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The Collapse of Communist Regimes: Civil vs. Uncivil Societies

Debate: On Stephen Kotkin’s, with a contribution from Jan T. Gross, Uncivil Society: 1989 and the Implosion of the Communist Establishment. New York: Modern Library, 2009

Constantin Iordachi

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Constantin Iordachi

This introductory essay provides a first, much needed comprehensive overview of the recent scholarship on fascism and the radical right in East Central and Southeastern Europe in local and international historiography. Its aim is to identify a new research agenda for studying fascism comparatively, potentially contributing to the fine-tuning or substantial modification of the existing explanatory paradigms. It is argued that comparative research on fascism and the radical right in these regions should be set on new theoretical and methodological foundations, as part of an effort toward greater interaction and convergence between scholarly research traditions in Eastern and Western Europe. My endeavor is based on the assumption that the study of fascist movements and regimes in East Central and Southeastern Europe is essential to the more general scholarly effort to understand radical politics in interwar Europe; without it, comparative research results remain partial and incomplete. Yet, this analytical effort does not simply mean an extension of the existing theoretical framework of generic fascism to previously uncharted regions. Regional explorations of fascism might function as a laboratory for further methodological innovation and as a field of experimentation and interaction of scholars from various disciplines and national historiographic traditions. They can potentially lead to the rejuvenation of fascist studies by renewing their thematic scope and by redirecting research from the prevailing Weberian ideal-type methodology fixated on the fascist “ideological minimum” to new comparative-historical analyses focusing on the triad ideology-movements-regimes. This novel agenda of research prompts scholars to rethink their units of analysis, and to renounce teleological comparative perspectives still prevalent in Cold War-type scholarship which takes Western Europe as a measuring stick and normatively evaluates other historical case studies only by means of negative comparisons (e.g.: what was missing, or what “went wrong” in non-Western regions). Instead of treating fascist movements and regimes in these regions as carbon copies of their more “genuine” Western counterparts, scholars should rather explore multiple laboratories for the elaboration of fascist ideology in interwar politics and the transfer of illiberal political ideas and practices over spatial or temporal borders, resulting in radical political experiments in East and West alike.

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East Central Europe is a peer-reviewed journal of social sciences and humanities with a focus on the region between the Baltic and the Adriatic, published in cooperation with the Central European University.
The journal seeks to maintain the heuristic value of regional frameworks of interpretation as models of historical explanation, transcending the nation-state at sub-national or trans-national level, and to link them to global academic debates. East Central Europe has an interdisciplinary orientation, combining area studies with history and social sciences, most importantly political science, sociology, anthropology, and cultural studies. It aims to stimulate the dialogue and exchange between scholarship produced in and on East-Central Europe and other area study traditions, in a global context. East Central Europe is made in close cooperation with Pasts, Inc. in Central European University (
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Marina Cattaruzza and Constantin Iordachi

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Studying Communist Dictatorships: From Comparative to Transnational History

Constantin Iordachi and Péter Apor

The downfall of the communist system and the end of the Cold War, the liberalization of historical discourses in Central and Eastern Europe, the opening up of new archival collections for scientific research, the intensification of academic exchange and interaction between local and foreign scholars, and the increasing globalization of the world have challenged scholars to experiment with new transnational approaches to the study of communist regimes, such as shared/entangled history, history of transfers, and histoire croisée. Against this background, the current thematic issue aims to evaluate the potential impact of transnational approaches on the field of communist studies, within the broader frameworks of European and world history. In this introduction, we provide a reappraisal of the history, legacy, and prospects of comparative communist studies, highlighting the potential heuristic advantages posed by the applications of new approaches to the “cross-history” of communist regimes. We argue that transnational research perspectives can fertilize communist studies, leading not only to novel insights but to the transformation of the field itself, by setting it on new foundations. By employing transnational perspectives, scholars are able to challenge the traditional understanding of communist regimes as quasi-isolated national entities, highlighting instead the long-term impact of cross-border linkages and transfers on sociopolitical developments within the Soviet camp. It is our conviction that the entangled history of communist dictatorships in Eastern Europe can function as a laboratory for experimenting with new transnational perspectives, leading to innovative interdisciplinary approaches in a joint effort of scholars from various disciplines and historiographical traditions.

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Constantin Iordachi and Blasco Sciarrino

This article aims to further problematize the relationship between patterns of demobilization, fascism and veterans’ activism, on several inter-related counts. We argue that the relationship between fascism and war veterans was not a fixed nexus, but the outcome of a complex political constellation of socio-economic and political factors that necessitates a case-by-case in-depth discussion. Also, we argue that these factors were both national and transnational in nature. Finally, we contend that researchers need to employ a synchronic as well as a diachronic perspective, thus accounting for various stages and forms of mobilization of war veterans over time. To substantiate these claims, the current article focuses on a relevant but largely neglected case study: the demobilization of soldiers and war veterans’ political activism in interwar Romania. It is argued that, contrary to assumptions in historiography, demobilization in Romania was initially successful. Veterans’ mobilization to fascism intensified only in mid-to late 1930s, stimulated by the Great Depression, leading to a growing ideological polarization and the political ascension of the fascist Legion of ‘Archangel Michael’. To better grasp the specificities of this case study, the concluding section of the article compares it to patterns of veterans’ activism in postwar Italy.