Tuesday, April 28, 2009

REVOLUTIONS OF 1989—Part 3: UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF UNCERTAINTY

REVOLUTIONS OF 1989—Part 3: UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF UNCERTAINTY

By Kevin Stoda, Germany


NOTE: This is the second part in a series on contextualizing the Revolutions of 1989. The second part can be found at: http://www.opednews.com/articles/REVOLUTIONS-OF-1989-Part-2-by-ALONE-090421-856.html while the first part is at http://the-teacher.blogspot.com/2009/04/revolutions-of-1989part-1-tiananmen.html



Retrospectively, no one could really have predicted what king of Revolutionary Autumn awaited Europe in 1989.

In late April 1989, I found myself traveling to visit Prague, Czechoslovakia for the first time.

I was planning to enjoy the great city’s beauty and legend during its annual great music festival, called the Prague Spring International Music Festival. Since I was traveling on a student’s budget, I slept in a train car coming from Nuremberg into the bulge well-south of the Fulda Gap and none-to-far from where Pershing II missiles (with multiple warheads) had been stationed some years before.

http://aviationheritage.blogspot.com/2008/12/pershing-missile.html

The Prague Spring (International) Music Festival was founded just after WWII, i.e. in 1946.

http://www.festival.cz/historie?locale=en

Originally the festivale was intended to celebrate the end of that horrible war and to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Prague Philharmonic. The first festivals focused primarily on Czech music, but the festival eventually expanded to one of the premier international music festivals on the continent—and world.

http://czech-republic-travel.suite101.com/article.cfm/prague_spring_international_music_festival

In an amazing but poignant contrast, modern historians refer with the same phrase “Prague Spring” to refer specifically to the year 1968—when Czechoslovakia’s one-time head, Alexander Dubcek, followed the dreams and voices of his people to create a communism or socialism in Central and Eastern Europe with a much more human face.

http://library.thinkquest.org/C001155/


Like the ‘Chinese solution” in Tiananmen Square 21-years later, the experiments of the Czechoslovakian people its leadership led to the occupation of various city squares of across the country as heavy-handedly the small country was occupied by Soviet-, Polish-, East German- and other Warsaw Pact states’ military in August 1968.

http://hsozkult.geschichte.hu-berlin.de/index.asp?id=2289&view=pdf&pn=tagungsberichte

The people of the Czech and Slovak federation had not originally sought to embrace the West with the fervor of many of those peoples did in 1989-1990. They didn’t perceive of the system as totally broken.

Instead, the Dubcek-led government had simply tried to reform the system by providing more reforms and improvements through people-friendlier governance, administration and an expansion of individual freedoms.

However, as the BBC noted on the 21st of August, 1968, “Russian brings Winter to Prague Spring”.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/august/21/newsid_2781000/2781867.stm

Meanwhile, between summer 1968 and autumn 1989, the borders between the socialist Czechoslovakian/East German States and West German were always of concern and were seen as a place where tensions needed to be constantly prepared for between Eastern and Western alliances.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fulda_Gap

Geographically, western Czechoslovakia, provided(s) a bulge, which is threatening to the west, north, and south. This is why German and NATO troops trained each year for an invasion from the Warsaw Pact states, often in and around the Fulda Gap just north of Czechoslovakia.

The Fulda Gap was the most focused on point of concern, but the border between southern Germany’s Bavarian state was also seen as a soft underbelly of the German and NATO defenses.

http://battlefieldbiker.com/The-NATO-Frontier-Border-with-the-Warsaw-Pact-from-1948-to-1990


UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF MUNICH, BAVARIA?

Early in the morning of the last Friday in April 1989, I found myself trying to sleep very early in the morning (as the sun just began to shine) in a nearly empty train chugging up through Bavaria to the Czechoslovakian border.

As the train rolled to a stop on the German side of the border, a German guard came into my cabin to check my passport. Later, a Czechoslovakian border patrol entered the train and took my passport—apparently to check it and then to stamp it for me.

As I stood in the hallway in front of my cabin waiting for the Czechoslovakian border patrol to return, the man in the next cabin began telling me nervously his own unforgettable narration.

The man stated that he could no longer live in the West and its system.

The man was also obviously home-sick for family and familiar places where he had grown up just across the German border in his homeland.

