Confrontations with Modernity: Openness and Closure in the Other Europe

Eurozine Online, June 2010

15 Pages Posted: 28 Dec 2010

See all articles by Paul Blokker

Paul Blokker

Charles University in Prague

Date Written: June 15, 2010


The essay offers some reflections on the modern experiences with openness and closure in the region of Central and Eastern Europe. The relation of this region to modernity has often been viewed in an ambivalent light. One reading emphasizes the region’s exposure to Western modernity (understood in its Enlightenment guise), and the frequent projects of modernization pursued in its name. In this reading, the focus is on the opening up of Central and Eastern European societies under the direct influence of a Western (European) understanding of modern society. The most prominent - but not only - of such modernizing advances is that which was started in 1989. Another reading understands the Central and Eastern European experience as a specific, deviational or compromising twist to modernity, that is, as prioritizing closure, national particularity or indigenity, and totalitarian tendencies. The latter is often, in particular in terms of the role of contemporary cultural legacies in democratization, seen in a pejorative light. While the first reading views modernity and openness as something external to Central and Eastern Europe, the second understands Eastern modernity as either unable to modernize or as displaying an exceptional but disfigured and radicalized adaptation of modernity that prioritizes closure. While there is some truth to both readings, in the paper I argue that they are best taken together and understood as a dual tradition of adapting to and implementing modernity in the region. The region’s experience with modernity can best be understood as one of ‘alternating modernities’ as Johann Arnason has labeled it. But differentiations within the region have to be acknowledged. The post-1989 experience is thus less about a final and long-awaited ‘return to Europe,’ and the institution of Western, ‘open societies,’ and more about a further differentiation of experiences with openness and closure, and an enduring tension between the two. The essay will discuss images of openness and closure, and the interplay between indigenous and open, often Europeanist perceptions of identity in the region as advanced during a succession of modernizing projects. In this, the focus is in particular on the cases of Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, and Romania.

Keywords: Central and Eastern Europe, Modernity, Openness, Closure

Suggested Citation

Blokker, Paul, Confrontations with Modernity: Openness and Closure in the Other Europe (June 15, 2010). Eurozine Online, June 2010. Available at SSRN:

Paul Blokker (Contact Author)

Charles University in Prague ( email )

Celetná 13
Praha 1, 116 36
Czech Republic

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