Don Davis

On Giving Thanks The European Way, Or, Freedom: It's The New Black!

Filed By Don Davis | November 25, 2009 6:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment
Tags: Austria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Europe, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Thanksgiving

I have a Thanksgiving story for your consumption that has nothing to do with turkeys or pumpkin pie or crazy uncles.

Instead, in an effort to remind you what this holiday can really stand for, we'll meet some people who are thankful today for simply being free.

It's a short story today, but an especially touching one, so follow along and we'll take a little hop across the Atlantic for a trip you should not miss.

Europe's Having An Anniversary

It is 20 years now since a series of events began in Europe that culminated in the fall of the Soviet Union and the dictatorial governments in numerous other neighboring countries, and the European Commission has produced a series of eleven three-minute films to mark the occasion.

brandenburg gate.jpg

Each is particular to one country, and each tells personal stories from people who were on the ground at the time...and each will help you fill out a history that today might not extend further then the memory of what happened over the course of a few evenings at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate.

I'll describe a few of the films below, but I want you to go to the website of an ad agency to see them (something you'll rarely hear me say...); that ad agency being Belgium's Tipik.

The Baltic Countries Were First

Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania were the first to declare their freedom, but before that occurred each had organized unique protests, including one that involved all three countries.

Estonia's film describes how environmentalists were at the forefront of revolution; in a time when writing about environmental pollution could get you arrested, Rein Sikk and Raivo Riim did it anyway.

Latvia's "Singing Revolution" is chronicled in the words of attorney Romualds Ražuks, who swears the birth of his daughter united the re-emerging nation...which, in my opinion, is a lot of pressure to put on a little girl.

Lithuanians, in an homage to Hands Across America, gathered 2.1 million people, in Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, to hold hands as a form of protest one afternoon. "The Baltic Way" is described to us by social scientist Dr. Aldona Pocienè and sculptor Vladas Vildžinus.

Two border guards, one Hungarian and one Austrian, recount a day when they allowed 120 men, women, and children heading for a picnic in Austria to cross their checkpoint just ahead of the Hungarian Army, who had orders to shoot border crossers.

What's Czech Minus Slovakia?

Blanka Brejska.jpg

Hana Bošková and Jirí Hollan were on Prague's Národní Avenue November 17th, 1989, the day armored vehicles tried, literally, to crush a crowd of protesters--and a revolution. Eventually both became citizens of the Czech Republic following the dissolution of Czechoslovakia as a nation.

Two days later, in what is today Bratislava, Slovakia, people took to the streets; although the revolution was successful in removing the Government in place at the time, there are those who are still learning the lessons of how hard it is to be free.

"...Now we try to deserve the democracy and the love we create..."

--Zuzana Cigánová

I promised a short story today, so I'll point you to just one more little holiday clip--and its mine. Over the weekend, I ran into a car with, shall we say...remarkable...decorations, as you can see from the video...

...and who doesn't feel thankful for fun?

So that's it for today: enjoy the holiday ahead, don't scorch the marshmallows, and when the talk gets around to "what are you thankful for...?" you can answer with: "I'll do you one's what a whole continent's thankful for."

After the holiday we have a lot of new ground to cover, and not much time; our weekend homework will be a conversation about unusual metals and the American economy...and how, just like oil, one will come to a dead stop without the other.

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FYI I was stationed in Berlin for three years before the wall came down.

ok, i have to ask: did you actually snack on "berliners"?

Michael @ | November 26, 2009 11:53 AM

Having recently returned from Berlin where I went to attend with [former East] German friends the 20th anniversary celebration at the Brandenberg Gate of the Wall falling, I must report that the situation there was very different than what one would think.

For a variety of reasons I'm still trying to add up to a reasonable explanation [antipathy to Merkel, German unemployment figures, leftist attacks on the celebration cost, fear of crowds resulting in lack of same....???], however grand it looked on television, on the ground the celebration was an embarrassment, and not just because the organizers failed to provide an adequate sound system on BOTH sides of the Gate and because the police were actually instructed to keep crowds away after a certain point. Imagine the irony of people being arrested for trying to break through the barricades to celebrate breaking through the Wall!

The fact is, I traveled 5000 miles but far less than 100,000 out of a city of nearly 3 and a half million couldn't bother to use their exemplary public transportation system to come to the glorious Gate on what should have been a glorious night. The fall of the Berlin Wall was the most concrete, literally as well as figuratively, example of the end of 60+ years of the murderous dictatorships of the "Warsaw Pact" run like puppet theaters from strings pulled in Moscow.

Over 200,000 came to hear candidate Obama speak last summer at Berlin's Victory Column, and the country virtually shuts down during World Soccer games. [Yes, those who flamed Obama for not attending the Wall celebration himself (along with the the Presidents of France and Russia and the British Prime Minister and the guy most responsible for the Soviet Union falling when it did, Gorbachev) after taking time for such far less historic moments as flying to Oslo to lobby for Chicago and the Olympics are right on. Was Barry still pissed his request to speak at the Brandenberg Gate last year was denied? You'd think the Wall celebration invitation had been dumped into the same dusty drawer as his list of promises to LGBTs.] I've seen more people come to the Castro for Halloweens past.

Does their November 9th fiasco mean at least former East Berliners/Germans aren't thankful the Wall fell? Absolutely not. But it does mean that Americans equating remembering it with our 4th of July are mistaken. I certainly was.

i don't want to speak for germany or anything...but i suspect some of what you experienced was a visible manifestation of the doubts that still exist, today, among germans on both sides of that wall as they still struggle to digest reunification.

there are a lot of former east germans who feel betrayed by the change--and a lot of west germans as well.

here is one perspective on the reunification (and let me say right up front that i recognize it's not an authoritative assessment, merely an anecdotal one), but if this person's take on things were to be multiplied by the effects of the recent recession, that might help explain some of the ambivalence you saw.