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In constant diffuse fear

By Stepashin Konstantin Petrovish |  Some of my Canadian friends find the Marxist-Liberal Canada of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to be the better Canada – seen from their down-soft, fully maid-fluffed pillows, and they join the chorus today undaunted: “It isn’t all bad!” 

That is true, but not “because of Trudeau” and his soviet style society, but “despite of Trudeau”, not everything is bad. Conservative Party of Canada MP and former Environment Minister Peter Kent is absolutely right with the impression that today a lot reminds him of the time he was in Eastern Europe as a reporter before the fall of the Berlin Wall. 

What did the Soviet block look like from the inside? How can one best describe the situation in the East in the last few years and months before its collapse? How was it really? 

The year is 1988. Society in the East is deeply divided. There are people who firmly believe in the victory of socialism and see everyone as an enemy who does not think like them. And yes, they do exist, these dissenters. You can see that the huge successes and historical achievements of the East are nothing more than lying propaganda. Your attempts to articulate this are mercilessly suppressed.

The whole of political society, the press, the arts, and even science, play the hypocritical game. The people of the East live in a swirling atmosphere of denunciation and mistrust. The rift through society divides friendships, sometimes love, and even runs right through families. 

The dictatorship of the proletariat has gutted democracy beyond recognition. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau showed admiration for that type of society when he recently referred to his own government during a cabinet meeting: “It has to look democratic, but we have to have everything under control.”

No opposition and no critical press

The goal of the state apparatus is to keep the Communist Party bigwigs in power. The Eastern parliaments fulfill their exclusive task of giving 100 percent approval and never-ending applause for the line of the Party. Ten minutes of standing ovations are not uncommon in the People’s Chamber. The rulers receive sycophantic homage. For them, there is no opposition and no critical press as correction factors. There is no administrative jurisdiction, the judiciary is fully at the service of the Party. The pseudo-opposition of the Eastern bloc parties is a farce. 

All media are fully aligned on the government line – there is no internet yet.  A Soviet citizen gifted with reason must have masochistic tendencies to watch Soviet television every day. What becomes important is what is not in the press. In this way, Soviet citizens learned to “read between the lines”. And you can still do it today.

The economy is going downhill. The worse the situation, the louder the cheers. Something is always in short supply. Everyday life is determined by the shadow economy, private and state corruption around the coveted American dollars and scarce products of all kinds, from smoked eel to toilet paper. 

The state is robbing its citizens down to their shirts. It pretends to pay them to work and the citizens consequently pretend to work. An army of unemployed sits behind the factory gates. Prices rise, quality falls. This not only affects poor consumption, but all areas of society – the environment, infrastructure and the health system. 

The state security apparatus keeps the population in constant diffuse fear. Very few upright people dare to express their own thoughts. 

Even – or especially – the language is controlled. Everyone is put under pressure to use the official crude Russian/Polish/German/etc language. The goal is state control of thoughts. The citizens are intimidated and insecure. 

Hopelessness because most of them pretended the absurd was normal

Those who think differently are marginalized, put under pressure and vilified. What the “right-wing populist” is today was the “hostile negative element” back then. Once a citizen has been given the label “hostile negative element”, he loses all human rights. It’s no longer about being improved, it’s just about destroying the “spirit.” The annihilation ranges from subtle to brutal, ranging from the end of one’s career to the destruction of social existence, from sealing up intellectual deficits to prison and murder. The Party, state security, the judiciary and the media, even parts of the churches, work hand in hand to subjugate their people. Thousands, and especially the best, are fleeing at the risk of their lives or are stewing in terror prisons. The system doesn’t stop at anything, not even children.  Between 1945 and 1989 there were tens of millions of political prisoners in the Eastern Bloc. More than 10,000 nameless people were unlucky to die on the murderous border. Only one in ten who want to flee finds the path to freedom.

But doesn’t it ultimately matter to an individual whether he is stigmatized and annihilated as a racial enemy or as a class enemy? 

I believed at the time that this would go on for many years – further in the direction of North Korea’s standards. As Konstantin Chernenko said shortly before his death: “The wall will still be standing in a hundred years”. I believed it – not a glimmer of hope anywhere. 

For me personally, the worst part of it was loneliness. The resistance could not network, it was teeming with informers. This created a hopelessness created by the fact that most of the people around us acted as if the absurd were normal. 

Says Peter Kent: “The dictatorship of the proletariat was not a dictatorship by the proletariat, but over the proletariat. Real socialism existed from beginning to end only as a totalitarian dictatorship with particular severity against the working people. This regime was a red-painted man-breaking machine, built under a Soviet license. The people toiled in state-owned factories, which never belonged to the people. And the Soviet Union was also a brutal yoke for all the deprived farmers in the agricultural production cooperatives who had been beaten into socialist serfs. Of course, the Soviet Union was also a control and punitive apparatus against intellectuals. And for all the promising poets and Picasso-crazy painters and West-decadent musicians, it was not the liver but the heart that was torn out of the rib cage and eaten every day, that was what secret police did“.

Believe me, I was always scared 

Believe me, I was always scared. But I was even more afraid of participating in the crimes of the Party. In order to be able to overcome this fear – of being destroyed because of not taking part – I first had to wrest some confessions from myself – namely the fear of the brave, the fear of the adversary, the trembling of the rebel and a confession of the rights of every freedom fighter.

Stepashin Konstantin Petrovish was born in the Soviet Union and came to Canada in 1993.  He is a Research Fellow and Director of East European Studies at the Fraser Institute.

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