Thursday, September 18, 2003

Whilst we were in Vilnius, I was lucky enough to read a brilliant book called Café Europa – Life After Communism by Slavenka Drakulic". Jane read it whilst John and her were in Hungary and thought I would enjoy it. It’s a brilliant collection of essays, in which she discusses her and her family’s life in Tito’s Yugoslavia and the effect that the fall of communism had on her and indeed many parts of the former Soviet Union. It talks about all manner of things from the big issues to the very small.

We have been lucky enough to travel to the Russia, Hungary and on a couple of occasions the Czech Republic. Consequently we have got used to the fact that Eastern Europe is very different to the west. It was however Petunia’s first trip to this part of the world and I think that she was quite surprised at the fact that some of the people (mainly the older ones) could be extremely taciturn and stone faced, even when encountering her naturally bouncy good nature. Drakulic’s book has an excellent chapter on why people behave in that way. Also on why people who escaped the civil war in Serbia, could still dream of returning to a war ravaged land, when given the option of comparative luxury in Sweden. The whole question of race and nationality and what it means to be European is also explored in fascinating but very human detail.

I must admit that it made me ashamed of my lack of knowledge of the recent troubles in the former Yugoslavia. I never really understood what caused the real divisions, in that part of the world and if I’m honest I still don’t. All I know is that the rampant nationalism, which came to the surface after years of being held in check by another form of oppression, is just as terrifying.

So credit to the people of Lithuania and indeed Latvia and Estonia, they look as though they have managed to undertake some huge changes in recent years without falling pray to the violence that has bedevilled so much of the region. The obvious problem is the power vacuum that is left when a puppet regime is toppled and it’s not hard to see why several former communist officials are once again in positions of power, although with very different agendas. How do people learn to govern and lead themselves after years or decades of being told what to do? The parallels with the chaos in Iraq at the moment are all too obvious.


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