Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Lost in Transformation

„What is wrong with Ukraine then, a country which is seen as synonymous with a permanent crisis of state, chaos and a mutual blockage of political forces today?,“ Robert Baag has asked recently on German broadcasting station Deutschlandfunk.

Based on various field study trips in the country Wolfgang Templin, former guest of the project Overcoming Dictatorships, tried to give a conclusive answer to this eminent question during a public presentation of his book Farbenspiele – die Ukraine nach der Revolution in Orange (2nd amended edition, Osnabrück: fibre, 2008) at Herbert-Wehner-Bildungswerk in Dresden on 6 May 2008, 18:00. In his introduction political scientist Jakob Lempp (Dresden Technical University) informed the audience about the shortcomings of scientific monitoring of the country’s development. Lempp warned against the potential social and institutional pillarization of the political divisions that characterize the still ongoing transformation process. Jammed between the rocketing Baltic States and authoritarian rule in Belarus – and faced with blurry perspectives of EU accession at best – experts refrain from elaborated forecasts on the issue. Therefore Templin’s accounts are extremely welcome to add flesh to bones of analyses.

Templin started out from the neighbourhood perspective, too. The past and present of Poland and Russia is deeply intertwined with the country’s fate. Whereas Poland has apparently overcome its grief over the loss of Galicia and its centre Lemberg and developed into a devoted European ambassador for Ukraine, the relations to Russia still suffer from the latter’s imperial ambitions. Templin chose the well-known protagonists Viktor Yushchenko (President), Yulia Timoshenko (Prime Minister) and Viktor Yanukovych (ex-Premier) to present the diversity of biographies, economic interests and cultural amalgamations which were the results of the wild and early years of transformation.

Templin referred to the influence which numerous Ukrainian dissidents detained in the Soviet Gulag system had on later intellectuals and reformers. In his view a majority of creative artists see themselves as independent supporters of democratic reforms, although Yanukovych also embellished his election campaign with elements of pop culture. The general attitudes in the population are more important, but they are split between more conservative or progressive opinions as well. Yet Templin concluded rather optimistically: he believes the Majdan events of 2004/05 have shown that the people are no longer willing to accept ruthless exploitation by oligarchs and compliant government. The resignation with politics which may often be found among the younger generations might lead to the empowerment of civil society and thereby to the control of corrupt elites. Faced with the author’s dissident biography one could be tempted to hope that Templin has got it right a second time.

We are grateful to Herbert-Wehner-Bildungswerk for hosting and financially supporting the event.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Generation 68. Ein Roadmovie

2008 is a year full of potential for cultural entrepreneurs active in the field of collective remembrance. Seen from a European perspective it is the emblematic years of 1848, 1948 and 1968 which immediately present ample material for recollections both personal and official. German public TV channel 3Sat recently contributed to the discourse by broadcasting the film Generation 68. Ein Roadmovie, directed by Frank Diederichs (6 April 2008, 20:15). Diederichs portrays the life of writers and journalists, actors and directors, all people who had been politically and culturally active already back then or who were to be left with a lasting impression by the events of that ominous year. One of these is a participant of Overcoming Dictatorships, Lutz Rathenow.

Rathenow tells his personal experiences behind the specific German political background and the generally stirred-up atmosphere of the late 1960s. His recallings of a family holiday in Hungary can be taken as a literary description of the social and personal repercussions of contemporary German-German relations. Rathenow says:

In 1968, at the end of July and beginning of August I spent my vacation together with my parents and my sister at the Balaton Lake. For people from the GDR the atmosphere in Hungary felt much more western and generally relaxed: broadcasting stations had superior programmes, you could witness policemen consuming alcohol and Coca Cola was on offer. For people with western currencies it was even rather a fair deal. It was therefore a happy coincidence when my parents made the acquaintance of a couple from West Germany. On the beach they paid for beverages and we received small gifts. My parents accepted these well-meant complaisances gratefully. Me personally I didn’t think at all of being grateful, although I also benefited from the situation. These people from West Germany were not really arrogant; I did want to conceive them as arrogant.

As contingent as the course of life of an individual may be it is most likely that these experiences influenced Rathenow's personal development which subsequently advanced his literary and dissident activities. Check out more information by Jutta Vinzent on Rathenows artistic collaboration with photographer and project participant Harald Hauswald.