In the Boston Review, Marta Figlerowicz, who teaches literature at Yale, reviews Aftershock: A Journey into Eastern Europe’s Broken Dreams by John Feffer. The book seeks to understand how the rise of nationalism and neofascism in Eastern Europe today can be traced back to the failures and frustrations of post-Soviet integration with the West. As Figlerowicz observes in her review, the educated elites in countries like Poland, Bulgaria, and Slovenia have benefited significantly from the introduction of Western-style capitalism into these countries, while the poor and working class have in many ways been left behind. Read an excerpt from the review below, or the full text here.
Most Eastern European families, like mine, have their own micro-histories of the social fractures that ensued from these unexpected and not fully planned transformations. In Aftershock, the novelist, journalist, and political scholar John Feffer attempts to view these stories from a middle distance: a point of view broader than a participant’s, if also less aerial than a professional historian’s. Through interviews with Eastern Europeans from all walks of life—politicians, activists, academics, blue-collar workers, clerks, and Ikea managers—he pieces together an affective and cultural history of post-communism. Aftershock gives its reader a panoramic view of the fantasies and hopes through which recently post-communist societies interpreted their ongoing transformations to themselves. Terms such as “neoliberalism,” “the West,” and even “the transformation” entered Eastern European public discourse without being properly clarified and debated. The “Big Lie,” one of Feffer’s interviewees calls his countrymen’s views about market reform; “I knew nothing about economy, about shock therapy,” confesses another. In such unclarities, and in the misplaced hopes they fueled, Feffer finds seeds of Eastern Europe’s current economic inequalities and its ongoing rightward political turn …
Most of the narratives Feffer tells are darker. His greatest fear is that Eastern Europe’s supposed transformation was merely superficial, and in some ways even regressive. The people who are doing well in Eastern Europe these days tend to have belonged to its intellectual elites from the outset. “It’s no surprise,” he comments bitterly, “that those who orchestrated the changes in 1989 crafted a transition that benefited their class, whether it was former Party officials who profited from insider privatization or former dissidents who staffed the new government ministries.” By contrast, those without such elite connections have little access to their countries’ emergent opportunities and resources. Indeed, they have become increasingly vulnerable to age-old ethnic and gender prejudices that both communism and capitalism were supposed to eradicate.
Image via Boston Review.