Maryna Minova: “Open borders and international cooperations are possible now”

“When I was a student in the educational system of the Sowjet Union there was one situation. And Belarus was part of the Sowjet Union. And now our Country is an independent state. And there are a lot of changes in our life and in my personal life, too. For example the open borders and international cooperations are possible now. I am a teacher and it is very important for me to cooperate with teachers from different countries. Now it is possible for us. We can find and exchange good examples of educational practice with other teachers. And one of the good examples of educational cooperation is the project between teachers of Georgia, (?) and Russian federation and Belarus on the topic of cultural education and how to develop the students ability to access information from mass media and social network. So I think it’s good and hope for better future.”

Maryna Minova, state educational institution “Academy of postdiploma education”, Republic of Belarus

At a conference in Thessaloniki in October 2015, we asked participants from Eastern and South-eastern Europe about their “Transition Moment”. Could they tell us a little story of a moment, when they realised that something was changing fundamentally in the early 90s.



Tatjana Zhurzhenko: “It was a moment of great uncertainty”

At a conference in Thessaloniki in October 2015, we asked participants from Eastern and South-eastern Europe about their “Transition Moment”. Could they tell us a little story of a moment, when they realised that something was changing fundamentally in the early 90s.

Daniela Gologan: “Now it’s more material”

“I realized that something was changing when I went to the lyceum. Because it was a period when US series appeared about boys and girls, about how to dress, about the smartphones, about the relation between girls and boys. In that moment I realized that something has changed. Something is different now. Because when I was a little girl it wasn’t important how you dress and if your smartphone is more expensive than mine. If you had a more expensive smartphone or dresses, I would be your friend. The priorities are very different between the 90s and when I went to the lyceum, which was in 2010. I think it’s globalization, it’s a new thing. Now it’s more material, the feeling, the thinking about other people. It’s more superficial. That was the period when I understood that the people change. The method of thinking changed. That’s a good and bad thing about the West.”

Daniela Gologan, Foreign Policy Association, Moldova

At a conference in Thessaloniki in October 2015, we asked participants from Eastern and South-eastern Europe about their “Transition Moment”. Could they tell us a little story of a moment, when they realised that something was changing fundamentally in the early 90s.

Tatiana Zhurzhenko: “It was a moment of great uncertainty”

“One moment was of course the August putsch in Moscow. And it was a moment of great incertainty. We were very young, we were students and didn’t know how the situation will develop. I think because we were very young we were not very afraid. And the second moment was when Yeltsin shot the Russian parliament. I am from Eastern Ukraine and very close to Russia. We still lived like in the Russian information space at that time. For us it was a moment when it became clear that Perestroika is over. All this kind of utopia of peaceful democratization is over. I still remember watching this on TV, these shocking pictures of tanks shooting the parliament.”

Tatiana Zhurzhenko, Institute for Human Sciences (University of Vienna), Ukraine

At a conference in Thessaloniki in October 2015, we asked participants from Eastern and South-eastern Europe about their “Transition Moment”. Could they tell us a little story of a moment, when they realised that something was changing fundamentally in the early 90s.




Country Profile – Croatia


The beginning of the transition period in Croatia can be traced back to January 1990 – 10 years of a gradual dissolving of the socialist state had passed since Tito´s death – when Slovenian and Croatian representatives left the extraordinary 14th Congress of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia before the end. The elections were held soon after, and both Slovenia and Croatia voted for politicians who represented a more autonomous republican option. Slovenia was first to proclaim independence and Croatian followed shortly after, in 1991. There was no formed guerrilla opposition to the socialist system (like in Russia or Ukraine), but it was rather cast off by politicians themselves in both the Croatian and Slovenian case. However, unlike in most of the other countries in transition, the peaceful transition from a socialist system to democracy and market economy in Croatia was abruptly stopped by the Yugoslav Army (JNA) intervention, and a war thus started – with consequences felt until today. It drained the already limited resources, and a functioning army had yet to be formed and equipped (the majority of highly ranked soldiers had stayed in the JNA, which then, in fact, acted as Serbian army with control over the JNA weapon depots, while Croatia was posed under a weapons embargo etc.). On top of those problems, an overwhelming number of refugees from Bosnia and Slavonia arrived to Croatia in 1992, while the economy collapsed, the companies closed down, the workplaces were lost in large numbers, and a major part of the population had to rely on food and commodity supplies by the Red Cross and Caritas. The war period also facilitated illegal operations such as contraband, money laundering, stock manipulation, etc.

