Thirty years ago, on 9 November 1989, the Berlin Wall came down. Since then, a lot has changed in the former communist states of Central and Eastern Europe: democratisation, economic liberalisation, EU accession, globalisation and migration have brought opportunities to many. For some, however, these changes are viewed with unease. This has resulted in the phenomenon of nostalgia for the communist past (or “Ostalgie”) where people retrospectively romanticise the pre-1989 years.

Reasons for nostalgia include the relative stability and security of state socialism, paired with disenchantment with the current political system. Many argue that capitalism has failed to deliver a broad-based rise in living standards, to tackle corruption, or to guarantee rule of law across the former Eastern Bloc.

Yet the communist days were also marked by systematic human rights abuses, economic stagnation, and the suppression of political opposition. There are also many who benefit from the increased openness that has come since the fall of the wall; taking advantage of opportunities to work and live abroad that would not have been possible pre-1989.

What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in by Nate arguing that, in some parts of Europe, people still have nostalgia (or “Ostalgie”) for the “good old days” under communism. Why is that?

To get a reaction, we spoke to German-Hungarian journalist and author Boris Kálnoky, who works as a foreign correspondent for various media (including Die Welt and Deutsche Welle). What would he say to Nate’s comment?

Image of a citizenJust today I spoke with the former Hungarian Foreign Minister, Géza Jeszenszky, about this, and he quite succinctly summed up what was the problem. In Hungary, specifically, communism was not as hard on people, as it was in, for instance, Eastern Germany, or Poland, or Czechoslovakia. Therefore, many people in the 1970s and ’80s did not feel they were suffering so much from oppression, were not afraid of going to jail, being tortured or locked up. There was a certain amount of free enterprise on a very small scale. You could travel to foreign countries – not necessarily to Western countries, but to places like Egypt. Schooling was free, university was free, healthcare was free, everyone got to go on summer vacation for very little money, jobs were secure.

So, when the system changed, everyone wanted it, of course, but the expectation was not so much that there would be more freedom – of course, that was very welcome – but the expectation was greater well-being, greater prosperity, more money, better jobs. And, to this day, that hasn’t really happened. Instead, what they got was greater insecurity; nobody is really sure where they will work next year, if they will work; it’s impossible for them to go on a summer vacation; their standard of living is still way behind that of Western Europe.

So, that sense of insecurity, together with a relative failure to obtain prosperity in relation to the West, leads many people, especially of the older generation, to compare their lives back then with how they are right now, and it is only partially favourable.

You ask anyone in their 60s or 70s, and almost all of them need to work to make ends meet. Many people lived in the countryside in small towns, and all these factories shut down, so people had to move to Budapest, where it is very expensive to rent a flat. So, many feel they had a better life – more secure, not very rich, but more comfortable – than they have now.

Next up, we had a comment from Marek, who thinks there is still a divide in many people’s mind in Europe between “East” and “West”. Is there still a Berlin Wall of the mind?

To get a response, we put Marek’s comment to Maria Lewicka, Professor of Psychology at Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń, Poland. How would she respond?

Are people too nostalgic about Europe’s communist past? Are people rose tinting and forgetting the communist past? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: (c) BigStock – Tupungato


91 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    Chris

    In Bulgaria, they certainly are.

  2. avatar
    Diaconu

    YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES and YES! <=correct answer! not evething in the past is/was bad , be we can definetly be better!nostalgia partly a trick of the brain to protect you from the trauma in the past!

    • avatar
      Władysław

      There was literally nothing good about the USSR and it’s occupation of Warsaw Pact countries

  3. avatar
    Alexander

    EU must be a Socialdemocracy.
    Not 100% capitalist
    Not 100% socialist
    The perfect balance or compromise was in large found in western European countries after the end of world war 2 where we needed to rebuild the middle class and economy.
    Looking at eastern Europe today – they are largely suffering from inequality, political corruption and a small middle class with oligarchs and big money driving profits out of the pockets of hard working working class Europeans.
    The Nordic countries has found good solutions to the problems currently faced in eastern Europe but also in Germany and France who has a growing number of working poor.
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_democracy

    • avatar
      Leopold

      It’s slippery slope. Social democracy is socialism with just few more steps in between.

    • avatar
      Любомир

      It’s impossible to have a working social democracy with a large social state if you don’t have a strong market-driven capitalist economy to fund it. It’s exactly the Nordic countries that have gotten this balance right.

  4. avatar
    Alexander

    Its worked for 80 years now in Nordic countries. No slipper slope – since the political debate is always about finding the right balance between the free market and the interest of the people. And the Nordic models has effective ways of ensuring that this process works.
    Denmark (a socialdemocracy) is, right now, as an example the best place in Europe to conduct business.
    https://investindk.com/…/denmark-continues-to-be-the…

  5. avatar
    Anatilde

    I lived in a few European countries, and they don’t miss Communism they miss their coins, coz everyone says the same thing, our European coin failed them. Translation of our coin was not properly regulated, businesses translation of the prices to euro was a disaster, and most people that lived well off, strated to struggle.

  6. avatar
    Παυλος

    It’s natural human behaviour when people are having hard times are remembering the ” good old days ”
    The same thing happens in my country that was never a communist one
    Old people becoming nostalgic about the 1967-74 junda because most people will remember the good stuff and forget the shitty ones

  7. avatar
    Adrian

    Boomers are way too nostalgic about Reagenomics!

  8. avatar
    Catherine Benning

    Are people too nostalgic about Europe’s communist past?

    What communist past are you suggesting? The EEC and the EU have no ‘Communist” past. Only Russia and their Eastern block have this political heritage.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastern_Bloc

    So the nostalgia can only be in Russian satellite states.

    Of course there is an element of social welfare should people fall on hard times, but, this in no way mimics Communism of the real world. Even the USA has some social benefits for their tax payers, I doubt you would describe them as Communists.

    • avatar
      Maia Alexandrova

      Obviously, this is not a question for you or anyone else who has not lived in a communist country. That does not change the fact that Europe HAS had a communist past as all those countries (which you refer to as “Russian satellite states”) are on the European continent, therefore part of Europe and its past, present and future, regardless of membership in EU or EEA.

      However, you and many other British people do have nostalgia for Communism because you liked the Iron Curtain that used to separate the two blocks. So much so that you are now trying to bring that fake division back through Brexit. However, times have moved on, the past cannot be brought back and the desperate endeavour to build a new wall separating Europeans from Europeans will fail.

  9. avatar
    Maria

    Not me. I had 50 years of fascism and 49 of Socialism. Enough of dictatorship. Freedom is needed.

    • avatar
      Octavian

      so, you are 100 years old?

  10. avatar
    Любомир

    It’s not the old people who are nostalgic about Europe’s communist past that we need to worry about. It’s the young people who are hopeful for Europe’s communist future that we need to worry about.

    • avatar
      Władysław

      Certainly not even most millennial central/eastern europeans since we know from our parents and grandparents of what a shit show it was

    • avatar
      Любомир

      Sadly there are some young people even in our countries who are marxist and communist. But the bigger problem are the young people in the West – they have no idea what marxism and communism really lead to. It is a huge mistake of the Western Europeans that they do not teach enough to their kids about the evils of totalitarian marxism and communism.

  11. avatar
    Władysław

    Certainly not even most millennial central/eastern europeans since we know from our parents and grandparents of what a shit show it was

  12. avatar
    Mariusz

    What is most surprising to me is the fact that despite huge and growing inequality; markets being ruled by ruthless corporations thinking only about profits, growth, cost cutting, dividends and tax avoidance; rife and widespread corruption; lack of real pay rises and cuts to public spending… someone could still think that we live in great and prosperous times and that change is not needed.
    Of course young people want a piece of a pie and a comfortable life that they can see actually improving instead of constantly getting worse and harder.

    • avatar
      Amphib

      very well said

    • avatar
      Mariusz

      Amphib, thanks.

    • avatar
      Catherine Benning

      Mariusz

      And Communism gives us that? Without corruption or huge growing inequality?

      I wish.

  13. avatar
    Tom

    Oh dear, Mr/mrs question person

  14. avatar
    Andrea

    The only people who crave socialism and communism are those who never had to survive a day under neither.
    “Is this the line for starvation, poverty and dictatorship? Awesome”
    if you soo much crave dictatorship you are better off with fascism, at least there is way less of a chance for you to starve.

