The Communist Legacy As a Self-Transforming Social and Semiotic Structure

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 8:15 PM
Room: 304
Oral Presentation
Tomasz ZARYCKI , University of Warsaw, Warszawa, Poland
This paper will focus on the problem of the contested meanings of the legacy of communism in Central and Eastern Europe and the relationship between moral and political assessment of the communist past and the modes of its interpretation in academic debates. Post-communist societies are commonly perceived in terms of the legacy of the communist period, which is seen as a crucial factor defining both their general path of development and shaping their internal social hierarchies. At the same time, elements of the communist legacy are imbued with strong moral and emotional judgments. In the majority of cases, this legacy’s connotation is clearly negative and is used to color most of the past and current outcomes of the socio-economic development in countries of the region.  Moreover, contemporary social actors, for a variety of reasons, are often viewed as being tainted by the communist legacy: as products of the communist institutions and path-dependent effects. Analogically, diverse discourses that may be perceived as harmful are seen as direct outcomes and/or new forms of communist “newspeak”. This highly moral and political nature of the communist legacy, which is an important component of the reservoir of moral metaphors of public discourses in the countries of the region, makes debates on the nature and scope of the “real” or structural impacts of the communist past extremely difficult. The paper will demonstrate how constantly re-negotiated meanings of communism, and the boundary between “negative” and “positive” (if any) aspects of the communist legacy, impact the way in which the role of the past is interpreted in academic debates. Examples will be taken from discussions of regional inequalities and from sources that examine the roots of economic and social backwardness of Poland and other countries in the region.