When the war ended in August 1995, the actual transition from socialism to democracy just began. Under the leadership of the President Franjo Tudjman, with the traumatic memory of the war and with a destroyed economic and social infrastructure, the transition process was done with little planning, under huge time pressure, and run by a political establishment which had mostly been in position during Socialism as well. A lustration was never even started in Croatia up until today. President Tudjman and his party HDZ (Croatian Democratic Union) stayed in power until his death in December 1999. A new President and a new government were elected in early 2000, with Ivica Racan taking office as Prime Minister. It was him who in 1989 had lead the League of Communists of Croatia to transform into a Social Democratic Party (SDP), whereas the new President Stipe Mesic had been a co-founder of HDZ but had distanced himself from Tudjman during the 1990s. The political shift in the early 2000 also marked the beginning of the collaboration with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), a condition for bringing Croatia closer to the EU. In 2003, HDZ won the elections again, with Ivo Sanader as the new Prime Minister. Sanader likewise engaged in bringing Croatia to join EU and NATO, and he continued the collaboration with the ICTY. Under the leadership of Jadranka Kosor (HDZ) as the Prime Minister, Croatia entered the NATO in 2009. In 2012, the government was formed again by the Social-democratic Party. With the Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic in the office, Croatia finally joined the European Union in 2013. The current President is Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic (HDZ), the first woman in Croatian history in the highest state office.


Without a pronounced opposition movement during the Yugoslav period, the Croatian transition was led, again, by the politicians who – with few exceptions – mostly had already been part of the political establishment in the Former Yugoslavia. Until today, the political situation keeps fluctuating between the two parties left and right of the center. With its war past, the army and war veterans are a significant factor and a political force in Croatia´s transition process as well. Another crucial group that shaped the transition is the ‘businesspeople’, who were driving and profiting from the privatization. Similar to the other transition countries, the process of privatization in Croatia was widely based on nepotism and clientele structures that provided certain interest groups with chances to buy entire state owned companies for almost no value; poor management, money laundering and racketeering, and eventual bankruptcies are considered the typical features of Croatia´s post-socialist economy (see European Commission Country Report 2015). Last but not least, the Croatian Catholic Church and civil society groups had an impact on the pace and direction of the transition process as well.


The transition itself was never contested in the political establishment, since all who were in charge subscribed to the same principles of equal rights and democratic participation, private property, market economy and international integration into Western partnership structures such as NATO and EU. However, it is highly contested whether to consider Croatia´s transition a success story, considering the slow pace of the EU accession process, economic policy failures, GDP and wages developments, youth unemployment rates above 40%, demographic developments and failing political responses, migration movements especially of high-skilled (brain drain), etc. The European Commission stated in 2015: “Also, the low labor market participation of young people contributed strongly to the decline in activity rates. Low labor demand combined with a discouragement effect influenced young workers either to withdraw or not to enter the labor market. Some prolonged their stay in the education system, whereas others contributed to the growing number of not in education, employment or training.”

As a matter of fact, a common narrative about the transition in Croatia does not exist, as well as the narrative about the war, let alone the Yugoslav period. A recent analysis of history schoolbooks and teaching in Croatia in the period from 1991 until 2013 conducted by the European Stability Initiative (ESI) has pointed out that the history teachers tend to address the recent history rather subjectively or completely skip the topic – thus history as a school subject is being approached not from a scientific perspective but as a ‘personal story’. According to ESI until 2000 there was only one ‘nationalist’ textbook, whereas by 2013, the teachers could opt for 4 different textbooks with different approaches to the latest history. ESI concluded that the history books all reflect the ways in which Croatians view themselves, define citizenship, or the relationship with Serbs – and today, there is a choice between four, with varying views and narratives.


The value orientations that have shaped the transition period echo the political options on either ends of the spectrum: conservative/Croatian nationalist or liberal/Yugoslav socialist – however, in reality such clear cut ideal-typical categorization never fully applies. Originally conservative values which stress the family as nucleus of society are widely shared across political lines and affiliations, as are liberal and human rights values, such as solidarity and respect towards the Others. Recent crises have been demonstrating this, such as the floods that impacted Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia in 2014, or the current refugee crisis. Although Croatia, according to the census from 2011, remains a Catholic majority state, Croatian society today is highly secularized and increasingly pluralistic.

Although more extremist political options contest some of the minority laws, the Croatian state generally and widely ensures minority rights (ethnic minorities have schools/teaching in their language, street signs in their language together with the Croatian language signs, representatives in local and state level parliaments; different religious education is being provided for; same-sex partnerships are respected as equal, etc.). Thus, basic human rights are being guaranteed, official or structural restrictions to human freedoms prevented. However, there is still place for improvement.


The role of civil society in the transition process was not as pronounced as one would wish. Still there are local NGOs that deal, for example, with the rights of war veterans since the war ended, there are international organizations engaged since the early transition days, such as UN organizations (UNHCR and UNICEF), Amnesty International, and also the Croatian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, the Green Action, or Caritas Croatia. After the Millennium, Croatia got its first LGBTQ NGO, which points at a high level of human freedoms compared to other transition countries (for example, Russia). Dating a couple of years back, there is a legal organization, called the Legal Clinic, made up of law students who practice all kinds of law pro bono (i.e. asylum law), and help sorting out legal problems. After the EU accession, many organizations appeared to give support to civil society actors in applying for EU projects. Some civil society initiatives today support and go innovative ways of philanthropy, form local partnerships for enhancing transparency in governance, fight against corruption, or strengthening capacities for better implementation of human rights standards.


