During an international conference on political theory several of us were sitting in a restaurant in Tallinn, Estonia. Among us was a participant from Bucharest, Romania, a young woman, who listened as some from the West poked fun at the evident inefficiency of the Russians who still have a significant presence in the Baltic countries and who happened to be running this establishment. We noted the drabness of the decor, the ineptness of the help, the slowness of the service, and reminisced about the even worse olden days when the gray-looking Russians who dominated the Communist culture would run roughshod over everyone in sight.Share
Suddenly we saw our friend from Bucharest in tears. She was apologizing but unable to keep herself from sobbing. We were stunned—we didn’t know what we did to upset her. We all searched our minds for what we might have said but could not come up with a sensible answer. In a while she calmed down a bit and told us.
All of this amusing banter called to our friend’s mind not only what she had been living with for all of her life but what in her country is still largely the case, namely, the complete control of the Soviet-type bureaucracy over the society. She then went on to recount, in halting English and tearfully, how the daily lives of her family and friends had been utterly trapped in the abyss that so many in the West championed as the promising wave of the future. She gave example after example of how people suffered, from moment to moment how every ounce of some modicum of joy and pleasure, never mind genuine happiness, was rendered utterly impossible and inconceivable for them. She noted that people simply lost the will to live, that they could not even smile, not to mention laugh heartily, and how the most minute matters, such as the way in which parents played and talked with their children, suffered from this totalitarian impact.
It is often only when one finds oneself facing the facts directly, inescapably, that one can appreciate their meaning. This is especially true about facts that so many people would just as soon obscure with clever rationalizations.
In the West, especially in American newspapers, academic journals, and college classrooms, the collapse of the Soviet empire is now nearly forgotten. People everywhere are talking about why there isn’t some kind of major economic boom in response to this fall. A Business Week editorial remarked, “Communism has been vanquished in much of the globe, the victim of its own failure to deliver a decent living to its citizens under its rule. Yet capitalism in the industrialized nations is limping along.” It is as if “one, two, three,” and our world will simply put 40 to 70 years of bloody dictatorship and command economy out of mind and bounce back as if nothing had happened. (Read more.)