  15. avatar
    Bódis

    They were murderers and the destroyers of cultures and peoples.

  16. avatar
    Constantinescu

    Only the stupid ones are nostalgic.

  17. avatar
    Manuel

    Was fun the two years of communist revolution in Portugal. If you were not afraid to talk like a revolutionary in a work’s meeting then you were elected president of the factory :). Months latter the factory will have no money to pay the salaries, then you complained about the American capitalism that was destroying your sales, or you will complain that the clients do not understate the values of the revolution.

  18. avatar
    Vassiliki

    ? Europe had no communist past. Some of its countries did. I have read the communist manifesto. To be honest I have absolutely no idea how a modern person would like a country to follow its rules.

  19. avatar
    Marius

    Every single regime, no matter how bad, had their winners. So was the communist case. The party members had a good life compared with the others. Now they are frustrated.

  20. avatar
    Dionis

    No. Eastern Europeans tha tried it have a mature enough opinion, which is no! Nostalgy is the world you use for something already experienced, and North America + western Euroeonhavent really tried it, and the rising Marxism (actually neomarcism) there does therefore not count as nostalgia.

    • avatar
      Παυλος

      Dionìs frankly I don’t see any rise of Marxism in Europe, ( don’t confuse marxists and social Democrats) on the contrary there is a rice of far right or ” alternative right ” as they called this days

    • avatar
      Παυλος

      frankly I don’t see any rise of Marxism in Europe, ( don’t confuse marxists and social Democrats) on the contrary there is a rice of far right or ” alternative right ” as they called this days

    • avatar
      Dionis

      Sure the far right is rising too

  21. avatar
    Lyuba

    At least once a month you have a question like this about communism. Just curious- why don’t you ask same thing about Hitler. It was pretty much the same, only lasted decades. So aren’t you… maybe .. ashamed

  22. avatar
    Alex

    After we here understood well what the greedy, bloody, mendacious and stupid “democracy” is in the practical reality, we started to appreciate the old good total free healthcare, education and governmental planning of economy.

    Yes, of course, “communism” was a dangerous (practically as “national socialism” in Hitler’s time and “democracy” now.) thing in time of Stalin and Trotsky – because served an enough excuse to any crime commitment, but what was wrong in so called “developed socialism”?

  23. avatar
    Maia Alexandrova

    The nostalgia is about the stable hand of the state, giving and providing for people. This does not happen any more. In Bulgaria after the communism ended, that stable social support from the government ended, too and people were left to struggle completely on their own, be sick and die without any help from the state whatsoever. It is simply nostalgia for security, stability and social care, not for the corruption, persecution and dictatorship. Anyone from a Western European country which has a good welfare and social system for helping its people in need, where everyone is equal before the law, where education and healthcare are free – you are experiencing the main objectives of communism realised, although not through totalitarianism and oppression, but through democracy. Your country has successfully built socialism, but with the means of capitalism. China is the only remaining communist country trying to do something similar, but without democracy. It has been quite successful, especially in reducing poverty. I think soon a communist country may become the strongest economy in the world. When China decides to become a democracy and allows its people to choose the government, their transformation to social capitalism will be complete.

  24. avatar
    Христо

    Communism – no. Social Democracy – Yes

  25. avatar
    Chris

    No thanks, why do citizens always try to escape communism. You don’t see many people trying to leave democracies for communist dictatorships do you

  26. avatar
    Stefanos

    With all these uprising fascistic minorities, growing here and there, even communism starts to seem attractive to send everyone back to their Siberian homes….

  27. avatar
    Maria

    Against of course. Any Dictatorship is good for the Elites, not for the people.

  28. avatar
    Franck

    Communism is people’s dictatorship on people, democracy is the exact opposite.

    • avatar
      Dobromir

      By “people” they usually mean one person.

    • avatar
      Alfredo

      As if capitalism was working out perfectly…

  29. avatar
    Bernard

    I think it’s killed and starved enough people already.

  30. avatar
    Ovidijus

    I think the world learned its lesson over and over again. Communism and socialism failed in almost 30 countries. I hope the world learned its lesson?But seems not.