The generation of transition in Croatia can be considered people born between 1979 and 1991. They share the experience of war shaping their childhood or youth, and they share the same present and future brought on by the transition. The difficulties they are facing are related to the trauma of war, to the post-war experience of poor state organization and lack of modern education, as well as to the lack of labor market opportunities. Many have older siblings, parents or relatives who suffer from PTSD and depression. The transition generation in Croatia is facing the challenges of a globalized market, of innovation requirements which clearly show the disadvantages of a science and education system desperately in need for funds and reforms, which once more point at the poorly managed transition process with inadequate policies that led Croatia to the marginalized state it is in now. The experience of transition is crucial for the ways in which the generation in transition thinks and acts today: it is either apathetic or highly inclined to leave the country rather today than tomorrow. The transition can be considered a default setting from which the transition generation takes its decisions and tries to tackle contemporary challenges.

Rafaela Tripalo / Caroline Hornstein Tomic, Zaklada znanje na djelu


ESI: Teaching War; How Croatian Schoolbooks Have Changed and Why it Matters, ESI report, Berlin-Zagreb-Vienna, 2015

European Commission Directorate-General for Economic and Financial Affairs, „Macroeconomic imbalances Country Report – Croatia 2015“ in European Economy, Bruxelles, June 2015


„Es geht nicht um einen Minimalkonsens“

„Mapping Memories of Post-1989 Europe“ –  Konferenz 29.11. – 01.12.2015 in Wien.
Polina Filippova, Sacharow-Zentrum Moskau, nahm als Mitglied des Transition Dialogue-Netwerkes an der Konferenz teil.
Beitrag von Maria Ugoljew, freie Journalistin
Wien. Historiker und Aktivisten begaben sich auf der Konferenz „Mapping Memories of Post-1989 Europe“ in Wien auf die Suche nach einem gemeinsamen Narrativ für Europa. Dazu wurden in Workshops und auf Podiumsdiskussionen gegenwärtige ost- wie westeuropäische Diskurse skizziert, Forschungsprojekte vorgestellt und Gemeinsamkeiten sowie Unterschiede in den Erinnerungskulturen umrissen.
Auf die Frage ob ein gemeinsames europäisches Narrativ gegenwärtig machbar ist und wenn ja, welche Ansätze dabei zu berücksichtigen wären, gab es verschiedene Antworten. Eine Spurensuche.
Professioneller Diskurs vs. politischer Opportunismus
Dass es für Ost- und Westeuropa in naher Zukunft ein gemeinsames Narrativ geben könnte – daran war nach Alexei Millers Beitrag gar nicht zu denken. Der Geschichtsprofessor der European University St. Petersburg bezeichnete die aktuellen Entwicklungen vielmehr als eine „Tragödie“. Geschichte werde auf beiden Seiten politisiert, Akademiker würden sich wie Politiker verhalten und die „Rolle öffentlicher Gurus“ einnehmen. Statt eines professionellen Diskurses herrsche politischer Opportunismus. Der Euromaidan werde als Faschisten-Bewegung bezeichnet, die Nord Stream-Pipeline mit dem Hitler-Stalin-Pakt verglichen und Wladimir Putin als Hitler des 21. Jahrhunderts bezeichnet. „Wie konnte es passieren, dass Geschichte so politisiert wird?“ fragte er.
Das Individuum gehört in den Mittelpunkt
Ruhigere Töne schlug hingegen Polina Filippova vom Sacharow-Zentrum in Moskau an. Die Situation sei zwar eine schwierige, „aber wir dürfen uns nicht zurücklehnen und sagen, dann ist das halt so im Westen und im Osten“. Bei der Entwicklung eines gemeinsamen Narrativs müsse vor allem eines berücksichtigt werden: der humanitäre Ansatz, der das Individuum in den Mittelpunkt rückt. Ein Aspekt, den auch Jörg Skriebeleit, Leiter der KZ-Gedenkstätte Flossenbürg, forderte. Denn erst durch die humanistische Grundierung würden unterschiedliche Narrative zum Tragen kommen.
Klein statt groß, lokal statt elitär
Einen Perspektivwechsel forderte Zaal Andronikashvili vom Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung in Berlin. Man müsse von den kleineren Ländern ausgehen, nicht von den großen, sagte er. Denn eine europäische Erinnerungskultur könne nur gelingen, wenn alle Stimmen berücksichtigt werden. „Aber ich weiß nicht, ob man das schafft“, sagte Zaal Andronikashvili.
Ljiljana Radonić von der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften in Wien bat ihre Kollegen, beim Politisierungsprozess von Geschichte nicht zuzuschauen – Wissenschaftler sollten sich dagegen wehren, „nicht neutral und höflich sein, sondern Kritik üben“. Hinsichtlich eines europäischen Narrativs regte sie an, den Prozess keinesfalls mit einem Minimalkonsens abzuschließen, zu normieren oder zu kanalisieren. Viel wichtiger sei die Frage, wie diese Diskussion geführt werde und ob aus der elitären Idee ein lokales Projekt entstehen könnte.
International statt national
In welchem Verhältnis nationale und internationale Erinnerungen zueinenader stehen sollten, darüber sprach unter anderem Oliver Rathkolb von der Universität Wien. Er plädierte dafür, nationale Erinnerungsräume aufzubrechen und sich loszulösen von der Idee, dass es das eine Narrativ gebe. Weder funktioniere das für eine Nation, noch für Europa.
Maria Ugoljew


