1968 - The summer of hopes, the summer of Prague


Sumer 1968
There is a saying, all interesting things come in triplets. The summer of 1968 was no exception, at least not for me. Although only five years old, this is one of the most memorable periods of my life. And one that still shapes me 50 years later.

On May 6, 1968 I was pissed off. I was promised a new Lego set and an ice-cream to celebrate my 5th birthday. Instead the whole day (and with many days to follow) I had to stay in our room on the last floor of a building built during the Second republic at a corner to Av. Foch - 14th arrondissement of Paris. Down, in the streets of Paris there was a war. The war between the old and the new order, between the last remnants of a conservative patriarchal society and the modern liberal order. During these days, the borders of Europe were falling, not physically, but in the minds of the people. The nationalism was falling in pieces like a monstrous broken mirror, reflecting the horrors of two wars and the ruins of the colonialism. Students and professors dismantled hierarchies and obsolete traditions. For the factory workers, the New Deal turned into reality. It started just a few days ago - with the May day's march against the Vietnam war, with a march for peace that ended in a full-scale revolution.

The reason I was in Paris was an operation I had to undergo. It was a new treatment, that could safe my life. I was used to listen to the prayers to God of older members of my family to return in good health. God was nowhere to be found, but science did its best. Rationalism vs. Religion - 1:0.

Few months later, back in Sofia, back behind the Iron curtain. Every night my father and my uncle would listen BBC Radio, Deutsche Welle, and The Voice of America. The first days they were happy and very optimistic. After the 8 o’clock news, a bottle of wine would be opened, and I would give a goodnight kiss to two men dreaming of a future without Russian influence. Unfortunately with time that mood changed. COMECON troops occupied Prague. But something strange still did happened - yes, the dream was gone, but but not dead. It morphed into hope, a hope, that the Iron curtain is not to stay forever.

In the mean time…

When I was 5, I had no idea that under our windows, the then young Dani Cohn-Bendit was taking the fight with the battle hardened Charles De Gaulle. Years later I met Dani many times - first as a student and then as a Green party activist. By that time he already sounded as a politician, not as a revolutionary. I thought this was fine. After all, we were building a new Europe, the first wind and solar parks were replacing the factory chimneys and the Maastricht agreement was just amount the corner.

During these years churches were transformed into posh office buildings. Tunisia passed abortion laws. The mighty cross was replaced by LSD and UFO and the Pope in Rome turned into a lucrative touristic attraction.

For Eastern Europe, the Iron wall was history. The grey Trabant-suburbs got some fresh paint, the travel visas pushed aside, but no money to travel. Bananas could be found not only at Christmas time, but at all times in every supermarket alongside junk food made from corn syrup.

Summer 2018
London is the capital with the most video surveillance in the world and the first capital soon to say “goodbye” to Europe. Fanatic youths, with no roots, no identity, no past, and questionable futures, drive their vehicles over pedestrians shouting Allahu Akbar. The New Deal for the blue-collar workers turned into No-Deal for the burning, flooded, and poisoned Earth. In the eastern part of the old continent the walls did not disappear - they were just moved from the west borders to the south eastern borders. The Cold war propaganda had transformed into hate nationalistic speech - in the West and in the East. The “Big brother” communist dictatorships of the past were replaced by the crescendo of the nationalistic propaganda of the Eastern European kleptocracy. 

So what changed during these 50 years? To start with the obvious. There is no Alexander Dubček and no Pražské jaro (Prague Spring). Luckily, it seams there are also no tanks able to drive into the streets of Prague. As a matter of a fact, there are also no men able to fly to the moon in the next four years. The Stasi has been replaced by video cameras and AI - everywhere. 50 years ago communists were burning the books of Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, and Pascal but now Harriet Beecher Stowe and John Steinbeck are the enemies of liberalism gone wild.

There is a saying, that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. If we do not remember Prague, Paris, Berlin, London, and Washington during the summer of 1968, that history will repeat in one way or the other - only this time the consequences will be harsher. 50 years ago, during the Prague spring our parents managed to transform fear into determination, sadness into hope, and hate into brotherhood. Now it is our turn to transform greed into caring, indifference into excitement, abhorrence into tolerance.

*) My good old, and very green friend Reinhard Bütikofer asked me to write a short, tweetable text about Prague 1968. It turned out it was difficult to think about the summer of 1968 without remembering everything that happened then. So, this is a slightly longer text. Perhaps one day I will grow old and will tell the full story - who knows.

While I was writing, I was thinking of the next 50 years and how my son Philip will experience them. He was also the first to read my initial draft. What will these 50 years bring to his generation?