Just now, I have come back from a visit to Cochin in Kerala where I visited the famous Jewish Synagogue. Cochin Synagogue? Heard of it?
It is a heart warming and even at times when you read the pictures on the walls displayed for visitors, heart-rending experience.
I have been there more than once, once with my own British friend, a famous member of a famous family, the Sassoons. My friend’s name was Jacques Sassoon. He had a Sassoon family or some cousin living there. Every time I visit the place I get into a state of nostalgia.
This time, as soon as I came back I went through a column in the Financial Times Week end edition.
It was about the FT Eastern Europe editor, Stefan Wagstyl who revisited his five East European friends or acquaintances whom he met just 10 years ago. That is, he visited these five individuals from five former Communist countries and this time, after nearly 20 years of Communism’s fall, he wanted to find our how the lives of these five individuals have changed.
As I went through these feelingly written sketches, I was myself transformed!
They are from Poland, former East Germany, now part of Germany, the Czech national, a lady who lives several lives during these past few years and the Hungarian therapist, another lady whose life too seems to have transformed and the Romanian electrical inventer.
Oh, these individuals give us an insight into the minds of those who stood up against their life’s chances, faced uncertainties when they thought they could change their societies and remarkably they did transform.
That is the wonderful experience.
Inn fact, I was myself in Europe in 1989 and as I went through his narrations I was myself feeling as if I was watching the tv pictures in those days when almost every other day one country was crumbling!
First, Poland. Just recently I met with some Polish scholars and I was reminded of the same experiences as I read here. Poland is perhaps the worst suffered country in European continent. For many years the country was wiped out from the geography! By the Russians first, then Napoleon and then by Germans and so on!
Lastly, it was the brave Poles who started the dismantling of the Communist regime in their country. Luckily, for the Poles, they were lucky to have a Pope, a Polish Pope, John Paul II who was so clever and greatly a steely-minded and he stood by the Solidarity, started by Lech Walesa, the Nobel Prize winner and the first Prime Minister of a free Poland. Now, this current spokesperson, a film maker, the Poles it seems have a flair for film and documentary making and I also met a documentary maker from Poland in Bangalore and they are also great scholars and language experts, I met one Sanskrit expert, and they also make great artists and musicians.
Perhaps under the repressive Communist rule, such arts flourish, Polisy poetry won two Literature Nobel Prizes as well. Now, what our Polish friend, individual says?
“Poland’s unique place in the world is lost” he says. Poland mattered a lot more in the world in 1989, we were fighting the Communist regime and so we caught the attention of the world. Now no more. It is natural people yearn for culture and intellectual and artistic pursuits, not as he says:”fighting for money for a new motorway!”
He earns 650 pounds a month as an English lecturer and says that in Germany the pay for my qualifications is six times more and my German counterpart gets that sum. When he worked for Solidarity he ran an underground publishing unit and distributed pamphlets. Now, is he interested in politics and society? No, we expected Poland to have had more intellectual impact on the world, now instead there is a leveling out. This he is disappointed with.”So, what difference it makes whether you sit in a cafe in Amsterdam or Warsaw, he asks.
I now just live for my family, my kind and I keep company with a library of 5,000 books. Might be edging back into politics? Not so sure!
The Berlin publisher. The first to start an independent company in (East Germany).I had a German girl friend at my time in Oxford and she was from East Germany. Only after talking with her I realised how deeply the former East Germans are psychologically shocked and they entertain a hurt feeling always. She used to keep in correspondence and I had visited her family twice in Germany, myself and my family and very idealistic girl and now perhaps a grandmother.
Here too I see the same psychological issues haunting thee individual. After the fall of Berlin Wall and the new life, came back the negative images of the old country. The horrors of the totalitarian regime, the notorious East German police, Stasi, the nostalgia that came back to the former Eastern Germans, now a nuanced picture is emerging. Political critics under the Communists were routinely sent to psychiatric clinics. Now that horror is gone and yet the new life has transformed him. He has acquired academic degrees and has become a more peaceful mind and a new sense of engagement with the world. He doesn’t see himself as an East German anymore. He is a proper German citizen!
The Czech. The Czechs were perhaps the more sophisticated old culture. They have so much to contribute to world culture. It was a playwright who mobilised the masses during the 1989 and finally when the Czech collapsed came a new dawn of flowering of freedoms, the famed Czech Spring of 1969 came back. Few people have embraced the freedoms offered by communism’s fall with as much were as she, Jana Maussen. A series of new lives, she married anew, had children and changed jobs every two or three years!
The Hungarian therapist. She is another instance of the newly freed individual. Hungary is perhaps the most intelligent society, the Hungarian Jewish elite had produced perhaps the more number of Nobel Prize winners per square in the world.
I knew, rather I had met once the famous author, Arthur Koestler, a famous Hungarian. Hungarians are so clever people, geniuses and great writers, composers and scientists and thinkers and philosophers. It was once part of the great Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Under Communism, they suffered a great deal.
Now, the individuals once jailed under the native communist regime, in Budapest, the capital this therapist lives. The current politics in Hungary seems very histile, Hungarian politics troubles her. There is a far extreme rightwing politics, she being a Jew “I have a feeling of fear every Friday when I visit the synagogue”.
Even now, the discrimination and fear is very real. They fear Hungary politics, the financial crisis, the ruling Socialist party was thrashed in the recent European elections and so the small Jewish community fears of the reprisals for suspected voting to the opposition party! In communist times she helped to distribute to dissidents banned newspapers! Now, he 8 year old daughter told her that at school they asked her whom her parents voted for!
The last the Romanian individual. Roamnian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was shot dead by the foiring squad along with his wife! Such was the hatred by his people. This individual served three years in jail under the dictator. After a brief period of involvement in mainstream politics, he left politics and started an NGO. He is more relaxed and more confident of the future.
Any lessons for us in India? Now?
In some states of India, there is a new fear and helplessness and in a democracy, there is this new fear!
Image Source : kerala-travel-tours.com