In This Review

The Unfinished Revolution: Making Sense of the Communist Past in Central-Eastern Europe
The Unfinished Revolution: Making Sense of the Communist Past in Central-Eastern Europe
By James Mark
Yale University Press, 2011, 344 pp.

Historical memory -- both the collective memory of a society and an individual’s memory -- matters everywhere, but never more so than in communities where sorting out the past bears directly on navigating a turbulent present. Such has been the case in the former socialist societies of central and eastern Europe. Mark systematically explores the past as processed in the present in countries from the Baltics to Romania. Not surprisingly, in these places the history of the communist period is mediated by political agendas and individual self-interest. He focuses on both the macro level (competing political parties, history commissions, institutes of national memory, and physical memorials) and the individual level (oral histories reconstructed from personal interviews). Both categories are largely organized around ex-Communists and anticommunists, who, after the early muddled period of transition, have come to hold very different views of the fall of communism in 1989. For the first group, 1989 is a closed book, opening the way to a fresh start. For the second, it is an incomplete break, leaving an opening for elements from the past to creep back in. But the role of history in this battle, fought out in both the political arena and scarred personal psychologies, is far more intricate, and Mark traces these complexities with skill.