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Legacies of 1989 / Turning points

History Is Personal! Interview with Children of the Revolution on the Importance of 1989

History Is Personal! Interview with Children of the Revolution on the Importance of 1989

1989 Turning Point | Photo: David Ausserhofer

1989_Turning Point

1989 Turning Point | Photo: David Ausserhofer

1989 marked a change of epoch in Europe. Twenty-five years ago, the peaceful revolutions in Eastern Germany and Europe saw the fall of totalitarian regimes and borders. Like in a relay, the movements for freedom and independence in Central and Eastern Europe handed over the baton, with Poland starting in spring and Romania feeling the change in December.

Depending on where they lived, Europeans’ perceptions of one and the same year differ widely. Five young Europeans from the EUSTORY network explain what that year of change and the following time of political upheaval meant to them personally – besides the fact they all have in common: 1989 is their year of birth. Helena from Slovenia, Milan from Serbia, Vlad from Romania, Ivor from Estonia and Juliane  from Denmark describe the personal stories that were told about 1989 in their families.

Read the interviews:

Helena, Slovenia
Milan, Serbia
Vlad, Romania
Ivor, Estonia
Juliane, Denmark

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Helena Ursic 1989 Slovenia Photo: private

Helena, Slovenia

What five words do you associate spontaneously with the year 1989?
birthday, Yugoslavia, revolution, communism, Berlin

In your family, do you speak about the political events of the year 1989? If so, about what topics and on what occasion?
Given the fact that both my mum and my sisters are historians by profession, history is very often on our family agenda. When we speak about the year 1989, we usually touch upon the fall of the Berlin wall and the Romanian dictatorship. Most often, however, we discuss in relation to the recent history of our home country. The revolution sweeping through Europe in 1989, importantly amounted to the Slovenian decision for independence and greatly changed the way we live and perceive each other.

What imprint did the events of 1989 in your country have on you?
I believe Slovenians felt encouraged by the revolutionary ideas coming from the neighboring countries. Although the decision for independence was a result of various factors, the sequence of historical events and the general atmosphere in Europe in 1989 helped us pursue our dreams.

What do the words “borders” and “freedom” mean to you today?
To me, “border” is only a geographical description without having any real impact on my life. I was born in Slovenia, I studied in Austria and I found my job in the Netherlands. As I do not consider myself only Slovenian, but also European, I can feel at home in any of the EU member states. I believe this has a lot to do with my perception of freedom, too. Having the opportunity to explore other countries and cultures without feeling any geographical or political constraints gives me a great feeling of freedom, openness and acceptance.

What is your personal wish for the further development in Europe?
I wish to see Europe powerful and optimistic. I want its people to be respectful to each other and proud of what they are. Our common history taught us so much about tolerance, trust and cooperation. We should use these lessons as the advantage to build a better future.

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Milan Vukasinovic 1989 Serbia Photo: private

Milan, Serbia

What five words do you associate spontaneously with the year 1989?
end, change, borders, summer, tension

In your family, do you speak about the political events of the year 1989? If so, about what topics and on what occasion?
No, not really. I could hear my family speak about it while I was growing up, but only when it came to affecting the life of our family. That year marked the beginning of the crisis in Yugoslavia, so my parents used to mention the devastating economic changes that were coming to be. Also, they told me that on the day of my birth the relics of a Serbian medieval saint who died in Kosovo were touring through my town. I came to realise only later that it was actually a part of Milosevic’s rise-to-power nationalist campaign.

What imprint did the events of 1989 in your country have on you?
A negative one for sure. It was long after I started travelling through Europe that I could get rid of the notion of a hard, closed and pressing border, and only partially. Further on, the events that started then in my country burdened us all with the sense of guilt that we still carry around like a scarlet letter.

What do the words “borders” and “freedom” mean to you today?
Growing up where I did made me accept a pretty stoic view on freedom. I had to teach myself that it was attainable only within my head. That is the only way to keep self-integrity when the world marks you as the “Other”, the barbarian, and you know that you haven’t done anything. I keep carrying that notion of inner freedom and independence in me today, that helped me see that borders as such don’t really make any sense.

What is your personal wish for the further development in Europe?
Seeing many noble ideas turn to ashes, my only wish would be that the idea of a unified, borderless and carefully levelled Europe doesn’t get perverted and go the same way. Personally, I would also like to stop feeling the split between my national and European identity.

 

 

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Vlad Badea 1989 Romania Photo: Claudia Hoehne

Vlad (1989, Romania)
Photo: Claudia Hoehne

Vlad, Romania

What five words do you associate spontaneously with the year 1989?
communism, democracy, people, freedom, struggle

In your family, do you speak about the political events of the year 1989? If so, about what topics and on what occasion?
We generally don’t speak about the year 1989. Not in a political way, that is. Whenever we do mention 1989 in family conversations, it is mainly to celebrate my birthday, as I was born then. Sometimes we do talk about communism and Ceaușescu, especially in December, when the media bring up the 1989 Revolution. Although this used to happen more often when I was younger and felt I needed to know more about those times. Now, I think I have a sufficiently clear picture of what communism meant both for Romania and the rest of the world.

What imprint did the events of 1989 in your country have on you?
What matters most for me about 1989 is that it changed the country I was born and raised in. Had the Revolution not happened, I would have lived in a much different society – one marked by fear to think critically and speak freely. In such a society, I would have had a very different personality.

What do the words “borders” and “freedom” mean to you today?
The word “border” is probably not as present in my life as it was in the lives of previous generations. I am lucky enough to live in a reasonably borderless continent, move and reside freely wherever I want in the EU. 50 years ago this idea must have seemed totally alien to citizens of the European nation-states. When it comes to freedom, I would say that unfortunately I have mostly taken it for granted. Again, the chance of not living under an oppressive regime or in a war-minded Europe made possible an understanding of freedom as something that comes in quite natural. But when looking at what is going on nearby in the Ukraine for example, it makes one think that nothing is forever granted.

What is your personal wish for the further development in Europe?
I wish for Europe to regain its role as beacon of the world, bringing light where there is currently none. I also hope for more solidarity between the people of Europe. The sooner we acknowledge that we are one Union the higher our chances to strengthen it.

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Ivor Onksion 1989 Estonia Photo: private

Ivor, Estonia

What five words do you associate spontaneously with the year 1989?
queues, food coupons, turmoil, hope, capitalism

In your family, do you speak about the political events of the year 1989? If so, about what topics and on what occasion?
Our family doesn’t talk about political events in 1989, because at that time, in the Soviet Union, there were more urgent things to worry about. After 1989, all commerce and trading with Soviet Russia stopped, whereas business with foreign neighbouring countries was also forbidden, so people had real worries in regards to their everyday commodities. Many people turned to their relatives in the countryside for aid. On the other hand, people experienced an extraordinary solidarity and friendliness – they were ready to help one another through the difficult time.

What imprint did the events of 1989 in your country have on you?
Thanks to Finnish television, people were able to follow the events in the west and this probably helped to have a positive and optimistic impact towards the future inside the Soviet Union as well. After 1989, people were filled with hope and that probably helped to create an attitude that despite a bad situation, the future is bright and everything is possible!

What do the words “borders” and “freedom” mean to you today?
Freedom doesn’t mean that absolutely everything should be tolerated. People who haven’t been living under a true ideological dictatorship with ideological borders have sometimes difficulties understanding what real freedom is and consider freedom as a way to do anything they want. For me, freedom means always choosing the good, which is a challenge in today’s Europe.

What is your personal wish for the further development in Europe?
Unfortunately, the world today is as volatile as it was in 1989, although in a different way and history is always an on-going process. I wish that Europe would turn to its cultural and religious roots and people would help more those in need and concern themselves less with material well-being.

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Juliane, Denmark

What five words do you associate spontaneously with the year 1989?
transition, beginning, uncertainty, hope, and longing

In your family, do you speak about the political events of the year 1989? If so, about what topics and on what occasion?
In my family, we have always debated about politics and history. I got a sense of the impact of the events of 1989 from a very early age, even though it was often presented to me in humorous terms, like when my mother told me that the Berlin wall fell because it could not withhold after I had been born. My grandfather had been in Berlin when the wall was built, and my aunt went to Berlin to watch it being torn down, so their personal stories and experiences were often told to me as well.

What imprint did the events of 1989 in your country have on you?
Well, not much happened in Denmark in 1989. As far as I know, the impact has mostly been secondary albeit impactful, e.g. expanding the export market to the newly reconciled Germany, resulting in economic growth in Denmark.

What do the words “borders” and “freedom” mean to you today?
“Border” is only a meaningful term if there are consequences or limitations for some or all people crossing them. Living in relative freedom means not having these consequences or limitations play a negative role in your ability to live your life the way you want to. But freedom today is more than freedom of movement; it is also freedom from surveillance and suppression of expression. In fact, borders are more than restrictions of movement today, too; they are symbols of categorisation, of otherness and belonging, and, in some cases, of fear.

What is your personal wish for the further development in Europe?
Wow, such a question! I hope that Europe will continue to work constructively and emphatically with developing not only a safer, happier and more peaceful European continent, but a safer, happier, and more peaceful world. Today, walls inhibit the free movement of people all over the world; the positive developments in Europe since 1989 could and should serve as an inspiration to tear down these walls.

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