Coordinated by Andreea ZAMFIRA

Does Political Europeanness Exist?

(Post)Democracy and Civil Society after 1989



University of South-East Europe Lumina



Abstract: Starting from the question regarding natural Europeanness and political Europeanness, the present paper aims to open an ample discussion about the role of intellectual traditions and political mentalities in the creation of a common European methaphorical identity space. As it is shown by the contributors of this volume, mainly reflected in the way that democracy, liberal State, citizens’ participation, modernity are understood by European societies, the post’ 89 differences between East and West are to be explained in relation to the legacy of previous regimes and local traditions of political thought. Moving the focus to some new issues in the literature on political science, i.e. the postdemocracy and new forms of participation, the present paper implicitly invites us to reflect to the future of European democratic regimes, “Europe of values” and political Europeanness.


Keywords: political Europeanness, (post)democracy, postcommunism, intellectuals, civil society.





After the dissolution of the communist regimes, Central and South-Eastern Europe had to imagine long-term sustainable solutions for the passage from dictatorship to democracy. During the first two decades after 1989, the ex-communist countries experimented several “provisional patterns”, some of them local or endogenous and others exogenous (of Western origin)[1]. Soon after the first steps towards liberalization, the European adhesion became an ideal coveted by all these societies. They all realized their common need for institutions guaranteeing the democratic order, the rule of law, the respect of human rights and liberties. These are the very EU core-values that brought closer 27 Western, Central and South-Eastern countries during the last more than sixty years. The 27 member States of the EU are far from being equally and fully attached to the European norms and institutions, far from similarly defining the “common good” or having comparable senses of public responsibility – which are some of the reasons sustaining the already popular discourse about a “Europe with multiple speeds”. Nonetheless, through their Union, the European societies illustrates that the (political) will of constructing a common destiny surpasses the differences in political culture. In the new era of postnationalism and transnationalism, the old theses of Occidentalism and Orientalism[2] are permanently reconsidered. Nowadays, the press, civil society and citizens ask themselves who really is better characterized by old ethno-stereotypes and centrist labels like “Europe of the butter”, “Europe of the spirit” (Constantin Noica). Therefore, the question now and here is: “Does political Europeanness really exist?”    





The history of the European imaginary political entity is maybe as old as Europe itself. The most frequent references today do not go before the 18th-19th centuries. Probably the most cited in this matter are philosopher Immanuel Kant – for his concept of ewigen Frieden (en., perpetual peace) – and the French poet and writer Victor Hugo – for his expression États-Unis d’Europe (en., United States of Europe).

The contemporary European political and institutional entity is nothing else than the embodiment of imaginary representations (myths, images and symbols) which were built along centuries through philosophy, literature, etc. – through erudite knowledge, common knowledge and everyday living. But is this mental-cultural frame coherent or cohesive? All societies are based on general worldviews common to their members; institutions and political regimes (democracies, theocracies, etc.) correspond straight to particular conceptions about life, origins of the world, the role of humans on earth, etc. Could Europeans’ traditional and modern beliefs sustain the construction of a veritable society, of a veritable political society and a veritable civil society? Or, is this a mere illusion and natural Europeanness does not really suffice? If so, could political Europeanness be acquired through the process of European integration?

In the academic literature, modern European representative democracies are severely criticized for diluting citizens’ sovereignty at the very moment after elections. People rarely consider that their representatives follow their electoral agenda. In reality, the separation of powers is nothing else than a “constitutional illusion”; the majoritarian parties always concentrate more executive, legislative and judicial power than the other political actors. And “Parties are not what they were once”[3]:


“Nevertheless, one of the major reasons that I am convinced of the weakness of parties in these neodemocracies is that virtually all the difficulties that they have been experiencing are also being experienced by contemporary parties in archaeodemocracies. The crisis of representation and intermediation through partisan channels seems to be generic, not specific to those countries that have recently changed their mode of political domination” (original emphasis)”.[4]


