Archive | Features

From Iron Curtain to Open Shutters

Posted on 09 February 2010 by admin

As part of our special coverage of the 20th anniversary of the fall of communism in Central and Eastern Europe, TOL asked readers to send us photos that in some fashion captured the changes of the past 20 years, in four areas: everyday life, industry and economy, landscapes and cityscapes, and politics and democracy. We received hundreds of entries from 29 countries depicting work, play, decay, regeneration, youth, and age in the countries of the former Soviet bloc.

The top prize, 200 euros, went to Giorgos Doganis for his photo of children walking from an apartment block in the city of Bobruisk, Belarus; three runners-up, winners in their individual categories, received 50 euros each. The slide show below features those images along with the others rated most highly by our judges.

For each picture the photographer’s name and current home city are listed in the caption. Thanks to all those who participated in the contest, and congratulations to the winners.

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Romanian Holiday

Posted on 23 December 2009 by admin

By Sinziana Demian

CLUJ-NAPOCA, Romania | It’s Christmastime in Cluj-Napoca, but here, and throughout Romania, the holidays bring more than the hustle and bustle of frantic shopping and snow-hampered commutes. This year Romanians are also celebrating 20 years since winning their freedom – if “celebrating” is the right word.

“It feels like much of what we fought for during that glorious December has been overshadowed by frustration that democracy did not instantly bring gratification for everyone,” says Nicolae Badescu, a 59-year-old engineer who was out in the streets of this western Romanian city during the revolution of 1989. Continue reading …

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Northwest Passage

Posted on 11 December 2009 by admin

vratsa300By Diana Ivanova

[Editor’s note: A native of Bulgaria’s Montana province, journalist and poet Diana Ivanova is working on projects that explore personal and collective memories of the socialist period. This article is drawn from one such project with students in the region. Photo of Vratsa by Elena Chochkova.]

VRATSA, Bulgaria | “Teacher, you disappointed me when you said you were with the Communists!”

The dialogue occurs in Vratsa, a town in northwestern Bulgaria. It’s a 10th-grader’s reaction to his teacher’s recollection about her father: a member of the Bulgarian Communist Party in 1989, he thought the protesters in the streets of Sofia wanted to plunge the country into chaos.

The exchange is part of 1989: Mapping the Northwest, a project of the New Culture Foundation, a network of writers, artists, and new media designers in the region. The student’s comment is tongue-in-cheek, but it stays with me – maybe because I have a similar story. Continue reading …

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The Kitchen Revolution

Posted on 08 December 2009 by admin

By Michael J. Jordan

LAKE BALATON AND PRAGUE | Laszlo Takacs sweats over a bubbling fryer, deftly wielding his tongs to pull out another Frisbee-shaped langos. One swimsuit-clad customer after another requests Takacs’ deep-fried dough disks, especially the classic: slathered with sour cream, sprinkled with grated Trappist cheese, and drizzled with garlic sauce for good measure.

“Hungarians have always loved langos, and they always will,” Takacs says. “It’s a national specialty, like goulash.”

This was Hungary’s communist-era version of fast food – oily, cheap, tasty, and reliably belly-filling. Today it’s a relative rarity, overwhelmed by Western staples like pizza, hamburgers, hotdogs, even shwarma and Chinese food. Continue reading …

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‘The Big Excursion’

Posted on 02 December 2009 by admin

By Francesco Martino/Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso

EDIRNE, Turkey | Rasim Ozgur’s eyes are framed by deep wrinkles, but they still shine with intensity as he recalls the events of May 1989.

“I was beaten twice until I bled and lost consciousness,” says Ozgur, a painter and sculptor who now teaches art at the University of Izmir. “The men from the milicija told me that if they saw me talking to ‘reported’ people they would kill me. Then one day they told me, ‘You’re about to emigrate. You choose: Austria or Sweden.’ I got ready. I had no choice. On the 29th, though, Zhivkov announced that the borders with Turkey would be opened. I packed and left with my family. A week later I crossed the border, right here, in Edirne.”

Today this city on the Thracian plain, for centuries the gateway from the Balkans into Turkey (and, from 1365 to 1453, the Ottoman Empire’s capital), has the sleepy and somewhat provincial look of a decayed capital, mirrored in the city’s two rivers, the Maritza and the Tundzha. There is no outward sign of the tragedy for which it was the stage two decades ago. Continue reading …

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Velvet Recall: ‘We Are Not Like Them’

Posted on 20 November 2009 by admin

By Natalia O’Hara

On 17 November 1989, police in Prague cracked down on a student demonstration, triggering 10 days of mass protest and political action that peacefully brought down Czechoslovakia’s communist regime. To mark the anniversary, all this week TOL features prominent Czechs offering their recollections of the Velvet Revolution. Today: human rights activist and former student leader Simon Panek.

