The New Freedom: Living with Hope, Skepticism and Irony
Yes, in many ways, the foundation was laid during these early years of freedom for a nation-wide base of trust in both Estonia and Hungary. In part, it should be noted, this trust has been sustained because of the renewed threats of Russian leaders to reclaim both Hungary and Estonia (especially Estonia). The recent actions taken by Russian leaders against other Eastern European countries (such as the Ukraine) have reinforced the fears of invasion and loss of national autonomy. This threat of an enemy may be a key ingredient of national unity and shared trust in many parts of the world—ranging from South America to the Korean peninsula and from Israel to Taiwan.
Even if dependent on the menacing external enemy, the discovery or creation of a sense of national autonomy has allowed men and women in many countries to dream collectively and to recall their own distinctive history. It reinvokes memories and stories from the past that can once again be told about national heroes, aspirations, and achievements. During the early 1990s, it allowed the men and women of both Hungary and Estonia to mourn and celebrate collectively as well as individually. Over many centuries, most of the countries in Eastern Europe, including Hungary and Estonia, have experienced only brief, intermittent periods of freedom from totalitarianism. These brief historical “dreams” are embedded in a past that includes centuries of invasion and conquest and the more recent public (Soviet) history, in which reality was shaped to ideology.
The hope that Berne Weiss and I expressed during the 1990s might not have been fully justified; however, there is the lingering impact of temporary autonomy that might never be tapped down again. The genie might be out of the box and not easily shoved back in. The memories and historical accounts remain vivid and compelling—passed down from generation to generation—to be renewed again and again during the countries long search for autonomy and freedom.
Clearly, history and the past are very important in both countries. Men and women whom we interviewed showed us their family genealogies; they spoke of triumphs, defeats, and humiliations of several hundred years ago as if they had occurred only yesterday. They indicated in every way possible that they will not and cannot forget their past lest they lose their vigilance and become too complacent or idealistic. A similar observation might be made about the new sense of identity and autonomy to be found in many other countries over the past thirty years. Even though the “springs” in many countries were short-lived, they often produced a sense of history and pride that lingers even after the loss of freedom and national autonomy.
It is remarkable that personal histories are so very long. Invasions that happened four hundred years ago are experienced by Hungarians and Estonians as personal humiliations. Public histories, on the other hand, have in recent years been remarkably short. Soviet books on Estonian history, for instance, only briefly addressed the life of this country prior to 1942 (the year of Soviet occupation), focusing instead on the introduction of communism into the Estonian society. Both the personal and public histories create and sustain unrealistic expectations (hopes) and skepticism—often, ironically, in the same person.