This middle-aged man was from Czechoslovakia and had only fled to the West several years before. For a few years, he had lived with an aunt along with other Czech exiles and emigrants in Munich--working as a taxi-driver and doing odd jobs, but all-in-all just eking out a living.

After several years of trying to make it living in the West, this middle-aged man—now nervously smoked a cigarette. He made it clear that he had weighed his options and had determined that it would be best for him to return to live with his own family back in Czechoslovakia.

The man observed soberly, “This day, I don’t know what will happen. Perhaps, I will be put in jail when they identify me as a Czechoslovakian national who has overstayed his permit abroad by several years.”

http://www.webster.edu/~corbetre/personal/reading/kundera-unbearable.html

It didn’t matter too this Czech male much any more.

The man assured me that he was ready to pay the price to be reunited with his family and his homeland.

His melancholy was like those shared by the characters in the classic film (1988), THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING, based on the book of the same title by Milan Kundera.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Unbearable_Lightness_of_Being_(film)

In Kundera’s novel, the author is in constant dialectic with Friedrich Nietzsche.

The illusion (and the illusoriness) of the “Grand March” is discussed. For Kundora’s character Franz, the “Grand March” is the belief that history brings progress and positive progress in human existence.

Living is considered “light” by Kundora because one is faced with faced with either trying to give in to ones dreams and scratching out the reality of history. For Kundora, history is simply a straight line where nothing really repeats, and, therefore, if one were to live one’s life over, it would not be better.

In summary, this is the melancholic sense of “lightness” referred to by Kundera in the title of his book. We step on each point in history only once. The river continues on but we are not on the same point on the line when we step on it a second time.

On the other hand, if we were the same person who stepped into the changing river at the same point in time, then the fate or destiny of such a linear river would simply have us repeat the path we had taken before (with all our errors)—never really achieving the illusory progress we would seek on repeat (games) attempts to play out our lives’ differently.

In short, Kundera and the THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING are about destiny and the fact that each individual cannot really do much to change fate.

The system or linear path of history will take care of itself. The individual has much less to say.

Suddenly, my train took off and we began to travel into Czechoslovakia that April 1989 morning. I returned to my train cabin as did the soon-to-be-no-longer-exiled Czech national.

The train quickly stopped on the other side of this border--and eventually took off again.

Suddenly, I realized that I still had not had my passport returned to me.

So, I went back to the cabin where I had met the Czech-national just some minutes before.

He was gone.

Had he been taken to prison? Or was he just taken in for questioning and released? Or had he simply escaped into the trees?

http://bjp.rcpsych.org/cgi/pdf_extract/66/272/58


BUDAPEST, 1987: PRE-REVOLUTION EVOLUTION?

Two years before heading to Prague, I had made a trip to Budapest.

Similar to Czechoslovakia, several decades earlier Hungarians had tried to put a more human face on communism.
That was in 1956, just as the world was settling down to watch Egypt take over the Sinai and Suez Canal, only to find Israel—backed by France and the UK—trying to take it back from Egypt. In the midst of this first post-colonial Middle East War, the USA and NATO were unable to offer any help to the Hungarians in need. They were slaughtered by Soviet forces.

http://www.the-american-interest.com/contd/?p=654

NOTE: For some political reviewers, this would be similar to the passivity today, with which NATO stays on the sidelines in terms of telling Russia to back-off in Georgia, Ukrania, or elsewhere in the Caspian region, i.e. NATO is fairly fully preoccupied with wars in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

On the other hand, thirty years after 1956, one group of critical Marxists would describe the failed 1956 Hungarian revolution as follows:

http://www.marxist.com/History/hungary1956_86.html

“Even though its outcome was a tragic defeat, in which at least 20,000 Hungarian workers were killed and countless others injured, imprisoned and forced into hiding or exile, it nevertheless was undoubtedly the most significant pointer to future developments in the Stalinist states since the consolidation of the bureaucracy around Stalin in the 1920s. It was the most vivid confirmation of the perspectives of Trotsky, that the workers under Stalinist dictatorship, far from accepting their conditions or demanding a return to capitalism, would move in a political revolution to take power into their own hands. The tremendously inspiring events of the Hungarian October are full of lessons for the workers of Eastern Europe and the whole world.”

