In This Review

A Carnival of Revolution: Central Europe 1989
A Carnival of Revolution: Central Europe 1989
By Padraic Kenney
Princeton University Press, 2002, 341 pp

In wondering at the overnight collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, Western observers have often focused on Gorbachev, Vaclav Havel, the storied opposition in Poland, and the measures of regime failure. These accounts have missed something. Kenney goes back and uncovers the more complex bubbling of events in the 1970s and 1980s that helped prepare the way for democracy. From Slovenia to western Ukraine, East Germany to Slovakia -- and nowhere more intensely than Poland -- clusters of young activists took to the streets. They sought not to stir political opposition but to take on causes such as fighting alcoholism, protecting the environment, or defending the rights of conscientious objectors. They unleashed, Kenney argues, a "carnival" of diverse players, causes, and actions squirming out from under the regime's control. This carnival included harlequins such as the Polish "Orange Alternative," whose cuts were the most cruel: with painted faces, costumes, and caricatures (what they called "socialist surrealism"), they simply laughed at their political overlords. Precisely how all these ideas flowed into the historical forces producing 1989, however, is less well explained.