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30 Years On: Insights from East-Central and Wider Europe

Date/Venue: 24 September 2019, Trinity Long Room Hub, Trinity College Dublin

Time: 1:30pm-6:10pm (to be followed by regional wine sampling reception)

Register on Eventbrite

2019 marks three decades after the fall of the Berlin wall, which preceded the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. It also marks 20 years since Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary and 15 years since Romania, Latvia and Slovakia joined NATO; 15 years since the V4 countries and Latvia joined the EU; 10 years of the establishment of the Eastern Partnership. The year 1989 thus symbolizes the beginning of a new era especially for the countries from the former Eastern bloc.

Hosted by TIDI, the 30 Years On conference will bring together academics from across Europe to discuss the multi-dimensional changes that have occurred in East-Central and Wider Europe over the last 30 years. The event was initiated and coordinated by the Embassy of Poland in Dublin and has been organised in collaboration with the Embassies of Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Georgia.

Details of Speakers and Talks

Prof. Olexiy Haran

University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy; Research Director, Democratic Initiatives Foundation

Building democracy in time of war: identity, elections, and civil society in post-Maidan Ukraine
Ukraine, in contrast to its post-Communist western neighbours, faced additional challenges after independence. It had to build a nation-state, civil society, democracy, and market simultaneously – so called “quadruple transition”. None of this could be achieved overnight, and it demanded compromises with the country’s post-Communist nomenclature. The drawback to Ukraine’s system of power-sharing and political compromise was that it preserved the influence of the Communist past, which, compared to Poland, Hungary, and the Baltic countries, was not radically restricted.

However, Ukraine appeared to be too regionally and politically diverse to allow one force to monopolize power. Ukrainian democratic opposition was always strong and therefore any attempts of authoritarian policy backfired. Mass protests in Maidan during the bitter cold winter of 2013-2014 were non-violent for more than two months. Among the main successes of the Euro-maidan was the return to the 2004 constitutional reform and, consequently, mixed parliamentary-presidential form of government. However, prospects for a successful resolution of these domestic problems were threatened by external factors. While the challenges ahead remain great, this presentation will show how the process of modern Ukrainian nation-building is based not so much on ethnicity, but on a “territorial nationalism” and is “inclusive” rather than “exclusive.” It will discuss how the newly elected president and the government need to conduct unpopular economic reforms, effectively fight corruption and introduce rule of law in the context of a war-time economy. 

Ms. Tinatin Bregvadze

Invited Professor at the Tbilisi Ivane Javakhishvili State University

Georgia in Transition and its Irreversible Choice
The paper will examine the major phases of the Georgian statehood and the way its European path has developed. It will discuss the harsh transition period after regaining independence in 1991 and the challenges the country faced (corruption, weak state institutions, organized crime and challenging economic and social conditions). Paradoxically, within this period Georgia started its irreversible route for regaining its place in the European dimension. Thus, in 1999 Georgia joined the Council of Europe and became part of other international organizations.

The second wave of the transition started in 2003 with the so called “Rose Revolution” and continues to the present day. The state further consolidated itself, already with an ambition of the beacon of democracy to tackle significant internal and external challenges in order to effectively continue its aspiration toward Euro – Atlantic coalition. The presentation will finally reflect on the tasks and roles of all major stakeholders, i.e. the government, which implemented major reforms, the non – governmental sector, the media and the international community.

Dr Daunis Auers

Associate Professor of Comparative Politics, University of Latvia

Latvia in 2019: Is the glass half-full or half-empty?
August 2019 marked 30 years since the “Baltic Way”, a 600 kilometer human chain linking some two million people across the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania demonstrating against the Soviet occupation of the region. Almost exactly two years later the Soviet regime collapsed and the Baltics seized this unique opportunity to regain their independence. The following three decades have been marked by unparalleled change. Latvia’s foreign and security policy has been reshaped through membership of the European Union, NATO and the OECD. The grime and economic decay of the Soviet era has been replaced by remade urban and rural regions and one of Europe’s fastest growing economies. However, the last thirty years have also seen Latvia’s population shrink from 2.6 million to 1.9 million people at the same time as surveys have recorded record low levels of public trust in political institutions. How can these contradictory trends be interpreted...Is Latvia’s glass half-full or half-empty?

Prof. Dr. Günther Heydemann

University of Leipzig/Technical University of Dresden

The exceptional case: The process of transformation in the GDR and reunited Germany
In terms of its political and economic structures, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) was undoubtedly a real socialist, Soviet-type system of rule, economy and society. Nevertheless, the division of Germany and the existence of another concurrent German state in the West, the Federal Republic of Germany, made the GDR an exceptional case among the other socialist states of the former Eastern bloc, since unlike Poland, Hungary, Romania etc., the GDR lacked of a genuine nationality during its existence of about 40 years. This specific condition also had essential consequences for the process of transformation in the GDR, as the unexpectedly speedy unification of the two German states on 3 October 1990 created a new, though ultimately only extended, Federal Republic and preserved the existing constitutional order of West Germany. Parallel to this process the revolution in the GDR got rid of the socialist political and administrative structures (created in 1952) and returned to the old federal system of political cohesion, the oldest political structure of cohesion in all German history. While the GDR could once more rely on the economic system and the financial support of the former West Germany – the "big spender", other factors such as the economic process, the socio-psychological and political consequences of its transformation come into play and will be discussed in this presentation.