DRA e.V.
Badstraße 44
D-13357 Berlin

Tel. +49 (0)30 446 680 0
Fax. +49 (0)30 446 680 10

Spendenkonto des DRA:

Bank für Sozialwirtschaft
IBAN-Nr.: DE83 1002 0500 0003 3181 00

Vertretungsberechtigter Vorstand: Kathrin Hartmann, Hanno Gundert, Tim Bohse
Geschäftsführung: Stefan Melle

Registergericht: Amtsgericht Charlottenburg
Registernummer: VR12005

ViSdP: Geschäftsführung

Design: Dörte Grimm


Haftung für Inhalte

Die Inhalte unserer Seiten wurden mit größter Sorgfalt erstellt. Für die Richtigkeit, Vollständigkeit und Aktualität der Inhalte können wir jedoch keine Gewähr übernehmen. Als Diensteanbieter sind wir gemäß § 7 Abs.1 TMG für eigene Inhalte auf diesen Seiten nach den allgemeinen Gesetzen verantwortlich. Nach §§ 8 bis 10 TMG sind wir als Diensteanbieter jedoch nicht verpflichtet, übermittelte oder gespeicherte fremde Informationen zu überwachen oder nach Umständen zu forschen, die auf eine rechtswidrige Tätigkeit hinweisen. Verpflichtungen zur Entfernung oder Sperrung der Nutzung von Informationen nach den allgemeinen Gesetzen bleiben hiervon unberührt. Eine diesbezügliche Haftung ist jedoch erst ab dem Zeitpunkt der Kenntnis einer konkreten Rechtsverletzung möglich. Bei Bekanntwerden von entsprechenden Rechtsverletzungen werden wir diese Inhalte umgehend entfernen.

Haftung für Links

Unser Angebot enthält Links zu externen Webseiten Dritter, auf deren Inhalte wir keinen Einfluss haben. Deshalb können wir für diese fremden Inhalte auch keine Gewähr übernehmen. Für die Inhalte der verlinkten Seiten ist stets der jeweilige Anbieter oder Betreiber der Seiten verantwortlich. Bei Bekanntwerden von Rechtsverletzungen werden wir derartige Links umgehend entfernen.


Die durch die Seitenbetreiber erstellten Inhalte und Werke auf diesen Seiten unterliegen dem deutschen Urheberrecht. Die Vervielfältigung, Bearbeitung, Verbreitung und jede Art der Verwertung außerhalb der Grenzen des Urheberrechtes bedürfen der schriftlichen Zustimmung des jeweiligen Autors bzw. Erstellers. Downloads und Kopien dieser Seite sind nur für den privaten, nicht kommerziellen Gebrauch gestattet. Soweit die Inhalte auf dieser Seite nicht vom Betreiber erstellt wurden, werden die Urheberrechte Dritter beachtet. Insbesondere werden Inhalte Dritter als solche gekennzeichnet. Sollten Sie trotzdem auf eine Urheberrechtsverletzung aufmerksam werden, bitten wir um einen entsprechenden Hinweis. Bei Bekanntwerden von Rechtsverletzungen werden wir derartige Inhalte umgehend entfernen.


Die Nutzung unserer Webseite ist in der Regel ohne Angabe personenbezogener Daten möglich. Soweit auf unseren Seiten personenbezogene Daten (beispielsweise Name, Anschrift oder eMail-Adressen) erhoben werden, erfolgt dies, soweit möglich, stets auf freiwilliger Basis. Diese Daten werden ohne Ihre ausdrückliche Zustimmung nicht an Dritte weitergegeben.

Wir weisen darauf hin, dass die Datenübertragung im Internet (z.B. bei der Kommunikation per E-Mail) Sicherheitslücken aufweisen kann. Ein lückenloser Schutz der Daten vor dem Zugriff durch Dritte ist nicht möglich.

Der Nutzung von im Rahmen der Impressumspflicht veröffentlichten Kontaktdaten durch Dritte zur Übersendung von nicht ausdrücklich angeforderter Werbung und Informationsmaterialien wird hiermit ausdrücklich widersprochen. Die Betreiber der Seiten behalten sich ausdrücklich rechtliche Schritte im Falle der unverlangten Zusendung von Werbeinformationen, etwa durch Spam-Mails, vor.

