The New Freedom: Living with Hope, Skepticism and Irony

The New Freedom: Living with Hope, Skepticism and Irony

Skepticism About Freedom

As is the case with hope, skepticism about freedom comes from both personal and collective experiences for Estonians and Hungarians. There was very good reason during the early 1990s for skepticism and pessimism—given not only the failure of many expectations regarding the positive impact of freedom but also the deterioration of many domains of society beyond even the low levels left by the crumbling Soviet empire.

Economic Hardships

The liberation of both Estonia and Hungary brought about major economic hardship, which fed the skepticism and pessimism in both countries. While the citizens of Estonia and Hungary were much better off economically than those living in most of the other Eastern European countries during the last two decades of the 20th Century, economic hardship was everywhere. While there were more choices in the supermarket, there was less money to purchase the new goods. As one of our interviewees noted: “We used to have the money but no choices; now we have the choices but no money.” Men and women who had lost their government-guaranteed jobs were now unable to find new jobs because of the collapse of their economic systems. Older citizens were particularly hard hit because they were either on pensions that couldn’t keep up with rampant inflation or had lost their pensions altogether. Frequently, their children were unable to support them—nor could these older citizens readily move in with their children.

The citizens of Hungary and Estonia had expected major changes that would lead at least to short-term prosperity. They hoped for a longer-term transition into the prosperous status of their neighbors in Western Europe. They found instead eco nomic decline and stagnation. Estonians and Hungarians became weary during the early years of the 1990s and questioned whether real economic change had occurred in their countries, if it will ever occur, or if it has already occurred and left them in worse shape. Many of those we interviewed spoke of their daily struggles to survive in their communities; they want ready to feel their Estonian and Hungarian identity—an identity that had been denied them for the last forty to fifty years. Yet just at the point when the potential for a renewed identity was at hand, they had to scramble to secure an economic base. As Abraham Maslow (1998) noted many years ago, the motive to survive will predominate over higher order aspirations (such as finding one’s personal or collective identity) every time. Today, we find greater economic prosperity in both countries (and in most of Eastern Europe); however, as I have already noted, another existential threat has damped the economic optimism: this is the threat of Russian invasion. Once again, security reigns supreme.

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About the Author

William BergquistWilliam Bergquist, Ph.D. An international coach and consultant in the fields of psychology, management and public administration, author of more than 50 books, and president of a psychology institute. Dr. Bergquist consults on and writes about personal, group, organizational and societal transitions and transformations. His published work ranges from the personal transitions of men and women in their 50s and the struggles of men and women in recovering from strokes to the experiences of freedom among the men and women of Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In recent years, Bergquist has focused on the processes of organizational coaching. He is coauthor with Agnes Mura of coachbook, co-founder of the International Journal of Coaching in Organizations and co-founder of the International Consortium for Coaching in Organizations.

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