I was completely out of money. I’d just got back from Siberia, traveling overland and rushing to get back in time for the demonstration on 28 October. On the 17th of November I was in South Bohemia earning money. I heard what had happened on Radio Free Europe that night and returned to Prague the next day. Students from the Drama Faculty suggested a strike, and word spread quickly. Sitting in one of the faculties in the middle of the night on Sunday [19 November], we drafted our first statement. After that I went home, put on a warm coat, boots, and stuffed a few pairs of socks into my pockets. My father said to me, “Take enough warm clothes because you might not return for days, once you start.” I left home on Monday morning, and did not come back for three weeks.

On Monday morning we held a meeting outside the faculty. My friends found a rubbish bin, and I climbed up and asked the students if they agreed to a strike, which they did. After that I went to the Drama Faculty, which became our headquarters. On the second day of the strike I was elected co-chairman of the Central Strike Committee. Continue reading …

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Brotherhood Was Not Enough

Posted on 20 November 2009 by admin

By Tihomir Loza

Even though you couldn’t tell from media coverage in the region and internationally, 20 or so years ago communism collapsed in the former Yugoslavia, too.

The 20th anniversary of the momentous events of 1989 in Eastern Europe has been rightly framed mostly in celebratory terms. But there are very few things to celebrate in this regard in the former Yugoslavia.

The main action of 1989 was indeed elsewhere. The stumbling of the Yugoslav League of Communists in the late 1980s and its definitive end in January 1990 fade into near insignificance when looked upon against the backdrop of the fall of the Berlin Wall or the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia or indeed the overthrow of the Ceausescu regime in Romania.

Yet it would be wrong to say that Yugoslavia was one of those countries that the collapse of communism just happened to. Continue reading …

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Velvet Recall: The Rushed Revolution

Posted on 19 November 2009 by admin

By Natalia O’Hara

On 17 November 1989, police in Prague cracked down on a student demonstration, triggering 10 days of mass protest and political action that peacefully brought down Czechoslovakia’s communist regime. To mark the anniversary, all this week TOL features prominent Czechs offering their recollections of the Velvet Revolution. Today: photographer Jaroslav Kucera.

kuceraMUGI was living in a little flat near Narodni trida with my partner, Marketa. On 17 November and we were walking nearby when we saw a big demonstration. My partner wanted to go over, but I said, “No, I’ve seen all of this before, I know what it’s like.”

In 1969 I was at a demonstration on the one-year anniversary of the Soviet occupation when I was arrested by the secret police. First they took us to the police station, and then to Pankrac prison. The guards lined both sides of a passage with truncheons, and we were made to run through while they clubbed us. They repeated it five times, and many of the other prisoners broke down mentally or physically. Then they tried to make us name names. Continue reading …

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Velvet Recall: ‘I Didn’t Believe It Would Last’

Posted on 18 November 2009 by admin

By Natalia O’Hara

On 17 November 1989, police in Prague cracked down on a student demonstration, triggering 10 days of mass protest and political action that peacefully brought down Czechoslovakia’s communist regime. To mark the anniversary, all this week TOL features prominent Czechs offering their recollections of the Velvet Revolution. Today: novelist Ivan Klima.

There are moments in history when a spirit falls down on the mob, and people are filled with joy and hope. It happens in every revolution. The feeling has no connection to the real world. It was the same in the French Revolution and in the Russian Revolution. There were even many happy Nazis. Continue reading …

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Velvet Recall: Dancing Days

Posted on 17 November 2009 by admin

By Natalia O’Hara
On 17 November 1989, police in Prague cracked down on a student demonstration, triggering 10 days of mass protest and political action that peacefully brought down Czechoslovakia’s communist regime. To mark the anniversary, all this week TOL features prominent Czechs offering their recollections of the Velvet Revolution. Today: National Theater ballerina Adela Pollertova.

When it happened I was at home alone. The 17th of November began like a normal day, but when I got home from school no one was there. My mother was always at home in the evenings, and usually my father, too. I wondered what could have happened.

My parents and older brother returned late. They said that they had been to a demonstration in Narodni trida [National Street in Prague]. My parents were talking about what had happened but I didn’t understand, because I didn’t know the first thing about politics. Continue reading …

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