Not only the democracy and Constitution are discussed in terms of postdemocratic illusions. In the literature of political science, Europe was also called “a grand illusion”[5]. What is the European project?, seems to ask himself Tony Judt. We all know that this political project was officially based on three principal objectives: peace, welfare and the idea of Europe[6]. But where are we now? The treatment of a part of European citizens as citizens of second order, the economic gap between the West and the East, the deceptions of ex-communist countries, the EU exclusivist politics are some of those elements Judt brings into question. Maybe Judt is right: the “national State” did not complete its historical project and Europe was formed too early. Or maybe this euroskeptical position could be undermined by solid postnationalist arguments. How were the former imaginary political entities created? Differently?  

Let us now imagine Europe as a new developing social and political structure, oriented towards a limited set of principles and objectives (peace, welfare and Europeanness), an European society with differences of interests and culture, institutionalized old conflicts and rationalised old violence, a developing (though divided) transnation having thus surpassed the risk of stagnation and decadence[7]. If we accept that there is certain continuity between the different forms of political organization conceived over time[8], then the European government would be just another stage of rationalised domination. Consequently, the values promoted within the plural European Union are nothing more than the core emotive and cognitive content of new social and political ties between old national societies[9] and, at the same time, a proof that the European elites’ interest is not limited to a precise set of principles and objectives but they also strive to develop political Europeanness. The question here is whether this political Europeanness represents a value in itself or it is just a simple vehicle in the process of European imaginary construction.  


“[…] declaration of principle on ‘values’ had been incorporated into European treaty. No mention was made of this concept either in the Treaty of Rome or in the Treaty of Maastricht which only referred to ‘principles’. For the majority of political analysts, the introduction of the reference to a ‘Europe of values’ in the treaty was meant to symbolize the use of a more emotional, less ‘curt’ type of rhetoric than the previous references to the ‘rights’ and ‘principles’. This would hopefully arouse popular adhesion, or even enthusiasm. [...] it would be interesting to analyse whether such a discourse on ‘values’ might contribute to legitimizing the European project. Before addressing the ritual question of ‘what values for Europe’, should we not seriously wonder if Europe really needs to invoke these so-called ‘common values’? In other terms, should Europe’s political union be buttressed by shared values or by the recognition of a small set of principles of justice?”.[10]






The concepts of “democracy”, “rule of law”, “fundamental rights and liberties” are integrant part of the European conception on good governance. In transition from the “best regime” to the “good governance”, the European Union tries out new doctrinarian and political formulas which are presumed to surpass important tensions that modernity brought in civitate. In this sense, the democracy and the rule of law are permanently revisited and negotiated. Modern democracy can no longer be separated from civil society which is now considered an important prerequisite for good governance. The importance of civil society directly results from the modern tension between norms and political reality; its role is now seen as being essential for establishing strong democratic regimes[11].  

The origins of the concept of civil society are deeply anchored in the history of political ideas, a reason for which a lot of scholars in the field choose to begin their debates with Locke, Spinoza, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, etc. Michele Prospero, in the article included in the present volume, “Hegel e il Concetto di Società Civile”, presents civil society through Hegel’s lens. Accordingly to Prospero, Hegel was the author who introduced the autonomous concept of civil society, analysing it in relation with major others concepts of the political, social and juridical sciences. It is important to mention that Hegel, among other important scholars, considered that “the creation of the civil society belongs to the modern world”.[12] In the article entitled “Civil Society in Romania and Central and Eastern Europe”, Gheorghe Lencan Stoica continues to explore the historical roots of this concept, adding other philosophers’ interesting ideas (Marx, Gramsci) to Prospero’s outline. Through Gramsci, Stoica offers us a first operational definition of the civil society: “a complex network of cultural, moral and ideological conditionings”[13] preventing from statism and dictatorship.

Maybe one of the most comprehensive definitions of civil society is the one given by Habermas (reproduced bellow). We retain the idea that civil society is composed by all the formal and informal representation instances struggling for democratic principles, instances that, at a certain moment, citizens could court for taking over the representative function of political parties in crisis[14].