  31. avatar
    Pedro

    Against all totalitarians, bottom unity

  32. avatar
    Jakub

    It ended up in dictatorship not only in Europe. We can see it also all over Asia and we don’t even have to travel to the past.

  33. avatar
    Paul

    Show me an example in the last 100 years where it has worked & perhaps I’ll be persuaded

  34. avatar
    George

    Communist is a dictatorial system and will never work. It is a utopian system.

    • avatar
      Alfredo

      As if capitalism was working out perfectly…

    • avatar
      Oliver

      nobody says its working perfect, but its better than communism

  35. avatar
    Любомир

    In 2020 you could accept these “arguments” FOR communism only if you are historically, economically and generally ignorant. The experiment has been run in tens of countries accross the globe for the past 100 years and it ended miserably everywhere, leading to oppression, suffering and poverty in every single state where it was implemented.

    • avatar
      Alfredo

      As if capitalism was working out perfectly…

    • avatar
      Tomas

      Capitalism killed millions of people? Capitalism has done mass deportations, gulags, genocide? You must be joking. Communism is evil just like nazism.

    • avatar
      Alfredo

      The problem with you eastern Europeans is your past with the Stalinist brand and your total lack of knowledge of colonialism, which is something totally capitalist. That is not the rest of the world’s problem…. and hey, let me post here some interesting facts….

    • avatar
      Alfredo

      Look up “Atrocities in the Congo Free state” on Wikipedia

    • avatar
      Alfredo

      Look up “Genocide of indigenous peoples” on Wikipedia

    • avatar
      Alfredo

      this is why I do not feel concerned by your lack of knowledge and your bias… I could keep on talking and signalling the atrocities of capitalism for hours and hours.

    • avatar
      Tomas

      And you don’t understand our pain of communism atrocities in East Europe. What horrible crimes they done. And not only stalin, all of them was sick twisted people, all soviet, china communist dictators. So don’t lecture history to me. We know what communism is, my grandparents and parents saw what they did.

    • avatar
      Alfredo

      And BTW, don’t confuse capitalism and democracy, for God’s sake. There were many, really many stock capital owners that were part of the Nazi party in Germany. What is more capitalist than a stock capital owner??? Huh???

    • avatar
      Oliver

      we live in a capitalist world, where are the genotsides right now?

    • avatar
      Oliver

      dont get me wrong, communism is perfect system, only that it would need perfect people to run it. People are not perfect, not everyone wants to work. Sitting on a sofa and watching TV is what most people would do. So in a communist system, everyone must work, thous that refuse need to be punished, how do you punish them? You lock them up, but they are still not working, so you make work camps, force work needs to be applied, phisicle punishment rolls in, death. When there is no incentive to work people dont want to work. Who wanyäts to clean toilets in an hotel for scraps?

    • avatar
      Любомир

      As I said, historically and economically ignorant…

    • avatar
      Alfredo

      that’s a very poor argument, improve it

    • avatar
      Alfredo

      that is called “argumentum ad hominen”. Try harder.

    • avatar
      Alfredo

      I do not lecture you. I personally don’t care about your ignorance. But I do care about being honest.

    • avatar
      Любомир

      It’s not argumentum ad hominem if it’s true mate. You are clearly talking about things you have no idea about.

  36. avatar
    Vivian

    Communist ideals are the ones that have shaped pure, ruthless capitalism into the social democracies we know and love. I don’t think capitalism in its original form was any better than communism.

    • avatar
      Alfredo

      The only comment here that shows some balance. The rest is just “uuuh, nazis were nazionalsozialisten so socialism is just like nazism”, which is a thought that is barely above the critical thinking capacities of a little child. But isn’t this society all about being like children again, forever??? Well done, Vivian.

    • avatar
      Любомир

      Communist ideals directly oppose social democracy. In the communist ideal society democracy can’t exist, because democracy allows for other ideas to co-exist with communist ideology. Communist ideology doesn’t allow other ideas to coexist with it. This has been proven in literally any country where communists took the power in the past 100 years. Also, capitalism didn’t need to be destroyed to achieve the goals of social democracy, it only needed to be reformed, as it was done by hard and gradual work from workers unions and other such organizations. Communism aims for capitalism’s complete elimination, which is something completely different.

