Full Interview List

In 2012-13, as part of an Open Society Foundation fellowship, I am re-interviewing many of the people I talked to in 1990 when I traveled for seven months through East-Central Europe. Twenty-three years later, I am also interviewing a wide range of additional people in order to get as broad a picture as possible of what has changed (and not changed) in the region since the transformations of...
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An Architect of Change

Nicolae Ceausescu was not exactly a team player. He adopted the title conducator – literally, the leader – and constructed his own personality cult. He defied the Warsaw Pact by refusing to allow Romania to participate in the Soviet-led 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia. He preferred to pick up leadership tips from Beijing and Pyongyang – where Mao and Kim Il Sung offered larger-than-life...
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Growing Up in Transylvania

Agnes Gagyi grew up in the city of Miercurea Ciuc in the Transylvanian region of Romania. More than 80 percent of the population of this city of 50,000 people is of Hungarian ethnicity. Most everyday interactions are conducted in Hungarian. In fact, Gagyi didn’t learn Romanian at home or on the streets, but rather through television and Romanian classes at school. Life under Ceausescu was not...
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Blues for the Balkans

Last May, a terrible set of storms swept through Serbia, Bosnia Herzegovina, and Croatia. More than 70 people died during the ensuing flooding, and nearly a million people had to be evacuated. Tens of thousands are still living in temporary shelters. There’s a new fundraising effort to link up people who experienced Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and the people who are still reeling from...
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Making the Castle Transparent

The classic novel about government structures in East-Central Europe is Franz Kafka’s The Castle. A land surveyor, K., arrives in a provincial town after being summoned for a meeting at the local Castle. But the summons apparently has been sent in error. The land surveyor tries to visit the Castle to get to the bottom of his predicament. But he can only ever seem to circle the structure without...
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Rescuing Polish Liberalism

Liberalism took a beating in Poland in the 20th century. It was overwhelmed by nationalism in the 1930s, by Nazi occupation in the 1940s, and by a succession of Communist governments during the Cold War period. Finally, when the full political spectrum was restored to the country after 1989, liberalism became almost exclusively associated with its neo-liberal variant. For most Poles,...
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