The New Freedom: Living with Hope, Skepticism and Irony
We found this multiplicity in both Hungary and Estonia, particularly among many of the former party members who lost their idealistic dreams or never had them but were expedient even in their decision during the Soviet era to join the Communist party. (“In college I had one friend, a girl, who seemed to be political, but when the political changes came, I realized that it was only for interest. . . . [S]he started to do something else, and she became apolitical.”) We were particularly disturbed about and have reflected often on the story told by the famous Estonian scientist we called Endel.
What is the truth about Endel? His narrative of survival and even triumph under the Soviet regime is filled with the use of humor, coded messages, and indirection. He danced carefully and artfully around the political forces operating in Estonia and elsewhere in the Soviet Union. In fact, the politics of the Soviet Union seemed not only to keep him alive, out of prison, and “in a comfortable bed with a beautiful woman”; the political processes also seemed to have given him enormous influence over the scientific endeavors of the Soviet Union. Yet in choreographing and performing this elaborate and artful dance, did Endel sell out his own country and his own scientific integrity? At this point in his life, can he even tell the difference anymore between expedient compliance with authorities and his own personal values and ideals? Endel seems to be either a multiplist, who will say anything to survive and thrive, or an idealist and cosmologist who patiently and successfully kept his dream alive in a strange and very alien world. Perhaps he is both.
Other, more clearly idealistic, or less skillful, men and women who often exemplified a commitment to relativism joined the Communist party because they saw it as the only mechanism through which they could improve their community and society. While they were not particularly enamored of Marxist doctrine, nor (specifically) the Soviet brand of Marxism, they knew that this was the only game in town. Many of these Hungarians and Estonians were among those who (along with Gorbachev) led the reforms within the Communist party that set the stage for the liberation of Eastern Eu rope. These were often the men and women who spent years in prison or risked their lives during the 1970s and 1980s in fighting for a more responsible Soviet regime. By the middle of the 1990s, many of these men and women, who still cared deeply about the welfare of their communities and country, were locked out of community organizations and public service. Other former members of the party who were much more opportunistic and self-serving were successful beneficiaries of the new freedom. Under such circumstances, skepticism and pessimism were certainly justified.