Looking back on the 1950s, i.e. a time when American’s most cynical anti-communists were painting the decade as the world’s final stand against an all-encompassing (but in many cases imaginary) monstrous-unitary communism, European communism was actually being challenged on numerous fronts.

Earlier in the decade, Tito had already taken Yugoslavia onto its on course. Under Tito, Yugoslavia would come to have a primary position in the non-aligned movement

Albania would eventually soon find its way into Chinese orbit.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Communist_Albania#Albania_and_China

These events took place in the 1950s as Khrushchev’s took-over of the Kremlin, and the end to Stalinism had finally led to questioning in Europe of the universalist paradigm for communism. It was no longer held as a truism that communism needed to be seated firmly in the Soviet Union to exist.

“The whole of the Eastern Bloc was awash with discontent. The floodgates had begun to burst even as early as 1953 with a massive strike wave and street fighting in East Germany. In Plzen and Prague, Czechoslovakia there had been riots. In the Hungarian industrial towns of Csepel, Ozd and Diosgyor the masses had come onto the streets in protest against the conditions. Even within the Soviet Union there had been strikes and protests amongst the prisoners within the labour camps. In May 1956 vast numbers of Russian troops and armoured vehicles were sent into Tiblisi, capital of Georgia, to crush an uprising sparked off by austerity measures. In June 1956 the workers of Poznan, in Poland rose. Inevitably this also had an effect on the young people inside the state forces.”

A common image in Eastern (and Western) European communist circles was that the Soviet Union’s bigwigs were eating fat while communist parties and peoples outside the Soviet Union were having to scrounge on what the Soviet occupations left behind.

http://www.mzes.uni-mannheim.de/projekte/incs/home/data/pdf/INCS_15_ONLINE.pdf

In short, from the time of the death of Stalin through the collapse of the Soviet Union 45 years later, Eastern European peoples and states were often looking either for economic or political freedom—and some were willing to challenge the Russian Bear to do it.

Often, though, as was the case in Hungary in 1956 and in then Czechoslovakia in 1968, both the people and anti-Soviet portion of the communist party leadership had been forced to back down.

NOTE: It was almost always anticipated that the rise of the independent union, Solidarnosz in the 1980would lead to such a crackdown. Howevr, miraculously, in a period of three years, 1982 to 1985, the Soviet Union saw an unprecedented four leaders.

http://www.rff.com/timeline_soviet.htm

This meant that Solidarnosz or Solidarity in Poland was allowed to grow--even in time of martial law. This unprecedented topsy-turvy situation in the Kremlin enabled both Hungary and Poland to move towards the West in terms of political economic orientation.

http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solidarno%C5%9B%C4%87


Certainly, by 1982, Hungary was doing many things that no other communist state had done before. For example, that year Hungary became the first COMECON nation to enter both GATT and the IMF. (COMECON was roughly the Eastern European equivalent to the rise of the European Economic Community in the West.) Soon Hungary’s trade with non-COMECON states, especially West Germany and Austria, outgrew its trade within COMECON.

“Goulash (Hungarian) Communism”, as it grew from 1956 onwards, was marked by greater concern for the material well-being of its citizens. In short, over the decades in evolutionary fashion, Hungary’s communism was “mobilized to better satisfy consumer demand by providing a more extensive assortment of goods.” This included allowing limited numbers of market mechanisms to function rather freely in Hungary.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goulash_Communism

I witnessed many scenes of this market-opening communism first hand as I arrived by train in Budapest in September 1987.

In fact, the city was much more opulent than the wealthier capital of East Germany (namely East Berlin) which I had already visited several times. However, unlike in East Germany poverty in Hungary’s development was not hidden from foreigners. One saw it by the homeless in the railway stations.

Loads of retirees and entrepreneurs met foreigners coming from Vienna on the trade trying to hook passengers up with fun holiday happenings and rooms or homes for rent.

At the Hungarian Embassy in Vienna, I had met two Jews from Latin America, and we had decided to stick together and try to book a room or an apartment. Alas, we had arrived late on a Saturday afternoon and most tourists had already come through the station.

Therefore, the touts and senior citizens at the Buda station were a bit aggressive with the few tourists showing up from Austria when we did that September evening.

Due to the lack of language skills and our own tiredness, we were feeling a bit out of sorts under the pressure to accept rooms sight-unseen at locations far from the city center at prices we did not wish to pay.

