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Dritte Tagung Polenforschung

Wissen, Verstehen, Übersetzen: Nachbarn im Dialog
Gießen, 20. bis 22. März 2014

Evaluating 1989 Critically: An Interdisciplinary Panel

Keeping in mind the twenty-fifth anniversary of 1989, this panel brings together intellectuals from around the world to examine both contemporary research as well as contemporary approaches to the historiography of 1989. The panel aims to broaden the scope of historiography and commonplace opinions about Poland, Central Europe, and the world in 1989. It starts with a paper by Mark Keck-Szajbel (Viadrina) entitled “Home on the Grain: the Strange Death of Polish GMOs.” His paper—one part of a larger project on the commercial and industrial legacies of communism—explores agribusiness in Poland. Ironically, while small farmers in Poland managed the impossible (surviving state socialism), the European Union introduced large-scale agriculture to the Polish farmland. But this is not a story of doom: instead, Keck-Szajbel explains the resilience of a small industry in the age of globalization. Similarly, Jens Lowitzsch (Viadrina) explores capitalism with a human face in his paper entitled “Social Privatization: On the Search of a New Third Way.” One common social feature of East Central Europe is the dissolution in global capitalism. While Czechoslovaks dreamed in 1989 that they would be a “Sweden of Central Europe,” everyday individuals quickly discovered the harsh realities of economic shock treatment. Lowitzsch presents new tax regimes and economic approaches in the region. Expanding on both papers, Claudia Kraft (Siegen) will present a thought piece “On the Possibility of Historicizing 1989.” Should our region—with its rich economic and cultural diversity—be understood merely in terms of a “return to Europe?” Kraft deconstructs this notion, explaining how to effectively discuss the socialist era (and its afterlives) without condemning it to the dustbin of history or, conversely, (n)ostalgically holding it up as an example of a humanitarian totalitarianism. She suggests comparing it to post-colonial regions. While certainly problematic, Kraft suggests that the use of such an instrument is crucial to better understanding the history of post-socialism. Finally, we have invited James Krapfl (McGill) to join our panel with a piece on comparing the Arab Spring to 1989. What answers does 1989 give us to explain peaceful transition, and how has the Middle East changed our understanding of civil society, democratic change, and mass movements? The panel will be moderated by Dagmara Jajeśniak-Quast (Viadrina) and commented by Petra Stykow (Munich). The language of discussion will be English and German.