The Ghosts of Europe
The Ghosts of Europe
Central Europe's Past and Uncertain Future
By Anna Porter
Thomas Dunne Books, Hardcover, 9780312681227, 320pp.
Publication Date: January 18, 2011
In 1989, Adam Michnik said that Central Europe came “as a messenger not only of freedom and tolerance but also of hatred and intolerance. It is here, in Central Europe, that the last two wars began.” Nearing the twentieth anniversary of Communism’s collapse, acclaimed author Anna Porter traveled to Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary to discover whether and how democracy has taken root in these former Iron Curtain countries.
The former borderlands of the long-defunct Hapsburg Empire and the more recently dispersed Soviet Empire have attempted to invent their own forms of democracy and capitalism. However, disturbing signs of old attitudes have returned, bringing into question Central Europe’s ability to reform its elites and to effectively control public demonstrations of hatred, the rise of racial tensions, and the emergence of fascist parties. Porter interviewed the young and the old, the winners and the losers, in this grand European transformation.
Porter walks Wenceslas Square with those who suffered the violence of the state police and helped to organize the ’89 revolution. She meets with revolutionary leaders such as Václav Havel and Adam Michnik, as well as custodians of the new regimes, among them Radek Sikorski, Michael Kocáb, and Ferenc Gyurcsány. She takes us to Poland’s Institute of National Remembrance and Budapest’s House of Terror Museum—fascinating if controversial attempts to reckon with dark periods of history. She interviews the wealthiest man in Hungary, the general who ordered martial law in Poland, attends an ultraright rally, and visits a Gypsy village where a newly burgeoning yet all-too-familiar racism has destroyed a family. Gradually, a portrait emerges of a Europe struggling under the weight of history and memory, its peoples divided over half-forgotten events, old ethnic rivalries, borders drawn and redrawn—ghosts that had lurked, unacknowledged, under Communism’s force-fed stories of peaceful coexistence and a common front toward the Western enemy. Now, Central European rhetoric veers between historical reckoning, revisionism, and the politics of retribution.
Penetrating, fascinating, and powerfully observed, The Ghosts of Europe illuminates themes of tyranny, nationalism, racism, and denial in nations with a tumultuous history and a future very much in the balance.
"A deeply intelligent journalistic report on the state of that part of the world today, in the form of interviews with powerful people there now. Compelling reading even superficially, but the underlying subject is history itself, and historical consciousness, and it will leave thoughtful ghosts in your mind, too."
—The Ellenville Shawangunk Journal
"An enlightening if unsettling account of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia 20 years after the collapse of communism....broad and vivid."
“Essential reading for anyone who cares about Central Europe’s past and its impact on the present. This book is in Anna Porter’s bloodstream and she writes with passion and conviction about Central Europe’s tormented past and often confused and confusing present. Every page brims with information and firsthand knowledge.”
—Kati Marton, New York Times bestselling author of Enemies of the People
“Intimate and insightful: an exile's poignant return home, an accomplished journalist's shrewd analysis.”
—David Frum, New York Times bestselling author of Comeback
“Anna Porter’s brilliant The Ghosts of Europe will not necessarily confirm what you thought before you started reading it, but it is sure to make you think again about what you thought you knew.”
—George Jonas, author of Vengeance
“Anna Porter is the modern version of a Renaissance explorer. She views old lands with a fresh eye and sends back essential dispatches about new worlds....A must read.”
—Peter C. Newman, author and former editor of Maclean’s and The Toronto Star
"Highly readable and enormously informative, this is a book that will make your head spin."
"[An] intriguing and accessible narrative of contemporary Central Europe."
—Globe and Mail
"Porter offers a succinct, highly readable, contemporary history, interspersed with interviews with influential national figures regarding past, present, and future."