The blurred object of communist nostalgia: Radio Free Europe

Autumn 2016

Existing research on nostalgiaincluding communist nostalgia, devotes numerous pages to typologizing longing and the approaches to it. But little has been done to trace or classify nostalgia’s actual objects. And yet these, goes the argument of this essay, are neither transparent nor clear-cut. To illustrate how the persistent lack of clarity about them hampers the understanding of nostalgia as a historical phenomenon, I turn to the post-1989 memory of Radio Free Europe (RFE)—a key Cold War broadcaster into the Eastern Bloc. My analysis of the only three RFE-related artifacts that have so far enjoyed reception in East and West raises the question of whether and how an anti-Communist token, which RFE appears to have been, can become a linchpin of Communist nostalgia. This process hinges, I observe, on two operations. The first interprets Communism as a medial, rather than political, situation. The second re-signifies RFE as an ahistorical cypher for extraterritorial, uncensored, and multilingual resistance par excellence. The resulting yearnings thus point not to Communism’s accomplishments or shortfalls but rather to its side effects. Only by identifying these trajectories of nostalgia and defining their “medial” and “intermediary” pivots can we understand what exactly is being missed.

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Twentieth Century Communism Journal Issue 11: Memory and Nostalgia