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Lost in Transition. Nostalgia for Socialism in Post-socialist Countries

Written by Mitja Velikonja, this article appeared on the fourth issue of Vol. 23 of East European Politics & Societies in November 2009.
Why is there nostalgia for real socialism? Is it but a logical response to sudden, dramatic transformation? Don’t people remember those days anymore—or do they remember them all too well? In popular opinion, nostalgia for socialism is something fabricated, invented, and then imposed by different groups of people to achieve some goals: to open a new commercial niche, to attain political credit, to win popular support, to get artistic inspiration, and so on. Thus, many academic studies have examined only this instrumental side of the phenomenon, limiting it to the “industry of nostalgia” only. But research shows that nostalgia is in fact a retrospective utopia, a wish and a hope for a safe world, a fair society, true friendships, mutual solidarity, and well-being in general, in short, for a perfect world. As such, it is less a subjective, arbitrary, ideological effort to recall the past as it is, an undetermined, undefined, amorphous wish to transcend the present.
So nostalgia for socialism in fact does not relate exclusively and precisely to past times, regimes, values, relations, and so on as such, but it embodies a utopian hope that there must be a society that is better than the current one.


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