How the public and the private spaces have become socially re-configured with the change of the political regime in Eastern Europe

Essay, 2011

4 Pages, Grade: 1


How the public and the private spaces have become socially re-configured

with the change of the political regime in Eastern Europe

Milan Kundera dedicates one chapter[1] of his fist novel on how much the policy of the communist regime connected the private sphere with the public one. His example of a village chapel shows how the communists connect the fate of the party with the one of the entire chapel. The policy was to ‘melt’ private and public life. Thus cultural associations and activities were generously supported and as time passes political reserves disappeared.[2] The amalgamation was done. The party had access and interfered in every single facet of life. Due to that, the new setting after the fall showed changes in life of the people to which I will dedicate this essay.

The fall of communism altered the political and the economic system. The paradigm was changed reciprocally with it and caused confusion in the value system[3] as in material assets. Hence, people had to redefine their identities. Birgit Müller connects the altered values with politics through the involvement of emotions[4] and explains the difficulty of the new democratic system. The structural change didn’t easily find implication on the local level. Müller describes that “[p]olitical power was still seen as a total force, not as the result of a communicative act.”[5] This phenomenon resulted in her example of a village in a Czech Village in personal attacks in public. “The public space was … not the forum for an engaged exchange of ideas and opinions.”[6]

The latter field of material changes is among others visible in consumption. Patico and Caldwell[7] examine how consumer adjustment shows changes of circumstances and “bring[s] to light shifting structures of authority, responsibility, privilege, and personhood.” Marody & Giza-Poleszczuk also illustrate the gender issue in consumption and the change of their roles in this particular field. Also the way the change contributes to a new community identity is an important aspect. Consumption has an impact on gift giving, which has an important role, for instance, in the Russian society.[8] Patico describes in another article about the society of St. Petersburg the importance of gifts, which was on the one hand developed through historical circumstances, such as a lack of goods, and on the other hand still in every day use, since it got a very important “sign of attention”. The change of the political and economic system altered even this sphere of life fundamentally, but the former irreplaceable deeds became an established and necessary part of the culture, so that they continue to exist, even if in a slightly different way. After the fall the social networking is no longer needed[9], thus gifts lost their economic importance and remained just as a sign of appreciation.

A further field of assets is the meaning of land and labour, as Katherine Verdery[10] does. The decollectivisation meant a drastic change in the social order, since property got a new importance – due to the question of honour, but even on existence. I her example on Rumania, it is remarkable that the processes of regaining land of ancestors was gender-neutral.[11]

Socialist countries were ahead compared to capitalistic countries on gender issues[12], but one is still far away of a gender balance since women in socialist countries had a burden of two roles. After the transition, three shifts emerged, that altered gender roles[13]: expanded range of commodities and services, a very different situation on labour market[14] and in the symbolic sphere of culture.

Marody and Giza-Poleszczuk stress the strong influence of media that pushed in creating the images of a “new woman” but even a “male comeback”.[15] In both cases, the focus is on individuality, self-fulfilment and success. This meant for women, that “[t]he new image … no longer demands complete sacrifice“.[16] This led to more choice for women.

Due to these historical contrasts, feminists in postsocialist countries have different demands than western ones. There was crucial difference in values of the socialist and liberalist ideologies. Socialism is mainly characterized with female values such as collectivism or sharing, meanwhile latter one may be rather described with male ones, i.e. individualism, power and empowerment.[17] Due to these characteristics, the people are differently sensibilised and thus have different claims. This shows up in gender[18], as well as in spiritual ideas, such as New Age that emerged “when socialism was already on the wane.”[19] Thus, a connection can be made that the ideals of socialism were situated in the private sphere within the New Age but out of the public sphere of the regime, or in other words religion absorbed the political issues. The people transferred the ideals that they still appreciated of the communist regime to their private sphere. After transition the west influenced the religious world strongly, but it was a reciprocal act as Douglas Rogers claims.[20]


[1] cf. Kundera, 1999, pp. 161-166; Unfortunately, I can’t give examples from the field but yet one of literature. The entire book is dedicated to illustrate how communist totalitarianism worked, and in how far private live is affected through it. I picked this chapter because it gives good insight into one particular field and especially on the beginning of the influence of the party in the private sphere, which is here set from 1947 to 1949.

[2] Similar policy was used by the Nazis in the 20ies and 30ies, i.e. to attract people with ‘Tanzabende’ or other cultural activities. Certainly, Jews were not accepted on such events. It is evident that the policy was even here to influence on a private level.

[3] Müller, 2008, p. 181

[4] Müller, 2008, p. 179

[5] Arendt, quoted in Müller, 2008, pp. 191-192, see also Buchowski, 1996, p. 77

[6] Ibd., 2008, p. 192

[7] 2002, p.287

[8] Patico, 2002

[9] Buchowski, 1996, p. 82, 83

[10] 2003

[11] Verdery, 2003, p. 160

[12] Einhorn, 1993

[13] Marody & Giza-Poleszczuk, 2000, p. 165

[14] Not better or worse, but ‘different’ in meaning that less work for low skilled, but growing demand for highly skilled workers

[15] 2000, pp. 167 – 170

[16] Marody & Giza-Poleszczuk, 2000, p. 167

[17] Potrata, 2004, p. 371

[18] Marody & Giza-Poleszczuk, 2000, p. 166

[19] Potrata, 2004, p. 371

[20] Rogers, 2005, p. 8 for instance Shamanism

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How the public and the private spaces have become socially re-configured with the change of the political regime in Eastern Europe
University of Bologna  (MIREES - International Research and Studies on Eastern Europe)
Anthropology of Eastern Europe
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ISBN (eBook)
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eastern, europe
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MA Sandra Filzmoser (Author), 2011, How the public and the private spaces have become socially re-configured with the change of the political regime in Eastern Europe, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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