The first presentation of the paper at the 17th Triennial Congress of the International
Comparative Literature Association, August 8-15, 2004, in Hong Kong.
Halina Janaszek-Ivaničková ( Warsaw, Poland)
The Shock of Rampant Post-Communist Capitalism :
The Theme of Transformation in Slav Literature after 1989
A violent systemic transformation took place in all Slav communist countries under the
cryptonym of “a transition from the socialist economy to the market economy” (1989-1991). The
Polish Independent Self-Governing Trade Union “Solidarity”, which acted as the promoter of
assorted movements in the region, initially did not foresee such a transformation. Its only demands
related to social justice, respect for human dignity, a democratisation of the country and self-
governance, which was supposed to lead to a civic society and independence of Russia on the basis
of the Solidarity ethos, i. a. a moral re-birth of the nation (Krasnodębski 2003 : 59-92). After winning
a great victory in the parliamentary elections of 4 June 1989, marking the end of communism in
Poland, Solidarity abandoned its original myth which in 1979-1981 won the support of ten million
Poles; instead, it opted for the restitution of capitalism in its extreme neo-liberal form of Thatcherism
and Reaganism . Generally speaking, the situation in other post-communist Slavonic countries was
similar. About 300 million Slavs, had been drawn into a frenzied whirlpool of transformation and
transition for whose implementation no concrete technical scenario had been prepared earlier
(Krzysztofek 2002 : 354). On the one hand, the outcome of transition included knowledge about the
crimes of communism, extracted from the heretofore underground and rendered available to the wide
masses, together with the joy of winning independence from the Soviet Union, an outburst of
freedom, access to western technological civilisation and computerisation, and the realisation of a
dream of returning to Europe cherished by the Western Slavs which, according to the hopes of
idealists (including the author of these words - Janaszek-Ivaničková 2002 : 263-264), denoted a return
to the Mediterranean culture of the West together with its chivalric and civic code.
On the other hand, transformation sold out national property for virtually pennies and generated
corruption, , unemployment and homelessness, a rapidly increasing crime rate and drug addiction as
well as a tide of aggressive advertisement. Post-communist societies reacted with horror to the sight
of people searching for food in trash cans. The grand fortunes of the nouveau riches, more frequently
the result of plunder of national property and pure mafia contacts than honest work, stirred
dissatisfaction.. Although the negative phenomena associated with transformation, described in the
Slavonic belles lettres, are to a great measure an integral part of the process of globalisation, only a
few take this fact into consideration,because the process of globalisation in Slavonic countries begin
The year 1989 signified a return of free elections, the freedom of speech, the independence (at
least in theory) of the press and the mass media, as well as the freedom of association and travel. State
censorship was abolished. Nonetheless, strong attachment to the totalitarian system rendered
authentic democracy and freedom impossible.. As the American researcher Sabrina Ramet observed
correctly, they were replaced by “plutocracy”, “kleptocracy”, “phallocrasy”, “anarchy” as well as a
“democracy of poverty” (Ramet 1995 : 277). The latter became particularly conspicuous in the
Balkans, where the sphere of poverty encompassed about 76 % of the population in Bulgaria and 64,5
% in Serbia; in Poland, it affects about 60 % of all citizens, with the official unemployment index
encompassing 19,5 % of a population capable of work.
The abolition of state censorship did not exclude informal central and local censorship,
wielded in the name of certain parties or lobbies. The liquidation of autocratic rule did not eliminate
numerous forms of so-called intimate terror (an expression coined by Jean-François Lyotard), which
thrusts itself into different places in society and culture, and whose first and fundamental symptom is
ostracism, i. e. the ejection of an individual from a community of interlocutors (Lyotard 1993 : 209).
