„Us“ and „them“ in post-socialism

Michal Buchowski, University of Poznań

A part of the processes in Eastern Europe involve a restructuring of the perception of social relations by the hegemonic neo-liberal order. The degree to which various countries and social groups have embraced the free market and democracy has become a yardstick for classifying them as fitting more or less the category of the ‘properly transformed’ societies / countries / economies. In the Cold War period a political and mental border between the advanced West and the backward East was simply drawn on a geographic map (Iron Curtain). Systemic change after 1989 in Central and Eastern Europe has changed the situation and its perception both by the public and experts. In the process of transition a new discrimination has emerged of people into the categories of: adapted (westernized) and not adapted (colonized by the communist habits) to the new liberal order has developed. The first group represents a ‘progressive’ model, while the second a ‘regressive’ one. As a result, the former geographic, map-bound archetypes of Eastern and Western people, i.e. homo occidentalis vs. homo sovieticus, have been re-inscribed into social space. In a sense, the former spatially defined Others has been resurrected today as the socially stigmatized brother. Now these essentialized categories of the ‘West’ and the ‘East’ cut across social structure. In this process a strategy of blaming the so-called losers of the post-socialist reforms has been visible. This blame game has notable shortcomings, but ultimately, it reveals an anti-sociological intent and, at its roots, is also culture-deterministic. Resistance by social groups (considered by elites to be responsible for failures of the neo-liberal project) strengthens their assumed alterity. Many intellectuals participate in the dominant discourses and assume that they help in transforming ‘homo sovieticus’ into ‘civilized citizens’ through a process which defines resistant groups simply as reluctant capitalists.