Weekend Reading

Only one must-read this weekend from here in soon-to-be-stormy Appalachia:

A Warning From Europe: The Worst Is Yet to Come, an epic, semi-autobiographical article by historian Anne Applebaum in The Atlantic magazine.

Ms. Applebaum has written extensively on the former Soviet Union and East Bloc, including a book that was really seminal for me, called Between East and West: Across the Borderlands of Europe, about a 1991 road trip across just collapsed eastern Europe. A Washington Post columnist married to Radek Sikorsky, a former Polish Foreign Minister, she’s uniquely positioned to write a first-person account of the changes in Poland over the past not quite thirty years.

And there have been astonishing changes. On my first trip to Warsaw, in March and April of 1992, state-owned enterprises, the stores in the buildings that lined the streets, had largely gone bust, and newly private commerce from Gdansk on the Baltic Sea to Tiranë, Albania on the Adriatic, was largely carried out through an ad-hoc system of hastily-assembled kiosks between the storefronts and the streets, Here is an example from near the Warsaw train station, a snapshot from 1992:

Today Warsaw presents as a modern, if still Stalinesque architecture-afflicted city.

But all is not well, in Poland or as Ms. Applebaum describes, Hungary and other parts of eastern Europe as well. Her article is well worth your time as a marker of the state of the region today. Especially if, as we look to be here, you are shut indoors with a storm raging outside.

Next week we return to Africa with a post on 3 Quarks Daily at the beginning of the week. I will repost it here next Wednesday. See you next week.

 

 

The Velvet Revolution & Personal History

HavelCampaignPoster-small

Today Vaclav Havel will be honored with a bust in the U.S. Capitol. Only three other international figures have been honored this way. This week’s ceremony marks the 25th anniversary of the start of the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia. By the 29th of December that year Mr. Havel had been elected President by Parliament.

That year the New York Times published special pages each day under the heading Upheaval in the East. From its 29 December, 1989 edition, in an article by Craig R. Whitney:

This evening, tens of thousands of people streamed into the center of Prague’s Old Town in what amounted to a street celebration of Mr. Havel’s election. He appeared along with the visiting Portuguese President, Mario Soares, and greeted them.

Mr. Havel, son of an upper-class civil engineer, was not allowed to go to university by the Communist Government after he finished his compulsory schooling in 1951, because of his class background. Today the students of Prague, many of them children of the Communist ruling class, have made Mr. Havel their intellectual hero, and they have been on strike since demonstrations on Nov. 17 sparked the peaceful revolution that overthrew the long repression.

‘Havel is the only guarantee that the changes here will be of a permanent character,’ said one of them, Ludek Vasta, 21, an economics student.”

Leaving East Berlin’s newly accessible Lichtenberg Station four days after Havel’s election on 2 January, 1990, we stopped in Prague en route to Vienna just long enough to tear this campaign poster from a wall and bring it back home. It remains on my office wall.