This type of intensified ostracism appeared in all post-communist states which witnessed not only the
antagonism of nations and nationalities, but also profound world outlook divisions within a given
society. Controversies between dissidents and former Party members, the supporters of socialism and
the spokesmen of capitalism, the adherents of Church, religious fundamentalism and left-wing
postmodern anti-fundamentalists, split society into groups and camps which continue to battle up to
this day. This state of mind was captured excellently by the outstanding Polish poet and playwright
Tadeusz Różewicz in a remake of his play Kartoteka (The File), today known as Kartoteka
rozrzucona (The Scattered File, 1997), a postmodern drama about the ambitions of national tragedy
during the era of transformations. By operating with numerous inter-textual references to Polish
literature, Różewicz called upon the elites of contemporary Poland, gathered in a post-Mickiewiczian
Warsaw salon, to embrace national concord, whose symbol is to be a jointly performed polonaise.
The salon habitues, however, exchange insults and react to the invitation to dance by refusing to hold
hands, mindful of history, in other words, affiliation in assorted political camps (Różewicz 1997 : 95).
Such refusal is no longer an exception in present-day Slavdom; on the contrary, it has
become a rule, and in extreme instances leads to fratricidal strife, as was the case in the Balkans, or to
an exchange of heavy insults, as the Czechs and Slovaks were wont to do in former Czechoslovakia,
finally bringing about a disintegration of the state.
Until recently, the political correctness of the central media, obligatory in post-communist
Slav countries, stifled all critique of the system .. Now leaders of the Polish Solidarity and the
underground in other countries began writing about the threat posed to democracy by poverty and
unemployment (Kuroń 2003), the disillusionment of former political elites towards politics (Michnik
2004), and the need to revise the paradigm of liberal democracy (Krasnodębski 2004). The contents
of my paper will not, however, relate to such discourse, but to the Slavonic belles lettres which evade
the control of political correctness and demonstrate, despite the applied cloak of fiction, metaphor,
complicated linguistic games and literary strategies, the effects of transformation not in theory and
abstraction but impressed upon the living body of involved groups and individuals.
The axiological and emotional wavering on the part of men of letters with regards to the
previous system, was perceved as absolutly shocking. Once the information about Stalinist prisons in
Poland, the Gulag in Russia, and work camps in Czechoslovakia became known, and the Katyń crime
was publicised, the Polish writer Roman Samsel, persuaded by Stan Tymiński, a Pole from Peru, a
fervent anti-communist and a candidate for the first president of free Poland, consented to be
authentically crucified in an Indian wilderness. He acknowledged that he had to be punished for the
grave sins of the party to which he had belonged and, although he had never been a supporter of
forced labour camps, deportation to Soviet camps, or tortures inflicted in Stalinist and post-Stalinist
prisons, he had kept silent instead of crying out aloud despite the fact that he was well-aware of the
existence of some of them (and despite the persecution suffered by his father - a member of the Home
Army). Samsel described his deed in a volume of reportages entitled Pokuta (Penitence), in which he
also confessed to his sins which stemmed from refraining, neglect, fear and conformism (Samsel
In the thirteenth year of the systemic transformation Edward Redliński, a representative of an
older generation of writers and a brilliant and keen observer of the Polish countryside and its
consecutive historic twists and turns (for example, the campaign of enforcing peasants to join state-
owned farms during the communist period and then the equally forceful liquidation of the farms), in
his satirical novel Transformejszen czyli jak golonka z hamburgerem tańcowała, reportaż
optymistyczny (Transformation, or How Ham Danced with the Hamburger, An Optimistic Reportage,
2002), did not repent or flagellate himself, but burst out in gargantuan laughter at the sight of the
results of the neo-liberal operations carried out by Balcerowicz and the sophist rhetoric of politicians
justifying their correctness. The carrier of the titular transformation in this roman a clef is a former
Solidarity chairman in a factory which, having fallen victim to the manipulations of “Gazeta
Warszawska” (in other words “Gazeta Wyborcza”), was closed and its employees deprived of work.
