Srebrenica

In Eastern Bosnia, Mak made his way to what had once been a spa town. People traveled to Srebrenica to relax and enjoy themselves. It was built next to an old silver mine, on a single stretch of road. In 1990, 6,000 people lived there; a quarter of them Serbian, the rest were Muslims.

Unfortunately, Srebrenica was in an area claimed by the Serbs. The Serbs were intent on bringing down the community, or at least the Muslim aspect of it “When they began their campaign of ethnic cleansing here, a well organised local movement began offering strong resistance.” (Mak 795) From this hardship rose a Muslim resistance, led by Naser Oric who had once been a bodyguard to Milosevic. In a campaign of violence, Oric went around the countryside of Srebrenica and murdered Serb families. He also plundered the food and resources that the Serbs had stored in their homes and towns. When the Serbian blockade of Srebrenica these stores of food would allow them to survive.

Both sides lost many people and the animosity grew between them. The Serbs surrounded Srebrenica, but were postponed from massacre by a UN envoy who declared the town a demilitarized safe haven. However, “Later it became clear that, by that point, all parties involved had actually given up on the enclave. ” (Mak 796).

Eventually the troops pulled out and Serb troops led by General Ratko Mladic steamrolled the town. When they had taken the town one of the worst human rights failures in history took place (The Guardian). Thousand of Muslims in Srebrenica were systimatically eliminated by the Serbians, an act that would soon be referred to as Genocide.

Novi Sad

Throughout the spring and early summer of 1999 NATO enacted bombing raids on the Serbian city of Novi Sad. Ostensibly these raids were meant to target areas and buildings that had military uses, but the bombings had a powerful effect on the population of the city. Bridges crossing the nearby Danube were taken out, forcing traffic to “hobble across a makeshift pontoon bridge” (Mak, 784). On a personal level, Geert Mak records a conversation he had in December 1999 with Dragica Dimić, a twenty-three year old woman who experienced the bombings first-hand. Dimić recalled how she and her family heard the planes coming and “were thrown against the wall, everything shuddered and burst”. She and her husband immediately “threw ourselves on top of the children” to protect them. The family ran outside only to find the entire area in chaos, and their neighbor screaming because her “house had been hit, her husband was bleeding to death”. Dimić herself “was so frightened, I thought: they’re going to start shooting at us with machine guns, from the air” (qtd. in Mak, 785). Dimić’s experiences perfectly show not only the casualties of the bombings, but also the psychological toll they took on the population of Novi Sad.

Here is a short video from Radio Television of Vojvodine, the public broadcaster for the Serbian province of Vojvodine, whose headquarters are actually in Novi Sad. The video is from 2009, the tenth anniversary of the bombings, and even though it is in Serbian, it has footage of the bombings, specifically of the bridges.

Bucharest

Mak focuses on the the life of Cezar Tabarcea and his knowledge about the Romanian Revolution of 1989. Students started protesting three days after the massacre at Timisoara. Cezar discusses the revolution and the actons taken by the government and the protestorsbut one thing he talks about most is his tour of the Ceausescus villa and how this revolution worsened the Romanian economy. While Cezar was touring the villa, he was comparing the way Ceausescus was living to the way the rest of the nation was living and he states that “the Ceausescus lived in a wholly different world” (Mak 770). Cezar comes to this conclusion by analyzing what the Ceausescus villa had and what he had during thier time of rule. After the tour of the villa, they decide to bring the reader to the city. While hearing about the cities environment, one can picture the extreme poverty that the people are facing. Mak notes that “Romania is probably the poorest country in Europe, according to the Human Development Index. The population is decreasing and less than 1/2 have access to good drinking water” (Mak 771). This revolution of 1989 was supposed to help the economy for the people but it has had reverese effects. On page 771, Mak notes that there are 4,000 homeless children wandering the streets because they have ran away from home or have been sent out to live on the streets. (771). With this picture, readers can see the extremity of the poverty that is in Bucharest and a question comes up asking; was life better with Ceausescus ruling or is it better now? Mak answers this question in the last paragraph by stating “under Ceausescus, there was a shortage of everything, but in that time many families still lived just above the subsistence level. It wasn’t until after the 1989 revolution that they sank beneath the absolute poverty line” (Mak 772). The revolution of 1989 was meant to give the money back to the people instead of Ceausescus taking it all but this never really happened.

