The Figure of the ‘Dissident’
‘Dissidents’ have always been the object of Western attention, and there are many reasons for why that is the case. Who are the ‘dissidents’, how do they come to be, and what sort of impact do they have? This project proposes to look back at the democratic opposition movements in Central Europe in order to define the ‘dissident’ as an analytical rather than simply descriptive concept. Putting aside the debate about the actual role of domestic and societal forces in bringing down Communism in Central and Eastern Europe, we can easily agree that there is something fascinating about the phenomenon of dissidentism in general.
While 1989 is a caesura of groundbreaking importance for Central Europeans, on the global scale it meant that prisoners of conscience from this part of the world would nearly disappear from the pages of Amnesty International bulletins. Opposition to authoritarianism and dictatorial power continues world-wide, and so does dissidentism. The latter is not only an act of civil courage characterized by the Greek term parrhesia, meaning the conscious act of speaking the truth to power at the risk of grave consequences. It is, perhaps more importantly, an instance of transnational recognition in which an oppositionist from one country is recognized for something larger and wider than he or she is, becomes a symbol of certain values and is taken for an example of a predefined social and political setup. To put it simply, ‘dissident’ is not a mere label, and empowerment does not boil down to the dollars transferred by human rights foundations in the West. The term has performative qualities of its own.
This dissertation project is based on the assumption that the ‘dissidents’ constitute a socio-political phenomenon that is different from democratic opposition movements. The ‘dissident’ is thus seen as a rhetorical and political figure which is empowered through international recognition; however, it is the translation of the figure of the ‘dissident’ into local contexts that enables it to function internationally.
The project therefore seeks to investigate the historical roots as well as the changing meanings of the concept of ‘dissident’ in the context of Central Europe, but also to look into the ways the concept itself was employed by those who were labelled as such. The second part of the project provides a discourse-analytic account of dissident practices of ‘hijacking discourses’, or, to use a different vocabulary of the localization of ‘universal’ discourses: human rights, pacifism, environmentalism and radical democratic ideas. These re-negotiated discourses are provided as examples of how the specific position the ‘dissidents’ were in and their role as metaphorical ‘bridges’ between ‘East’ and ‘West’ were used to translate or localize values usually considered universal.
|Period:||01.10.2008 – 30.09.2011|