The chairman decided to seek refuge in the countryside and there, in a solitary wasteland, became the
owner of a barely surviving small family business - the “Golonka” bar. The encroaching McDonald„s
civilisation forced him to sell his business venture. The former Solidarity member, however, drew a
conclusion out of his lesson of capitalism, and began creating a chain of ironically named
“Apostołówka” (‚Apostles´Bars) situated in close proximity to 10 000 Polish churches, which
guaranteed steady clients. The value of Redliński‟s social observation does not, however, lie in this
simple story with an optimistic twist, but in the parody and pastiche adroitness of its author,
embracing a wide spectre of mass and political culture in Poland, initially serviced by the whole post-
communist and democratic press lauding the new, neo-liberal Balcerowicz reform.
Redliński showed the total chaos prevailing in the countryside in the wake of the reforms.
The director of a once prosperous and now ruined state farm, which used to employ 120 workers,
curses the moment when, as a Party member, he voted for Solidarity, and prophesies a new revolution
which shall forcefully deprive the “new lords” of the formerly state-owned property, which they have
plundered for their own private purposes. In the schools of unemployment-ridden Peegerów teachers
force the young people, just like during the communist period, to write paeans praising the authors of
the transformation, although it is precisely the youngsters who will constitute the majority of the
reform‟s victims. The up to now virtuous wife and daughter of the main character succumb to
general moral dissipation and begin to appear naked on TV, and the civilised Burek (Rover)- a dog -
becomes a drug addict, and instead of barking, cuckoos. Finally, during the central scene of the novel,
a ceremonial opening of the new outpost of American McCivilization - by leading Polish promoters
of transformations : the Switchman of the Milennium (i.e. Lech Wałęsa), the mediaevalist of the
Milennium (i.e. Prof. Bronisław Geremek).One of the promoters of transformation , chairman of the
Party of Freedom (i.e. Union of Freedom) and a crowd of the local unemployed and homeless,
tempted by the aroma of free- -of-charge pea soup postcommunist indoctrination begin.The leader of
the Party Freedom , makes a greatly sophist speech about the reasons for demolishing the former
state arm, declaring that regardless whether of it worked well or badly, it remained socially harmful.
If the enterprise produced losses then its thriftlessness encumbered others and was evil. On the other
hand, if it yielded profit it was also considered adverse because it reinforced the totalitarian state - the
Evil Empire. “Both, therefore, were bad. Is that clear ?” (Redliński 2002 : 279).
“Of course” - answer the homeless and the unemployed gathered at the ceremony, thus
joining the queire choir of the apologists of the system. Unemployment is very useful, and
homelessness even more so - says one of them, recalling that in the state-owned farm he received a
monthly wage, living quarters, an opportunity to educate his children and to watch television, which,
unfortunately, force fed him the slogans of a propaganda of success; he declares that he is “extremely
obligated to the Prime Minister and the Great Accountant (i. e. Balcerowicz) for saving the
collaborating state farm from moral indolence, thanks to which he has regained his much desired
freedom by living in a squalid hut built of cardboard and tar-board in a river-bank thicket ” (Redliński
2002 : 281). The beggars attending the ceremony are also glad that they have been reduced to
begging, and the priest listening to their arguments indicates enthusiastically the moral aspect of
suffering, and recognises the revival of begging to be “the great moral success of the Third
Republic”! (Redliński 2002 : 282).
In his pastiche and parody of current Polish publicists Redliński demonstrates the way in
which neo-capitalist newspeech masks the profound dysfunction of the system.
The whole spectrum of the reception of transformation is situated between attitudes
characteristic for representatives of the older generation.