Exhausted and frustrated, I decided to sit down on a chair and then refused to talk to anyone until all of the overanxious and persistent peddlers of various flats backed off.

I told the hawkers that I was prepared to sleep there in the station on the floor.

At that moment, Gyorgy Bakunin, came to our rescue.

Gyorgy happened to be in the Buda Train station awaiting friends from Sweden, and he took pity on we three tired and surrounded travelers.

Observing our tiredness (and readiness just to camp-out and sleep on the floor of that train station with many other East Europeans and gypsies), Gyorgy came and spoke in a calming manner to the other Hungarians who had been harassing us with their insistence on our taking a room at their rates.

Finally, Gryorgy announced, “I am George and I have a free apartment for you.”

You see, Gyorgy was an electrical engineer in his early thirties. He had worked especially hard to get his degree, his job and his English skills. Gyorgy usually slept at his girlfriends apartment in the city--or with other family members.

His stable government job afforded him a large flat in the outskirts of the urban landscape. However, the commute was often too long for the average Hungarian worker to make such a round trip—and maintain any social life.

In prior years in that decade, Gyorgy had also tried to make a bit of extra money in the summers by coming to the train station and renting out his flat to strangers. However, he hadn’t really needed the money—he told us—he had done so mainly in order to improve his English skills and to make friends with visitors from the West.

NOTE: As fate would have it, some of his friends from Scandinavia (whom Gyorgy’d first met in 1985) had originally contacted Gryorgy to indicate their arrival on the same train that we arrived in.

Alas, a few hours before the train arrived, these same Scandinavian had canceled his travel plans for the week.

However, since communication between East and West (and even among Eastern) states was dodgy, Gyorgy had shown up at the train station that very afternoon just to make sure he had no friends coming to town after all.


A NEW MAN OR A GUARDIAN ANGEL?

True to his word, Gyorgy gave the three strangers (including myself) from North and South America the keys to his flat for the next 4 night in an area far out on the commuter line past Pest. Soon Gyorgy disappeared into the night, leaving his phone number by the telephone in one of his rooms—along with a map to find our way back to the flat each day.

On our last night in Buda, Gyorgy met the three of us for some coffee in the famous Café New York--which was certainly an honor for anyone who has been their to drink or to listen to music in that city on the Danube.

http://budapest-guide.blogspot.com/2007/10/caf-new-york.html

There was wonderful blues and jazz that night. Gyorgy and I then escorted the Brazilian and Argentinean couple to their night train. (Finally, for westerners the evening was relatively inexpensive. We student-budget travelers would have never been able to afford such a snazzy café in the West.)

I left Budapest the next morning after sharing red-, green-, and yellow paprika with the Hungarian Bakunin in his kitchen. (As we ate the simple vegetable for breakfast, I recalled all the jokes about paprika and goulash communism I had heard over the past year.)

Next, like a guardian angel, Gyorgy took me back to the Buda train station.

Inside the station, we observed more passengers from all over Eastern Europe napping out near the platforms—and in various corners of the station. It was clear to me that this Hungarian named Gyorgy was seeing to it that poor wayfarers from the West--like my Jewish friends and I--did not have to live and sleep like gypsies in the station.

http://www.planetware.com/hungary/sopron-h-vs-sop.htm

As I boarded the train towards Sopron, I had to ask myself whether, in fact, in the man Gyorgy Bakunin, I had witnessed a glimpse of the “new man” which communism and socialism were supposed to be striving for.

I had seen such glimpses of “the new man” of socialism in Sandinista, Nicaragua in 1983 on my visit there to various state and private projects. I recall that I my tour with international development (ID) students from the U.S. were taken to an open-air prison farm.

There, we met a man--a former Somoza army officer—who had been sentenced two nearly 19 years of prison, but on this particular government project, the prison had no walls and the prisoners were free to come and go as they pleased—i.e. as long as they demonstrated the ideals of living as a new man in the Sandinista world.

That particular prisoner ex-Somocista hoped to be released early (after only four to five years) based on his own remorse, his apparent reform, and his show of improvement as to how he had come to look at and treat his fellow man.

No???!!!

Hungarian Gyorgy wasn’t necessarily an example of communism’s “new man”, but he was certainly an example of something different. He was an Eastern European who saw each international contact as a means of reaching out and saying, especially to Westerners, that we are not enemy’s and you should feel safe with me.

