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Tuesday, 07 November 2017 12:56

Lenin: The man who made October

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Photo: Егор Журавлёв(Flickr); License: CC BY-SA 2.0

 7 November 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of that fateful day in Russian history when Vladimir Lenin and the Bolshevik Party seized power from the Provisional Government and embarked on a bold new experiment to create a socialist utopia. The consequences of this experiment are well known, but the events of 1917 and their causes continue to be debated among historians all round the world. 

Published in Sixth Sense
Romanian revolution
Photo: ahmed bermawy (Flickr); Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
 

The revolution in Bucharest a quarter of a century ago

 

The final part of our mini-series marking the 25th anniversary of the fall of communism in many parts of Central and Southeastern Europe takes gives us a Romanian point of view, as we hear from Georgiana Murariu about the revolution of 1989 and the years that followed.

In the months prior to the spectacle that was the run-up to the recent Romanian presidential elections, I was reminded that it is never too late or too repetitive to re-hash and reconsider the profound effects of Ceausescu's regime.

As an increasingly educated and critical layer of youth intelligentsia derides decisions based on anything other than the desire for Europeanness, the use of politically-loaded terminology inevitably results in the creation of arbitrary divisions between different segments of the population. Sure, most of these are aphorisms about what it means to be an old communist crone, nostalgically clinging to the principles of the redistributive state and its overbearing, yet amiable paternal hand, but there is also a lot of rhetoric around corruption and the wish to free ourselves from undesirable spots on annual lists of bafflingly corrupt countries in Europe. All of which is fair, I suppose, or would be, were it not for the fact that we've never given any second thought to whether our condemnation of corruption is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of its manifestation during the late communist era as well as the transitional period after 1989.

Economically and socially, the resulting "grey zones" became less about coping with a seemingly omnipresent government and more about the opportunistic manipulation of old boys' networks and invaluable knowledge to carry on furtively evading tax, whilst promising the people concepts that were once alien to them, like growth and prosperity.

Published in Under Eastern Eyes
Street signs HU
Photo: habeebe (Flickr); Licence: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
 

Renaming streets following the collapse of communism in Hungary

 

In the next edition of our mini-series marking the 25th anniversary of the fall of communism in many parts of Central and Southeastern Europe, we hear from Dora Vuk about growing up in post-socialist Hungary and memories of the socialist era.

The moment I was asked to write about my impressions of the 25th anniversary of the fall of communism, I was forced to realise that my feelings, memories related to this occasion, and the stories I had heard from my parents and grandparents about communism were more complex and ambivalent than I had thought before. So I decided not only to highlight the significance of the subsequent transition in our lives, but also to use scraps of thoughts to present my impressions of the so-called "socialist era" and the last 25 years.

As I originally come from a small Croatian community settled at the Hungarian border with Croatia, most of the scenes appearing now before my eyes are in a particular way related to this minority population and its life in a period characterised by totalitarian policy, and in another, a more free one after that came later. I remember my grandmother and one of her memories from her childhood after the Second World War –  when, during the realisation of the state ownership programme, the Hungarian Secret Police (ÁVO, after 1956 ÁVH) took all of her family's agricultural land, animals, and cereals. Once, when the police came, she had to hide in the attic with a basket of corn to ensure that they would have the necessary amount of food to survive the winter.

Published in Under Eastern Eyes
Buzludzha Monument Auditorium
Photo: Stanislav Traykov (Wikimedia Commons); Licence: CC BY 3.0
 

The communist Buzludzha momunent, completed in 1981, has gone to rack and ruin since the revolution

 

In the next part of our series commemorating the 25th anniversary of the fall of communism in many parts of Central and Southeastern Europe, we turn our attention to Bulgaria. Milen Iliev was only a young child when revolution came to his country, but vividly remembers the changes that took place in the 1990s.

The fall of communism came about in Bulgaria on 10 November 1989 with the resignation of long-serving leader Todor Zhivkov. I was just about to turn three at the time.  I was at that point of growing up, when I was getting ready to leave the confines of my home and join society for the first time in my life by going to nursery. Bulgaria was in a similar position – it was a newborn state, which was about to enter the world of democracy and capitalism and join a larger community of nations through the beginnings of globalisation.

Both Bulgaria and I had a lot of growing up to do. Perhaps the single most common leitmotif when you read about the process of growing up is the idea of the loss of innocence. In a nutshell, the argument is that once you start to realise what suffering and injustice are and how you can help or hinder their development in the world around you, you are not innocent anymore.

Published in Under Eastern Eyes
Wenceslas Square
Photo: Daniel Antal (Flickr); Licence: CC BY 2.0
 
On Prague's famous Wenceslas Square during the Velvet Revolution of November 1989

 

In the third part of our mini series commemorating the 25th anniversary of the fall of communism in many parts of Central and Southeastern Europe, Kamila Kubásková, a recent graduate, currently based in Munich, shares her experiences of growing up in the Czech Republic.