Bulgaria and the issue of “Otherness”


The biggest and arguably most important group of people in Bulgaria today is the so called “generation of transition”. Those are the individuals, born between the late 1960s/early1970s and 1989. They are currently taking most important decisions and serve as a driver in today’s society. They largely shape the societal attitudes towards certain events or phenomena and have the influence to steer society in a direction of their choice.

These are also the people whose life is marked by the profound change which occurred in Bulgaria after the fall of the Communist regime in 1989 and the subsequent transition period. They have experienced life in both communist and democratic Bulgaria. The large extent to which these changes were fundamental for the Bulgarian society makes it possible to hypothesise that the behaviour and attitudes of the generation of transition are, at least partly, influenced by their experience in both political systems and the transition between the two.

Following this line of reasoning, we decided to address one of the most salient topics in Bulgaria today, namely the refugee crisis, and see “otherness” through the eyes of the generation of transition. It is a puzzle how from a functioning multicultural society only 70 years ago, where Muslims, Jews and Christians lived peacefully together, today Bulgarians have such a negative attitude towards “the other” in the face of the refugees. Paradoxically, while we are a nation with strong emigration, we perceive those fleeing war as too different to live in our country.

In order to address this puzzle, we asked representatives of this generation with diverse educational, professional and cultural background a number of questions about Communism, transition and the way they perceive “the other”. The analysis below is based on the findings from seven in-depth interviews with representatives of different Bulgarian communities, including an intellectual, an entrepreneur, an office worker, a person from a minority, a civil servant, a physical labour worker and a civil society activist.

“Others” during Communism

In order to understand the negative stance in today’s society towards the refugees, we explored the way the state handled “the other” in the different systems before and after 1989.

When the Communist regime was in power, integrating minorities was a matter of attempting to fit them within the framework of what was considered “normal”. Nobody was allowed to be different from the rest or if they were, their identity had to be hidden and changed. Repressions were commonplace but somewhat invisible for the Bulgarian population that did not belong to a minority. The most striking illustration of this type of policies is the so called Revival Process in Bulgaria – a campaign designed to change the names, and ultimately, the identity of the Bulgarian Turkish minority. This effort resulted in protests and the subsequent arrests, resettlement within Bulgaria and ultimately the expulsion of 350 000 Bulgarian citizens from a Turkish origin from Bulgaria to Turkey.

The attitude towards the other large Bulgarian minority – the Roma – was also one of forced integration. Many of the interviewees recalled that in the period before 1989 all Bulgarian Roma went to school and were subsequently given a job by the state. However, these achievements were attributed to the fear the Roma had from the state apparatus rather than on a genuine integration that was taking place.

In those times foreigners that did not come from the Eastern Bloc were rare in Bulgaria and almost worshiped. People from the West were well off and possessed items and knowledge that were unattainable for the ordinary Bulgarian citizen. They also illustrated the clash between what the state propaganda was claiming and the reality.

“Otherness” and transition

When the wall came down, a period of volatility and narrative change followed. The social security which was guaranteed by the Communist regime suddenly disappeared and the people who were used to depending on these safety nets had a hard time adjusting. The order and discipline, imposed by the regime were gone. Nevertheless, many of the restrictions associated with Communism were now gone as well. The freedom of choice, the increase of opportunities and the possibility to travel abroad are often cited as the greatest benefits of democracy.

Bulgaria entered a globalising world that was very diverse and colourful. There was access to all the previously unavailable information and many travelled outside the country for the first time only after 1989. Many of the Bulgarian Turks who left the country during the Revival Process returned to their homes in Bulgaria. Foreigners from all over the world visited Bulgaria much more often. The reaction of the Bulgarian society towards these changes was split – some embraced the diversity around them and took advantage while others felt that core elements of their identity were being threatened.

While the freedom to travel, study or work abroad is generally considered a good thing, many do not approve of immigrant coming to live in Bulgaria. Some immigrants, namely those from the West, are more welcome than those who come from poorer regions. Still, the societal uniformity imposed during the Communism tends to make Bulgarians suspicious towards everyone who deviates from what is “normal”. The efforts to integrate the Turkish and Roma minorities within the Bulgarian society are largely judged as fruitless and the stereotypes, associated with these groups are widely spread.

The refugees as a threat to the Bulgarian identity and way of life

Against the background of everything discussed above, it is hardly surprising that the majority of Bulgarians consider the influx of refugees to be a threat. Most often, their fears are justified through one or several of the following arguments: the majority of refugees are Muslim and will bring their Islamic culture and traditions here without being able or willing to integrate within the Bulgarian society; refugees need help but if we leave our borders open nothing will stop terrorists to enter as well; the number of refugees is too great and due to Bulgaria’s negative birth rate they will soon outnumber us; refugees demand rights and privileges that they are not truly entitled to and are unwilling to obey Bulgarian laws; most refugees are in fact just immigrants trying to get to Europe. Interestingly, these convictions are usually coupled with the idea that someone should in fact help the real refugees in some way because they are the people who run away from a war and fight to protect their lives and the lives of their families. This attitude, exhibiting a striking lack of solidarity and empathy, can be summarised in a single sentence: “Refugees are not a Bulgarian problem”.

