Monday, November 9, 2009

The Berlin Wall falls, and so on

The pictures above represent the contrast between Berlin twenty years ago and today. The one on the right, however, barely indicates the vast material changes in East Germany. Indeed, much has been done to eradicate the material existence of the former DDR. It was a very drab place, as I recall from my two visits to Berlin back in the 1970s and even in 1990, when I spent the summer in Berlin and could travel in East Germany, including to Weimar.

Communism is not dead, however, and last month the Chinese organized big 60th-anniversary celebrations of the founding of Communist Party rule. I came across pictures by Elizabeth Dalziel on the Big Picture website. Dalziel is an AP photographer stationed in Beijing, and among the photos were several of activities in the "model village" of Nan Jie Cun, taken in August.

The village is "a mixture of the free market and government control." Note that the youth pictured in the military drill (many wearing Western T-shirts) do not have the smiling faces we used to encounter in Chinese propaganda. The kids actually look somewhat resentful. I suspect they would rather have been at the Mercedez Benz launch event or at "art biennale" (below), both held in Beijing in August.

China, like Russia, was a much more traditional and indeed materially primitive society than was Eastern Europe when the Communist Party took over. Despite the inevitably great inequalities, the Chinese seem determined to catch up with the West. Something to watch for.

The central square of the model village is adorned with old-fashioned communist art, a large picture of Stalin. People continue to be attracted to dictators. As you may have guessed, I am not.

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