  37. avatar
    Julia

    It is 2020. We do not need labels. Just take the best of all ideals and remove the worst aspects of the current system. Guarantee a minimum good standard of living for all, fund infrastructure, innovation and all research. Then add convenience, luxury and desirable goods businesses and trade on top. Old failed ways need to be left in the past.

  38. avatar
    Yvonne

    Jezz what a question….surely you should be asking questions like …what can we do about the homeless people in all our communities? or…how can we adequetly take care of the migrants ? or what can we do to help the syrian people who are countryless…or how can we better look after the old people in our communities..please..talking about the past is not realy helpfull to the future…please go forward and solve todays big questions…thank you

    • avatar
      Boris

      Why can’t they ask both questions? Why is this question not important?

  39. avatar
    Julia

    Interesting document. I only read the conclusions but i can see that the EU is having trouble with trying to boss CEE countries into globalisation. Bossing and controlling countries makes them enemies and obstinate. You have to give them something they want for their benefit and they will take more than they deserve and give little in exchange for that. It is unlikely any country will give up their autonomy. As for people, inequality is easily remedied by a GMI. That could be achieved with a global digital bank for all countries that creates money out of thin air like all banks do, but instead of renting it out for interest and shareholder profits it can be given direct to all people to raise the standard of living for all humanity. The old systems and current system all suck. Take the best points from all of them, delete the worst points from all of them, come up with some out-of-the-box kind and clever ideas and create a brand new system.

  40. avatar
    Vivian

    Or people are just waking up to the reality that life under capitalism can be just as bad and that freedom isn’t a cure when you are faced with exploitation and deprivation. Social democracy as employed in the EU’s North is the answer, but that is a distant dream for many of us in the former East and also in certain parts of the South (Cyprus, ditto).

  41. avatar
    Michał

    Probably not a question that can be answered in a Facebook post, but I will try. First of all, one of the big problems with communism was that, even more than capitalism, it taught people to worship money.
    “So, when the system changed, everyone wanted it, of course, but the expectation was not so much that there would be more freedom – of course, that was very welcome – but the expectation was greater well-being, greater prosperity, more money, better jobs.”
    Beyond that, it would be more useful not to talk about” communism” or “democracy” but values of the antinomian enlightenment.

  42. avatar
    Filipe

    I’m more concerned with far right and populist moviments than with communism.

  43. avatar
    Michael

    It’s a bit overblown. People romanticise life in the middle ages too, with mediaeval festivals all over Europe, it doesn’t mean we want to… Oh wait. Maybe people are a bit too nostalgic, yeah…

  44. avatar
    Yannick

    Insecurity is built in capitalist systems. I think nostalgy is part of the questioning that is going on from the visible excesses of the current system – particularly growing gaps between rich and poor. Technology, e-government, low corruption, progressive taxes, citizen assemblies.. there are many ways to deliver better well-being in a fair and non-autocratic way. Communist ideals were not bad, but their implementation failed in most cases.

  45. avatar
    Παυλος

    Old people are in general nostalgic about the time they was young, filing That things was better in general because they was happier..
    Young people hearing those stories get their grandparents words as axioms, I mean it’s difficult to question the word of people you love..
    In my country a similar phenomenon exists with the 1967-74 junta also known as the ” colonels regime” people are talking as facts the nostalgia of older people for the time they were young and bold

  46. avatar
    Николай

    ein geist geht um in europa … The more we get in to capitalism the more the people need to get informed about the past

  47. avatar
    Maria

    Yes it is possible. The globalists are defending these in education, culture and more. In a globalized world the individual doesnt count. We will be a herd. Capitalism will not exist, only the great corporations. They will be the Oligarcs. We will travel with digital gadgets( virtual reallity) , the same with big events. We wont go out in the street, and the Oligarcs will have the new green deal. This is a form communism of the XXI

  48. avatar
    Ludwig

    We have a red mafia fanatic here in France whom you could invite for an interview to explain to you where the progress of terrorist communism is leading. His name is Mélenchon.

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