Breaking down the Wall.

Posted by jlubans on October 21, 2014

Caption: Berlin, 1989. The physical Berlin wall comes down

As I read one of the assigned solo essays in my Democratic Workplace class at the University of Latvia, I was reminded of a recent article in the Boston Globe.
The student paper (by Santa Lozda) was an anonymous interview of a Latvian who worked under both communism (pre-1991) and capitalism (post-1991). The person interviewed was asked to contrast the two systems.
The Boston Globe article is about the “massive laboratory for studying human society” created by the building of the Berlin wall in 1961.
The Globe’s report summarizes several sociological studies and in doing so suggests that while the wall’s collapse in late 1989 was a defining event in the 20th century, the people who endured communism and its ways, still are recovering from the documented abuses of the police state. Democratic ways have to be learned and society has to be open to learning. There are psychological walls to be taken down.

Attitudes in what was East Germany have improved toward democracy, but one research team “estimated that it would take between one and two generations—20 to 40 years— for the gap to fully close, and ‘for an average East German to have the same views on state intervention as an average West German.’” Twenty to 40 years!
And, ‘(w)hen … researchers compared survey data collected not long after reunification to data collected in 2002, it was clear that living in a democracy for a decade had not made East Germans significantly more trusting of others.”
Let’s be clear about one thing: No one wants to go back to the euphemistically termed “Soviet times” (in reality those were communist times.) But, democratic reforms and attitudes are slow to come by and many may suffer or be left behind as new institutions develop.
To quote from the student interview:
“I would say, that today people are more scared, because there is no stability in a workplace, prices are growing, and after a year you have to earn more, because of inflation. Employers today can’t provide stable workplace.” (Under communism one’s low-paying job was guaranteed.)
“Personally, I think there is no difference (in the workplace between capitalism and communism.) Because in communism and capitalism (both) you had to work hard, the only one thing has changed – you have an opportunity to grow and choose most preferable workplace. Nowadays there is no one behind your back to control you, you are your own future builder.”
If I or anyone else naively believes that one can switch communism off and turn democracy on, the Berlin studies are large-scale proof that change of this nature will take a long time.
I admire the interview subject for his surviving in both systems; not everyone has achieved that. A few years back when five students did a similar interview, 3 of the 5 people interviewed felt abandoned by the state, by the nation of Latvia.
I was intrigued by this person’s considered views on leadership:
“True leadership is a consensus, not compromise, but total agreement and satisfaction. Leadership doesn’t automatically happen when you reach a certain pay grade. You can be a leader …, all without having a title. Leadership should be built on trust, respect and responsibility for each other. …. An employer should understand, that employees are helping him/her to achieve goals, to earn capital. All together they are a team. They should be equal.”

Ms Lodza’s conclusions? “We live in democratic society where employees, workers are not protected - that’s the main problem. There is one main positive thing - we have realistic opinion and view. We recognize the problem and that’s the first step of solution.”
At the same time, she cautions, quoting Voltaire: “ the best is the enemy of the good.” Perhaps we need to accept progress made, and keep pushing for more. The ideal, the best, may never be realized – how many years have Americans been building democracy, our “shining city on the hill”? - but that’s no reason to eschew the “good” of progress made.

Leading from the Middle Library of the Week: Hebrew University of Jerusalem Library

@Copyright John Lubans 2014
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