THOSE who were students in November 1989 were fortunate enough to inhale the first sips of freedom on Slovakia’s squares while watching the corroding regime crumble are now into their mid-forties. Their children no longer understand references to pre-Christmas queues for mandarins and bananas, excruciating passport controls with police officers looking into bags to make sure travellers did not surpass the quota on candies purchased in Hungary, or May 1 parades in pioneer uniforms. They are the last generation to measure boredom in school by classes about “scientific communism”, but they are also the generation who still were able to catch the first train to foreign countries and opportunities their parents – the so-called Lost Generation – never dreamt of.
Born after World War II, the Lost Generation grew up and lived most of their lives under the communist regime and saw Warsaw Pact tanks crush their ideals in 1968. They worked the same job for decades and only learned words such as unemployed in their early 50s, and even experienced it only in cases where they lived in one of the hunger valleys where the Mečiar-era privatisers ruined companies for small change.
A major poll carried out 25 years after the revolution suggests that people consider the Velvet Revolution a positive historical event but remain wary of social and job insecurity. When asked about how the changes after 1989 impacted different groups of the society, 72 percent of the respondents assumed that businesses have experienced the most positive changes, followed by dissidents and opponents of the communist regime (63 percent), religious believers (57 percent) and young people (54 percent), according to the survey by the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO) in cooperation with the Focus polling agency and the Czech Public Opinion Research Centre.
Those who suffered the most losses, according to public opinion are: older people, as seen by 62 percent of the respondents; farmers, according to 58 percent; workers, 53 percent and “decent people”, as suggested by 51 percent.
The students of 1989 had not assumed back then that 25 years later corruption would thrive in a society that is divided among oligarchs as if it were a birthday cake baked just for them, offering all they could eat.
Unless people start actively demanding all the privileges of freedom that the 1989 generation claimed back from history, they will passively reinstall a society where all those principles like rule of law, civic participation, fundamental rights and freedoms, minority rights and protection of the environment are never implemented in their full scale.
Twenty-five years after the revolution, courts are among the least trusted institutions in the society, corruption channels millions of euros annually from the taxpayers’ pockets and public service is more often than not viewed as a way to get rich. Oligarchs are buying credible media, drunk with the illusion that good reputation is just a transaction away.
All that said, the fact that this piece can be written without a communist censor shredding the newspaper before publication, the fact that political ethics watchdogs can point at pains of society, and that Marxism and Leninism is no longer an obligatory subject in schools are measures of progress.
Nevertheless, indifference, apathy, poor political choices, vulnerability to populism, the instinct to search for scapegoats and mostly finding them in minorities, are the real adversaries of the people today.
If they vote for politicians who treat the state as a vending machine for whoever knows the pin code and if people do not change their motivation for entering politics from that of getting rich to genuine public service, then in five years, when the ‘89 generation reaches the age their parents were in 1989, then these worst parts of today’s society may have solidified into the new norm.
If nothing else, November 17 is a fitting occasion to remind people how demanding they should be towards their government and their own sense of freedom.
17. Nov 2014 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová