1989 was a critical year in the history of Eastern and Central Europe, and of the world

Twenty-five years ago in the summer of 1989, I travelled to the Baltic countries of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia  – at that time still under occupation by the Soviet Union. I also travelled to Sweden, which had maintained a state of neutrality, or at least the appearance of it, through the First and Second World Wars. The story of IKEA is of interest, with regard to the topic of Swedish neutrality, and the distinction between the brand and the back story that is associated with any country.

1989 was a critical year in the history of Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, and elsewhere.

My parents and several other family members received refugee status in Sweden in 1944 after fleeing across the Baltic Sea during the second Soviet occupation of Estonia. I spent the first five years of my life in Sweden, where I was born, before we immigrated to Canada. I owe thanks to Sweden for many things.


I attended a gathering of Estonians 20 years ago in Toronto, to commemorate the escape 50 years earlier, from Estonia, of many individuals and families who eventually made it to Canada and many other countries in the Western world. Many people told their stories.

One of my friends, who is in her nineties, has remarked that leaving Estonia in 1944 was like jumping out of a burning building.

Back of photo, from my father’s archives, is dated September 8, 1944. My father and other family members crossed the Baltic from Estonia to Sweden on this boat. Other family members crossed on a larger boat. There were many close calls during the events leading up to the arrival, of many members of the extended family, in Sweden during the Second World War.

It’s now 70 years since 1944. Those who made the crossing in their twenties are now in their nineties, if they have not passed away. This coming weekend at least one gathering will be held in Toronto, that I know of, to commemorate the escape from Estonia, before the borders were sealed, and the beginning of new lives in exile, for those who made it safely across the Baltic Sea. Not every person survived the journey. There are likely many such gatherings taking place, around the world.

In the 1980s I regularly travelled from Canada to visit Lidingö, an island in the inner Stockholm archipelago, where I lived until the age of 5. Having lived in Sweden as a young child, many things about Sweden are of interest to me. The fact, by way of example, that Sweden had not experienced much in the way of direct involvement with warfare during the twentieth century has long been a source of fascination for me.

The impact of those years of neutrality, or an approximation of it, in the twentieth century, on the personality of Sweden as a nation-state is a topic that I have often reflected upon.

Europe, Europe: Forays into a Continent (1989)

On a visit to Stockholm in 1989, I learned of changes occurring in that country. In my recent reading, I have noted the changes continue. A Sept. 18, 2014 Foreign Affairs article – see link in previous sentence – positions the story within a broader context.

Europe, Europe: Forays into a Continent, 1st American Ed. (1989) by Hans Magnus Enzensberger, in turn, brings back memories of the late 1980s in a way that is relevant.

Sweden & Hungary

Regarding his visit to Sweden, the author asserts that museums in the country devote themselves to many topics, but not to the country’s early political history.

Regarding his visit to Hungary, Enzensberger remarks (p. 94):

“It has been observed often enough that the Western visitor entering eastern Central Europe experiences a journey in a time machine. Regimes that started out determined to liquidate the old now conserve its broken remains. That holds true not only for roofs and walls but also for people and their behavior.”

[End of excerpt]

Portugal and Italy are among the other countries Enzensberger writes about.

Oct. 9, 2014 New York Review of Books: “Heidegger in Black”

The above-noted passage – about Hungary in the late 1980s – brings to mind a study entitled Evil Men (2013) as well as Soldaten (2011).

The passage about Hungary also brings to mind an Oct. 9, 2014 New York Review of Books article entitled: “Heidegger in Black.” The article notes: “Heidegger was one of the most influential thinkers of the modern era. He was also a convinced Nazi.”

A passage from the review reads:

“Generalizations of this kind efface all differences of morality and history in the name of philosophical insight, as Heidegger conceived it. They suggest the verdict that Heidegger – notwithstanding his reputation as a thinker of ‘concrete’ and ‘this-worldly’ existence – was himself prone to the most lamentable abstraction. Philosophy is supposed to be the beginning of wisdom, but philosophy did not make Heidegger wise. The banal prejudices of a provincial childhood were not dissolved through education but only grew more expansive and assumed the vacuous grandeur of world-historical generalities. There is an intelligent way to develop a critique of technology, and there are rational ways to explore the limits of human reason. But Heidegger’s is not the salutary model for either. In his zeal to prosecute a war on the critical intellect he ignored all of the differences that matter to us as inhabitants of a common world, and he ended in a place of abstraction no less fantastical than the enemy he wished to defeat.”