One of the essential features of the capitalist breakthrough in Poland are the changes
occurring in many domains of life between the centre and its peripheries. Redliński describes the
margins of the system, rendered even more extraneous by the transformation, while Marek
Nowakowski and Andrzej Stasiuk delve into changes taking place in town and the shift of the
representatives of the social margin of the capital towards its City. The first writer, associated with
the democratic opposition, expresses repugnance for the trend assumed by the transformation since
1989. From the moment of its commencement, Poland has resembled a great bazaar. In reality the
dominating sight in the post-1989 capital were primitive cots standing in all the central squares and
streets, and used as stalls for selling everything from underwear and shoelaces to audio video
equipment and music cassettes. In opinion of Nowakowski they introduced an element of ugliness,
and the behaviour of their owners and the absence of ethical restraint offended a capital city of heroic
Poland. In Prawo prerii (The Law of the Prairie, 1999) , the bazaar is understood not only literally,
but also metaphorically as the range of primitive behaviour, evil and brutality, which has no place for
the intelligentsia, envisaged as a promoter of revolutionary changes. In Andrzej Stasiuk‟s novel
Dziewięć (Nine, 1999) members of the urban social margin who had correctly assessed the
opportunities inherent in capitalism, create assorted structures
by establishing their own hierarchy of crime. Inside, they are totally empty and remain interested
solely in money, sex and a lavish lifestyle. The City centre to which the gangsters strive in the manner
of the knights of the Round Table seeking the Holy Grail, is equally vacuous
The most ominous depiction of the bazaar conceived as an institution symptomatic for the
new times, is to be found in Różewicz‟s above cited national drama - The Scattered File (1997).
Here, the bazaar is authentic and no longer a figment of literary fiction; situated in the centre of the
capital it is officially known as the Fair of Europe. It is here that an international gangster mafia,
composed of Poles, Russians, Germans and Rumanians, spreads its tentacle, trading predominantly in
human organs, drugs and nuclear weapons. By resorting to the principle of a collage, Różewicz
included into The Scattered File a price list of human organs cited in extenso which, woven into
absurd-grotesque scenes, horrifies the reader.
Different reactions to the systemic transformation in Poland are represented by the younger
generation, born during the 1960s, which grew up in the shade of the so-called street battles waged by
Solidarity with the police, and which in 1986 began publishing the periodical “BruLion”, issued in the
“second”, underground circuit. Soon afterwards, however, it changed its profile and severed all
contacts not only with old communist meta-narrations, but also with their new Solidarity counterpart,
in this way becoming a third circuit, rebelling both against official communist culture and
underground culture, which had started to wallow in self-adoration and patriarchalism. The liberated
literature represented by “BruLion” was unambiguous only as regards communism (its verdict was :
the communists should be treated in the same manner as fascists, and tried in court; Dunin-Wąsowicz
ed. 1998 : 21); moreover, it opted for permissivism and pluralism. Starting with the ninth issue,
“BruLion” published texts which shocked public opinion by placing Pope John Paul II next to Mao
Tse-Tung, Khomeini, Nixon, Brezhnev and Fidel Castro as part of the world system of opresion. The
editors of “BruLion” regarded adherence to a single ideology as a restriction of their freedom, which
was to consist of transgressing all previously recognised norms and taboos. Other postulates called
for abandoning the dragon of ideology and returning to the sphere of privacy . Writers of this
generation reacted to the cult of the national emblem, the crowned eagle, and national banners with
ridicule and scorn (Roman Paszyński, Manuela Gretkowska). Their favourite occupation was to
violate national sanctities and to scoff religion and Polishness, i. e. all that which Solidarity once
again elevated. The change of generations, whose post-1989 reinforcement was favoured by the
legitimisation of a mass culture that to a great measure remained a culture of kitsch, resulted in
levelling high and low literature, “letting extreme world outlooks speak, and bringing forth out of the
cultural underground numerous experiences and practices regarded as disgusting or shameful
(pornography, drugs, homosexuality and racism), suspicious (magic, the occult, altered states of
mind) or at least as lower (rock music, cyber punk and punk)” (Czapliński 2002: 223). These features
are shared by the “BruLion” generation with other Slavonic writers born during the 1960s. The
Czech organ of the 60s generation was “Revolver revue”, published in Prague in 1985-1989 as an
underground periodical, and issued legally after the Velvet Revolution. The ‟60s generation in
Ukraine gathered around a postmodern project entitled “bu-bu-ba” (i. e. burlesque, buffoonery and
chaos), which engaged leading dissident men of letters such as Yuri Adrukhovich, who with
postmodern playfulness and east Slavonic charm deconstructed both Soviet myths and those of
renascent Ukrainian nationalism - Moscoviada. Povist zhakhiv (Moscoviade. A Horror Story, 1999),
or Dvanatysat obrutsiv (Twelve Hoops, 2003). In Russia, the stereotypes of totalitarian thought and
Sovietism were shattered most effectively, and most extravagantly, by postmodern writers, who now
have their own literary salon in the internet (Mochizuki ed. 2001 : 190-207).