Dr Marek Skovajsa

Associate Professor at Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic

30 Years of Enriching Democracy: Czech Civil Society since 1989
The Czech Republic’s transition after 1989 will be briefly outlined in the first part of the presentation. The modernization process of the last 30 years put the country on the track of integration into European and global political organizations, economy and culture and it generated far-reaching changes in all spheres of social life. New problems have emerged, such as building a knowledge economy and strengthening social cohesion vis-à-vis domestic and international challenges. Democracy in the Czech Republic has withstood the crisis of mainstream political parties and the rise of populist political groupings since 2010.

In the second part, I am going to focus on the contribution of civil society to democracy and social development in the Czech Republic. The not-for-profit sector has experienced a sustained growth since the early 1990s. NGOs became an important force in social service provision, social innovation, interest representation, or public interest advocacy. While many NGOs receive funding from the government or the EU, they also tap on other sources of support. Private and corporate philanthropy as well as mass giving is an expanding phenomenon. Informal citizen groups and grass-roots initiatives influence local policies especially in larger towns and the capital, Prague. After 30 years of growth and capacity building, Czech civil society stands in good shape to make the Czech Republic more democratic, pluralistic and innovative.

Dr. Alexander Duleba

Associate Professor at the Institute of Political Science, University of Prešov

Slovakia: 30 years of freedom and 26 years of independence
This presentation will offer a brief review of the socio-economic development of Slovakia since 1993 when it became an independent state after the split of Czechoslovakia. It will recap fundamental reforms which helped modernize the political and economic systems of Slovakia and made it one of the fastest-developing countries in the region of Central and Eastern Europe. It will highlight its successful conversion from military industry to automotive, which at the present makes Slovakia one of the largest car producers per capita in the world. It will look at energy security of Slovakia, and especially at lessons learned from the natural gas crisis of 2009. Special attention will be paid to evaluation of impacts of the accession of Slovakia to the EU and NATO, including on its foreign and security policy. And finally, the presentation will elaborate on the main challenges Slovakia is currently confronted with in the field of economic development, domestic politics and international relations with focus on its EUropean policy.

Dr Paweł Ukielski

Assistant Professor at the Institute of Political Studies, Polish Academy of Sciences

Poland. Story of success…After all
In my presentation I will focus on the key factors that influenced Polish transition and resulted with deep economic, political and social changes after 1989. I will discuss the Polish situation in the last years of the communist regime and will continue with the starting point in 1989/1990. The extremely challenging position in the beginning of the reforms is a good starting point to present the depth of changes and the success achieved, i.e. the more than quarter of century of constant economic progress combined with Euro-Atlantic integration and increasing role in the world’s security system. On the other hand, there were serious problems and obstacles, some of which has not been overcome yet, like the lack of domestic capital, the weakness of the legal framework, growing social inequalities or structural unemployment which led to the exclusion social groups. A shift in the economic policy observed over the last few years towards bigger role of the state in the redistribution of wealth is aiming to limit those inequalities and support families and as such is changing the neo-liberal line adopted in 1990 and followed for the next quarter of century. One of the interesting factors that surfaced after 1989 has been the policy of remembrance which evolved to become an important part of public debate in Poland and abroad. The problem of overcoming the totalitarian past and the difference between Polish and Western historical experience is one of vital importance to understand the Polish transformation and the present reality.

Dr. Balázs Apor

Assistant Professor at the Centre for European Studies, Trinity College Dublin

1989 and the Historical Legacies of Communism in Hungary 30 Years On
The legacies of communism in post-communist Eastern Europe have triggered significant attention during the period of "transition". Scholars tended to focus on institutional changes that took place in the new democracies and generally explained setbacks in the democratisation process with the various legacies of communism. Long-term, pre-communist historical legacies and the way they influenced and shaped the formation of democratic systems received less attention. This presentation will address the post-1989 transition process from the perspective of historical legacies and will reflect on the importance of both communist and pre-communist legacies in Hungary's recent history, with a particular emphasis on leadership practices.

Dr. Emanuel Coman

Assistant Professor at the Department of Political Science, Trinity College Dublin

Economic challenges in the Romanian transition
Romania has traditionally been regarded as an economic laggard in Eastern Europe, a characterization that can go back to the pre-Communist era. This presentation will focus on the economic challenges of the 1990s when Romania was taking slow steps in the transition to a market economy. To explain some of the problems of the 1990s we will reflect on what happened in the 1970s and 1980s when the economic decline was steep and put Romania at a serious comparative disadvantage at the start of the transition. In discussing the economic challenges, much attention will be given to the role of politics.

Dr. Zhanibek Arynov

Postdoctoral Scholar at the Graduate School of Public Policy, Nazarbayev University

Kazakhstan 2019: Still in Search of National Identity?
This presentation offers an overview of Kazakhstan’s evolution as an independent country since 1991. It outlines the main ‘turning points’ in political, economic, and social development of the country. It also provides an analysis of the results of almost a 30-years long transformation period. Special attention will be paid to the process of construction of national identity in Kazakhstan. The presenter will tell about state efforts of constructing civic identity vs ethnic identity. It will argue that this process has not been successfully completed yet. As a result, debates about the identity issue is still important in the Kazakh society.