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Goodbye communism, hello turbo-capitalism & regime change wars: Unfulfilled hopes of 1989

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On Sunday September 3, 1989, I set out from Britain to spend three weeks on the European continent. It was a historic date, because fifty years earlier, on that very same day World War II had broken out. Little did I know that tumultuous political changes would be occurring in 1989 too.

I took the ferry to Calais and then a train to Paris. The first week of my European adventure was spent in the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), in Bavaria, where I stayed with the family of my German pen-friend, Gabi. I was very well-looked after and had a great time. It was the third time I had visited West Germany and I had always been impressed.

Someone wrote recently that there needs to be more focus on post-war West Germany and its many achievements, and a bit less on pre-war Nazi Germany. I’d agree. The old Cold War was framed in terms of ‘capitalism v communism’ but that was very simplistic. West Germany operated a mixed-economy – with economic success fueled by local State banks and provided a generous welfare state to its citizens which worked very well. It was a far cry from rapacious dog-eat-dog 1920s US capitalism. Conversely, Hungary’s ‘goulash communism’ had elements of a market economy.

After West Germany, I travelled down to Yugoslavia, or rather the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, to give the country its official title. I stayed in a pension in the Julian Alps, near Lake Bohinj (in today’s Slovenia) run by a very generous and charismatic pro-partisan. This man didn’t just espouse egalitarian ideals, he lived them.

Each evening he would invite myself and his other guests to sit, eat, drink and smoke with him and he would tell daring tales of how the partisans defeated the Nazis in WWII. He was a wonderful host. He even took in guests’ laundry for washing for no extra charge. The only time I saw him slightly agitated was when he had to take our passports to the local police to register us.

One sensed there would have been repercussions had he failed to do so. But my general impressions of socialist Yugoslavia were positive. I remember going to Ljubljana and being surprised to see English newspapers freely on sale. The place had a real buzz.

After Yugoslavia, I........

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