Sestra (Sister) by Jáchym Topol, the Czech author born in 1962, co-founder of “Revolver
revue”, emerged from the range of the Prague-based periodical. This poetic and expansive prose,
incorporating fantasy, magic and miraculous events, deals with the Czech post-1989 transformation.
That is a story about a community of the Czech dissidents so called „new tribe“ who fight against the
communist regime for freedom.West German embassy in Prague, demonstrates the profound hatred
of communism on the part of the novel‟s hero and his friends. This group, known as “a new tribe”,
creates a dissident nomadic community at odds with gangs and opposes the Great Monster, in other
words, the existing system of terror which is slowly dying, but whose last blows are painfully felt by
the young dissidents relegated to the Canal, where they spend their time amidst drug- produced fumes
dreaming about freedom. The model for the Czech “new tribe” is Polish Solidarity, which in street
battles attacks the militia. For Czech society the role model continues to be Schweik, the folk hero
created by Jaroslav Hašek, an opportunist and a coward who never undertakes any heroic deeds and
remains concerned solely with his own survival. The young dissidents aspire not only to change the
system but also to alter ethics, and prepare “for an ultimate transformation of the spirit, in other
words, the final and absolute murder of Joseph Visarionovich Schweikk” (Topol 2002 : 33). This
strange combination of the names of Stalin and Schweik, the hero of the famous Adventures of the
Good Soldier Schweik , stresses the need to overcome the attitude of the guileless Czech simpleton in
order to tackle the still living heritage of Stalin.
The author stresses on numerous occasions that the outbreak of the Velvet Revolution
brought a “Time Explosion”. The stagnation of the previous regime is replaced by a sudden drive
towards freedom and a reconstruction of capitalist forms of life. Now, everything is becoming
possible, friends from the political underground have turned into members of the opposition and are
easily obtaining profitable posts, dealing with trade, opening banks and establishing mafia relations
with gastarbeiters arriving in Prague from Asia - Laotians, Afghans and Vietnamese, with whom they
carry out suspicious business ventures, smuggle commodities from Asia and cars to the West, and
enjoy owning large sums of money. The detonation accompanying the Time Explosion sets free the
darkest possible forces. Immediately afterwards, public life becomes filled with new “hitlers, stalins
and gottwalds”, the offspring of an evil spirit, capable of trampling people and once again leading
them to the gas chambers. It is they who heed eternal human hatred towards the Others, Strangers and
Aliens, and who in an alternative fantastic vision proposed by Topol soon carry out a massacre of the
Laotian friends of the “new tribe” in Prague. It is also they who brutally crush human rights, thus
condemning a large part of society to unemployment, homelessness, and survival on garbage dumps,
and who sell unemployed women abroad, forcing them to embrace prostitution by slapping their faces
and resorting to drugs. Stalins and hitlers are frequently also former special service agents who use
their old KGB channels to smuggle weapons to Asia and Africa in order to stir new unrest. In an “era
which has no rules and in which everything is permissible” (Topol 2002 : 250), the place deserted by
atheism and great communist meta-narrations is taken over by assorted religions and sects :
Buddhism, the Bogomils, the cult of the Great Mother, and the Czech Republic begins to again await
the coming of the Messiah.. Once more, evil is confronting goodness - the ethical perpetuum mobile .