Gryorgy’s spirit (or demeanor) was saying, “Let me share my home or homeland with you. Here are the keys to my abode! Enjoy Budapest and my country Hungary. Trust. Don’t be afraid.”

It would be such demeanor of naïve trust in humanity and hope for a better future--which I would often miss after the Revolutions of 1989 when I visited Eastern Europe.
On the other hand, there is still something in the air of this trusting humaneness which most of us from the West will hardly ever experience again on our travels elsewhere—or even in our homelands. Perhaps it is like a small but closed community in which one feels a sense of safety or “Geborgenheit” as one is taken care of in a somewhat patriarchal manner.

That is, I am certain that this trusting-way and hopefulness-for-the-best-in-man demeanor is something that continues to spawn a reversal-towards-parochialism and nostalgia for the pre-1989 world. This nostalgia is something which many East Europeans are still directly or indirectly passing onto their progeny.

NOTE: In its most negative manifestation, this parochialism leads to an us-versus-the-other xenophobia and misdirected anger.

Incidentally, the location where I crossed the border into Austria from Sopron, Hungary later that September (1987) day was exactly where the barbed wire would be taken down by May 1989.

It was this wide-open border between Austria and Hungary, which would offer and opening for thousands of East Germans to leave their homeland for the West that same summer.

In short, the march towards the collapse of Communism throughout Europe was spawned to a large extant in the hearts and practices of Goulash Communism throughout the 1980s.

In summary, the openness, friendliness and tolerance of Hungary, situated as it was in Central Europe, was bound to lead to changes in the openness and tolerance of all bordering states.


MOSCOW, JANUARY 1989; BEFORE THE REVOLUTIONS?

In the year after I visited Hungary, another region of Europe with language-isolates, i.e. the Baltic states, began to throw off the Soviet yoke.

Therefore, I had determined to fly to Soviet Union in January 1989 to find out what kind of attitudes people and Russia had towards these changes going on around them in both Eastern Europe and China—as well as learning about their thoughts on changes going on within their own Soviet federation

Meanwhile, over the previous two years, Latvia had quietly moved into revolutionary footing through a hidden position under the banner of ecology and environmentalism. This movement to ostensibly to support the Latvian environmental demands eventually became a full-fledged independence movement.

NOTE: In the 1980s, similar peace, reform, and independence movements in East Germany and Eastern Europe were able to function either under the umbrella of the church or under the umbrella of environmentalism—or both.

http://www.loc.gov/rr/scitech/tracer-bullets/sovietenvtb.html

The terrible Chernobyl disaster in April 1986 had made a huge dent in the psyche of even strict Soviet leadership. So, in February 1987, an environmental protection club was formed in Latvia to stop the Soviet Union from building a huge hydroelectric dam. The Soviet leadership allowed this movement in opposition to the dam project to meet freely and openly.

http://www.li.lv/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=73&Itemid=1094

Soon, that and other environmental clubs were able to join with other movements in Latvia, including the commemoration of the great deportations of 1941, i.e. after the Baltic states had been given to the Soviet Union through the 1939 occupation agreement with Nazi Germany.

This protest memorializing the takeover of Latvia was an unprecedented event in the Balkan states.

http://www.li.lv/index.php?Itemid=1067&id=18&option=com_content&task=view

By August 1989, all three Baltic Republics were leading simultaneous demonstrations—i.e. with Gorbachev unwilling to send in more troops of occupation.

Meanwhile, the Soviet Union began to lose control of its own demagogues.

That had already been exemplified when in mid-February 1988, Boris Yeltsin was dismissed from his communist leadership by Gorbachev.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=9774006

In an unheard of come-back, this populist, Boris Yeltsin, would soon elected in early 1989 again to the Soviet government after capturing nearly 90 percent of the popular vote Moscow.

In the meantime, a very vocal Boris Yeltsin had spoken up many times publicly on the need for greater speed in the reform efforts of the Soviet system.


MY VISIT TO THE “EVIL EMPIRE’S” CAPITAL CITY

January 1989, when I visited Moscow, was one of the warmest winters in recent memory. This warmth proved metaphorical for the thaw that was occurring all over as the Cold War came to its surprising end.

