'The Event 1989'

Warsaw University
Centre Michel Foucault d'études françaises Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales Uniwersytet Warszawski
17.10.2008 - 18.10.2008
Jan C. Behrends

In his movie 12.08 East of Bucharest, Romanian director Corneliu Porumboiu turned Ceaucescus’ flight attempt, on December 22th 1989, into the symbol of « the event 1989 » in Romania. In this country, the December « revolution » has been perceived as a structuring occurrence throughout popular representations and the memory of the past. This conception has also been applied to the dismantling of the Berlin wall in East-Germany, or the political round-tables set in Poland and Hungary. Considered as the meeting point between a still relatively unknown communist past and a present difficult to decipher, 1989 has been conceived as a symbolical crucible spurning transformations leading to an in-depth reshaping of the politics, economics and society in the East of Europe. However, the timeframe encompassing the actual events encapsulated in 1989 is rather short, lasting from a few days to a few weeks at the most. It doesn’t hamper the affected societies to hail 1989 as a powerful reshuffle of political, economical and social trends ordinarily set in longer time span. In order to cope with this paradox, the players in social life strove to create a discourse aiming to bestow on 1989 a symbolical dimension.
Scientific, intellectual and political narratives, artistic and literary works on postcommunism in Eastern and Central Europe always refer to 1989 as a turning point. Some understand 1989 as a new beginning while others argue that this event only entailed a reshaping of the preexistent society. 1989 has become a mark around which past, future and present representations are constantly challenged and rethought. 1989 is always thought as a central event in the history of Eastern Europe, of Europe or of the world, as a « regime change », « revolution » or « systemic change ». This interpretation is generally ambiguous: it neglects the event’s complexity and favors teleological approaches; there is a danger of underplaying national idiosyncrasies by summing up particular narratives in an all-encompassing, built-up event.
Our goal is neither to celebrate the event twenty years after its occurrence, nor to lessen its significance by overstressing the resilient trends emerging under the discontinuities it spearheaded or trying to outline the present in the light of the past. We rather aim to map out the sense-making mechanisms making 1989 understandable. Is there only one 1989 or is 1989 rather made by the coalescence of multiple national 1989, whose unification under a common symbolic was apocryphal? How did the time sequence 1989, from its unfolding onwards, lead to interpretations, reinterpretations and interpretation conflicts depending on the interpreters, the context and the settings producing the discourses? The dominant view exposing 1989 as a sequence of democratic transition or as a liberal revolution seems to have recently lost ground in favor of other emerging interpretations on the nature of these transformations. How does a dominant interpretation settle in our representations and gets ultimately challenged again? Why does this interpretation finally get questioned and leaves space to a plurality of interpretations or, in some cases, to a blurred explanation?
We will be careful not to substantialize the event but to tackle it through political and intellectual discourses, social-studies works, debates and public controversies in the spaces where its writings and rewritings take place.

We will focus on several aspects of the problem :

- What national visions of the event? How is 1989 being portrayed in Poland, in Hungary, in East-Germany and in other countries of the European community? What facts does 1989 include in different countries and how can we explain theses discrepancies?

- Beyond the historical facts, what physical proofs constitute the event’s legacy (polish round table, university place in Bucarest, Berlin Wall ...) and for what symbolical meaning? Do celebrations take place and how?

- What were the interpretations of the event created while it still was happening? What is the « work of signification (B. Gobille) mad by players and watchers of an event as it is being made?

- What are the interpretations and interpretational conflicts on the event after 1989, in universes of symbolical production (literature, cinema, art...), the social-studies and the arena of political competition, social movements, economic milieu, etc...

French will be the working language. The language of the papers may be in French, Polish or English. A French-Polish simultaneous translation will be available.

Paper proposals (400 words abstract) and a short CV must be sent to colloqueevenement@yahoo.fr before May 30th 2008. Centre Michel Foucault’s scientific committee will review and select the proposals. The candidates will be informed about their participation to the conference June 30th 2008 at the latest. The conference papers must be sent to the organizers before September 20th 2008. The Centre Michel Foucault will pay for accommodation for all participants along with their transportation costs.

Organizational staff : Agnès Chetaille (CEMS-EHESS), Matthieu Gillabert (Institut d'histoire contemporaine, Université de Fribourg), Gauthier Graslin (Géophile-ENS Lyon), Jérôme Heurtaux (CERAPS-CNRS), Audrey Kichelewski (CMF-EHESS), Cédric Pellen (SPIRIT-CNRS), Karolina Sztandar-Sztanderska (IS UW, CERI IEP), Maja Szymanowska (GRIHL-EHESS), Paweł Rodak (IKF-UW)

Contact and information : colloqueevenement@yahoo.fr


Agnes Chetaille



'The Event 1989', 17.10.2008 – 18.10.2008 Warsaw, in: H-Soz-Kult, 24.04.2008, <www.hsozkult.de/event/id/termine-9189>.
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