Futures Studies in the European Ex-socialist Countries


Viorica Ramba Varga

The futures research (futures studies) has started in the second part of the 20th century, the bloodiest, violentest and most intolerant century.

The post-second war period was intensivelyfuture-obsessive in Europe. For mainly two reasons: one of them was caused by the geneal aspire to a peaceful world. Another was generated by the huge more and more accelerated scientific and technological development and its real/potential implication on society.

The end of the WW2 gave a rise to ahistorical optimism that impregnated the European mental, sentimental and comportamental structures. The future was perceived as the time/space bearing hopes and wishes for a better, peaceful, fraternal and free world.

By the end of the after-war reconstrution period, at the beginning of the 60s, the future has strongly installed in the current preoccupations.

In Western Europe , it was especially the explorative researches versus “possible futures” (B. Jouvenel) connected to the rapidly progressed science and technological development that generated the double attitude of the technological optimism and already the technological pessimism.

In Central and Eastern European socialist countries it was manifested mainly as future-oriented, interconnected explorative-normative-operative phases that subordinated the explorative studies to the centralised planning. The planning was aiming to attend an accelerated higher development for the countries considered. The prognostics in these countries marked by the spirit of the historical and technological optimism presented a sort of planning euphoria of that age. All these have been used up by the reality in the first part of the 90s. But the memory and the advices of these cultural-historical experiences deserve to be considered.

From the blood-soaked ground of the WW2 sprang the rationalist-humanist-enlightened spirit of the first post-war futures research. Ittacitly excluded from its approach thepolitical-ideological criteria , it practiced humansolidarity and focussed oncriticism against any jeopardy to the future of theentire mankind .

This trend’s spirit bred a new cultural phenomenon in the Cold War decades. The phenomenon’s originality was revealed in the emergence of aspecific state of mind within the WFSF. This specificity stemmed from the fact that inside it such rational-emotional elements were amalgamated, in various dosages, as:

The criticism of Western researchers towards the “establishment”;

The implicit (seldom explicit) non-conformism of researchers in the former socialist countries as to the centralized uniqueness of the socialist planning, as well as the acceptance of Bertrand de Jouvenel’s idea of “possible futures”;

Establishing rationalist-humanist friendships between researchers from different social systems, even at the risk of unpleasant consequences in their countries of origin recorded in many cases;

the research and debates of these generous humanists on mankind’s future were conducted outside commercial/financial criteria and of the state’s intervention.

This was the way and the state of mind in which the 1960-1990 generation of futures researchers scanned the roots that events stemmed from. It is this generation’s precious cultural acquisition.

Why is a history, written from the inside, of futures research in Central and Eastern European countries in the period 1960-1990 and 1990-2000 of interest, as part of the post-war European culture?

There is no univocal response, but several hypotheses may be proposed that could work as adequate answers. One would be that in reality the centralized State “socialism” (up to 1990) was an economic development strategy based on the Western model of modernization by classic industrial revolution , a strategy “clothed” in a different ideological “frock”.

Elements of the industrial civilization code could support the hypothesis, such as: standardization (mass production), specialization, synchronization, concentration, maximization, centralization. They were used both in the socialist East and in the liberal West,regardless of the dominant ideology and/or the modernizing social-political forces. Along with these elements, the modernization code included the usage of powerful and “tough” technologies: material-intensive (large), energy-consuming, cost-intensive and polluting. Massification of the media and the uniforming mass education contributed to spreading thebasic concept of industrial civilization,identifying the idea of exponential , quantifiable,economic growth with theprinciple of progress . In both systems.

From a cultural perspective, another likeness may be noted, concerning an aspect pertaining to the history of the futures researchuncertainty , regardless of the social-politic system. We will only note two similarities:

although the socialist state redistribution society promotedplanned research and programming  while the futures research institutes were state-funded, the collapse was not foreseen;

the similarity with the “mishap” of the futures research institutes in the West, who did not foresee the first major oil crisis (1973-74), nor the “domino effect” in 1989 is striking.

Despite of the uncertainty of futures researches one may affirm thecertainty of the need to revive and deepen futures researches world-wide , at least in the following aspects: evidence of local-global connections and balancing the forces of globalization and localization; the transition to a new post-industrial civilisation and its implications; the law and ethical aspects of the new, astonishing evolution of the science, especially of genetics and bioengineering; the centralization and decentralization of connections, as well as those of diversification and standardization that appear in the context of the technology revolution in IT and communications; connections poverty-wealth; natural-artificial and so forth.

Such new set of problems - much vaster than the aspects mentioned above - is nowfelt as aprofanely inspiredmillennarism that impregnates the spirituality of the second millennium’s end in adifferent fashion than thereligious millennarism that dominated the end of the first millennium. The profane millennarism as a dimension of today’s spirituality claims to observe humankind at its essential turn-points. This millennarist pulsation responds to an intellectual and also an “existentialist” need and it expresses a truth. Such established, felt or fathomedtruth draws attention on the fact that we participate in an amplemutation at the end of which things will never again be exactly as they used to be.

And how will they be? The possible answers should be approximated through new futures studies, which will bedifferent from the ones up to 1990.

Who should carry through researching the future of the aspects in the new problems set that, in point of fact, pertain to “palpating”, grasping, diagnosing the essence of the unfolding new civilization at the passage from the “old” into the “new” millennium?

The question is less naive than it seems. It deliberately ignores the political and economic bodies having precise interests. Equally, it supposes that numerous institutes, NGOs, specialized journals that have focused their attention over the years on futures research, would continue to do so. One may hope they will do it with a larger public accessibility and clearer democratic transparency than up to now.

The question points to youth . A “change of guard” is taking place within the considered countries. Just a few futures oriented aged thinkers are acting now. Fortunately the young catch up.

What should we convey to our young at the outset of the new millennium, from the intellectual abilities and cultural sensitivities accumulated over time, so that the cultural diversity, not exclusively focused on Western conformity, shouldnot be annihilated , but ratherharmonized ?What andhow should we tell our children from the common heritage, so that it becomes a basis forcontinuing the civilization’s survival relay?What should we convey to convince them that man ismore spirit than body,more andother than just belly and sex, other than*“hic et nunc”* ?

The hypothesis that might act as valid answer isrespecting the diversity of life and exercisinghuman solidarity . Even though it may seem utopian in the new context of globalization and re-polarization. Beyond its possible utopian shade, remains the obvious fact that the set of queries/reflections above encompasses the hard core of the cultural challenge of the new millennium and of its new civilization. Let us face it together. Although futures research may now seem like a blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat that is not there, we must still go on. We have no other “Globe”.