“What do you know of Polish poetry?”

12-11-2009

A big screen shows citizens of the DDR passing the German border, delirious with joy. The next shot captures a crowd in Czechoslovakia during the peaceful Velvet Revolution in 1989. Then there’s the riot in Romania which put an end to Ceauceşcu’s regime. “So many walls came down in the eighties”, a voiceover says. “It was a magnificent decade for democracy.”

In general, Eastern Europe is doing better after the fall of the Berlin Wall than before, but it is taking time to catch up with the West. This was the implicit conclusion of the debate as held in the Science Café, organised by Studium Generale and student association Concordantia, on Tuesday evening in the Selexyz Dominicanen bookshop.

The standard of living in the Eastern Europe is higher than twenty years ago, says György Schöpflin. He is one of the invited experts, a member of the European Parliament. “Now you see renovated buildings, something which communists always neglected. You see Western cars, an increase in salaries, and much more food in supermarkets. Can you imagine life without bananas? Once I met a Russian who ate her first banana when she was 19. So, there has been improvement in these countries. On the other hand, they will not catch up with the West in my lifetime.”

The leading question of the discussion is: Has the Wall really come down? Not in the heads of people, says Giselle Bosse, assistant professor at the Department of Political Sciences. “There are still prejudices between the East and the West of Germany – and not only among the elderly, but also among young people. It’s important to get rid of those.”

In some respects, the Wall is indeed still there, agrees Schöpflin. “We look down on the East, partly out of enormous ignorance.” He directs his last question to the public: “What do you know of Polish poetry, of Hungarian literature?”

 

Maurice Timmermans

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