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New Left Review I/183, September-October 1990


Slavoj Žižek

Eastern Europe’s Republics of Gilead

Why is the West so fascinated by the recent events in Eastern Europe? The answer seems obvious: what fascinates the Western gaze is the re-invention of democracy. [*] This essay is a revised version of a paper presented at the colloquium ‘Ideology and Psychoanalysis’, at the University of California, San Diego, on 28 April 1990. The author wishes to thank Perry Anderson, Fredric Jameson, Peter Wollen and Robin Blackburn for their helpful suggestions. It is as if democracy, which in the West shows increasing signs of decay and crisis, lost in bureaucratic routine and publicity-style election campaigns, is being rediscovered in Eastern Europe in all its freshness and novelty. The function of this fascination is thus purely ideological: in Eastern Europe the West looks for its own lost origins, for the authentic experience of ‘democratic invention’. In other words, Eastern Europe functions for the West as its Ego-Ideal: the point from which the West sees itself in a likeable, idealized form, as worthy of love. The real object of fascination for the West is thus the gaze, namely the supposedly naive gaze by means of which Eastern Europe stares back at the West, fascinated by its democracy. It is as if the Eastern gaze is still able to perceive in Western societies its agalma, the treasure that causes democratic enthusiasm and which the West has long lost the taste of.

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