Teaching Eastern Europe: A course by any other name?
Like most British academics I’m loath to put any of my courses through multiple committees merely for a change of name. But sometimes you come to a point where you just know that the old name’s old name’s just got to go.
The Politics of Transition and Integration in Central and Eastern Europe course has evolved since I started teaching it some ten years ago. Less on communism, more on the EU. Out with Democratic Consolidation, in with Quality of Democracy. Downplay ethnic conflict, foreground state-building and welfare state reform. Fond farewell (sniff) to George Schöpflin’s book on Eastern Europe and the ‘condition of post-communism’. Hello to a new generation of work on leverage and democracy in CEE with sharper methodology and fewer Shakespearean quotes.
And yes the end, there are no two ways about it. That name too will have to change, paperwork or no paperwork. Transition, at least in the democratisation sense of the word, is almost a historical topic. And integration (well EU membership anyway) is ten
But the difficult question, of course, now is what do I call it? If the region’s current politics are no defined by transition and integration, what does define them?
Two of my very smart Facebook friends hit the nail. The big challenges facing CEE now are the quality of democratic representation and governance and how to manage as a semi-sovereign state with the EU and a wider world of swirling global markets and ebullient BRICS.
So say something like Problems of Governance and Representation in Post-Communist Europe? But doesn’t democratic malaise, crises of representation and the uncertain future of nation states which are simultaneously both too small and too big differ the whole of Europe. Is CEE just Western Europe writ smaller, poorer and more corrupt? Is it time finally to conclude with Anne Applebaum and (occasionally) The Economist that Eastern Europe doesn’t exist any more. Never did, except when forced together for a few decades as the Soviet Empire.
No, suggested my friend, it’s Europe writ blurry and Europe writ permeable. Permeable to global markets, to corruption, to new movements. All the things that Western Europe faces but with weaker institutional resources and fewer institutional barriers
So Central and Eastern Europe is – like we always said – natural political science experiment and laboratory for political change. But it might it seems Eastern Europe is now perhaps the future of Western Europe. Not the other way round like we all still thought when I started teaching my course.
I still don’t have a new name for it.