We should not rush to assume that the system which ruled for four decades in East Europe and seven in Russia left no imprint. Legacies of the communist period include the absence of public competitive politics; an official universalistic political culture; the absence of a civil society; state dominance of the economy and relative isolation from world competitiveness; and cultural and political restrictions....
The legacy of the past does not refer only to the recent past. If anything, the period since 1989 has seen a reemergence of the importance of understanding the precommunist history of the peoples and nations of this region....It is instructive to assess our [Slavic studies specialists'] most conspicuous failure as a field: the failure to anticipate the swift and total collapse of the states and systems we studied.
Why did we miss it? I will offer only a few answers to the question. First, it is clear that as social scientists we were too much in awe of the state. Its power dominance, its pervasiveness made it hard to see its feet of clay. We were, perhaps, too impressed with the trappings of state power, its looming presence in education, the media and everyday life--not to mention the commanding heights of both economy and the polity--to expect that such a state would fall.
If so, we have to be sure in training the next generation of students that we encourage them to look beyond the appearance of state power, to look beyond the government, ministers, buildings, and edicts to consider other phenomena and developments. We need to be sure that as many facets as possible of the "transition regimes" receive scholarly attention.
Related, perhaps, to our tendency to worship at the altar of the state, was our tendency to push to the margin groups, people, or ideas we assumed to be too weak to affect the future. Having seen one dissident movement after another crushed, and the largest mass movement in postwar history suppressed in Poland, we were quick to relegate to the realm of fantasy scenarios which foresaw their emergence into power. We did not see what Vaclav Havel called "the power of the powerless." This myopia should nag at us and insure that in future we look at "marginal" groups, people, and ideas. They might not always remain so.
Editor's note: reprinted from the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies Newsletter 32 (November 1992): 1, 3, with permission.
The AAASS Newsletter, the source for Ronald Linden's "Time Out for Field Goals," while aimed at academics, contains a great deal of information that could benefit Christian ministries: new publications, research in progress, upcoming conferences, bed and breakfast ads, and news of language study programs. Pages 31-41 of the January 1993 issue, for example, highlight summer 1993 Western and on-site study programs in 16 languages of the former Soviet Union and East Central Europe.
The annual cost for five issues of the Newsletter is $20 from the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies, Jordan Quad/Acacia, 125 Panama Street, Stanford, CA 94305-4130; tel: (415) 723-9668; fax: (415) 725-7737. The nonmember annual subscription rate for AAASS's Slavic Review, the flagship academic journal in the field, is $50. AAASS membership rates, which include the Newsletter and Slavic Review, run $20 to $60, depending on income level.
Ironically, the majority of Western Slavic studies specialists, predominately secular in their orientation, have viewed religion in the Marxist era as have Marxists: as a "marginal" phenomenon. Much of Western reporting of the 1989-91 collapse of Communism likewise ignored or minimized spiritual catalysts in the transformation. Recent accounts which do address faith as a force in revolutionary change include:
Bailey, J. Martin. The Spring of Nations, Churches in the Rebirth of Central and Eastern Europe. New York: Friendship Press, 1991. $10.95.
Bauman, Michael, editor. Man and Marxism, Religion and the Communist Retreat. Hillsdale, MI: Hillsdale College Press, 1991. $9.95.
Billington, James H. "The Depth of Russia," Chapter 10 in Russia Transformed: Breakthrough to Hope, Moscow, August 1991. New York: The Free Press, 1992. $17.95.
Bultman, Bud. Revolution by Candlelight, The Real Story Behind the Changes in Eastern Europe. Portland, OR: Multnomah Press, 1991. $13.99.
Elliott, Mark. "1989: Year of Tumult and Hope in Eastern Europe." Challenge to Evangelism Today 23 (Spring 1990): 4-5, 9.
Hedberg, Augustin. Faith Under Fire and the Revolutions in Eastern Europe. Princeton, NJ: Sturges Publishing Co., 1992. $24.95.
Nielsen, Niels. Revolutions in Eastern Europe, The Religious Roots. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1991. $6.95.
Weigel, George. The Final Revolution: The Resistance Church and the Collapse of Communism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. $25.00.
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© 1993 East-West Church and Ministry Report