Idei în agora – 1989 in the Balkans: Annus horribilis instead of annus mirabilis

1989 in the Balkans: Annus horribilis instead of annus mirabilis
Lecture by Stefan Troebst
followed by a dialogue with Sorin Antohi.
Casa Filipescu-Cesianu, Calea Victoriei 151
1 October 2019, 18:00

Our series enters its third year with two public discussions devoted to the revolutions of 1989 (the second will take place on 4 October; see details below). These events are a continuation of our Ideas in the Agora Festival, which has already included a colloquium (on 23 June; see details below), also debating the theme of 1989 and of its aftermath. The evenings of 1 and 4 October feature invited guests from Leipzig, in the framework of a Leipzig Week in Bucharest organized by the City of Leipzig, the Embassy of Germany in Romania, and the City of Bucharest. I would like to thank all those, in Germany and in Romania, who made these events possible – Sorin Antohi

Parallel to the „peaceful revolutions” of 1989 in East-Central Europe a very different scenario took place in the Balkans: Repression and mass expulsion in Bulgaria, pauperization and preparations for the destruction of villages in Romania, secessionist strives and ethno political conflicts in Yugoslavia, continuous ideological paralysis in Albania as well as geopolitical disorientation in Greece.
The geography of the annus mirabilis 1989 shows an East-Central Europe consisting of Poland and Hungary as well as – with some months delay – GDR and Czechoslovakia, all that on the background of Perestroika in the USSR. The Balkans were not affected by all that. What in Bulgaria was termed ‘change‘ (promyana), in Romania even ‘revolution’ (revoluţia) were in fact palace revolts within the ruling communist elite, only mere imitations of what previously had happened in Budapest, Warsaw and Leipzig. At a time when in East-Central Europe state-socialist regimes collapsed under the attack by oppositional movements the party dictatorships of the Balkans increased the pressure toward conformity on the majority populations. On the other hand they tightened considerably the screw on national minorities. Gerontocrats like Todor Zhivkov, since 1954 head of the Bulgarian Communist Party, the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu, since 1965 in office, and Nexhmije Hoxha, widow of the longstanding Albanian leader Enver Hoxha were figureheads. The same goes for the new strong man in the Yugoslav republic of Serbia, Slobodan Milošević.
Despite the fact that the medium-term effects of 1989 in Bulgaria and Romania, even in Albania were a liberalization cum democratization the differences to the development pattern in East-Central Europe are striking. And the implosion of the Yugoslav federation resulted in interstate and civil warfare stopped temporarily by international humanitarian intervention and the Dayton Agreement of 1995. Yet the Serbian policy of repression in Kosovo, starting in 1989, resulted in 1998/99 in a gigantic ethnic cleansing and another military intervention by the international community in the form of NATO—an act of assistance in an emergency strongly criticized and partly sabotaged by the NATO member state Greece.
For many inhabitants of the former Yugoslavia—and definitely for the Kosovo Albanians– the year of 1989 was the harbinger of hard times to come. And for most Bulgarians, Romanians and Albanians it was an annus horribilis followed by long phase of instability.The exception to the rule is Greece where due to fixation on the a year-long political stalemate the epochal character of 1989 went unnoticed.
Stefan Troebst


