I followed the celebrations to mark the 20th anniversary of the Berlin wall with great interest and curiosity. I remember reading about the fall of the wall (doesn’t it have a nice rhyme to it?) with eyes wide open, as a little kid who had never been outside his country. To me Berlin was just a cold, foreign land where people were white, large, and wore suits all the time. I was too young to comprehend the words Iron curtain, Communism, Cold war, etc. I saw thousands of people on TV breaking a wall…may be there were some kids my age there; perhaps it meant the world to them. (one of my German friends who is just a little older than me, confirmed that indeed meant the world to him)
And here I am, a few hours train ride away from Berlin. You would think I understand the meaning if it all now. Well, mostly yes, but there are still un answered questions for the future.
One of the most interesting, but worrying trends I have noted is a series of articles, interviews, and voices suggesting that perhaps the end of communism wasn’t such a terrible thing after all. Apart from the usual suspects from the maniacal Indian left, there were views from around the world on this topic.
The arguments run roughly like this:
- The free market driven majority of the world is in the middle of a terrible economic recession
- Colonialism and feudalism have given way to corporate imperialism, but the enemies of the poor remain in a different form
- The country that is bucking the global trend and emerging as an economic and political powerhouse, is a communist China
- So perhaps communism wasn’t such a terrible thing after all, and we should revive this romantic, utopian notion of communism.
To me this is a dangerous trend. The fight between Capitalism & Democracy vs. Communism & One party rule has gone on for a long time, and has seen much bloodshed on either side in the name of ideology. Perhaps, I don’t have any credentials to talk about that. And capitalistic democracies have their share of massive problems and grievances too.
But I just wanted to take the example of one film, set in Communist controlled GDR (East Germany) to highlight why this kind of thinking is dangerous.
I had the privilege of seeing with English sub titles, the German film called “Das Leben Der Anderen” (The lives of others). It’s a strong recommend for each and everybody if you could get your hands on a DVD.
Made in 2006 by a German team & cast, it was written and directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. It is the story of communist controlled East Berlin. During that time, monitoring of cultural performers / groups / writers in East Berlin, by Stasi was a norm. Stasi was the communist GDR’s state police that had complete authority over East Berlin. The film is really powerful, even if it showed the totalitarian excesses of the state in a very subtle way, and did not depict a brutal reality. But in spite of the subtlety, it managed to convey the message about oppression, lack of free speech, political manipulation, during the communist regime. It won the 2007 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
It’s incredible that Germany can look back at its troubled recent history, introspect, and come out with meaningful literature and cinema about it. This kind of candid and critical look at our history is not something we are used to in India. But, only somebody that has witnessed communist & totalitarian brutality can tell you how it chokes you at the best of times, and kills masses in the worst of times. Those who still worship Lenin, Stalin & Mao would do will to take notice of such stories.
Yes, we are in the middle of a recession (we refers to a large section of the free markets & states, democracies of the world such as US, UK, Europe, India, Japan); yes, people have lost jobs even as the greedy prosper; yes, money and development does not reach a section of the society.
But, there are ways and means for us to express our anger, voice our concerns, fight our causes, and make our changes. China may have rapid growth, strong reserves, large dams, modern cities and infrastructure, and roads / train lines into remote lands.
But China is a black box, and a pseudo communist country. Its economic policies are capitalistic, and its control over the free speech of the people is communist. Thus, it combines the worst of both worlds. Nobody has any clue as to the millions displaced / left behind / brutally killed to achieve its development or for showing dissent. As for the Cubas, Venezuelas of the world, the less said the better.
Totalitarianism of any form – left or right wing, curtails of free speech, and the absence of democracy, are evils that misplaced romantics that dream of an equal world tend to ignore for their convenience.
You cannot dream of correcting our current failures by going back to a failed and even more terrible system.