Authors Archives: Irena Reifová

Review: Past for the Eyes: East European Representations of Communism in Cinema and Museums after 1989.

Oksana Sarkisova and Péter Apor (Eds.)

Budapest, New York: CEU Press, 2008.

In 2009, it will be the 20th anniversary of ‘the fall of the wall’, which triggered the transformation of the sociopolitical systems of the former Soviet bloc and which was – in Claus Offe´s words – ‘an unprecedented, special case of rapid social change’ (Offe, 1999; quoted by Jakubowicz, 2001: 60). Not surprisingly, the jubilee has revived the debates on the course of the transformation in these Central and Eastern European (CEE) societies. As to the communication processes concerned, the debate has – since the beginning of the 90s – focused almost exclusively on the structural characteristics of the CEE media systems (Dobek-Ostrowska & Glowacki, 2008). It is notable that media cultures – unlike the lavishly covered media systems – have hardly ever been analyzed as a fully-fledged dimension of the transformation processes. This is regrettable because when we ask questions about the processes of social and political change, cultural processes (including the new transactions between uncensored media articulations and associated multiple realities constructed by audiences) should not be dismissed. Support for this line of thinking can be found in the concept of cultural citizenship, which highlights the ways communities are cultivated through reading practices (Hermes, 2005: 10). The process of cementing the polis by public meaning transactions, often attached to widely used popular (social and cultural) texts, has to be included. The transformation of the authoritarian past is not complete, if it resists the inclusion of ‘soft’ elements like meaning production and collective/public memory maintenance. For this reason, books on the CEE transformations that deal with media and popular cultures should be welcomed. Past for the Eyes: East European Representations of Communism in Cinema and Museums after 1989, a reader with chapters written by scholars connected to the CEU Budapest/New York, belongs to this extraordinary breed. The importance of the role of meaning generation procedures in the transformation process is emphasized, for instance by Zsolt K. Horváth in his chapter. He writes: ‘… the image of the socialist past has been re-shaped as a result of various social, political and cultural developments. It will be argued that this process should be understood as a predominantly symbolic struggle for the ability to define the meaning of the history of the socialist period’ (249-250)[1].

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