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Review: "The Unfinished Revolution: Making Sense of the Communist Past in Central-Eastern Europe"

Larry Slawson received his master's degree at UNC Charlotte. He specializes in Russian and Ukrainian history.

"The Unfinished Revolution: Making Sense of the Communist Past in Central-Eastern Europe."

"The Unfinished Revolution: Making Sense of the Communist Past in Central-Eastern Europe."


Throughout James Mark’s book, The Unfinished Revolution: Making Sense of the Communist Past in Central-Eastern Europe, the author provides a "post-communism" analysis of countries stretching from Central to Eastern Europe. By focusing on these former Soviet states, Mark attempts to showcase the struggles that these countries faced as they tried to come to terms with their communist past in light of the "Western" revolution that soon overtook them.

Following 1989 and the collapse of the Berlin Wall, Mark argues that countries across Central and Eastern Europe experienced a deluge of Westernized ideals that encompassed principles of both liberty and democracy. These ideals had long been suppressed by Soviet leaders who viewed the West as a natural enemy to their communist form of governance. After 1989, however, the proliferation of democratic ideals into these countries offered the hope of a brighter future for many Soviet citizens. Yet, as Mark illustrates, accepting this new standard of living and shunning the years of Soviet rule were difficult endeavors to fully embrace.

As Mark argues, post-communist Europe was faced with a multitude of questions that directly impacted their present and future lives. How could Eastern European citizens progress onward with their lives when they were still mired with Soviet symbols, images, and memories of their communist past that did not fully disappear after 1989? Moreover, what place did their new society have for former communist leaders (and party members) that had once repressed and persecuted millions of its own citizens? Were they to be integrated back into society? Would they play any role in the shaping of democratic ideals espoused by the West? Finally, and most importantly, how would Eastern Europe deal with the transition from a totalitarian state to a democratically-elected form of government?

In lieu of these problems, Mark argues that the "revolution" of the late eighties was a failure for Eastern Europe in that "democracy" was incapable of dismantling its communist past, entirely. Because of this failure, Mark asserts that remnants of the old communist past continue to haunt Eastern Europe to this day. Consequently, Mark argues that shedding this history will be a difficult endeavor for European citizens (and its leaders) to undertake in the years ahead.

Concluding Thoughts

Mark’s book is both highly informative and engaging with its content. One of the positives of his book is how well each chapter flows with one another throughout its entirety. Moreover, Mark’s book incorporates a substantial amount of secondary and primary source materials to back up each of his claims. His inclusion of primary documents from a wide range of Eastern European countries is very impressive as well, since it attests to Mark’s ability to overcome multiple language barriers in his search for evidence. One minor issue that I have with this book, however, is that the author does not discuss Russia at any length. While his focus is clearly on Central and Eastern Europe, I believe that a discussion of post-communist Russia would be an interesting case-study as well. However, it is also understandable that the inclusion of this additional material would present various complexities and problems to his current book. As such, perhaps this would be an interesting topic for another research project at a later date.

All in all, I give this book 5/5 Stars and highly recommend it to anyone interested in a modern account of East European history. Definitely check it out if you get a chance!

Questions for Further Discussion

If you decide to read this book for yourself, attached below is a list of questions to help facilitate a deeper understanding of the text:

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1.) What was Mark's overall thesis/argument? Did you find his argument to be persuasive? Why or why not?

2.) What was Mark's objective in writing this book?

3.) What were some of the strengths and weaknesses of this work? Are there any particular areas that the author could have improved?

4.) What type of primary source material does Mark rely on in this work? Does this help or hinder his overall argument?

5.) What type of audience is this book intended for? Can both scholars and general audience members, alike, benefit from the contents of this work?

6.) What did you like most about this work?

7.) What type of scholarship was Mark challenging when he wrote this book?

Works Cited:

Articles / Books:

  • Mark, James. The Unfinished Revolution: Making Sense of The Communist Past in Central-Eastern Europe. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010).

© 2017 Larry Slawson

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