Tjebbe van Tijen via Chello on Tue, 10 Nov 2009 15:57:53 +0100 (CET)

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[Nettime-nl] Songs and samizdat made the Wall fall: Europe Against the Current September 1989 revisited

Een 'tegen de stroom in' terugblik op het uiteenvallen van het Oostblok in het najaar van 1989

Gepubliceerd in De Hinkende Bode / The Limping Messenger

De volledige, geillustreerde en van aantekningen en externe links voorzien versie staat op het volgende adres: made-the-wall-fall-europe-against-the-current-september-1989-revisited/

Songs and samizdat made the Wall fall: Europe Against the Current September 1989 revisited

November 9, 2009 by Tjebbe van Tijen
In mainstream news papers and television the decade-commemoration- machinery for The Fall Of The Berlin Wall in November 1989 is running at full speed now. So this is the right moment to recall the ‘against the current’ history of those days – just before from 1985 till summer 1989 – when mainstream media and commentators had no clue yet, of the sudden change in the political configuration of Europe, that would have its now official apotheose at last in November 1989. It was citizen dissidence that made not only the Berlin Wall fall, but also leveled the walls of nine state communist buildings (though, failing to dig out the deeper authoritarian fundaments). Thirty years of heavy Cold War propaganda bombardment of party-regime edifices in the eastern parts of Europe did not accomplish, what in the end could only be done by the inhabitants, the citizens, themselves. Some did it by writing and self publishing, others by distributing and reading, playing, dancing and singing, thus exposing the internal contradictions of systems reigning in the name and interest of all people, while excluding most of them from participation. The counter- culture movements in Eastern Europe have been instrumental in hastening the erosion process of state-socialism, this to such an extent that the walls of these bureaucratic paradises crumbled at the sound of these ‘horns of Jericho’. It was in Hungary and Czechoslovakia that the first fissures appeared, and soon it were the East Germans, hopping trains, buses and their Trabants to hurriedly climb the fences of embassies in Prague, or to simply do a country hike and walk out across the Hungarian Austrian border where – for a short while – barbed wire was cut and watch towers were unmanned. DDR citizens not tearing down walls but “voting with their feet.”


Earlier in 1989 the iron curtain – however rusty – was still in place, the great divide between Western and Eastern Europe. Block- thinking was predominant: First World (capitalist), Second World (socialist) and Third World (poor and revolting). A long curving line from the Baltic Sea to the Mediterranean split Europe, separated it physical in two opposing political systems. Europe was a plural word at that time. The geographical Europe as could be found in atlases and maps reaching till the Urals, and two socio-political Europes: Western Europe and Eastern Europe. Culturally speaking, that what was East of that fenced line was considered by the Westsiders NOT even part of their idea of Europe (something like the actual perception of Turkey as something that should not be part of the EEC). It is hard to imagine now, but it needs to be recalled how deeply entrenched the divide was then, on all levels. There had been popular risings in Eastern Europe, starting in East-Berlin in 1953 and ending in Gdansk in 1980, with the Hungarian Revolt in 1956 and Czech Spring of 1968 as moments where the iron curtain was torn aside a bit, but soon after repaired by Soviet and Warsaw Pact occupying forces with their tanks. There was no end in view of the ‘entente’ between the power blocks that kept each other in a forced embrace of mutual deterrence, based on their nuclear weapon arsenals. This military vision also translated into the cultural realm with the monolithic view of the Eastern European block as one total oppressive political unit with a only a few courageous dissidents, martyrs for the cause of a Western type of ”freedom”, for the rest just masses of indoctrinated communist obeyers

Those who looked beyond this Cold War imago knew that the rule and control in each of the countries – messed together in the notion of ‘Eastern Europe’ – had its own particularities, its own time line of periods of openness and repression. Those who were knowledgeable had observed that – in each country in a different way and at different moments - in certain official recognized cultural areas some forms of less restricted activities and expressions were possible, like jazz festivals, cinema and theatre experiments, international scientific meetings, certain publishing activities, and cultural centers managed by youth associations or students. Those from “the West” who went through the curtain and made the effort to go beyond the controlled itineraries could also discover a whole network that could rightly be labeled a ‘cultural underground’, or as it was called in Czech society of that time, not ‘underground’ or ‘counter culture’ like in “the West”, but ‘paralelní kultura’ (parallel culture), also sometimes named ‘zweiten Kultur’ (second culture) like in the DDR.

Tjebbe van Tijen
Imaginary Museum Projects
Dramatizing Historical Information
web-blog: The Limping Messenger

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