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On the occasion of the 30thanniversary of the democratic revolutions in Central and Eastern Europe, a panel discussion was held on Monday the 25 November 2019 in the Bogdan Ogrizović library in Zagreb.

In his introductory remarks as moderator, Documenta‘s dr. Boris Stamenić reflected on the salient place the “Fall of the Berlin Wall” holds in the public perception of the 1989 democratic revolutions in Europe, posing the question of the similarities and differences of “1989” among different states of the Eastern Bloc.

In her own introductory remarks, dr. Annemarie Franke, a historian focusing on the contemporary history of Central and Eastern Europe and German representative in the Warsaw-based European Network Remembrance and Solidarity, reflected on her own perception of the political events of 1989, which she followed as an eighteen-year-old. Franke stressed the need to highlight the role the events in Poland and Hungary played in what happened later in East Germany, stating that in early spring 1989, no-one anticipated the coming “Fall of the Wall” and the re-unification of Germany.

Dr. Gruia Badescu, a post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Konstanz, Germany, reflected in turn on the events of 1989 in his own country, Romania. Badescu emphasised that the events that took place in Romania in late 1989 and early 1990 continue to cause polarisation in Romania, and that there is no consensus on the question of what exactly happened, that is, how should these events be appraised.

Professor Christian Axboe Nielsen of the Aarhus University in Denmark also discussed the ambivalent status of the democratic revolution in the Romanian culture of memory, reminding the audience of the Romanian black comedy, “12:08 East of Bucharest”, which questions the issue of individual and social memory of the revolution through the form of an anniversary debate in a local TV studio in an unknown provincial town. Going on, Professor Nielsen reflected on the issue of the comparability of the events of 1989 in various European countries, warning of the significant differences between individual countries, that is, democratic revolutions within the former Eastern Bloc.

HIPMONT’s (association of Montenegro’s history professors) Miloš Vukanović acquainted the audience with the events of 1989 in Montenegro, pointing to the impossibility of uncoupling the dynamics present in Montenegro from the events that occurred in Yugoslavia and its successor states later on. In addition, Vukanović spoke of the crisis of the paradigm of belated democratic transition and the European path of the Balkan states, whose practical perspective of joining the European Union is at this moment highly uncertain.

The continuing conversation with the panellists about the symbolic and real meaning of the democratic revolutions of 1989 for contemporary societies pointed up, on the one hand, the differences in the place the “Year 1989” holds in the cultures of memory in specific European societies, and, on the other, the political immediacy of the question of the revolution. In consequence, there is no social and political consensus on the positive valuation of the democratic revolutions, that is, of liberal democracy as a political and value system – as highlighted by several panellists.

Opening the panel to questions from the audience resulted in a number of interesting questions, which further stressed the current significance of the topic of the 1989 democratic revolutions to contemporary Europe, and showed interest among the citizens in discussing the contemporary history, present and future of Europe. The panel participants’ interesting musings gave the public an insight in the subject-matter of democratic revolutions in a supra-national context, and moved at least some of them to think and reflect.

The discussion was held as part of the “Reshaping the Image of democratic Revolutions 1989: European contemporary Perspectives and forgotten Lessons from the Past” project, coordinated by Documentaand financed by the European Union within its Europe for Citizensprogram. A series of public events in late April in Rijeka, the 2020 European Capital of culture, will provide the next opportunity to foster a public dialogue about the legacy of democratic revolutions of 1989, as well as the importance of protecting liberal democracy as a political system and system of values.

Documenta– Centre for Dealing with the Past