In contrast to the discussed above widespread opinion, there is also a minority group of people who perceives the refugee crisis as an opportunity rather than as a threat. They believe that refugees can be used for both our benefit and their own. The large number of young people who come to Europe have untapped potential that can serve well in an aging society.


Bulgarians attitude towards “the other” is often one of suspicion, distrust and fear. The idea that everyone should not only be equal but also the same as everyone else, imposed during the Communist period, is still prominent in the minds of many representatives of the generation of transition. Although this outcome is certainly disappointing, there is also cause for optimism. On the basis of the small-scale research we conducted in Bulgaria a tentative conclusion can be drawn. Those who travel abroad and have frequent contact with people from other cultures and religions are less likely to consider refugees as a threat. It appears that the personal contact with “the others” dissolves many of the existing stereotypes and leads to more understanding and ultimately, empathy.


Iva Kopraleva (Sofia Platform)

Country Profile – Bulgaria

Can you mark the beginning and the end of the transition period? What marked it? When was the moment “when history stopped”?

The initial point of the transition period in Bulgaria is fairly easy to pinpoint as it coincides with the fall of the Communist rule in the country – 10 November 1989. At the same time, the question of the end of transition is a complex one as some Bulgarians would question whether transition has even been completed. Having in mind the rich variety of viewpoints that exist on the subject matter, it is still useful to introduce a framework for the transition period that will serve us in further analysing the issue. Dr. Mihail Gruev introduces an interesting periodization of the Bulgarian transition in Sofia Platform’s publication “25 Years of Changes: Boundaries and Periodisation of the Transition, the Institutions and the Democracy Quality in Bulgaria”. According to him, transition in Bulgaria extends from 1989 to 2007 and there are three main stages of this process:

1989 – 1991 – This period was characterized by the demise of the Communist regime in Bulgaria and the planning of the new democratic institutions. The period ended when the new democratic Bulgarian constitution was adopted in July 1991.

1991 – 1997 – During this period society was somewhat disoriented amidst the new realities that come with transition. There was no consensus among the political elites as to the direction in which Bulgaria should develop and especially on whether it should be oriented towards the West or Russia. This bifurcation of the Bulgarian society and the elites came to an end with the major economic crisis in 1996-1997 that served as a benchmark for Bulgaria’s decision to head West.

1997 – 2007 – This period was marked by visa liberatisation and Bulgaria’s accession to the Euro-Atlantic structures, including NATO and the European Union. Bulgaria’s transition was arguably completed when the country became a member of the EU.

Who drove transition? What happened to these people during the time of transition?

Transition in Bulgaria was an elitist project in the sense that it was led mostly by the political elite in the country. Bulgaria did not have a developed and well-organised dissident movement before 1989 as in some other Eastern European countries. As a result, those in power had little resistance and tolerated only the opposition figures that did not pose too much of a threat to the regime. After the change in the political system after 1989, due to the lack of an authentic opposition, many who were affiliated with the former Communist party changed colour and became supporters of right-wing policies. Gradually, however, the free elections started to create, at least to a certain extent, a real competition among the political players. The financial crisis in Bulgaria in 1996 – 1997 marked a turning point in this process as this was the time when an overwhelming majority of the Bulgarian society saw the Bulgarian Socialist Party, the formal Bulgarian Communist Party, as unfit to govern the country any longer. Since then, the right Bulgarian parties started to push strongly for integration with the West. This push was subsequently embraced by the Left as well, leading to a national consensus on Bulgaria’s foreign policy future.

What was the role of civil society in the transition period?

The lack of an active dissident movement in Bulgaria resulted in a slow development of civil society after 1989. A number of organisations emerged but were not very effective in engaging the general public. In addition, the funding for civil society activities has been and continues to be limited. This means that only the civil society organisations backed by large international donors managed to survive. As a result, the civil society had an important but limited role in the Bulgarian transition.

How contested was the path of transition? What options have there been?

Initially, there was a serious contest about the direction in which Bulgaria should follow after 1989. There were two possible paths – East and West – and in was unclear which one will be chosen. The former Communist party was advocating for a closer relationship with Russia while the right-wing movements that emerged after the change promoted integration with the West. The latter path was unanimously embraced by the Bulgarian elites only in 1997, after a major economic crisis shook up the economic and banking system of the country and resulted in hyperinflation and default for many businesses and individuals. The Socialist Party was largely blamed for the crisis and the socialist government, then in power, was forced to resign. In the subsequent interim parliamentary elections, the right-wing political movements had absolute majority and Bulgaria was set on the course of integration with the West. The first step in this direction was the introduction of a currency board which tied the Bulgarian lev to the German mark in 1997. This was undertaken by the provisional government appointed by the Bulgarian President event before the interim elections took place. Since then, the newly established consensus regarding Bulgaria’s political future has rarely been challenged.

