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Central and Eastern European States -
Activities

 
How to produce a Level 7 IB essay. 

A L7 essay, like any good essay, has got to get the basics right. IB examiners are forever reminding students to answer the question set, to avoid unstructured narratives and to include relevant factual details. But a top L7 response also needs more than this. 

' the answer will in addition display at least one of the following features: a highly developed awareness of historiographical issues; a critical examination of a wide range of historical evidence; a high level of conceptual ability; a successful challenge to the assumptions implied in the question.' IBO History markbands for Paper 2. 

Let's look at an example of how you might do this. How significant was the role of Gorbachev to the collapse of the Eastern bloc in 1989? 

Historians generally identify three main causes of the collapse of Eastern bloc: the role of Gorbachev is most common explanation, followed by the economic collapse and the role of dissident intellectuals of the 'anti-political movement' such as Havel and Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia and Kuron and the KOR in Poland.

 In order to challenge the assumption in the question, we could refer to recent historiographical trends which have sought to emphasise the 'history from below' or the social history of the revolutions. Rather than focus on the role of important politicians like Gorbachev, historians like Padraic Kenney (see further reading) have examined the nature of the crowd of 'ordinary' people who manned the barricades and marched through the streets. 

Similarly, just as the great English social historian and Cold War peace campaigner E. P. Thompson argued in dismissing the explanation of the 18th century food riot, where worker 'claps his hand spasmodically upon his stomach, and responds to elementary economic stimuli', (Customs in Common 187) so the social historian of 1989 needs to get inside the head and heart of those who felt the need to do something. 

For this you will need to research groups like 'Orange Alternative', 'WiP'  and playful, ironic symbols such as Tomasz Sarnecki's 'High Noon' election poster.  The most ambitious student might also consider the question in more philosophical 'TOK' terms, considering the general importance of individual in history. E.H. Carr's classic text 'What is History' remains apposite in this respect: 'All effective movements have few leaders and multitude of followers; but this does not mean that the multitude is not essential to their success. Numbers count in history'. 

Other examples 

Examine the importance of the secret police in the maintenance of communist party rule in any Eastern bloc country you have studied in the period 1945-1989. Consider the essay in terms of coercion, persuasion and consent as outlined in the last section of this chapter  This will allow you to structure your essay thematically, whilst referring to both historiographical debate and challenging the assumption in the question. The security forces are part of the general coercive power of the state. Historians who favour the 'totalitarian' view of communist regimes will emphasize coercion. You should be in a position to challenge this view by recognising the extent to which the regimes generated genuine consent among their population. 

Explain the main challenges facing any two Central and eastern European states in the transition to a post-communist regime. Questions which ask students to 'explain' can be a banana skin. The temptation in explaining is to get distracted into telling stories which forget the need for analysis and evaluation. This essay needs to be well planned. Draw up a table that allows you to identify similarities and differences between two states in their post-communist experience. Try to identify 'factors' that will make your essay thematic: political, economic, social and cultural (PESC) factors will allow you to identify a range of different types of challenge. Finally, don't forget to identify the challenges that were most important and be prepared to explain why you have chosen them..

 

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