“Most writers on civil society agree […] that civil society has an institutional core constituted by voluntary associations outside the sphere of the state and the economy. Such associations range from, for example, churches, cultural associations, sport clubs and debating societies to independent media, academies, groups of concerned citizens, grass-roots initiatives and organizations of gender, race and sexuality, all the way to occupational associations, political parties and labour unions”.[15]


In his article cited above, relying on the theory of modern civil society, Stoica tries to emphasize the salient distinctions between the Romanian situation and the ones from the neighbouring countries (Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia, etc.) before and after ’89. A significant number of explaining factors are to be found in particular moments in the history of these countries and the author reminds us of them. He openly manifests his adhesion to Stephen Gill’s opinion that the role of intellectuals is fundamental in creating an alternative “collective conscience”. Daniel Barbu reopens the Romanian case, in the article about “Public Sphere, Citizens’ Participation, and the Legacy of Communism”. Convinced that passivity and non-participative attitudes after ’89 are mainly inherited from the previous political period, the author attentively examines the communist enrolling of the society during Ceaușescu’s regime. He also examines the so called “resistance through culture”, an interesting phenomenon that, despite its noble resonance, is found to be nothing more than a fiction or, citing the author, “an almost pathological form of ethical autism when visibility was a political burden, if not, at times, a life risk”, “a formula lacking any political and moral sense as long as the entire culture of the five decades of Romanian totalitarianism was the product of the ideology, and of the variable, but implacable mechanisms of censorship”. Barbu’s final conclusion is that the resistance through culture” was, in fact, an “assent through culture”. In his article on “Intellectuals and Civil Society. The Polish Case”, Florin-Ciprian Mitrea returns to intellectuals (to politically engaged intellectuals but also to independent ones) and their situation during totalitarianism, opting for an extraordinary case study – Poland. Mitrea’s study follows two different conflicts and their principal stages: the conflict between the humanist intellectuals and the communist elites, on the one hand, and, the one between left-wing intellectuals and the Catholic writers, on the other hand. In the author’s opinion, the contours of contemporary Polish civil society are to be decoded through the formation and evolution of public intellectuals after ‘45.

But today’s political culture cannot be entirely understood only through the study of the communist period. Two of our authors, Gelu Sabău and Cătălin-Valentin Raiu, suggest we should look back in time, at some older writings on democracy that could give us important clues about the intellectual context within which democracy conceptually evolved. In his article, “Democracy Against Nationalism. The A.C. Popovici Case”, Sabău draws the image of democracy viewed by the Romanian political thinker Aurel Popovici, an important critic of democracy, modern society and Western liberalism, who was mainly influenced by and devoted to Mihai Eminescu’s conservative vision about politics. In the following article, “Civil Society as Its Own Enemy: the First Romanian Christian-Democratic Attempt”, Raiu portrays “the first artisan of Christian-democracy in the Romanian space”, namely Bartolomeu Stănescu (the bishop of Râmnic). Considering Christianity and democracy as quasi-synonymous, Bartolomeu Stănescu initiated a project of evangelic democracy in interwar Romania, but this project was destined to fail: its initiator does not prove to be consistent with its political ideas and he migrates from evangelic democracy to organic statist authoritarianism.