In the dreamlike visions depicted by the writer and in his journeys into the past ,heroes walk on the
skeletons of people who had been murdered or gassed. The same cry of the persecuted is constantly
heard from the abyss of past ages. At the end of the novel, whose epic-lyrical impetus in portraying
the contemporary world exceeds the framework of transformation, the author, disillusioned with the
spread of evil, forecasts the birth of a wondrous infant who will promptly obliterate the new sins of
the transformed world.
The disintegration of the Soviet Union, a communist empire which from the very onset of its
existence intended to impose the ideas and models of communism onto the whole world, came as an
absolutely inconceivable blow to all of its inhabitants. It is not without reason that a considerable part
of society and numerous writers experienced the Explosion of New Times in an apocalyptic mood.
“The principal problem posed this year” - Mikhail Epstein, the celebrated Russian dissident wrote - “
is no longer a derivate social or a political one, but rather an eschatological one : how to live after
one‟s own future or, if you like, after one‟s own death” (Epstein 1995 : 71).
Such life is unimaginable for people associated with the ups and downs of the old regime,
who now will seek solace in the Orthodox Church, pan-Slavism and the ideology of new statehood,
or, in the manner of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, in conservative dreams about the restoration of the
ideals of Old Russia. A different reaction is represented by “Generation P.” , a name derived from
the renowned novel by Viktor Pielevin, where the abbreviation “P.” could denote everything that is
connected with the Pepsi and prefix “post” - post-communist, post-colonial, postmodern, post-
humanistic, post-historical, etc. Together with the onset of capitalism, this generation shares the fate
of the intelligentsia as a whole, and is initially ousted by the “new Russians” - businessmen, members
of the mafia and gangsters; then, it once again tries to extract itself from the mire by becoming part of
the neo-capitalist mass culture and by adapting itself to the new principles of the game, which
Pielevin described with piercing intelligence. It is well known that the power of capitalism lies in
advertisement. According to the interpretation proposed in Generation P. the new iconological
system, which neo-capitalism is constructing by means of advertisements, is based on symbols sacred
for the Russians and borrowed from religious, literary and national myths linked both with the tsarist
system and communism (copywriters insert new commercial contents into a background composed
of old communist posters ); such an approach signifies actual degradation. The ironclad rule observed
by the copywriters is the legibility of advertisements for the widest possible masses; thus they are
compelled to refer to the most primitive instincts and aesthetic predilections, to which best suited is
the form of the chastushka. In the game played for the sake of profit which, as Pielevin stresses, “has
no name”, television becomes not the fourth but the first power in a state in which it is no longer clear
who are the rulers. On the other hand, it is known that a suitable TV advertisement which, for
example, will show a game of chess involving a division of Russian loot and played by Raduyev and
Bierezovski (the latter must be shown –as Pielevin writes- twith curly hair so that the viewer will be
quite sure that Bierezovski is a Jew), will shock social consciousness and make it possible for the
appropriate oligarchic lobby to attain its objective.
New times require a novel
literary approach. Veristic realism does not capture the new dimension of reality. Pielevin and his
ironic novel, suffused with the playfulness bordering of black comedy, the grotesque, fantasy, the
esoteric and a brilliant realistic evocation of post-Soviet Russia, join the long sequence of Russian
postmodern prose created by such authors as V. Popov, V. Aksionov, A. Zolkovski, V. Makanin, V.
