Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Wind of Change

November 1989 - The Fall of the Berlin Wall
I remember the stories my father would tell me about his car trips to Yugoslavia and Eastern Europe, not too far from home and practically to the other side of the Iron Curtain.

"We used to drive through Slovenian villages, raiding the winding countryside roads hoping to find our direction in the thick Communist fogs. Not a single lamppost or road sign stood on the streets between towns. Passing through customs on a pitch black night, officers would ask us for passports and open the trunk for inspection while we prayed they wouldn't find a reason to hold us there. We would then drive into a half-sleeping townlet for eggs and steak, and the locals observed our moves with suspicious and nervous looks from the depths of their bony eye-sockets. It was scary."

As I recall, images flood through my mind: black and white Potsdamer Platz, Berlin, the wall dividing East and West Germany, headlines on Gorbachev's meeting with Deng Xiaopeng, the characteristic film colors of the photographs taken with heroic Lumix and Pentax single-lens reflexes, the fearless reporters who risked their lives hiding film from military officials in the most unlikely spots in bullet-riddled hotel rooms, the courage that brought awakened masses to march in the true name of democracy and freedom of speech.
If it's true that the masses get often trapped in mass psychoses of majestic proportions and devastating consequences, it is just as true that, at times, masses can act under the influence of a great idea, of intellectual enlightenment. Back then, they did.

What has changed?
We have Apple products now and street cameras everywhere. Our life reached unprecedented levels of comfort. But wars, injustice, and class divisions are still here. Back then, access to information was blocked whenever someone thought it convenient. Now, an overflow of information makes it more difficult to distinguish what has been manipulated and what hasn't.
Violence is still here and, possibly, in higher amounts; part of it has become digital, and where it hasn't, it occurs in the forms of femicide, religious conflicts, and whatnot. We are being constantly monitored, much more than we were before and in subtler ways. 
Renovated Nazi forces, Golden Dawns, Ukip's, and Dutch Freedoms are hauling Europe into a maze of perdition; this is not mass enlightenment.

I often ask myself, "Has it all really changed for the better?"
That is when my father's stories come back to mind again. When it happens, I realize that today I do not have the luxury to get lost in the same thrilling country fogs, stopping by the first forlorn town for eggs and steak with friends, trying to decipher the curves and straight lines of an old and yellow road map as our old car chugs on. That has changed, and it shouldn't have.
Something else hasn't changed.
And it should have.



  1. Access to information is fast being modified whether it's Turkey banning youtube, or Brussels attempting to censor history in its ruling on google. It may well be that if we are to discover anything of significance on the web we may have to access it via America where the first amendment guarantees freedom of speech - and no doubt lies too. With regard to ukip - which really cannot be lumped with Golden Dawn - and the various other groupings, I imagine an C18th Englishman probably regarded those pesky American colonists in much the same way. Thing is those pesky colonists were arguing against 'taxation without representation' in much the same way ukip is arguing against Brussels' idea of an enforced undemocratic superstate. What all these groupings have in common - and some are profoundly unattractive - what they represent, is a reaction. And the First Cause is a bureaucratic and corrupt governance.

  2. Yes, we've changed one fog for another—and in that, clarity has been lost. I love so many things about this post, but especially the beginning and the end.

  3. Thank you for visiting my blog and for the comment! As for changing for the worst or better... well, I feel that would be a matter of personal expression. As for me, I feel it is both better and worse. While we can stay informed and reach further, we are also threatened in our homes by its mere accessibility! What do you think?

  4. Stories from our parents and their life experiences can have a profound effect on us, just like your father's stories. Some changes are good and others aren't. What I think is important is to be a part of the good changes.

    I hope you are doing well, Jay. It's been awhile since I visited your blog. :-)

  5. Mike,
    Thanks for your comment here. Actually, my article was not really on the European elections, although I mentioned them in two lines out of 50.
    I didn't really lump Ukip with Golden Dawn; but I mentioned the fact that the rise of Ukip is just another unfortunate fragment of European political history, and for one very simple reason: Ukip's far right ideas, on which I believe there is no doubt given the explicit remarks uttered by Mr. Farage. About the rise of these parties being a reaction, I do agree 100% with you. But you're an historian, so maybe you should elaborate a bit on that: a reaction to what exactly? I can justify the rise of Golden Dawn as a reaction in a country where people with diabetes are forced to have their limbs cut off in order to survive, countries where rationality might succumb in such difficult contexts, but what about Germany, or The Netherlands, or the UK itself? These parties are a reaction to what? Excessive wealth? Too much stability? All countries have their own issues and being part of a union that includes both wealthier and struggling countries means that the former also have to make sacrifices to counterbalance the gaps created by the less wealthy. On the other hand, the less wealthy should make other types of sacrifices, but all should work towards an overall stability that ideally brings all the member countries into a situation of financial comfort. Yes, this is not happening and a reaction is necessary, but if the direct response of the UK or others to certain EU policies is to shout against gay rights and to advocate racist ideals, I believe we are at least entitled to doubt the IQ of those who brought these parties to power.
    About the pesky American colonists, maybe I should mention that I am not American; I am European.

  6. Thank you Christie.
    I think you got the main point of my post. I'm relieved.

    Elizabeth, nice to see you again!

    Laura! It's been ages!
    I think it's also important to be part of the not-good changes. It's inevitable, and that's the only way to build a more objective perspective - and a more lyric one - of the world we live in.