[End of excerpt]

December: 39 Stories, 39 Pictures (2012)

Also of interest, on related topics, is: December: 39 Stories, 39 Pictures (2012) by Alexander Kluge with contributions by Martin Chalmers and Gerhard Richter. The blurb for the book is of interest; you can access the blurb at the link in the previous sentence.

In particular, I noted the allusion, in the latter collection of stories, of the astronomical collision that gave rise to creation of the moon. This event – leading to the emergence of the moon in orbit around the Earth – in turn gave rise to conditions that were favourable to the emergence, with the passage of geological time, of living organisms upon the planet.

Oct. 1, 2014 CBC article: “Why our brains aren’t built for democracy”

The topic brings to mind, in turn, an Oct. 1, 2014 CBC article entitled: “Why our brains aren’t built for democracy: The role of our ‘lizard brain’ in determining how we vote.”

The article notes:

“The ‘lizard brain’ is a catch-all term for the areas of our brain that developed between 500 million and 150 million years ago and are primarily responsible for instinct, emotion and recording memories, as well as visceral feelings that influence or even direct our decisions.

“The neocortex, on the other hand, is the area of our brain responsible for reason, language, imagination, abstract thought and consciousness. Scientists say the neocortex has only been around for two or three million years.

“When it comes to understanding the workings of the human brain, it’s worth remembering that only a small percentage of our active brain is conscious.

“It is impossible to quantify, but scientists say roughly 95 per cent of our brain activity is subconscious or unconscious.”

[End of excerpt]

HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Communication (2012)

HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Communication (2012) serves as an apt complement to the previously mentioned studies.

In a chapter entitled “The Necessary Art of Persuasion,” in a section of the chapter devoted to the provision of evidence, Jay A. Conger notes:

“With credibility established and a common frame identified, persuasion becomes a matter of presenting evidence. Ordinary evidence, however, won’t do. We have found that the most effective persuaders use language in a particular way. They supplement numerical data with examples, stories, metaphors, and analogies to make their positions come alive. That use of language paints a vivid word picture and, in doing so, lends a compelling and tangible quality to the persuader’s point of view.”

[End of excerpt]


Regarding the topic of evidence, an Oct. 1, 2014 article at the McMaster University website is entitled: “Optimal Aging Portal is the ‘Rotten Tomatoes’ of health advice.”


An Oct. 5, 2014 New York Times article is entitled: “Unearthing a Barbarous Past in Poland.”

“In a little over a year of sporadic digging,” the article notes, “more than 280 bodies have been pulled from burial pits in the sandy, red-streaked earth behind this century-old prison, anonymous victims of the Nazis, the Soviets or the Polish secret police.”

Among other things, the topics addressed in this post concern governance in any country.

With regard to governance, an Oct. 6, 2014 Globe and Mail article by Donald Savoie is entitled: “The perils of the career politician.”

The concluding paragraph of the above-noted article reads: “We could start by returning parties to the rank and file, by making it easier for non-career politicians to enter the political arena, by decentralizing power so that one does not have to sit in the prime minister’s or premier’s chair to make a substantial contribution. We also need to retool our public services by peeling away constraints to good management, and by rediscovering the importance of evidence-based policy advice.”

A March 18, 2014 Globe and Mail article article is entitled: “Donald Savoie: Why Canada’s public service is declining and why it matters.”

Also of interest: Extremely Violent Societies: Mass Violence in the Twentieth Century (2010).

An Aril 28, 2915 New Yorker article is entitled: “Is Heidegger Contaminated by Nazism?”

A Feb. 7, 2016 Guardian article is entitled: “‘My family resisted the Nazis’: why director had to film Alone in Berlin.”

A March 6, 2016 CBC article is entitled: “René Girard’s theories still explain the violence all around us: French-born scholar spent his career trying to understand what what makes violence a chronic problem.”

An Aug. 15, 2016 Guardian article is entitled: “Joseph Goebbels’ 105-year-old secretary: ‘No one believes me now, but I knew nothing’: Brunhilde Pomsel worked at the heart of the Nazis’ propaganda machine. As a film about her life is released, she discusses her lack of remorse and the private side of her monstrous boss.”

A Jan. 8, 2017 Estonian World article is entitled: “The UN classifies Estonia as a Northern European country.”


0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *