KAJET JOURNAL BRIEF HISTORIES OF STRUGGLE
The following instances are by no means exhaustive or defining moments in the history of Eastern Europe. Rather, they should be read as suspended breaks in the region’s past, descriptive manifestations of struggling against normative and hegemonic undertakings of the status-quo; if anything they are originating in nostalgia and deracination, transience and transcendence, mythologies and demonisation, empowerment and resistance.
I. TRANSCENDENTAL HOMELESSNESS
The pensive term transcendental homelessness—coined by György Lukács in his 1916 Theory of the Novel—refers to the longing for a place in which the human soul once belonged. Everyone has a profound sense that they belonged somewhere, yet this place has been lost, giving a purpose to human life to reclaim this lost site of existence. The struggle ensues when this urge cannot be fulfilled. Eastern European homelessness is not just the result of deracination or nostalgia, but a permanent condition established due to this region’s positioning between Western Europe and Asia, a buffer zone that displaces the soul, hinders modernisation, and makes the subject feel exiled in perpetuity.
II. THE LOVE BOAT HAS CRASHED AGAINST BYT
So reads Vladimir Mayakovsky’s suicide note whose famously enigmatic verse bears testimony that the trifles of everyday life usually prevail. The Russian word byt—deemed untranslatable into European languages by Roman Jakobson—makes direct reference to the daily grind, the radical alterity of the everyday. If originally it was the Symbolists that used byt to describe the empire of routine, the ordinary way of life soon began to be seen as the order of chaos that precludes illumination by everyone. Through this poetic demonisation of daily transience without transcendence, the failure to surpass banality induces both guilt and anxiety, a scare that the revolutionary dreams of radical reconstruction would be forgotten.
III. THE MONSTROUS EAST
Is it really accidental that the most lasting Western mythological villains, from Frankenstein to Count Dracula, Nosferatu to the Golem are connected somehow with Eastern Europe? Of course, the fact that the demonisation of Eastern Europe is a socio-historical construct is not surprising any longer. Following this monstrous regionality, Eastern Europe seems to be abundant in folk and mythological creatures which have gradually led to a schizophrenic construction of Eastern Europe as the birthplace of evil: the hideous and the frightful, vampirism and lycanthropy, witchcraft and black magic, diabolic rites and cruel customs, occultists and satanists, demons and fiends, spooks and ghosts, lesbian femmes fatales and dangerous temptresses. This source of gothic horrors and Westernised otherness departs from Mare—the Slavic creature of bad dreams, bringer of nightmares—to Božalość—the messenger of death—to Bobak—the Polish boogeyman—and the Albanian Bolla—whose eyes remain sealed throughout the year, except for St. George’s Day, when it gazes into the world, devouring any human on sight.
IV. THE PARTIZANKA & THE AFŽ
The weapon of struggle knows no sex, class, or ethnicity. Especially when it is aimed at fascists and it is held by women. The Women’s Antifascist Front of Yugoslavia (AFŽ) was an interwar and World War II-era feminist movement and political organisation. The partizanka played a key role in the war effort, with two million women being involved in the communist-led resistance. This new condition subsequently destabilised social arrangements, giving way for renewed possibilities of altering existing notions of gender, nation, family. The oscillating trajectory of the partizanka, however, mirrored the accomplishments and erosion of Yugoslav communism and the Yugoslav nation itself: tracing her journey, we notice that she started out as the energetic revolutionary par excellence—celebrated publicly through commemorations and historiographies—only to crumble and end up as a marginalised relic of the past. What we can derive from the collapse of a nation’s icon is that feminist solidarity can be truly empowering only when women reach out directly to other women, and not when their actions are conditioned through male power-brokers.
V. GOING TO AMERICA
There is a radical difference between the European dream and the American dream: inter-human connections over individual autonomy, a sense of community over the private pursuit of happiness, diversity and openness over assimilation and consumption, regional and international cooperation over a unilateral application of power, revolution which will radically transfigure the social world over a self-perpetuating system. It is therefore not surprising that in Crime and Punishment, Dostoevsky comes up with a new way of thinking about the New World and the land of promises, when he uses the phrase going to America as a synonym to committing suicide.
VI. DACHA—FROM COLLECTIVE LEISURE TO NOUVEAU-RICHE PLEASURE
The dacha (дача) was a residential unit used intermittently for summer or weekend retreats, a secluded dwelling which mirrored the changing character of urban life. The history of the dacha as the Russian institution of leisure is one marked by struggle: used preeminently by the Tsarist aristocracy in the 19th century, dachas were nationalised after the Bolshevik revolution and converted into vacation homes for factory workers or distributed among the prominent functionaries of the party and the cultural elite. Although often ill-equipped, they were a popular solution for millions of working-class families in terms of affordable leisure and retreat opportunities. After the fall of the Soviet regime, dachas shifted toward privatised, nouveau-riche, modern residential houses, being organised in housing cooperatives for the inner circles of the government and corporate elite. Stalin himself lived for the last two decades of his life and died in a dacha (Kuntsevo/Ку́нцево), Putin is using a dacha for both business and pleasure, assembling his inner circle into a cooperative society and a gated community (Ozero/О́зеро).
1. György Lukács in a West German TV documentary of Hungarian writer Tibor Déry / Petőfi Literary Museum Budapest.
2. György Lukács and Árpád Szakasits, a former Hungarian president, at the Central House of the People's Army on June 27, 1956. Samai Antónia / hirado.hu.
3. Vladimir Mayakovsky, student at the Stroganov State Academy Moscow (1910) / Wikimedia Commons.
4. Mayakovsky on a stamp of the Soviet Union (1953), CPA #1719, designed by Ivan Dubasov / Wikimedia Commons.
5. "Varney the Vampire" was a popular gothic horror story that was distributed on pamphlets called "penny dreadfuls" in Victorian England. This illustration from the series shows the vampire striking. / Hulton Archive | Getty Images
6. Johann Heinrich Füssli—The Nightmare (1781) / Wikimedia Commons.
7. Rada Vranješević, a Yugoslav political activist and resistance leader in Bosnia during the Second World War, speaking at the State Anti-fascist Council for the National Liberation of Bosnia and Herzegovina / Wikimedia Commons.
8. An elderly peasant woman speaking at the rally of the Women's Antifascist Front of Croatia in a village near Split, May 1944 / Wikimedia Commons.
9. Suicide of Lucretia (c.1575) by Luca Cambiaso, Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, TX / Wikimedia Commons.
10. "The grief-stricken Pyramus commits suicide" by Jan Andries Lievens / Wikimedia Commons.
11. The family of Boleslav Telichan, worker of the Krasny Khimik plant in Leningrad, at their summer house. (1981) by V. Lozovskiy in RIA Novosti archive, image #487609, under CC-BY-SA 3.0 / Wikimedia Commons.
12. Lenin at Gorky by Isaak Brodsky (1919) / Wikimedia Commons.