A quote that I would like readers to think about is “these are, as she repeats again and again, the children of 1989, of the post-communist era, of the West’s shock therapy, of the promised land that never arrived” (Mak 772). Was the West so against communism that they took away crappy living conditions just to give back even worse conditions so democracy would rule?

Ash, The Magic Lantern

“The Magic Lantern” is a book written by Timothy Garth Ash, in which he discusses various events in Eastern Europe during their separation from the Soviet Union and the end of communism. Similar to Mak, Ash writes in a manner that is coincided with his travels, although Ash is present for almost all of the key points of his book, whereas Mak tends to travel in the present and talk with witnesses of past events. Ash begins his book in Poland, where there is what he calls a “refolution”-combination of revolution and reform- going on. In Poland, the people were fighting for Solidarity. This is brought about through the means of the first “free vote” in Poland. In the end, the quest for Solidarity ends up succeeding. The “refolution” in neighboring Hungary was based on a reburial of Imre Nagy, who had been executed by Stalinists. A similarity between the two countries was that their economic situations worsened rather than improved due to the “refolutions.” The next part highlights Berlin and the connection between the countries in Eastern Europe and how what occurs in one place may affect another. When the “iron curtain” falls, which had separated Hungary from Austria, people from East Germany use this route as a means to escape to the other side, often being encouraged to do so. The chapter ends with the union of East and West Germany and the joy of its people to once again be a united Germany. The last country discussed is Czechoslovakia, with the focus of the chapter being on the “Magic Lantern,” which contains the meeting room in which the plans for the revolution are taking place. Ash ends his book by discussing the “death of communism” in Eastern Europe and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, ending the book with a quote by Orwell, “All revolutions are failures, but they are not all the same failure,” remarking that “This one was the exception. But that is because it was unlike all earlier revolutions.”

Voices From Chernobyl

On April 26, 1986, one of the reactors at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine exploded and created one of the largest technological disasters in the twentieth century. Not only the the catastrophe affect the power plant, but also people who lived in surrounding areas and the radiation was detected all around the world. Voices from Chernobyl follows three different people and how the Chernobyl disaster directly affected their lives. The story that stuck out the most comes from Lyudmilla Ignatenko, who was the wife of one of the firefighters at Chernobyl that responded and eventually died due to the accident. The people who were in the vicinity of the Chernobyl reactor explosion were exposed to large amounts of radiation and in fact Chernobyl is still a radioactive site. While in the hospital Lyudmilla was told by a nurse “You have to understand: this is not your husband anymore, not a beloved person, but a radioactive object with a strong density of poisoning.” Her husband had died 14 days after the accident due to radiation poisoning.This story showed that Chernobyl had a devastating effect on all people. Lyudmilla was pregnant, but due to the exposure of her husbands radiation she lost her child. To this day, Chernobyl is still a radioactive ghost town. An article from the huffington post (Huffington Post 25 Years after Chernobyl Article) provides pictures of Chernobyl 25 years after the accident and how the fear of radiation still haunts Ukraine.

Movie, The Lives of Others

The idea that every person has about living behind the iron curtain is a sad one. Everyone lived in joyless and in constant fear because of an oppressive government. In many scenes, people are treated unjustly, having a different opinion about the government was simply not acceptable, for example, in the beginning of the movie a young man is being interview for hours without sleep and then threatened to arrest his family. There is also a scene were the apartment of Georg is searched by the German police, but they do not even tell him what they are looking for, and even when they find so many western literature, they think poorly of Georg. Later, Weisler starts to question the Government he so much believed in because of how much injustice he sees. Towards the end of the movie we see that the fall of the iron curtain is announced, and people are ecstatic about this wonderful event.

