A Journey to Eastern Europe

A Journey to Eastern Europe

“Have you ever been abroad?” I asked the taxi driver in Budapest. “No,” he replied, “only in Vienna.” The answer was not, apparently, intended as a joke. It reflected something essential in the new East European atmosphere: the recrudescence of national peculiarities. Hungary was, after all, part of the Hapsburg empire: Budapest and Vienna are less than an hour apart by air, four hours by road. (The Austrians take their heritage seriously: they seem to have found or made a vocation as a spiritual and economic meeting place for the nations that were once in the empire, the Czechs, Hungarians, and Poles especially.) What I have termed the recrudescence of national peculiarities in the case of Hungary, and the other East European nations, has led to a new internationalism in Eastern Europe. Old traditions, among the intellectuals, of contact with Western Europe have been renewed—and this at a period when the intellectuals and the intelligentsia as a whole have gained more importance than they previously had in the Communist societies, and constitute a much larger social grouping than they did even 15 years ago.

What I have termed the new nationalism cannot be narrowly circumscribed. It may well entail phenomena like distinctive national patterns of Communist economic development, although experiments in areas like economic planning seem to be crossing frontiers. Perhaps the simplest statement of the case is also the most accurate one: the new nationalism is part of a general emergence of spontaneous, often unexpected, sometimes not entirely pleasant social developments as a consequence of the relaxation of rigid Party controls, the abandonment of dogmatically derived attempts to impose a detailed map upon reality. A noble intellectual critique of Communist reality and strong popular currents which reject any collective aspirations whatsoever, courageous political dissent and a totally cynical careerism, a new internationalism and old nationalisms—these are the result. During my travels in Eastern Europe in 1965 and 1966, I was able to glimpse some of these forces at work. I visited Hungary, Poland, and the German Democratic Republic—as well as Yugoslavia which, politically, is in a class by itself.


Wurgraft | University of California Press Lima