July 29, 2021

Eastern Europe, broth of cultures

“The Life of the Spirit in Central and Eastern Europe since 1945. Encyclopedic Dictionary”, edited by Chantal Delsol and Joanna Nowicki, 1000 p., € 39, digital € 27.

The work is sometimes disconcerting. Yet it is incomparably rich. The look that wears The Life of the Spirit in Central and Eastern Europe since 1945 on the East shows how much the West ignores him. Reading this encyclopedic dictionary, Europe reveals itself as it is, as abundant and diverse as it is crossed by deep fractures.

One hundred and fifty researchers, writers and artists, coming among others from Poland, Hungary, Romania, but also from France, participate in this volume. This is undoubtedly its most precious contribution: bringing Europe to life through the translation and confrontation of points of view. The ensemble is directed by philosopher Chantal Delsol and central European specialist Joanna Nowicki.

Faced with the rise of populism, the election of authoritarian leaders in Poland and Hungary, the reader will no doubt be tempted to begin with the entry “Liberal Democracies”, due to Chantal Delsol. He may be misled as to the nature of the work, so much so that the point of view expressed in it is committed. Admittedly, the author acknowledges that the phenomenon “Something to worry about”, but it tends to justify this turn, denouncing the “Certainties” of the West and the “Decadence of manners”, without using such vehement vocabulary when it comes to analyzing the attacks on the press and the rule of law by these regimes.

Against “Postmodern liberalism” or “Inevitable immigration”, Budapest and Warsaw have made, according to Chantal Delsol, the choice to restrict freedoms in order to preserve their « cultures », who have been “The only safeguards in times of oppression”. The whole paradox of this dictionary lies in this thesis: the knowledge it exposes in reality makes it possible to go beyond the populist idea of « cultures » unequivocal, stable, and therefore constantly threatened, to which its co-director tends to reduce the “Life of the spirit” in Eastern Europe.

Intellectual resistance

In fact, it abundantly demonstrates that it is a plural space, by tackling many other subjects, of the difficult memory of anti-Semitism, and of its persistence, with multiple and sometimes opposed currents of intellectual resistance to Communist totalitarianism, passing through the contradictory visions of the Dracula myth in force in the East and in the West. Various contributions endeavor to report on the news of writers such as Witold Gombrowicz, Milan Kundera, or to rediscover authors such as the Romanian novelist Nicolae Breban, whose strange masterpieces are recalled, In the absence of the masters or The Annunciation (Flammarion, 1983 and 1985).

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