14 January 2011
But I love it.
I think it started when I was 14 and did a report on Russia during the 2000 Sydney Olympics. As a gymnastics fan, I was enthralled by the Russian greats at the time: Svetlana Khorkina, Elena Zamolodchikova, Ekaterina Lobazniuk, etc. Then I read The Book of Embraces by Eduardo Galeano, which touches on the Communist legacy of Latin America, but mostly on the oppressive regimes. After high school, I went to Brigham Young University, where my interest took full bloom in the fall of 2007. My study abroad in Vienna consisted of a number of trips to the Eastern Bloc: Slovakia, Czech Republic, and Hungary. Those three places fascinated me for no obvious reason, but something struck me to the core. After these trips, suddenly I started asking questions like, "Why did Prague immediately start Westernizing? How does this statue reflect their feelings on the communist past? Does Hungary struggle with scars of communism? How do all these three places deal with the past differently and why?"
Some questions were bigger than others, but they all kept taunting my brain. Anthropology was my main area of study, so I began taking all sorts of classes that related to it: Anthro of Europe, Political and Economic Institutions (and an introductory economics course), Applied Anthropology, etc. The more I studied the topic, the more it just took over my intellectual discourse. Suddenly I was finding myself pondering Communist art in a class about aesthetic judgment in German philosophy. Hungary still very much intrigued me because of its unique character, but I had a strong interest in Germany. Not only was I minoring in the German language, but I found the unique situation of Germany arresting. The DDR (as it is called in German; GDR in English) had the unique challenge of rebuilding with the BRD (FRG in English). The direct contrast provides a beautiful natural experiment for the differences in capitalist and communist systems. Culture, politics, economics, identity, and expectations were different between the two former nations. It highlights the difficulties, the Western misconceptions of Communism and its victims, and even the emergence of a Communist self-conscious.
I chose to do my B.A. research in East Germany. Luckily, my father was good friends with an old colleague who lives in Germany. I grew up with Rainer visiting my home every year or so and I'd known him for some 15 years; his daughter even stayed with us for 2 weeks when I was 14. I contacted him and he generously offered to have me stay with his family in the small town of Lütte, in the province of Brandenburg, for three months and do anthropological research. My stay there was magical, not only because of the landscape, but it pushed me in my knowledge of Communism in East Germany. After my three month stay, I returned to my last year of school and wrote up my thesis. It was a beastly paper to write and kept being reborn as something new. I finished it after four months and submitted abstracts to conferences in the nearby area. I got accepted to the Inquiry Conference, an undergraduate research conference at my university, and at the Western Social Science Association Conference, held in Reno, NV. I got to present research that captured my love of German, Communism, and anthropology. (But let me be clear: I do not support Communism. If you study it, you become convinced it was oppressive, malfunctioning, and a really nice thought, but a bad system.)
Since graduating, I moved to Hungary for the summer to do an internship with an American education NGO with a branch in Budapest. The internship was fairly interesting, but I simply did it because I had secretly dreamed of living in Budapest and learning Hungarian since my trip there in 2007. Pipe dreams do come true! I did learn some Hungarian and also became acquainted with everyday life in Hungary. I spoke to my colleagues about Communism and many of them were from other countries like Macedonia and Serbia. I soaked in the atmosphere, cultural attitudes, and bought a short stack of books dealing with CEE. The rest I copiously wrote down so I could buy them in the future. I was sad to leave Hungary, but it felt like it was time. I am still infected with the disease because I always default to books about Eastern Europe when I go to the library.
I wanted to find a place to comment on recent events, books I've read, and ideas I have because I know my friends merely humor my interest while thinking "???". I hope someone who's interested in the same things finds this and has something to add.
Posted by Taylor at 6:43 PM