Students, faculty and guests flocked to the University Suites to listen to University of Nebraska-Lincoln professors from central and eastern Europe give first-hand accounts of communism ending in their countries at this week’s Global Cafe.
English professor Roland Vegso from Hungary, history professor Alexander Vazansky from Germany, global studies professor and assistant director Emira Ibrahimpasic from former Yugoslavia and modern languages and literatures professor Hana Waisserova from former Czechoslovakia spoke at the event.
All four speakers gave detailed accounts of their past and reflected on their own experiences in Europe thirty years ago, with some living more restricted lives than others.
Waisserova approached Ibrahimpasic, the coordinator of the Global Cafe, to host an event to commemorate the fall of communism in central and eastern Europe. Ibrahimpasic said she supported the idea and thought it important to inform people of something in her past and the panelists’ past that changed their lives forever.
“The end of communism happened across a very large space and many, many people and many, many countries were involved, so I think it’s really fascinating to hear from people … to get diverse perspectives of what went on in the 1990s,” Ibrahimpasic said.
The event’s stories ranged from speaker to speaker. Vegso said he specifically recalls smuggling money across Hungarian borders to buy a skateboard in Austria as a teenager. He said he also remembers two different passports: one to allow citizens to go to other communist countries and another that was commonly used to escape Hungary.
Ibrahimpasic said she remembers anxiously watching an anti-war protest on TV and seeing snipers shoot at the crowds while knowing her 17-year-old brother remained somewhere in those throngs of people. But unlike most of Yugoslavia’s restricted neighbors, Ibrahimpasic said her childhood was full of “Levi’s jeans”, Pepsi, western TV and a melting pot of religions.
Vazansky said he remembers his time spent in West Germany and recalled his excitement when the Berlin Wall came down. However, Vazansky said most West Germans felt the incoming flood of East Germans was a burden. They could never understand their neighbor’s nostalgia for their fight to freedom because they never had to fight for it themselves, he said.
Waisserva said people lived stiff lives confined by the government’s overbearing watch during her time in Czechoslovakia. She said she recalled secret police roaming around unseen and her friend’s constant interrogations with the government. But apart from the negative aspects, Waisserova said people drank and attended concerts to keep their morale high.
Ibrahimpasic said she believed sharing their stories was important so people could learn more about the time period.
“I think often when revolutions or conflicts or wars are happening in other countries they can seem very distant, and I think having people who live through these things and watched them personally and can relate their experiences and how that changed their lives,” Ibrahimpasic said. “It makes it more personal and more accessible instead of just reading a history book.”
Audience members said they engaged with each story presented throughout the event.
“Hearing the differences between people in the same country and also hearing that they didn’t necessarily see it as oppressive or bad but that they look at it in a nostalgic way was something that I hadn’t expected to hear,” freshman McKenzie Nelson said.
The panelists said they hope audience members took the information to heart and found a deeper meaning in their accounts than just the retelling of a historical event.
“I think it’s important to know, because there are still many revolutions happening today in the world so understanding historical events is very powerful,” Ibrahimpasic said, “I also think it’s important to know that you yourself can be part of a revolution, that you yourself can bring about change when you see injustice and things that are happening in your society.”