The journalist Witold Szablowski, award Kapuscinski, explains how the nostalgia for the old times of those who lost everything with the step from communism to democracy has given wings to populism in Eastern Europe.
In 2012, the Polish journalist Witold Szablowski decided to conduct an experiment. For at least twelve months, both he and his family would return to the Poland of the eighties toliving in a sort of time capsule. "We try to eat the same food then, drive the same car, a Fiat 126p is a tiny, and we use mobile phones and the internet", he recalls now, sitting in the café of a hotel in Valencia, a city that he had come invited by the Institution Alfons the Magnànim to deliver a conference.
Szablowski, who was 26 years old, the reporter youngest of the Gazeta Wyborzca of Warsaw, and has won among others the prestigious award Kapuscinski for his work, intended in this experiment to assess the changes that had lived in the Polish society in the transition from communism to democracy and capitalism. "We had clothes rescued from the eighties, and we realized that we were not just us," continued Szablowski. "There were many people who wore the same clothes of the eighties, and that was driving those cars, because it was the only thing he had, and could not afford even a mobile phone or the internet. We paid everything in cash, and we saw that there were many who also did it, because no bank was willing to open an account. Discover the people who had lost out with the change that remained with the same clothes, the same furniture, the same appliances. And that's why I wrote Bears that dance".
In that book, the journalist tells how a great number of bears rescued from captivity in Bulgaria were unable to adapt to freedom, a metaphor that also serves to relate what has happened in the last few decades in many of the former communist countries. With the transition to democracy, explains, "there were people who worked very hard and had success. But others lost everything. You can say many negative things about the communists, but with them at least people had the feeling that his life was stable. Not had unemployment because everyone was forced to work. If you tried stalking off, you could end up in jail. And then, suddenly, everything turns upside down... and in just a few years we find ourselves with a 30% unemployment because no one is forcing anyone to work."
In that situation, adds Szablowski, "many are obsessed by regaining the stability and are, therefore, very vulnerable to manipulation. It is not something that has necessarily relation with the dichotomy between democracy and communism. If you only wish to continue with your job and go on vacation once a year, and you've been left without it, you'll feel nostalgia of the good old times in which others decide everything for you. It is what shows us the history of Bears that dance that freedom can be exciting but can also be stressful and more complicated than it seems for a lot of people".
The turbulence and the discontent they have generated, in their judgment, "the weather is very conducive to populism across Europe even in countries with a longer democratic tradition. Whenever things get difficult, it is very easy to deliver the power to those who shout most high".
Szablowski says that they felt "surprised" when Donald Trump he won the U.s. presidency in 2016. "I saw what promised to the americans was more or less the same thing that Law and Justice party, the party of Kaczynski, had promised in Poland: We can go back in timeyou can recover a stable life, to be happy again...».
It is a trend, predicts, "it can only get worse. With the identity crisis of the European Union, even with climate change,people will be much more manipulable and more inclined to choose solutions populists".
And in this context, what role may play the media? "We don't have another to continue working. This is our war, our mission. Unfortunately, however, I'm very skeptical," he answers, Szablowski. "You can spend a year researching, presenting facts... and yet it is so easy to put any news false at the same level as your work. Now, in Poland, we have such a serious problem with the movement antivacunas. And there is data proving that Russia is promoting. But the funny thing is that not only is dedicated to spread these lies, but also on Twitter, when a discussion arises with bots or real people but connected with Russia, some of them take the part of the supporters of the vaccinations. All this leads to think that there a campaign that seeks to exacerbate the conflict and it is clear that there are experts who speak".
In regard to Russia, and returning to the metaphor of the bears, to Szablowski, "the problem of Vladimir Putin is that had been accustomed to live in a world that is very specific and is not able to adapt to the new situation. He was a KGB official and grew up with the propaganda of the cold war in an era in which there was a European Union and China are very weak and the united States and Russia very strong. Things have changed a lot since then but he remains committed to weaken Europe when in reality, what more would benefit their interests would be to have a strong Europe as an ally against China. Jumps to the view that we should not be enemies... but, on the other hand, this is what happens when you try to transform a brain that has been preserved from the 70's in a container with vodka [laughs]".
Her next book, How to feed a dictator that will see the light in 2020, will review the history of the last few decades, but the view from the door of the kitchens of those who prepared meals for presidents as Fidel Castro, Pol Pot or Saddam Hussein. "I was talking with the chefs of the Kremlin," explained Szablowski. "And there is one that has worked since the times of Brezhnev to Putin, with all the First Secretaries and, later, with the presidents, including Gorbachev, Yeltsin and Putin. And I said had not even been able to reform the kitchen because there were many people working and still doing everything as in the old days, meals are very heavy for those that already nobody likes. And he said to me: If you are not able to renovate the kitchen in the Kremlin, how are you going to reform the whole country...».