It was so warm that January that I even joined local Muscovites during their daily winter swims in the huge round out-door swimming pool, built for the 1980 Olympics.

http://www.rollnzoom.com/places/uliana/846/olympic_stadium_moscow_arena.htm

At that time, in the late 1980s, this outdoor pool was still the largest pool in the world.

It was certainly the largest heated swimming pool ever built. Steam arose from it all day long in the Russian winters.

The warm waters of the steaming pool was a place for people’s of all classes to mingle in the relative safety of the pre-Collapse world of Moscow. I recall simply leaving my clothes and wallet in a plastic bag at the periphery of the swimming. I was told by my Russian acquaintance not to worry about anyone taking my belongings.

I had been invited to swim that 32-degree-faranheit evening by a Muscovite named Igor who had shown us around town the night before.

Igor was not a tour guide. He was an assistant professor at one of the universities in the city--and was a friend of a fellow traveler on our tour from Dusseldorf, West Germany.

Over several nights, we peppered Igor with various questions.

I recall being specifically interested in the future of multi-state Soviet Union.

That is, I was fairly interested in what Igor had to say about the future of his own Soviet—Soviet Russia, the largest of the Communist Republics making up the USSR.

Prior to arriving in Moscow, I had read several articles on the potential break-up (not-just-of the Soviet Empire but) of the great land mass of Russia— a nation, which alongside India and China, make up 3 mammoth-sized multicultural states in various corners of continental Asia.

Upon arriving at our Moscow hotel at the outskirts of the capital of the USSR, I had been impressed and thoughtful of the many Asian-featured Russians I observed staying at the same residence.

How could these Korean-looking peoples be Russian?

Do they feel more or less Russian when visiting Moscow?

What of the Chinese- and Mongolian-looking folks? Are they integrated? Do they feel part of the same federation or state?

How about those Muslims from the various Soviet and Russian–Stans? Such as Dagestan? Or Turkmenistan?

Igor assured me, “From our perspective here (in Moscow) so close to Europe, we see ourselves as European. Many of the other Russians, including those in Siberia and Eastwards do not.”

Igor added, “As a matter of fact, we don’t really understand each other.”

Igor went so far as envisioning a rump Russia of sorts in his nation’s future, i.e. where the Western or European Russians split off into their own country.

I challenged Igor, “Certainly, you don’t imagine Russia peacefully giving up on its great gas- and oil reserves in the hinterland of its mammoth land empire, do you?”

Igor nodded but also countered, “In fact, this disillusionment might ultimately be possible because, in a nutshell, we all see the world so differently. That is, we in the West certainly think much differently than those in other corners of the territory of Russia.”


LAST NIGHT OUT IN MOSCOW


On the last two nights of my stay in Moscow, I ventured out into parts of the city on my own.

The first night I ran into some young people in their twenties. They were university students.

One pretty young women said she had studied fashion design and would love to leave Russian and to study fashion while working in Italy. Some of the other students had similar dreams.

None of them seemed to be satisfied with the system and were ready to move West. That is, unless the Western investors and capitalists (and democrats) would decide to move East.

I bought these younger (and poorer ) students some hamburgers and these young Russians introduced me to cognac.

That’s right—not vodka but cognac!!

You see, these young people were not interested in things of Russia--or its great past.

They were only focused on the West.

I had to admit that French cognac had much more to it than either whiskey or vodka—even after eating a few tiny western hamburgers cooked a la Muscova.

Similarly, I had to admit not being impressed by what the giant people’s department store GUM (across from the Kremlin) had to offer either its citizens or foreign visiting consumers.

http://www.moscow-taxi.com/sightseeing/red-square/gum.html

GUM stands for the “State Department Store” in Russian, and the neo-Russian building had been constructed to be window to the West in terms of both Russian--and then later-- Soviet opulence.

Alas, by the late 1980s, what GUM had to offer was little more than a bad joke full of anachronism and low quality. It had much less to offer than a market in Tiajuana. (Admittedly babushkas were still cheap.)

You see, just like in East Berlin and in all the other Eastern European communist bloc, Muscovites had to spend a lot of time in long lines just to get basic necessities—and twice that much time in line to obtain the occasional non-essential gifts or curiosities.

For example, bananas were almost non-existent in Soviet and East German stores. These kind of fruits grew only in warm climates and thus required hard currency generally for their purchase.


