10 years in the red

stalin lenin 001April 1996, after 2 days of driving on European motorways I reached Komarom in Hungary where my (now long lost of sight) Hungarian girlfriend was waiting for me. This was the second time I entered the (ex-)communist world after Prague in 1993, but this time was for good. Since 10 years I have lived in countries where the dominant but dying ideology of government had been Marxism-Leninism and all it’s regional versions. Central Europe in the late 90’s, China and Vietnam in the 00’s, 10 years living where the planned economy gives way to full speed capitalism, creating this social and economical tsunami that the Chinese authorities call “The transition from planned economy to market economy”. Ten years in worlds where the future has nothing to do with the past and people have to fully re-invent themselves to survive. Ten years of living in the world of “la demerde”, i.e. having to cut corners and constantly find ad-hoc solutions to make ends meet at the end of the month. Ten years of looking at young people suddenly swallowed in the wave of new consumerism, mesmerized by new shopping centers full of brand names propelled by millions spent in the new science of marketing and video clips on the local version of MTV. It was also ten years of exploring the nights of these big cities, transformed by the new freedom and struggling to keep something of their past. Ten years of parents raising their children in a world where all is available but everything cost so much, when they grew up having so little available. Ten years of rigid Kafkaian administrators and civil servants making every move in daily life a nightmare of pleads and intrigues, suddenly shaken from their throne by these unwelcome foreigners that dared to oppose and criticize their rulings… to sometimes win. Ten years of hearing that “Here it’s different”, but finally proving that a lot is just the same as anywhere else.
Stalin and his friends expanding communism created a world parallel to the western one. Despite the enormous cultural differences, I still could recognize a foreigner’s residence permit or a local person identity booklet anywhere in the red world, from East Berlin til Shanghai. Brown or Bordeaux color booklet, with the holder’s picture in the center of the first page, sticked by bad quality transparent plastic film and no other text on this page. This design of Soviet invention was certainly one of the most popular, as the exact same was used from East Berlin, to Jerevan, Shanghai, Hanoi and Vladivostok. Along with AK47s, Ladas cars, Kamaz trucks and social-realistic buildings, they are the design legacy of the Marxist/Leninist/Maoism era to the world.