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

41 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar

    In Bulgaria, they certainly are.

  2. avatar

    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

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

  3. avatar

    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.

    • avatar

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

    • avatar

      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

    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.…/denmark-continues-to-be-the…

  5. avatar

    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

    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

    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.

    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

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

    • avatar

      so, you are 100 years old?

  10. avatar

    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

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

    • avatar

      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

    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

    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

      very well said

    • avatar

      Amphib, thanks.

    • avatar
      Catherine Benning


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

      I wish.

  13. avatar

    Oh dear, Mr/mrs question person

  14. avatar

    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

    They were murderers and the destroyers of cultures and peoples.

  16. avatar

    Only the stupid ones are nostalgic.

  17. avatar

    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

    ? 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

    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

    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

      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

      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

      Sure the far right is rising too

  21. avatar

    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

    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.

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