Photograph by Bev Sykes
I imagine a cosy dining room somewhere in eastern Europe, in Bucharest or perhaps Zagreb. But it could be Timișoara or Bratislava as well. It is Sunday, and a family has gathered for lunch around a big table, as they often do in my part of the world. Usually, first comes a beef or chicken soup with home-made dumplings, then a hearty meat dish and potatoes from the oven, garnished with vegetables, followed by cake and coffee. There are three generations around the table. Mother and father are about my age, born some time in the early 1950s. Their children were born in the 1980s – just in time to remember a little bit of life under communism, that is. And their grandchildren are too young to care.
Such a lunch takes time, because you eat and talk and talk and eat. They talk about memory. ‘Do you remember 1989?’ the father asks the mother, who is busy serving the soup. ‘After all, it was a historic year for our generation. Looking back at those events, I am amazed how close yet far away it all seems today,’ he continues. ‘Close, because I remember it so vividly as if it happened only yesterday. Far away, because someone born that year, yes that whole generation, will soon be thirty.’
‘Of course I remember,’ she says. ‘But you know, when I was young, World War Two seemed to belong to the very distant past, although to my parents it must have felt as vivid as 1989 does to me. Back then, I didn’t think that old history had anything to do with my life. It must be the same for someone born in 1989. What could that year, or communism for that matter, really mean to them, more than what they’ve gathered from our scattered and perhaps even nostalgic memories?’
Nodding his head, the father turns to their two children: ‘True, but I wonder less about the past and more about what you think about what happened afterwards, after 1989?’ For a moment his question remains hanging in the air.