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Revolutionary Shadows

VIENNA – What happens after the euphoria of revolution fades? Today’s Eastern Europe, some two decades after the revolutions of 1989, may offer a salutary warning for today’s defiant and jubilant Arab youth that they must remain vigilant.

Ever since I left Romania for exile in 1986, my returns have been rare and tense. Although the schedule for my most recent trip was overwhelming, and offered little real contact with ordinary people, I could still grasp – from daily newspapers, TV programs, and conversations with friends – the profound economic, political, and moral crisis engulfing the country. Mistrust and anger toward a corrupt and inefficient political class, coupled with skepticism about democracy – even nostalgia for communism – is to be found nowadays not only in Romania, but also in some other parts of Eastern Europe.

Some 70% of Romanians reportedly now claim to regret the death of Comrade Nicolae Ceauşescu, whose summary execution in 1989 elicited general enthusiasm. Of course, the source of such an astonishing finding is difficult to trust, like everything else in Romanian politics, but the vulgar and radical coarsening of public discourse – now peppered with old-new xenophobic elements – is clear enough.

I was offered a taste of this as a guest on a well-respected TV cultural program. I was amused that the debate focused not on my books, but on issues like the “Jewish cultural mafia” and the “exaggerated” anti-Semitism of past and present Romania. My interviewer was kinetic, taking over the dialogue with insinuations and personal interventions. I assumed that I was supposed to be provoked into unguarded comments, a method that fashionable TV journalists everywhere use nowadays.