Sorokin, D. Lipskierov, A. Slapovski, I. Kabakov and many others. The Japanese researcher Tetsuo
Mochizuki aptly noticed that this prose, brimming with paradoxes and sometimes eccentricity,
„produces a new image of Russians liberated from an authoritarian manner of thinking and a mission
of saving the world“ (Mochizuki 1998 :14). At the same time, this is a portrait of a people
enormously critical towards new reality in which a brutal game for profit is being conducted, and in
which educated people representing the humanistic orientation are compelled to serve
the deity of consumption in order to be able to physically survive capitalism.On the other hand certain
writers such as V. Kornilo in the poem Roulette and A.Vozniesensky in his poem Casino "Russia ”
are of the opinion that by exchanging one system for another the Russian state "has staked everything
on one card and lost in an dishonorable game” (Soprano 2004:7). Others are convinced "similarly to
Mamayev in the novel Eternal Russia that metaphysical Russia is indescribable, since it is the very
centre of the Cosmos and as such will radiate across the world for ever" That what is truly
imperishable is Russian messianism.
Years later, transition in former Yugoslavia remains the saddest possible image of a struggle
waged to change a prevalent system : in many parts of the region the Balkan nationalistic wars
waged between once fraternal nations and nationalities, have left not a single stone unturned. This
phenomenon is described in poignant terms by the Croatian emigre Dubravka Ugrešić, astonished by
the fact that the former brotherhood of Yugoslav nations, nationalities and creeds, which she had been
taught in primary school textbooks, had been replaced by warring and mutually hostile nations,
religions and ethnic groups, that the long awaited democracy has been supplanted by
new terror and new aggression and, finally, that mutual denunciations and accusations have spread
while symbols and monuments have been destroyed during the reign of the “transformers”. The rising
tide of Yugonostalgia which is not so much a longing for the previous system as for one‟s own life
spent at a historical time today described as “incorrect”, is eliminated from public life and carries a
threat of persecution. The transformers intuitively realise that which Milan Kundera formulated
already a long time ago by declaring that by depriving people of memory it is possible to better
control the present and the future. In acclaimed essays, such as Kultura laži (Culture of the Lie,
1998) or Muzeuy bezuvyetne predaye (Museum of Unconditional Capitulation, 2000), translated into
numerous European languages, Ugresic blamed this state of things upon the new Great Manipulators
who disassembled the former system to construct a new one by using the old elements of terror, and
then initiated dismantling the Yugoslav community by proposing in its stead a new utopia-nation
(Ugresic 1998 : 58). Intense emphasis on features distinguishing the particular nations and
nationalities of former Yugoslavia was initiated in order to demonstrate the superiority of one over
another, and to unleash the Balkan war in which many neighbouring states were involved, a fact
which Dubravka Ugrešić, does not mention but which we all know.
“Multinational Yugoslavia paid a steep price for post-communist democracy, if it may be
described as such. [...] Under the slogan of democratisation the authorities of all the republics created
countries which are indubitably poorer and people who are much more unhappy. Instead of actual
democracy they constructed small totalitarian communities, some in the name of protection and
others - in the name of aggression. Instead of destroying the old state apparatus they are reinforcing
its small, state replicas, instead of a citizen they have created an obedient serial number, instead of
free media - a system of their precise steering, instead of free courts - controlled ones, and instead of
demilitarisation they have introduced new and, in their opinion, necessary militarisation. And so on”
(Ugresic 1998 : 64).
