Changes from Below
Resistance to communist rule in Central and Eastern Europe took on many diverse forms and drove people to undertake many challenging acts in often bizarre locations. In the summer of 2008, it also drove 16 young, reasonably intelligent and very enthusiastic people from across the region to the beautiful mountain village of Peina, Bulgaria for a five-day seminar.
What drove these people to Peina was a desire to explore the ‘changes from below’, which, in their humble way, slowly chipped away at the dictatorships in different countries. From paintings to penises to pálinka to punk to priests, many things, not only those beginning with P, played a part in permeating the defence of the dictatorships and precipitating their demise.
Through our daily discussions, encounters and debates during these five days, we were asking questions and mulling over the ideas of what everyday resistance truly is? What was the ‘system’ that people were resisting during communism and how were these changes from below brought about in the various countries and contexts? We were listening to and discussing each other’s personal stories, our parent and grandparent’s memories, as well as our favourite teenage punk bands.
Pinning Down the Resistance
What came out from our intense discussions (often over rakia and banitza) is that all these experiences and encounters pointed to the idea that resistance is not necessarily a conscious mass movement or political mobilisation. Rather changes are also brought about slowly, through the way people constitute and live their everyday lives under stricter and softer authoritarian regimes. The everyday mundane practices of going to the beach or shopping abroad, smuggling pálinka, or visiting aerobic lessons are all part of how people construct their lives, relate to the ongoing political situation and simply try to survive.
Thus the main aim of our project is to try to paint a picture of the various communist regimes and the everyday lives within it, as a heterogeneous entity which was constantly in process, rather than a clearly definable, static system; it was constituted and reconstituted by various actors and processes – big political actors as well as the unknown people who simply lived their lives within it.
If nothing else, the Changes from Below project made the participants from Belarus, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Germany, Poland, Romania, Serbia and Ukraine explore the unexplored past. It also made people talk to the old folks about something they’d never talked about before. It was one big intercultural, intergenerational encounter, but any thoughts that we now lived in a safe a fluffy world where we could debate, contest, deconstruct and abstract to our heart’s content, were quickly brought into a sobering light as the Georgian-Russian conflict broke out mid-seminar and we desperately attempted to understand the news in Bulgarian. Our Europe is still changing.
What and When?
We hope that we managed to hunt down some genuinely original rumours and that they change you, even if it is only from below and you can thus use them as inspiration to bring down the dictatorships you see around you. The temporary dictatorship of the Plotkiariat, which existed for only five short days in Bulgaria, wouldn’t have been possible without the ‘organising’ abilities of Assen and Paulina, the support and fundraising skills of Felix, Kristin and Irina and the expertise and haircut of Filip.
Every four weeks, for the next six months, you will be treated to three new takes on resistance to ‘communist’ rule in CEE, appearing concurrently with each new Plotki online issue – somewhere around the first day of the month. They’ll be at the bottom of the front page, as well as on a special part of the website www.plotki.net. We’re also hoping to make a print publication with the material; we’ve counted the spare change down the back of the sofa and it’s not enough – so if you’re wealthy and nice, or know of such a person or foundation that is, then let us know.
We are also forced to tell you (otherwise we’ll spend the rest of eternity in a cyber-gulag) that Plotki is an open project which you can/should/must join. So get involved, we are a non-hierarchical, non-profit, volunteer-based cultural experience, which has left people with great new friends, new ideas and if you’re (un)lucky wedding bells and babies – contact(at)plotki.net
Alexandra Szőke and sinisterpenguin