CONSUMPTION DRIVE WOULD DRIVE CHANGE FOR THE YOUTH

The products in the East were usually substandard (and at-best-clunky) as compared to what people in the West could afford—or could find in the market place.

Even people in poorer developing lands, like Peru or Indonesia, often had better quality goods (and more of them) than was often found in Soviet- and communist-dictated planned economies.

The only way Soviet citizens could buy Western products was generally through using western currency or gold.

In East Germany, the stores to go to for these Western goods was called “Intershop”. The name “Intershop” mixes English and Latin to convey a foreign concept of trade for goods and service. Incidentally, these stores were run by the state itself, i.e. in order for the communist state to acquire as much Western currency as possible.

Not too far from where the GUM, the Kremlin and St. Basile’s Church (from which the word basilica comes into Western vernacular) is a bridge of the Mokba River.

At the far end of the bridge, one could easily exchange Western currency illegally for Soviet rubels.

This was large bridge was one of several well-known places to exchange such currency well-below the official Soviet rate.

In retrospect, one has to suspect that this sort of exchange of currencies with dark plain-clothed figures on a bridge in obvious sight of the Kremlin was continuously allowed to occur because (1) it was good for someone with connections at the Kremlin or (2) it was at least good for the police-, military- and/or the KGB as a simple conduit for gaining western currency for their own operations.

As I left Moscow in January 1989 to return to West Germany, I had an inkling that the Evil Empire (and supposedly formidable imperial Soviet Union) and its citizens were ready to cut-and-run from its past.

One month later the Soviet Union would begin its pull out from Afghanistan, i.e. in February 1989.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/february/15/newsid_4160000/4160827.stm


EPILOGUE 1

Unlike the USA, which had been defeated in the Vietnam War (1975) and elsewhere over the decades (such as in Mexico 1916, Nicaragua 1933), the Soviet Bear would not rise from the graves it had begun to dig in Afghanistan.

Within a few short months after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, the entire Western half of the Warsaw Pact would begin to move en masse towards the West in order to seek a new future in Europe, especially as consumers of goods and services.

Many Muscovites would have liked to have followed me back to Germany and the West—some would------and some have.

Now, twenty years after the Revolutionary year of 1989, I have returned to Germany to teach again young college students--only to find in the various English and Business training classes I instruct, German students, originally from Russia, Kazakhstan, the Ukraine or East Germany, and the former Yugoslavian states, like Croatia.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Germany

Over most of the past half century this has been the case but with 1989 this change began anew.

NOTE: “Immigration has been a primary force shaping demographic developments in the two Germanys in the postwar period. After the erection of the Berlin Wall in 1961, the immigration flow, first into West Germany and later into united Germany, consisted mainly of workers from southern Europe. In addition, the immigrants included several other groups: a small but steady stream of East German immigrants (Übersiedler) during the 1980s that exploded in size in 1990 (389,000) but by 1993 had fallen by more than half (172,000) and was somewhat offset by movement from west to east (119,000); several million ethnic Germans (Aussiedler) from East European countries, especially the former Soviet Union; and several million persons seeking asylum from political oppression, most of whom were from East European countries.”

http://countrystudies.us/germany/89.htm

In Wiesbaden where I live currently, my tiny church has former Russians, Moldovans, Ukrainian, some from Easter Germany or Poland, the former Czechoslovakia, and even Laos—as well as former West Germans and Americans, like me.

http://books.google.de/books?hl=en&lr=&id=nMTUIBYJJXMC&oi=fnd&pg=PA5&dq=Challenge+to+the+Nation-State:+Immigration+in+Western+Europe+and+the+United+States&ots=_MAFf06Pjx&sig=KvGClIGL6RLptjxwVGZDH5-XjWM


In contrast to this reality on the ground today in 2009, at the time I lived in West Germany in the 1980s, I had been told by my ex-German girlfriend with great confidence that only blood-Germans would ever be allowed citizenship here.

http://www.iue.it/PUB/HEC04-01.pdf

Since the late 1990s, this is no longer the case.

Perhaps this change in immigration and integration practices in Western Europe has been the greatest legacy of the Revolutions of 1989.

http://www.humanitariannet.deusto.es/publica/PUBLICACIONES_PDF/13%20Immigration%20in%20Europe.pdf

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