A highly readable account of Central Europe’s experience after communism

Table of contents

Preface and Acknowledgments
Chapter 1. Revolutions: The fall of communism as witnessed from a beer barrel and beyond
Chapter 2. Communism: The political importance of telling a good story
Chapter 3: Neoliberalism: Why BMWs don’t just randomly explode!
Chapter 4. Nationalism: Liberalism’s evil twin screws up the Enlightenment
Chapter 5: Ethnic Conflict:  The breakup of Yugoslavia through a feminist lens
Chapter 6. “Transitology”: How I joined the global conspiracy against Slovakia
Chapter 7. Humanitarian Intervention: Liberalism weaponized in the Western Balkans
Chapter 8. International Relations: The West Gets Cocky
Chapter 9. Homophobia: Intersectionality and the political uses of fear
Chapter 10. Populism: Austerity, fear and loathing on Central Europe’s periphery
Chapter 11. Illiberal Democracy: The Political Economy of Hungary’s Liberal Unraveling
Liberalism’s fragile dream


In Fragile Dreams, John A. Gould examines Central European communism, why it failed, and what has come since. Moving loosely chronologically from 1989 to the present, each chapter focuses on topics of importance to the fields of comparative politics, sociology, and feminist and gender studies. He draws heavily from his own research and experience as well as case studies of the former Czechoslovakia, Western Balkans, and Hungary—but much of the analysis has general applicability to the broader postcommunist region.


Broad in its coverage, this academically rigorous book is ideal for students, travelers, and general readers. Gould writes in the first person and seamlessly blends theory with stories both from the existing literature and from 30 years of regional personal experience with family and friends. Throughout, Gould introduces key concepts, players, and events with precise definitions. Wherever possible, he emphasizes marginalized narratives, centering theory and stories that are often overlooked in standard comparative political science literature.

John A. Gould is Professor of Political Science at Colorado College.

“Both informative and entertaining, Fragile Dreams is a refreshingly original and accessible study of Central Europe since 1989. Illuminating the key debates of the post-communist era, Gould combines personal stories with an analysis of actual events, while also weaving in relevant terminology from political science and economics.”

 —Sharon Fisher, IHS Markit

- Sharon Fisher, IHS Markit

“Central and Eastern Europe has been on a rollercoaster ride in the past three decades. Blending together insights from scholarship with personal anecdotes, John Gould has written a marvelous and highly engaging book to guide the reader through all the ups and down. Strap in and enjoy the ride!”

—Tim Haughton, University of Birmingham

- Tim Haughton, University of Birmingham

Fragile Dreams is a rare gem that exquisitely blends history, lived experience, and politics. It paints a comprehensive view of Central Europe after communism for students while providing new scholarly insights on critical topics such as economic inequality, nationalism, homophobia, and democratic fragility.”

—Lenka Buštíková, Arizona State University

- Lenka Buštíková, Arizona State University

“This tour of four decades in Central and Eastern Europe is one of the most thought-provoking books I have read in a long time and the most engaging effort to understand the region using comparative politics. Gould tells stories with warmth and clarity and makes complicated concepts clear. He covers a vast stretch of territory in a way that seems to make the travel take no time at all.”

—Kevin Deegan-Krause, Wayne State University

- Kevin Deegan-Krause, Wayne State University

“Gould’s take is likely to be controversial with some, but he will push readers toward discussion and a better sense of the context in which the transition occurred.”

—Carol Skalnik Leff, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

- Carol Skalnik Leff, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign