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Cultural Opposition: Understanding the Cultural Heritage of Dissent in the Former Socialist Countries

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - COURAGE (Cultural Opposition: Understanding the Cultural Heritage of Dissent in the Former Socialist Countries)

Reporting period: 2017-02-01 to 2019-01-31

The heritage of cultural opposition to state socialism is today an important resource for social reflection and innovation in Europe, in part given the emergence of regimes with authoritarian tendencies. The mission of COURAGE has been to help spread knowledge of and interest in this resource and ensure that its significant symbolic potential is realized. Study and ongoing discussion and debate of the heritage of cultural opposition will counter one-sided interpretations of state socialism and the exclusion of important groups and individuals from narratives of this history. COURAGE offers valuable knowledge about the practices of freedom under authoritarian governments and the strategies that were adopted to resist the pervasive forms of suppression used by these governments. Cultural opposition under state socialism was remarkably creative. A nuanced grasp of these examples of cultural creativity under adverse conditions can help stimulate innovative acts and initiatives today.
To achieve these goals, the COURAGE project created an intelligent living database, – the COURAGE Registry – which describes and connects collections of counterculture and non-conformism under State Socialist authoritarian systems in Eastern Europe in the former socialist countries. This continuously growing portal is available online in 16 languages at The collections contain artefacts from an array of initiatives that were in some form hostile to or critical of the ideology of the regimes, including (but not limited to) non-conformist art; anti-establishment religious movements; civic initiatives for unofficial education and publication; underground punk and rock music; green movements; and novel spiritual practices. The history of these collections studied in their broader social and cultural context reveals an alternative history of the regime changes, since the civil initiatives to which these collections testify contributed to the collapse of the dictatorships.
The COURAGE Registry promotes the discovery of collections which have been scattered and hidden because official cultural politics under state socialism forbade or barely tolerated any systematic archiving of countercultural or non-conformist phenomena.
Furthermore, the Registry allows archives and museums to map materials similar to their holdings in Europe and launch joint projects across borders and cultures. For example, it lets them organize exhibitions together, exchange duplicate materials to diversify their holdings, or apply for grants together.
Finally, the database contains the provenance and history of collections, the profiles and stories of the people and organizations who contributed to creating and maintaining the collections, and key events in the histories of the collections (e.g. exhibitions based on the holdings). This encourages an approach to history that highlights the contributions of ordinary citizens to cultural opposition against oppressive regimes.
COURAGE created the first digital database (registry) of both online and offline private and public collections in Europe which testify to the survival of various forms of cultural opposition in the former socialist countries. The COURAGE Registry shows how these collections work, what functions they serve in their respective societies, and how they represent their holdings and findings to the national and international public. In total, 429 collections were documented by January 2019 (new collection descriptions are constantly being added), and 851 persons and 481 institutions were studied ( ). This is a living database which can be further extended. It can be regarded as a first larger step towards mapping the hidden heritage in public and private collections in the region.

The COURAGE Learning Platform is based on three columns according to the audience it addresses: a pioneering modular syllabus system for higher education; full online courses for secondary schools; and a walking application for city tours for locals and tourists (

COURAGE also created country reports on 19 countries and a set of policy recommendations ( ) based on interactions with local stakeholders and the research conducted over the course of the project.

The Handbook of COURAGE: Cultural Opposition and its Heritage in Eastern Europe was published in November 2018. The handbook provides new perspectives on the history of dissent and cultural non-conformism in the former socialist countries. The handbook provides its reader with a concise synthesis of the existing scholarship and suggests new avenues for further research ( ).

COURAGE disseminated information about the Registry and the Learning Platform through initiatives such as an international documentary film festival series (in seven countries), travelling and online exhibitions (in six countries - online games ( and local media events in the former socialist countries of Europe.
The COURAGE Registry is a unique repository of forms, genres, individuals, and organizations of cultural opposition. It documents the diverse efforts to maintain and communicate the legacy of cultural opposition after the end of communist rule. COURAGE has significantly broadened our understanding of the role of culture in opposing authoritarian regimes. It highlights the tremendous creativity of non-conformists and the courage of individuals who dared challenge the stances and narratives of oppressive states. It also draws attention to the wide variety of ways in which individuals and organizations can oppose the status quo and bypass official channels. It reveals the intensity of transnational connections, both among the socialist countries and between East and West. Cultural opposition and dissent were European phenomena, and this heritage is thus of European significance.

By covering an array of categories of cultural opposition and widely divergent social milieus across East Central Europe, this project provides a comparative account of cultural dissent with a range hitherto unavailable.
The project will have a long-term sustainable social impact. The registry will remain on the webpage dedicated to it, and parts of the registry will be published as Linked Open Data, enabling third party use and text mining. This Linked Data will be downloadable from the project portal, making the preservation of the results even more robust. The online exhibition will be available on the portal of COURAGE and will be integrated into the permanent portal of the Research Centre for the Humanities, Hungarian Academy of Sciences too, both in order to ensure backup and to attract additional, potentially interested audiences. The curators’ mission for the offline exhibition is to integrate it into the collections of one or more permanent museums. The Courage Registry also provides a list of possible objects/collections (featured items) to be exhibited in the permanent exhibition of the House of European History.
The curricula and the educational materials are available on the project partners’ websites (in addition to the COURAGE website) and are advertised widely among interested groups all over Europe.
Courage on one slide - cultural opposition
Courage University Syllabus Modul (SyMo)
Sample dissemination event in Bucharest
Public registry sample - list view
Courage high-school learning
Sample dissemination event in Bratislava
Open Day, Brussels
Courage team and workshops
Pulic registry sample - unique view
Courage exhibitions
Courage games
Map of collections
Courage filmfestivals
Courage training days
Courage final conference