What key event were crucial for the transition?

Several points in the Bulgarian transitional experience can be characterized as game-changers. The change of the political system in Bulgaria in November 1989 was certainly crucial as this event initiated the transition. The new democratic Bulgarian constitution, adopted in 1991 cemented the democratic foundation of the country and made it possible for the transition process to go forward. In the aftermath of the Bulgarian economic crisis in 1996-1997 the Bulgarian elites finally agreed on the direction in which Bulgaria should be headed – namely towards integrating in the Euro-Atlantic structures. The 2002 visa liberalization represented a tangible progress in this quest. Bulgaria’s accession to NATO in 2004 demonstrated the firm commitment of the Bulgarian elites when it comes to the chosen course of the country. In 2007 Bulgaria became a member of the European Union – an event that arguably marked the end of the Bulgarian transition process.

Is there something like a common narrative about transition? Is that narrative contested? How and by whom?

In the Bulgarian society there are arguably two opposing narratives of transition. The first one is the narrative of nostalgia. People who hold this view have created in their minds an idealized version of the communist period and regard the shift towards democracy as something that has had a detrimental effect on their lives and society as a whole. Communism is associated with security and stability, lack of unemployment, free education and healthcare, cheap vacations and other social benefits. Within this narrative fits also the pro-Russian geopolitical orientation. The second narrative is about the freedom which resulted from the fall of the Berlin Wall – freedom to speak, think, travel, vote and disagree. In this view Bulgaria has to strive to integrate itself within the Western world to which it belongs. When discussing this issue, it is worth keeping in mind that the black and white picture these two narratives paint is clearly oversimplified and there are many nuances in each of the two positions. Nevertheless, it can serve as a useful tool to map the current situation in Bulgaria. For the moment, it appears that the second narrative prevailed, at least among the political elites – Bulgaria is in the EU and NATO and the ruling coalition is certainly relying on a discourse, related to democracy promotion, civil society engagement and anti-corruption. However, the voices that challenge this predominant point of view have hardly disappeared from the Bulgarian political landscape.

What values shaped the transition period and was there a conflict between the different sets of values and worldviews?

The different sets of values that existed in Bulgaria during the period of transition are very much related to the two narratives, discussed above. For the people who feel nostalgia towards the past, security is the primary value. They prefer to be certain that there is a state safety net that will supply them with a job, healthcare and education. In addition, the idea that everyone is equally deserving of these benefits regardless of their personal or professional qualities has its appeal. For those, who consider the shift towards democracy to be a good thing, freedom and individualism are to a large extent the primary values. The freedom to do, say and think whatever you want and to be able to express yourself with no consequences is one of the most valuable benefits of democracy. However, there is much misconception in both sets of values. On the one hand, the security and equality during the Communist time can be associated with lack of initiative, lack of incentive to improve and penalty for everyone who deviates from what is considered to be “normal”. On the other hand, one might argue that the freedom and individualism after the transition have been taken to an extreme and have resulted in egoism and a remarkable lack of solidarity and empathy in today’s society.

What are the typical representatives of the generation of transition in your country and what are their characteristics?

In Bulgaria the generation of transition can be defined as the people who were not old enough to drive the process but were nevertheless influences strongly by it. In addition, today these people are at an active age and are the leading force in many societal spheres. Arguably, these are the people born around the period 1970 – 1989. It is difficult to define a typical representative of this generation but it can arguably be split into three major groups – those you perceive themselves as winners of the transition, those who think they lost from transition, and those who do not think their lives were affected by transition. The winners of transition are typically those who take advantage of all the freedoms gained after 1989. For them, the change meant gaining the opportunity to think, speak and travel freely, to have their own business or a high paying job, to be an individual. Those who consider themselves losers from transition are the ones who feel nostalgia towards the social security which came with Communism – a secure job, free healthcare, free education. Loosing these social perks invokes a feeling of being abandoned by the state and by society. The group of people that are neither winners nor losers is indifferent towards this debate and in a way detached from the political realities in Bulgaria. They do not feel empowered to change the situation in the country and do not believe that anyone else can. They are inherently passive and not likely to vote or to engage in any civil activity. There three types of typical representatives are clearly overly simplified but they give the reader a rough idea of the generation of transition.

How is the period of transition relevant to the way the generation of transition thinks and acts today? Does it influence how they make decisions or how they attempt to tackle contemporary challenges?

The relevance of the period of transition in Bulgarian society today is undeniable. The competing narratives and value systems certainly influence strongly Bulgaria’s political life. The education the generation of transition received in the two periods – before and after 1989 – has a strong impact on the way they perceive the world and the contemporary challenges that they face. Many examples of this can be found, from the way the generation of transition thinks about this period in mostly black and white and fails to analyse it properly to their relative civil inactiveness and notable egoism towards everyone outside their close family and friends circle. The confusion which resulted from the change from one system to another led to indifference. It is important to note that even though the described above profile encompasses a fair amount of people who belong to the transitional generation, there are also many exceptions. The behaviour of each person is a complex mix of different factors and living through the period of transition is just one of them, albeit important.

Louisa Slavkova & Iva Kopraleva (Sofia Platform)

Country profile – Germany

How is the period of transition framed in your country? What allows us to label a generation the “Transition Generation” as such?

What are uniting experiences and phenomena?

In the German case the most emotional event of course was the fall of the Berlin Wall on the 9th of November in 1989. These pictures are deeply written in the historical memory of the whole nation. But on both sides of the wall, the associations and pictures have a different effect.

What is distinct for each country – why?

Germany as such feels like the trigger of change and transition of this time, nevertheless there have been a lot of historical key points and preconditions located in different spheres and countries, for instance the politics of Perestroika and Glasnost after the empowerment of Gorbatschow in Russia.

What is the effect on civil society today?

In general it can be resumed there is a differentiated civil society in Germany for all reasons of political, social and cultural issues, more or less well organised – caused by a long tradition in western Germany since the end of the second world war.

What marks the beginning and the end of the transition? When was the moment “when history stopped”?

The most pictured point was the fall down of the Berlin wall, but as well the summer of 1989 with mass escapes/ getaways of citizens of the GDR by entering the embassies of western Germany in Hungary and Czech Republic have been clearly the signs of change in both German countries, some more in the GDR.

Who / what groups drove transition? What happened to these people during transition?

Drivers of the transition have been the so called “Bürgerrechtler” or dissidents in the former GDR, but after unification they took a back seat in the political process.

What was the role of civil society?

The eastern civil society with their experiences and contacts took over the public life in the East and formed a democratically organised but “East-West-hierarchical” system of civil engagement. In the eastern part of the country the people got more and more silent after the mass demonstrations. A huge deindustrialisation and unemployment wave took place in East Germany and so many people moved to the western part for work and education. In the early 90s East Germany got to know as a neo-Nazi-area by attacking foreigners.

Is there something like a common narrative on the time of transition and before? Is that narrative contested? How and by whom?

There are two common narratives, an eastern and a western one. In the East the people felt more or less as citizens of second class, the western Germans felt like paying a high monetary price for unification. These are long lasting cut and dried opinions and mind driving pictures. With the films “Good by Lenin” and “Sonnenallee” there is a parallel nostalgic narrative about the socialist time, where especially for the older generation their work and social security were safe. But because of feeling ashamed by being the people who moved the socialist system to change into a democratic and than losing their jobs and being the poor and naive eastern people there is not much talking about the time from the late 80s to the middle of the 90s within the families. Therefore the initiative 3th Generation East Germany and the association Perspektive 3 e.V. had such a great success in the public and media. There is still a need for talking and reflection about the experiences in East and West. With the fall of the Berlin wall not only the GDR ended but also the border between the to blocks of East and West changed. So many things in the social system of West Germany changed as well. There was no need anymore to show a proper social and welfare system “against” the East. The neo-liberalisation started with the fall of the Berlin wall. This has to be discussed in a wider focus of economic and social transition in Europa and the world.

What values shaped the transitions period and was there a conflict between the different sets of values and worldviews?

There has been a dream of finding a third way of social life and economies between capitalism and socialism, a hope for more equity and fairness in the society as such. And there have been neoliberal optimists who saw a chance to liberate the whole economic sphere, finding new markets, consumers, options, profits and chances for wealth and welfare in a globalized world.

What are the typical representatives of the generation of transition in your country and what are their characteristics?

The Third Generation of East Germany is described as those who were born between 1975 and 1985 in East Germany. It involves about 2.4 million young people who can be considered as a generation due to their cohort membership and by a similarly stored imprint of the experience of 1989 and the subsequent upheaval. They were socialist within two systems the socials and the capitalist and migrated in large numbers from their regions of origin.

Those who are born in the West of Germany faced a more globalized and less social capitalistic society as in the 1980s, but they have not suffered such a deep change of all circumstances of life like the East Germans of this and every generation. Some are still rarely interested in any East-German case and never travelled there in their life.

How is the period of transition relevant to the way the generation of transition thinks and acts today? Does it influence how they make decisions or how they attempt to tackle contemporary challenges?

The people and institutions in East Germany have to deal with many challenges of unemployment and a de-industrialised future. At the same time there are on a personal level feelings of lethargy and a lack of solidarity and empathy among the people. In the communities a people driven community-oriented local perspective for development is missed. On an institutional level the challenges are an ageing infrastructure combined with a low level of funds. There is a hope that the 3rd Generation of East Germany is now in the position to act as a change agent within the Eastern regions but they are not very present in the elite structures in politics or economics for example and a very few living in rural areas.

Judith Enders / Mandy Schulze