It must have been wonderful to have been living in Czechoslovakia in November 1989. Although I belong to the lucky ones who never had to put up with communist rule, I could not particularly enjoy the events of the year, as I was a baby with entirely apolitical interests. But I can vividly imagine the atmosphere of the day. I can feel the excitement, the air of anticipation and expectation. I picture people all over the country waiting impatiently for news from the capital, trying to comprehend what was happening and knowing that everything in their lives was about to change. The revolution was a peaceful event that filled the people with euphoria and, for the first time in many decades, with hope for a better future.

My parents could not join the spontaneous celebrations that were happening in the streets, because they had to look after me and my older brother. However, the knowledge that their children would grow up with the freedom to travel, study and live without constant fear of their own government, was satisfying enough for them. Parents of our generation also knew that our lives will be very different to their own and they would not always be able to prepare for all the choices that would lie ahead of us.

Published in Under Eastern Eyes
640px-Solidarity 1984 August 31
Photo: Thomas Hedden (Wikimedia Commons); Licence: Public domain
A Solidarity demonstration on the streets of Warsaw back in 1984

 

In the second part of our series commemorating a quarter of a century since the fall of communism in many parts of Central and Southeastern Europe, we hear the views and recollections of Szymon Pozimski, who was born in Poland in 1988.

This year we have witnessed the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, one of the historical milestones that, along with other memorable events like the first partially free elections in Poland in June 1989, the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia and the toppling of Ceauseșcu in Romania, marks the end of communism in Eastern Europe.

Naturally, it only makes sense to consider the events of 1989 in reference to the decades that preceded them, decades of struggle for the oppressed peoples of Eastern Europe. Without at least a cursory glance at what it was like to live in a communist state, it is impossible to understand what sort of a victory we celebrate. Placing the great triumph in its wider context is all the more important, as with the passage of time the recollection of the period 1945-89 becomes more and more obliterated in the common memory – and this goes for both sides of the now-defunct Iron Curtain.

Published in Under Eastern Eyes
640px-Havla 1989
Photo: MD (Wikimedia Commons); Licence: CC BY-SA 3.0
 
Demonstrators during the Velvet Revolution in 1989

 

As a way of marking the 25th anniversary of the fall of communism in many parts of Central and Southeastern Europe, E&M asked young people from some of the countries involved to tell us what the anniversary means to them. First up is Timea Szilvássy, who lives in Bratislava and was a year and a half old when the Velvet Revolution took place.

To understand how much the post-communist countries have changed, one must recall how they started out. Recall, what freedom meant at that time and how has it changed over the last 25 years.

Our parents and grandparents might talk about the fragility of freedom, about how distant and unclear the term could be in their lives and how far away we are from that perception nowadays. Back then, propagandists of the state told the people what to think, the secret police watched basically everyone and put regime critics behind bars. Only dreams stayed safe, but it was better to not dream big, but rather to stay dutiful so as to lead a convenient life of sorts.

Something changed a quarter of a century ago. Thousands of people took the risk and stood out from the line. They exposed themselves and their families to high risks, sometimes even imprisonment. But the power of those people as well as similar actions all over Europe made a non-violent transition possible, overthrowing the communist leaders. At that time democracy and prosperity seemed to be just around the corner. In Czechoslovakia, it led to the country's first non-communist government in more than four decades. And the transition was just the beginning. On New Year's Day 2015 Slovakia will celebrate its 22st anniversary as an independent nation.

Published in Under Eastern Eyes

Slavoj Zizek’s new film, The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology (official website), is meant to be a wake-up call, not a propaganda film. While most things we see on the big screens are idealised, romanticised, stereotypical versions of reality (and especially of morality), the “big problems” eat away at us because public opinion avoids tackling them. This is especially true for Eastern Europe, where years of dictatorial regimes taught the population to not ask too many questions and less than 25 years of democracy haven’t yet produced a particularly opinionated generation. In several short scenes, Zizek, the Slovenian philosopher, film-maker and the protagonist of the movie, uses examples from film, music, history and current events to discuss various ideologies.

One of the fascinating points Zizek makes in the film is how the financial crisis became a source of violent outbursts and protest movements across Europe. He believes Europe no longer faces “an accident”, something that can be fixed, but rather is undergoing a structural phenomenon. Crisis has become a way of life, with the poor getting poorer and the rich getting richer until the poor act out. What these protests lack, though he says, is a coherent agenda. Putting it this way, most of the manifestations of protest in Europe, including the Eastern countries, have been nothing but rage episodes or wannabe-copies of what a public manifestation should look like. 

Slavoj Zizek's film is proof of a larger phenomenon - a modern version of communism becoming fashionable.

And Zizek may have a point. In May 2010, one of the biggest Romanian protests of the past decade took place in Bucharest. Over 30,000 people protested against the Emil Boc government and the austerity measures he had implemented. Far from touching on any violent frustration, the protest turned into what will be remembered as one of the largest-scale dance parties in Eastern Europe. People performed carefully synchronised choreographies on a well-known Romanian party-classic: the Penguin Dance. It’s on YouTube. And thus the grand reason why everyone gathered was forgotten. As Zizek would say, it started out from a spirit of revolt, but wasn’t followed by an actual revolution.

Published in Under Eastern Eyes
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