I spent the weekend in the best way possible - with my girlfriend Annie in a tent not too high in the Bulgarian mountains. Not only did we have good weather, and a terrific nature around us - the village where we camped , Bela Reka was also the site of a cultural festival in North western Bulgaria called Goat Milk.The theme of the festival was 1989 - our places of memory.
Anna in the tent
A number of work shops were held, dealing with the historical memory through theatre , art etc.
Unfortunately I did not attend more than a few, interesting seminars.
Gregor and his translator.
The first seminar I attended was a kind of presentation of the events in Berlin 1989, told by the (West) German writer Gregor Mirwa. The interesting thing here was obviously the Europan perspective. To me 1989 is something else than a year in East European history. It is rather the moment when Eastern, Northern, Southern and Western Europe's histories met at a crossroad to separate on slighltly different paths again. I find it very very insightful to compare my impressions from this time with those of other Europeans. But it's not so easy to come there, and I think Gregor's seminar would have benefited from stricter moderation.
That being said, moderation is seldom the strong side at Bulgarian events, and maybe not the most important thing at a festival... after all we were not there to work :)
After Gregor followed an emotional presentation of the Iranian born photographer living in Canada Babak Salari's photos from Afghanistan. Salari was highly critical of NATO's involvement in the country, a fact that would have been interesting to discuss. After all Bulgaria is a member of NATO and do have a military presence in Afghanistan. I would also have loved to hear how he experienced 1989 as an Iranian refugee in Canada.
The last seminar I and Annie attended was extraordinary interesting, in fact. Evgeny Mihajlov who was an active cameraman in the magical year screened his original footage from the events in the winter of 1989/90. One could smell a different time in the idealism of the demands, and the sense of a new world order.
The discussion inevitably steered towards today's protesters, and the reason why today's protests gather at most 1000 protesters. I believe it is much too easy to see the similarities and forget the differences back then. I spoke about it with my girlfriend afterwords, and she pointed out that the world in 1989 was a very idealistic place - there as revolution in the air. The problems now are more local to Bulgaria and do not inspire the same emotions. I think it is also important to bear in mind the difference between a handicapped democracy and a real totalitarian society.
Mihajlovs pictures reminded me that nothing was decided in December 1989. No one knew for sure that democracy would win. The protesters had so much to win. And also so much to lose. After going out in the streets like that they could probably kiss all dreams of a career or freedom to speech good bye, had they lost. I fear this is exactly what is happening in Moldova today.
The rest of the evening was sent with local food and cosmopolitan food. The festival was quite cosmopolitan actually, I met three girls from Norway that ran a similar festival in the West of Norway. Sometimes I believe Europe is possible.