Stephen Holmes on Normality - Dictionary of Arguments
Krastev I 24
Normality/post-communist era/Krastev/Holmes: [Václav Havel] described the essential condition of communist Eastern Europe as the ‘absence of a normal political life’.(1) Under communism, nothing was rarer than ‘normality’. Havel also referred to Western-style ‘freedom and the rule of law’ as ‘the first preconditions of a normally and healthily functioning social organism’. And he depicted his country’s struggle to escape
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communist rule as ‘simply trying to do away with its own abnormality, to normalize’.(2)
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(...) we need to recall the primary meaning of the word ‘normalization’ (normalizace in Czech) in the two decades prior to 1989. It referred to the political purges, censorship, police brutality and ideological conformity imposed in Havel’s homeland after the crushing of the Prague Spring in 1968. This was ‘normalization’ in the sense of a restoration of the status quo ante, a return to the situation in Czechoslovakia prior to the Dubček reforms. There would be no more attempts at giving communism a human face.
And communist authorities, following the perverse logic of their upside-down societies, treated dissidents not as criminals
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but as mentally unstable persons with ‘reformist delusions’ (...).
After 1989, this communist-era contrast between two images of normality, one Soviet and the other Western, became a thing of the past. But the warfare between conflicting ideas of normality was immediately rekindled in another form. And this second conflict is still with us today. It involves a pathological disconnect between what is considered normal in the West and what is considered normal in the region. >Normality/Canguilhem.
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Vocabulary: Once communist authority was overthrown, a vocabulary lesson was in order. Bribery, for example, must henceforth be labelled ‘abnormal’, just as law was declared, by definition, ‘impartial and fair’. But the fact that such Western assumptions could be easily parroted on command did not make them any more congruous with Eastern realities. If we examine the gap between Western expectations and Eastern realities after communism, we can discover an important source of the mental stress created in Central and Eastern Europe by a revolution that aimed at importing or imitating a foreign version of normality. >Imitation/Krastev.
Center and Eastern European countries: To coordinate their behaviour with that of their proximate neighbours and kin, they had to defy the expectations of their Western mentors and colleagues. Thus, in order to be effective, post-communist elites had to accept bribery locally and, simultaneously, campaign against corruption globally.
Revolution: (...)a revolution in the name of normality generated not only psychological disquiet but also its share of political trauma. Rapid changes afflicting the Western model itself have exacerbated the gnawing sense of self-betrayal among its would-be Eastern imitators. Should we be surprised that some Central and East Europeans felt ‘cheated’ when they found out that the conservative society they wanted to imitate had disappeared, washed away by the swift currents of modernization?
1. Václav Havel, The Power of the Powerless: Citizens Against the State in Central-Eastern Europe (M. E. Sharpe, 1985), p. 89.
2. Cited in Benjamin Herman, ‘The Debate That Won’t Die: Havel And Kundera on Whether Protest Is Worthwhile’, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (11 January 2012)._____________Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.
The Common Law Mineola, NY 1991
The Light that Failed: A Reckoning London 2019