The demise (implosion) of the Soviet Union, consummated before the incredulous eyes of the world in December 1991, was directly and intimately related to the previous dissolution of the East European “outer empire” provoked by the revolutions of 1989. No matter how we regard or value these events, it is now obvious that the historical cycle inaugurated by World War I, the Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia in October 1917 and the long European ideological warfare that followed had come to an end.1 The importance of these revolutions cannot therefore be over-estimated: they represented the triumph of civic dignity and political morality over ideological monism, bureaucratic cynicism and police dictatorship. Rooted in an individualistic concept of freedom, programmatically skeptical of all ideological blueprints for social engineering, these revolutions were, at least in their first stage, liberal and nonutopian.2 Unlike traditional revolutions they did not originate in a doctrinarist vision of the perfect society and rejected the role of any self-appointed vanguard in directing the activities of the masses. No political party headed their spontaneous momentum and in their early stage they even insisted on the need to create new political forms, different from ideologically defined, traditional party differentiations. The fact that the aftermath of these revolutions has been plagued by ethnic strifes, unsavory political bickering, rampant political and economic corruption, and the rise of illiberal parties and movements, including strong authoritarian, collectivistic trends, does not diminish their generous message and colossal impact. And, it should be noted, it was precisely in the countries where the revolutions did not
occur (Yugoslavia) or were derailed (Romania) that the exit from state socialism was particularly convoluted, tottering and in the long run problematic. These facts should be kept in mind especially when we are confronted with discourses that question the success of these revolutions by referring exclusively to their ambiguous legacies. The “reactionary rhetoric,” brilliantly examined by Albert Hirschman, uses the futility, jeopardy, and perversity arguments in order to delegitimize change per se, or make it look impossible or undesirable.3 This line of reasoning, often encountered in some of the more sophisticated approaches, argues along the following logic: the postrevolutionary environment has unleashed long-dormant ugly features of the national political cultures, including chauvinism, residual Fascism, ethnoclerical fundamentalism, and militarism, and is therefore more dangerous than the status quo ante; or, nothing really changed and the powerholders have remained the same, simply affixing to themselves new masks; or, no matter what the men and women of the revolutions of 1989 had hoped, the results of their endeavors have turned out to be extremely disappointing, allowing for political scoundrels to make it and use the new opportunities to establish their domination.