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640px-Havla 1989
Photo: MD (Wikimedia Commons); Licence: CC BY-SA 3.0
 
Demonstrators during the Velvet Revolution in 1989

 

As a way of marking the 25th anniversary of the fall of communism in many parts of Central and Southeastern Europe, E&M asked young people from some of the countries involved to tell us what the anniversary means to them. First up is Timea Szilvássy, who lives in Bratislava and was a year and a half old when the Velvet Revolution took place.

To understand how much the post-communist countries have changed, one must recall how they started out. Recall, what freedom meant at that time and how has it changed over the last 25 years.

Our parents and grandparents might talk about the fragility of freedom, about how distant and unclear the term could be in their lives and how far away we are from that perception nowadays. Back then, propagandists of the state told the people what to think, the secret police watched basically everyone and put regime critics behind bars. Only dreams stayed safe, but it was better to not dream big, but rather to stay dutiful so as to lead a convenient life of sorts.

Something changed a quarter of a century ago. Thousands of people took the risk and stood out from the line. They exposed themselves and their families to high risks, sometimes even imprisonment. But the power of those people as well as similar actions all over Europe made a non-violent transition possible, overthrowing the communist leaders. At that time democracy and prosperity seemed to be just around the corner. In Czechoslovakia, it led to the country's first non-communist government in more than four decades. And the transition was just the beginning. On New Year's Day 2015 Slovakia will celebrate its 22st anniversary as an independent nation.

Thursday, 20 November 2014 00:00

On the Brink: The Forsaken Paradise

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Photo: Christian Diemer

Chernivtsi, morbid paradise of decaying beauty. Since 2006, when this photo was taken, the city has smartened itself up a lot, thanks to an efficient mayor – and smuggling into the EU via the nearby Romanian border.

Continuing on his journey of exploration throughout Ukraine, Christian Diemer arrives in Chernivtsi, a forgotten city in the west of the country, the fate of which has been inextricably tied up with the turbulent history of Eastern and Central Europe over the last centuries.

I have found paradise on earth. Nobody knows that it exists. The world has long forgotten about it. Even the Ukrainians, that blessed people who live so close by, would not have it on their radar – their smallest regional capital, lost somewhere in the most remote south western corner of their large country, twenty minutes from what is now the border of Romania and the outer edge of the EU.

TRAINS LONG GONE

In May 1914 I could have boarded a train at Vienna's Nordbahnhof at 12:35. A first class ticket would have cost just under 100 crowns, a second-class ticket around 60. Only 19 hours later, the low, elegant art nouveau train station would have come into sight, couched in the gentle bend of the railway lines amidst a green, flat valley. As the train came to a halt, a sign would have drifted in front of the dirty carriage window: "Czernowitz". Maybe a train guard with a handlebar moustache would have shouted: "Endstation, bitte alle aussteigen! Last stop, all change here!", in a melodic Austrian accent, accompanied by the curses of the Ruthenians, Poles, or Jews heaving their leather suitcases down the tall carriages.

Friday, 14 November 2014 00:00

Ukraine: The Challenge for Europe

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Ukraine colours
Photo: Ilya (Flickr); Licence: CC BY-SA 2.0
 
What lies ahead for Europe's troubled eastern neighbour Ukraine?

 

Sixty students from all over the world gathered in Berlin for a week last month to discuss Europe and boost a sense of solidarity throughout the continent. Their first meeting included a focus on the current situation in Ukraine and on how it should be addressed in an European context. We are pleased to host a report by Igor Ryabinin, the German-Ukrainian student who moderated a panel discussion during that meeting.

I was born in Charkov in eastern Ukraine, grew up in Germany and currently study in Moscow. This biography might seem unusual for encounters in everyday life, but it certainly was not in the context of the first meeting of the new College of Europe in Berlin-Wannsee in October 2014.

In 1994, I emigrated from Ukraine to Germany with my parents. Their main motivation in moving away was the unstable situation and the lack of prospects in Ukraine back then. Unfortunately, even at the 20th anniversary of our emigration this year, Ukraine still remains unstable, with an unpredictable future. It was against this backdrop and in light of broad public concern about current events in Ukraine that a panel discussion was organised by the College.

BerlinMauer
Photo: Hadar Naim; Licence: CC-BY 2.0. 
 
Visitors can find such engravings in many areas of Berlin: they mark where
the Wall used to be.

 

With the gaze of all European media outlets focusing on the Berlin Wall and its historical importance, E&M wants to talk about the 25th anniversary of its fall from a personal perspective. This year, as an exclusive for our magazine, we are pleased to host the experiences of three young Italian women who spent two months in Berlin on a volunteering project at the Berlin Wall MemorialAlice BaruffatoEugenia Pennacchio and Veronica Pozzi, one of our Sixth Sense editors, share with us their feelings and their thoughts, developed over the course of their work at such an important place for the Europe in which we live.

 

Eugenia Pennacchio foto

 

Eugenia – The choice of building an historical memory by giving prominence to real life people

 

Behind the great history of nations and heads of state, there are the little, local stories and, behind these stories, there are real people, their lives, their emotions, their everyday experiences. As an historian I often forget that. I have been studying and analysing epochal events: wars, peace, their causes, the big protagonists of contemporary history and their actions, which seem to be solely responsible for the geopolitical context of the world where we live.

 

My decision to join a volunteering project at the Chapel of Reconciliation in Berlin, after having done academic research on the pacifist movements of East Berlin, was a good opportunity to re-live and to explain to visitors some of the pivotal events in the history of Germany and of the whole world. But I didn't imagine this two-month project would give me an approach to history and memory that was slightly different from the one I knew and had taken for granted before.

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