It is commonplace, 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, to hear the events of that time described as miraculous, a dream come true, something one couldn’t have imagined even a couple of months beforehand. Free elections in Poland with Lech Walesa as president: who would have thought it possible? But an even greater miracle took place only a couple of years later: free democratic elections returned the ex-Communists to power, Walesa was marginalised and much less popular than General Jaruzelski himself
This reversal is usually explained in terms of the ‘immature’ expectations of the people, who simply didn’t have a realistic image of capitalism: they wanted to have their cake and eat it, they wanted capitalist-democratic freedom and material abundance without having to adapt to life in a ‘risk society’ – i.e. without losing the security and stability (more or less) guaranteed by the Communist regimes. When the sublime mist of the ‘velvet revolution’ had been dispelled by the new democratic-capitalist reality, people reacted in one of three ways: with nostalgia for the ‘good old days’ of Communism; by embracing right-wing nationalist populism; with belated anti-Communist paranoia. The first two reactions are easy to understand, and they often overlap (as in today’s Russia). The same rightists who, decades ago, were shouting ‘Better dead than red!’ are now often heard mumbling ‘Better red than eating hamburgers.’ The nostalgia for Communism shouldn’t be taken too seriously: far from expressing an actual wish to return to a grey Socialist reality, it is a form of mourning, of gently getting rid of the past. And nationalist populism, far from being peculiar to Eastern Europe, is a common feature of all countries caught in the vortex of globalisation.