In not a single post-communist Slav country has transformation been completed, and the
process of subjecting it to critical reflection remains incessant. In the belles lettres such critique grows
more intense as the prospects of employment for young people are decreasing, and crime, which
poses a threat to everyone, continues to grow. In Poland, the post-”BruLion” generation is rejecting
the splendid isolation of its elder predecessors, a stand expressed radically by the dramaturgy of the
so-called Porn Generation, a bleak depiction of the social effects of capitalism. The anthology of
newest Polish drama issued in 2003 and entitled Pokolenie porno i inne niesmaczne utwory (The Porn
Generation and Other Tasteless Works), opens a gate leading to the inferno of Polish reality, and
constitutes a literature that is truly pessimistic, brutal and drastic, pornographic not only in its
description of sex as in the domain of morality. The ten plays presented in the anthology comprise
acts from Sodom and Gomorrah, the majority of which deals with crimes : a son murders his own
father or vice versa (Krzysztof Bizio, Toksyny [Toxic Material]) or a mother kills several of her
children (Marek Pruchniewski, Łucja i jej dzieci [Łucja and Her Children]), while unbridled
capitalism, together with its laws and crime-inciting qualities, takes over human hearts; it is highly
characteristic that the heroes of these plays are both people who have attained financial success and
won the rat race, as well as those who have lost it. All suffer from an absence of feelings and ideals :
the object of particular idiosyncrasy is mind-numbing television, capable of cynically degrading and
ridiculing the greatest personalities of our times (Jan Klata, Uśmiech grejpfruta [The Smiling
The appearance of the anthology designates, at least in present-day drama, the end of meta-
fiction, empty linguistic games, a literature of metaphor and sophisticated poetics; although its
authors are recognised as the grandchildren of Tadeusz Różewicz, who pursued the theatre of the
absurd and the grotesque, the contemporary 30 year-olds, well trained in the skills of the media and
literature, are enthralled only by pure struggle for survival in raw, unadorned forms.
The attitude towards the nation has also undergone a number of changes. Despite the fact
that on 1 May 2004 several Slav states have been accepted into the European Union, an event
accompanied by considerable hopes, the “BruLion” generation, which scorned national banners
during the Solidarity period, has once again begun to rally around them, as evidenced by numerous
science fiction works included in the recently published anthology PL plus 50 lat (People‟s Poland
Plus Fifty Years) (Dukaj ed. 2004), in which Polish heroes struggle obstinately against those who
would like to impose foreign models of life (Oramus, 2004) this time Western (or even Asian,
Chinese) 2004); compared last one the European Union, whose norms, according to the grotesque
visions of the futurists, are to determine even the degree of the permissible perspiration of its
members, appears to be an angel of technocratic benevolence and tolerance (Żerdziński 2004).
The intention of above presented paper which, due to a limitation imposed by insufficient time
discussed only few works originating Poland, the Czech Republic, Russia and former Yugoslavia),
was to draw attention to the few aspects and levels of the definition of the described phenomenon.
The belles lettres dealing with the theme of transformation may be only fifteen years-old, but
transformation has permeated all realms of life in the affected countries (first and foremost, ethics and
customs), in each in a slightly different variant. The derivatives of transformation in the belles lettres
include also large blocks of topics such as the national, cultural, sexual and other minorities which in
the transformed countries are struggling for their rights; this process is one the brighter perspectives
of the current changes.
After the fall of the so-called great leftist meta-narratives about the emancipation of mankind via
the realization of the ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity, cremated in Auschwitz and murdered in
Russian camps , and after disillusionment with the great rightist meta-narratives based on a conviction
about the socially redeeming invisible hand of the market, there appears, on the one hand,
brutalization, a decline of mores, a crisis of culture, and in social life an all-in instead of a civic
society; on the other hand, on the ruins of the former total system of values there emerges postmodern
thought - the so-called weak, non-homogenized thought - which introduced in those countries the
ideas of pluralism, tolerance, religious ecumenism, and protection of the rights of cultural, national,
ethical, sexual and other minorities, which in the transformed countries can now demand their
Transformation is not a completed process, and the access of the Czech Republic, Slovakia,
Slovenia and Poland as of 1 May 2004 has generated new chances for its further development .
A more extensive and synthetic review of transformation in Slavonic literature will appear in
four volumes we prepare for publication as part of an International Scientific Network dealing with a
project on Slavonic literature after 1989 in a dialogue with Europe and the world. New phenomena,
tendencies and perspectives. Finally, I would like to add that the idea of organising the network was
implicite inspired by my e-mail discussions and ... polemics with Professor Eoyang about world
literature, for which I am indebted.
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