From the critique of democracy and modern society of the interwar period, Salvatore Cingari invites us to pass to a critique of neo-liberal ideology accompanying the postdemocratic process. His article, “Per un’ Analisi Critica del Concetto di «Meritocrazia» come «Ideologia» Neo-liberista”, focuses on a particular aspect of this ideology, namely the use of the term of ‘meritocracy’. In his attempt to deconstruct this concept, Cingari revisits several classical writings on democracy, postdemocracy and liberalism, (i.e. Colin Crouch’s and Anthony Giddens’), then analysing the contemporaneous Italian debate on meritocracy. In the last section of the article, Roger Abravanel’s Meritocrazia occupies an important space. In Cingari’s opinion, hegemonic neo-liberal ideology of our times is actually using the term of “meritocracy” as a mask of inequality. The discussion about postdemocracy, a term referring to the evolution democracy has known during the 21st century (formal democratic institutions, non-representative elections, aristocratic tendencies, the takeover of the public initiative by exclusivist political-economic groups, etc.), is strongly related to the discussion about civil society and its enemies. Through her article entitled “Social Movements through Music and Culture – An overview”, Victoria Spau offers an analysis of the latest theories of social movements, an extremely interesting phenomenon gradually flourishing all over the world. This phenomenon makes political scientists question the future role of the new forms of democratic participation in transforming the existing models of governance. Specialists on civil society, collective identities or collective action are particularly interested in the issue of social movements. The creation of social networks and movements through communication channels, cultural and artistic affinities constitutes an ultramodern theme of reflection for social scientists. So does the issue of interculturality, introduced in our volume through Selami Ahmet Salgür’ essay “The Need For Intercultural Dialogue Between Black Sea Countries”.





Historians and political scientists consider “South-Eastern Europe”, a concept   conceived for the first time by the Romanian historian Nicolae Iorga, as a culturally and politically coherent region. Among the most salient elements configuring “South-Eastern Europe” and differentiating it from Central and Western Europe, Paschalis Michael Kitromilides includes: the weight of the dominant religion (Orthodox Christianity) in the formation of identity, the role of the Eastern Roman Empire in the formation of law, institutional and political traditions, the cultural heritage left by the Ottoman Empire, etc.[16] Nevertheless, it is important to stress that among an important number of scholars, Kitromilides approaches the West and the East as two complementary parts of Europe, of one and the same civilization. Therefore, the conservative and nationalist traditions, the appetite for paternalism and patriarchalism, the submissive cultures, the sense of guilt and inutility, and other particular traits of South-Eastern peoples are considered to be evident notes of distinctiveness in relation to Central and Western Europeans but, at the same time, inherent sources of particularism or localism. Several postdemocratic evolutions in Europe today reveal salient shared legacies of the past, diluting old arguments in favor of occidentalist or orientalist thesis. In this register of ideas, is it adequate to inquire whether political Europeanness exists?




CALHOUN, Craig (ed.), Habermas and the Public Sphere, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1992.

FLYVBJERG, Bent, “Habermas and Foucault: thinkers for civil society?”, The British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 49, No. 2, 1998, pp. 210-233.        

HERMET, Guy, Histoire des nations et du nationalisme en Europe, Éditions du Seuil, Paris, 1996.

HERMET, Guy, Les désenchantements de la liberté. La sortie des dictatures dans les années ’90, Fayard, Paris, 1993.

JUDT, Tony, Europa iluziilor, trans. Daciana Branea & Ioana Copil-Popovici, Polirom, Iași, 2000.

KITROMILIDES, Paschalis Michael, An Orthodox Commonwealth. Symbolic Legacies and Cultural Encounters in Southeastern Europe, Variorum Collected Studies Series, Ashgate, Aldershot, 2007.

KITROMILIDES, Paschalis Michael, “Modernization as an Ideological Dilemma in Southeastern Europe: from National Revival to Liberal Reconstruction”, Revue des Études Sud-Est Européennes, Vol. XXX, No. 1-2, 1992, pp. 183-189.

KITROMILIDES, Paschalis Michael, “The Enlightenment East and West: A Comparative Perspective on the Ideological Origins of the Balkan Political Traditions”, Canadian Review of Studies in Nationalism, Vol. X, No. 1, Spring 1983, pp. 51-70.

LACROIX, Justine, “Does Europe Need Common Values?: Habermas vs Habermas”, European Journal of Political Theory, Vol. 8, No. 141, 2009, pp. 141-156.  

MONNIER, Alain, “L’Europe de l’Est: différente et diverse”, Population (French Edition), No. 3, 1991, pp. 443-461.










