25 March 2013

Quechua and Soviet - Not that Different

I am back from my week-long vacation in Peru.  I loved my (way too short) stay there and highly recommend it to all.  There is a great sense of history and tradition in Cusco, where I spent the majority of my stay, and the Sacred Valley overall keeps tradition alive without being overly sentimental.  It's certainly a departure from the usual destinations I've had and my first time in South America. I saw Ollantaytambo, Urubamba, Cusco, Machu Picchu, and Aguas Calientes, meaning I was primarily in the Sacred Valley and exploring the Quechua ruins and culture (learned something new: Inca refers to the king, but Quechua is the name of the culture and people).  Though I focused on learning about that history and culture, I could not help but think of CEE.

I did spend some time thinking about the Quechua  and how modern people don't give enough credit to bygone societies.  We tend to characterize them as unsophisticated, noble peasants in poverty who didn't accomplish much.  They were religious and paid respect to the earth, but they also leveled mountains and created terraced landscapes for greater goals.  I thought about this in term of post-Soviet countries as well (naturally).  They tend to get characterized as backwards, slow to pick up the tricks of the capitalist trade, and often overly sentimental and nostalgic.  The truth is these nations have a lot of baggage that didn't fly open in the 60s and 70s like in western Europe and it had far more explosive tribal sentiments in the first place.  They're "catching up", so to speak, but there are large systemic problems that hinder progress and quite honestly, they're the exact same problems capitalism has been forming in the past 20 years.  Oligarchy is not just a post-Soviet problem, as it turns out. 

The problems in eastern Europe tend to be the same as those in the western half, but they are fashioned in a way that makes it seem isolated.  True, they may be mired in history and ethnic hatred, but xenophobia is gripping most of westernized Europe, which is free from the taint of socialism.  I suppose it all comes down to the African proverb: "Until lions have their own historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter."  Western Europe likes to think they hunted down the tyranny, but it's not the entire truth.  If eastern Europe was the damsel in distress that they saved from the tyrant, then they were also the ones who let her get kidnapped.  The history is more complicated than that.  There were internal struggles and greater forces that placed them in the Soviet ambit and there was pressure within and without that gave way to the collapse.  There are unsettling developments happening, particularly in Hungary, but they're not just post-socialist problems.  They are modern problems that exist no matter what the background.  History is clashing and exploding, and not just there.  Before westernized societies look into their neighbor's windows, they should first look in the mirror.