Chernobyl

“These days Chernobyl is inhabited again. It is an inconspicuous town, only an hour from Kiev, full of people whose job it is to make sure that no one else comes to town…” (Mak, 756). When the disaster occurred at the nuclear power plant, radiation from the explosion spread to twenty different countries. This explosion resulted in many towns being frozen in time, like Pripyat. When Mak visits Pripyat with the assistant director of the Chernobyl InterInform agency Nikolai Dmytruk he notes, “In the city we enter, the Soviet era is still in full bloom: the central square with its hammers and sickles, the square buildings, the mottos inscribed above the entrance: ‘Lenin’s Party Leads us to the Triumph of Communism’” (Mak, 758). Overall the disaster in Chernobyl affected much more than just the immediate surrounding area, although the effects were less disastrous for those that were further away. Included is a link to photojournalist Nikki Kahn’s album on Chernobyl 25 years after the event.

Moscow

During his time in Moscow, Mak meets Anatoli Artsybarski, a former commander of the Mir space station. Mak and Artsybarski discuss the hardships that occurred in the Soviet Union while Artsybarski travelled into space (Mak 747). Gorbachev attempted to maintain the Communist party while the Soviet Union fell apart. However, “popular as Mikhail Gorbachev was abroad, his position within the country was growing more feeble all the time.” In 1990, only a quarter of the men drafted into the Soviet Army reported for duty. Additionally, revolts occurred in the three Baltic States. While on vacation in the Crimea, cabinet members visited Gorbachev with the news that an emergency council emerged in Moscow and troops surrounded his home. When Gorbachev attempted to call Moscow, the phone lines did not work. Gorbachev was forced to step down and give power to vice-president Gennadi Yanayev. Members of his cabinet participated in the conspiracy and declared a state of emergency in Moscow (Mak 748). While Artsybarsk was in space, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania became independent states and part of the United Nations. Leaders from Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine held a summit in Poland. Yelsin became drunk and slept through most of the meeting and Gorbachev officially stepped down (Mak 749).

Gdansk

Today, the Polish city of Gdansk is the countries largest sea port. In 1999, however, the city was much different. It displayed the negative side of the end of Communism very well. Once the Soviet Union collapsed, economies and foreign interest grew and inflation fell. However, as Mak point out, “many of the social facilities that were once free or very inexpensive — medicine, hospitals, day-care centres, schools, care for the elderly — today cost a great deal” (735). These are problems that Western nations ignore when celebrating an end to Communism. People also lost their jobs, pensions, and much of their money. This image shows te Gdansk shipyard in 2007 before it was revitalized by new owners. This image shows the shipyard in 2012 when more workers could depend on it. As Kazimierz Rozkwitalski told Mak “Fifteen years ago [1985] . . . there were still 30,000 people working in the harbour then. Today [1999] there are only 3,000″ (735). While Gdansk has now revitalized itself, only a few years ago, the city was in shambles after the fall of Communism.

Niesky

Niesky is a town in the former DDR, close to Poland’s border. Mak consistently describes the town as a simple fairytale place touched by a “fairy godmother” of modernization after the reunification of West and East Germany in 1990 (Mak 722). In a little more than three years, Niesky “swung from the 1950s to the 1990s” (723), adopting new cars, capitalism, and technology like TV and computers. This rapid modernization plastered over itself at a breakneck pace, rendering many places unrecognizable. Many East German towns and cities saw new buildings constructed, old houses renovated, and roads repaved. Despite the benefits gained from these changes, such rapid and radical transformations stirred up resentment among the older people who had experienced the difficulties of life in the DDR and who encountered new problems with the reunification. As a result, the past “constantly threatened to disturb the peace and quiet of the present” (723). The merger also exposed the sharp contrast between the more modest East German culture and the more affluent and Westernized culture of West Germany. Niesky is just one case study that highlights similar experiences across the newly-integrated East Germany.