[1] Guy HERMET, Les désenchantements de la liberté. La sortie des dictatures dans les années ’90, Fayard, Paris, 1993; Jean-Michel De waele (ed.), Partis politiques et démocratie en Europe centrale et orientale, Éditions de l’Université de Bruxelles, Bruxelles, 2002.

[2] About this process of stereotypization: Jenó SZÚCS, Les trois Europes, trans. Véronique Charaire, Gábon Klahiczay & Philippe Thureau-Dangin, L’Harmattan, Paris, 1985; Alain MONNIER, “L’Europe de l’Est: différente et diverse”, Population (French Edition), No. 3, 1991, pp. 443-461; Guy HERMET, Histoire des nations et du nationalisme en Europe, Éditions du Seuil, Paris, 1996; Maria TODOROVA, Balcanii şi balcanismul, Humanitas, București, 2000.

[3] Philippe C. SCHMITTER, “Parties Are Not What They Were Once”, in Stefano BARTOLINI, Peter MAIR, Identity, competition and electoral availability. The Stabilization of European electorates: 1885-1985, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1990, pp. 67-89.

[4] Ibidem, p. 84.

[5] Tony JUDT, Europa iluziilor, trans. Daciana Branea & Ioana Copil-Popovici, Polirom, Iași, 2000.

[6] Olivier COSTA, Nathalie BRACK, Le fonctionnement de l’Union Européenne, Éditions de l’Université de Bruxelles, Bruxelles, 2011.

[7] Charles TAYLOR, “Neutrality in Political Science”, in Peter LASLETT, W.G. RUNCIMAN, Philosophy, Politics and Society, Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1969, pp. 25-46.

[8] Michel FOUCAULT, Dits et écrits, 1980-1988, Vol. IV, Gallimard, Paris, 1994, pp.134-161 (“Omnes et singulatim – vers une critique de la raison politique”).

[9] Tzvetan TODOROV, «Construire une mémoire commune», in Bronislaw GEREMEK, Robert PICHT, Visions d’Europe, Odile Jacob, Paris, 2007, pp. 335-345; Anne-Marie THIESSE, « Une mémoire commune pour quelle vision de l’Europe ? », in Bronislaw GEREMEK, Robert PICHT, Visions d’Europe, Odile Jacob, Paris, 2007, pp. 345-359.

[10] Justine LACROIX, “Does Europe Need Common Values?: Habermas vs. Habermas”, European Journal of Political Theory, Vol. 8, No. 141, 2009, pp. 141-156.  

[11] Bent FLYVBJERG, “Habermas and Foucault: thinkers for civil society?”, The British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 49, No. 2, 1998, pp. 210-233.    

[12] Georg Wilhelm Friedrich HEGEL, Lineamenti di filosofia del diritto, Laterza, Bari, 2001.

[13] Antonio GRAMSCI, Quaderni del carcere, Einaudi, Torino, 1975.

[14] Philippe C. SCHMITTER, “Parties Are Not…cit.”

[15] Craig CALHOUN (ed.), Habermas and the Public Sphere, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1992, p. 453.


[16] Paschalis Michael KITROMILIDES, An Orthodox Commonwealth. Symbolic Legacies and Cultural Encounters in Southeastern Europe, Variorum Collected Studies Series, Ashgate, Aldershot, 2007; Idem, “Orthodox Culture and Collective Identity in the Ottoman Balkans during the Eighteenth Century”, Δελτίο Κέντρου Μικρασιατικών Σπουδών, Vol. XII, 1997-1998, pp. 81-95; Idem, “Modernization as an Ideological Dilemma in Southeastern Europe: from National Revival to Liberal Reconstruction”, Revue des Études Sud-Est Européennes, Vol. XXX, No. 1-2, 1992, pp. 183-189; Idem, “The Enlightenment East and West: A Comparative Perspective on the Ideological Origins of the Balkan Political Traditions”, Canadian Review of Studies in Nationalism, Vol. X, No. 1, Spring 1983, pp. 51-70.