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Reader feedback: Nostalgia is not wisdom

Re: Ambassadorial club, By Cecilia Julin (Ambassador of Sweden), November 21-27, 2005

Slovakia is a rare entity in Europe: a new country arising virtually instantly from a complex and often unfortunate past, a nation finding itself thrust into the surprising position of European economic power house.

The country also has a people with a long and rich history who find themselves exposed to the spotlight, a little place nobody every heard of or thought about going to, now suddenly filling with a polyglot mix of tourists from all over the world, forced to compete with other Europeans who like Slovakia and choose to live there and compete for jobs and property, all challenging old stereotypes and prejudices. Not to mention fuelling fears of the new.

It is no wonder that one result is confusion. Freedom means choice and responsibility, and these qualities are both confusing and frightening. Children are generally, so the sociologists tell us, more content with their lives and happier when someone in authority tells them what to do, what to believe, where to go, how to dress, what to read, as well as all the "what nots".

I wonder sometimes if Slovaks are not so much apathetic as busy, the result of a nation leaving its childhood and entering adolescence. The post-totalitarian "nostalgia" often seen these days within former Soviet bloc countries was effectively and creatively presented in the Wolfgang Becker film, Good Bye Lenin, where East Berliners wanted easy jobs back, ones in which they only pretended to work, where there was only one official version of the "truth," so one could just pretend to think, rather than actually have to analyze and make critical judgments based on competing visions.

The film is a metaphor for what all of us feel at one time or another - a longing, a deep nostalgia for what we remember as the innocence and playfulness of our childhoods. But how many of us really want to be children again?

I find myself occasionally nostalgic for what I remember as a simpler and easier time of life, which for me was in the 1950s and 60s. Sometimes I long for a time when getting a telegram was an event, when friendships were deeper because we had so much less to distract us from real contract with one another. Although I use a computer every day, and do something on the Internet almost every day, I tell myself that I wish computers and the Internet would go away, so I could get a letter in the mail and write with a nice pen on good paper. I miss the time when a kiss on the lips on the silver screen could increase my pulse rate, and decry these times when children have the most graphic sexual activity aired directly into their homes.

Progress tramples and destroys as much as it creates and expands. But who really, I mean, really, wants to stop progress? As the old saying goes, that which is not growing is dying. Slovakia is growing and changing. What we are seeing are its growing pains.

Those who want to return to the past are in effect saying they prefer dead to alive. The past is dead, and not even a religious miracle is going to raise it from the tomb. We should honour our history like we honour our dead, but to convert nostalgia into a tool that tries to stop progress is not wisdom.

Don Merritt,
Berlin, Germany

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