Stefan Troebst (b. 1955) is a historian and Slavicist and since 1999 Professor of East European Cultural History at Leipzig University and deputy director of the Leibniz Institute for the History and Culture of East-Central Europe. At Leipzig University’s Global and European Studies Institute he is in charge of the master program “European Studies”.
He studied in Tübingen and at the Free University of Berlin (then West Germany), Sofia, Leningrad, Skopje, Bloomington, IN (U. S. A.), and holds a Ph. D. degree in Russian and East European History and Slavic Studies by the Free University of Berlin where he also completed his habilitation.
Troebst is a foreign member of the Societas Scientiarum Fennica in Helsinki, an Associate Fellow of the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) in Berlin and honorary consul of the Republic of Kosovo to the German federal states of Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt.
Currently, he is the chairman of the Advisory Council of the German-Polish Science Foundation, member of the Board of Trustees of the Center for Advanced Study Sofia and member of the advisory bodies of the European Network Remembrance and Solidarity, the German War Graves Commission, the Federal Foundation for the Study of the Communist Dictatorship in Eastern Germany and the Willy Brandt Center for German and European Studies of Wrocław University as well as member of the editorial boards of Slavic Review, Comparativ, Jahrbuch für historische Kommunismusforschung, East Central Europe and other periodicals. From 2011 to 2015 he chaired the Academic Advisory Council of the German Federal Foundation Flight, Expulsion, Reconciliation.
His fields of research are international and interethnic relations in modern Eastern Europe as well as the comparative cultural history of contemporary Europe. He has published widely on culture, history and politics of the Balkans, East-Central Europe, Russia and the Baltic Sea Region. His current research focuses on the impact of Eastern Europe’s conflict history on the development of modern international public law, on politics of history in the wider Europe and on the Armenian presence in the history and culture of East-Central Europe.
From 1984 to 1991, he was Assistant Professor and Associate Professor of Soviet and East European History at the Institute of Russia and Eastern Europe of the Free University of Berlin. From 1992 to 1995, he worked as German member of missions of long duration of the Conference for (later: Organization on) Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE/OSCE) in Macedonia and Moldova as well as a senior analyst of the Aspen-Carnegie International Commission on the Balkans. From 1996 to 1998, he served as founding director of the Danish-German European Centre for Minority Issues (ECMI) in Flensburg.
Among his recent publications are Zwischen Arktis, Adria und Armenien. Das östliche Europa und seine Ränder (2017); West-östliche Europastudien. Rechtskultur, Kulturgeschichte, Geschichtspolitik/West-Eastern European Studies. Legal Culture, Cultural History, Politics of History (2015); Remembering Communism: Private and Public Recollections of Lived Experience in Southeast Europe (co-edited with Maria Todorova and Augusta Dimou, 2014); and Erinnerungskultur – Kulturgeschichte – Geschichtsregion. Ost(mittel)europa in Europa (2013).
He has previously published Lexikon der Vertreibungen. Zwangsaussiedlung, Deportation und ethnische Säuberung im Europa des 20. Jahrhunderts (co-edited with Detlef Brandes and Holm Sundhaussen, 2010; Russian translation, 2013); Das makedonische Jahrhundert. Von den Anfängen der nationalrevolutionären Bewegung zum Abkommen von Ohrid 1893-2001 (2007; Macedonian translation, 2018); Radical Ethnic Movements in Contemporary Europe (co-edited with Farimah Daftary, 2003); Conflict in Kosovo: Failure of Prevention? An Analytical Documentation, 1992-1998 (1998); Handelskontrolle – „Derivation“ – Eindämmung. Schwedische Moskau-Politik 1617-1661 (1997); Mussolini, Makedonien und die Mächte 1922-1930. Die „Innere Makedoni¬sche Revolutionäre Organisation” in der Südosteuropapo¬litik des fa-schi¬stischen Italien (1987); and Die bulgarisch-jugoslawische Kontroverse um Makedonien 1967-1982 (1983; Macedonian translation, 1997).
Since 1996, Troebst is a regular contributor to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Central and East European affairs.
Sorin Antohi (n. 1957) is a historian of ideas, essayist, translator. Member of the Academia Europaea. More information at

Idei în Agora / Ideas in the Agora is a program devoted to the analysis of the public spirit. It was initiated in 2017 by Sorin Antohi and supported by Adrian Majuru. It is conceived, planned, and hosted by Sorin Antohi. Realized by Muzeul Municipiului București (Bucharest City Museum), in partnership with Asociația Orbis Tertius / A Treia Lume. The encounters have various formats (dialogues, lectures, colloquia, seminars, public debates, etc.), proposing a dialogue between currents, movements, personalities, worldviews, theories, ideologies that may be in agreement, resonance, tension, or conflict. The encounters are (in most cases) filmed and live streamed on YouTube (, then archived at and See also
Public intellectuals and scholars, politicians and business people, students, the entire educated public attempt to understand together the world we live in. The only way possible: through the critical discussion of ideas. The invited speakers in the series have come mainly from Romania, but also from Armenia, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Israel, Moldova, Turkey, the United States.
In preparation: LII: 4.10.2019, 18:00. The Peaceful Revolution in Leipzig in European and Global Contexts. Public debate. Participants: Tobias Hollitzer, Gisela Kallenbach, Michael Kölsch, Matthias Middell, Volker Rodekamp. Welcome address by Gabriele Goldfuss. Moderator: Sorin Antohi. LIII: 29.10.2019, 18:00. Situația studiilor literare. Conferință de Mircea Martin urmată de un dialog cu Sorin Antohi. LIV: 12.11. 2019, 18:00. Fernando Klabin în dialog cu Sorin Antohi. LV: 26.11.2019, 18:00. Alexandru Andrieș în dialog cu Sorin Antohi.
In connection with the series: România Mare 2.0. De la insula de latinitate la arhipelagul global, a conference convened by Sorin Antohi (23-24.11.2018); Royal Colloquium IV, From Dystopia to Posthistory. Conveners: Sorin Antohi and Gregory Claeys (23.06.2019).

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