The New Freedom: Living with Hope, Skepticism and Irony

The New Freedom: Living with Hope, Skepticism and Irony

Did liberation bring about changes in such living conditions? Or did those living in these “stone cities” simply learn to adjust to life in a large, impersonal complex. Sadly, it seems that adjustment was often the outcome. As a result, the alienation that one experienced in the housing centers that were built during the Soviet era in Estonia as well as that found in many other areas of Soviet life, seems to have led to a widespread, low-level depression, which in turn seems to be linked to passivity. The Soviet system was apparently saturated with alienation. What is the relationship between depression, authoritarianism, and the experience of freedom? I would suggest that this is a fundamental question of our time.

The social collapse during the early 1990s was also manifest in a significant increase in the occurrence of begging and theft in the major cities of Hungary and Estonia. It was evident, as well, in the much more serious increase in hate crimes and even potential outbreaks of civil war between rival factions or ethnic groups. Similar manifestations of social collapse were soon unwinding in Bosnia and Georgia, among many other former Communist countries and Soviet republics, and is widely found today in countries throughout the world. During our early years in both Estonian and Hungary (while the Soviet Union still existed), Berne and I experienced the remarkable peace and security that comes with knowing that one can walk freely on city streets or parks at night. We realized at the time that this probably would not last for long in either Hungary or Estonia. Our predictions proved to be accurate. Law and order declined significantly in both countries during the early 1990s. Is crime often (or even always) freedom’s fellow traveler?

Governmental Uncertainty

Another problem is the turbulence of governmental processes. Neither Hungarians nor Estonians were used to the public airing of dirty linen on the part of their political leaders. They were not accustomed to abrupt transitions in government, infighting among various political parties, or disruption in governmental services that often accompany a change in political control. In other words, they had not encountered the messiness of democracy! Bureaucracies in the old Soviet Union may not have worked very effectively; however, there was at least continuity and clarity of roles and responsibilities. Now (in the early 1990s) there was confusion and frustration. Long lines may no longer have been as common at public agencies, but simple, clear answers were now uncommon.

Unlike the Hungarians and Estonians, who instinctively refused to believe everything their government told them, we Americans tend to accept what our government tells us. We therefore had a difficult time understanding the resurgent popularity of the Communist party or various socialist parties in Eastern Europe during the last decade of the 20th Century. During the nineteen eighties, Solidarity in Poland was at the vanguard of what would become a domino effect, toppling Soviet-influenced or Soviet-controlled regimes in the Warsaw Pact nations. In feeling their way to a new system, the Poles set an example for how a shifting economy could pinch people. Remarkably, things changed during the 1990s. The Polish citizens gave a surprising measure of support to the Communist party during this decade. Not only Poles, but many Hungarians and Estonians came to appreciate the accomplishments and values of the previous system. A memorial service for Janos Kadar in Budapest in the spring of 1993 drew twenty thousand people. Today, during the second decade of the 21st Century, we find the pull back to the old regime (or at least the return to higher international status) in the strong leadership and widespread support for strong leadership in the figure of Russia’s Vladimir Putin. One step forward and one (or two) steps backwards. Is this the nature of profound social change pitted against social and institutional stability?

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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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