Kristen R. Ghodsee
Legacies of Twentieth-Century Communism
Duke University Press 2017
New Books in AnthropologyNew Books in Critical TheoryNew Books in Eastern European StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Russian and Eurasian StudiesNew Books Network June 27, 2019 Marina Mikhaylova-Kadriu
I am a child of the so-called transition in Bulgaria and growing-up I could never understand why my parents and grandparents would spend our family gatherings talking about the socialist past. It wasn’t until much later that I realized how much socialism and its end are imprinted on my grandparents’, my parents’ and my generation and that such dramatic changes cannot just be bygones. Kristen Ghodsee, an ethnographer and professor of Russian and East European Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, has spent many years digging into the layers of East European socialist and post-socialist experience trying to give voice to more nuanced narratives about this time, and I was very happy to once again have the chance to talk with her, this time about her book Red Hangover: Legacies of Twentieth-Century Communism (Duke University Press, 2017). In this very personal book with essays and short stories, Ghodsee describes the post-socialist realities of the victims of the greedy neoliberalism that has dismantled their social safety nets and expresses her frustration about the continuing tendency to reduce the twentieth-century East European state socialisms to Stalinism and the Gulags. While acknowledging the many crimes committed in the name of the communist ideal by these regimes, she insists that there were some good aspects and policies from which our present governments could learn, if they would be willing to leave aside the oversimplified and blackwashed tale they cherish so much. “After thirty of years of nursing this terrible hangover from the experience of twentieth century state socialism in Eastern Europe maybe it’s time that we take a little sip and start to clear our heads and figure out where we go from here” Ghodsee says. I invite you to listen and read what she has to say about our need for the proverbial hair of a dog* to sober us up after the heavy drinking of socialism in the twentieth century. Maybe a little bit more of the same could paradoxically help?
*Note for ESL listeners: the proverb “a hair of the dog” is a shortening of “a hair of the dog that bit you” and it is when you drink a little bit of alcohol to cure a hangover. It comes from an old belief that when you are bitten by a rabid dog, you need to take a medicine containing a hair of the dog that bit you to be cured of rabies.
Marina Kadriu is an international MA student in Anthropology at Simon Fraser University, Canada