The Journey to Utopia 89
Transitology 101
The Diagram 106
Property 121
The Utopia of the West 128
Disappointments with Democracy\r 137
3. The Revenge of the Provinces 147
Eastern Europe B 161
Reforming Agriculture 169
4. The Faces of Illiberalism 179
The Nationalist Turn 188
The Populist Reformation 197
Trumpism in Poland 205
Hungary’s Illiberal Democracy 212
Going on the Attack 222
Scratching the Surface 230
5. Unexploded Ordnance 242
The Black Box 262
Puppet Masters? 273
The Lives of Others 277
History Commissions 285
The Tribunal 291
The Wages of Corruption 296
Interlude: Stepping Backward, Leaping Forward\r 303
Part II: Leaping Forward\r 307
6. Reinvention of Self 309
Creating a New Elite 317
Changing Things Locally 324
Switching Sides in Hungary 326
Rebranding a Country 331
7. The Talented Tenth 341
The Setback 348
The Apartheid System\r 353
The NGO Strategy\r 361
The Business Strategy 368
The Political Strategy 373
The Resistance Strategy 378
The Cultural Strategy 381
8. The New Dissidents 384
Krytyka Polityczna 391
The Feminization of Dissent 403
The Green Alternative 413
The New Politics of Self-Determination\r 419
The Rise of the Precariat 423
Exporting Dissent 430
9. The Next Generation 435
Young Republicans 445
Young Liberals 452
Young Radicals 455
10. Creating New Worlds 462
Squat Paradise 472
Artopia 479
Utopia Boxes 487
Conclusion: The Future of Illiberalism 493
Stepping Back and Leaping Forward 500
Serbia on the Edge 503
The Culture of Europe 509
The Impact of Globalization 514
The New Political Order 519
Looking Ahead 523
Notes 527
Index 575
About the Author 599