Keynote: When the old is dying and the new cannot be born. Multiple crisis and transformation in Central and Southeastern Europe

Keynote to be given by Amelie Kutter on 21 Sept, 2023, at the conference ‚Crises & Transformations. Actors, Politics and Strategies in Central and Southeastern Europe after 2008‘ at the Protestant University of Applied Sciences Berlin

Current talk of ‘crisis’ suggests that we are living through an era, in which crisis has become permanent and exceptional politics the new norm (Agamben 2005). In that setting, prospects for individual and social development seem to narrow down to becoming more ‘resilient’, through personal and collective adaptation. Societies in Central Eastern, Southern and South Eastern Europe have repeatedly gone through violent experiences of such-envisaged transformation. They also demonstrate how deep societal polarisation can go when those pressing for change within existing frames of society and those favouring authoritarian solutions are pitched against each other, marking an ‘interregnum’, in which previous practices and actors are still in place while new ones cannot yet be discerned (Gramsci 1971).

This talk argues that the reading of permanent crisis and exceptionalism, while plausibly structuring our perception, is not particularly helpful for grasping what is going on in these regions. In fact, I suggest that we need more specified notions of crisis and transformation. I will lay out some conceptual stepping stones for the conference’s further elaborations, sketching a genealogy of crisis thought and distinguishing between transformation as directed system change (Kollmorgen 2010) and ‘Great transformations’ in Polanyi’s sense (Polanyi 1944). Drawing on selected crisis periods in Spain and Poland for illustration, I will show how a Polanyian reading, combined with Gramsci’s idea of organic crisis, will illuminate the current conundrum between crisis, transformation and populism.