“Either we shape the future, or we sleepwalk into it.”
This is MacLean’s conclusion, after an awe-inspiring, exciting journey from Moscow to Berlin, and it is more than well worth a read!
MacLean describes the reverse track of a journey he undertook from Berlin to Moscow about 30 years ago. His goal: observing, listening and understanding what happened to the dreams of freedom and democracy of the time immediately after the fall of the iron curtain. The book describes his conversations and interviews with a colourful mix of individuals. Here just three examples:
A Russian businessman explains how some people got rich fast and others not: “Some people got bagel, others got bagel hole.” He also has this comment on Trump becoming president of the US: “… many Russians were relieved. We saw that we were no longer the only fools in the world.”
In Tiraspol, capital of Transnistria, “a breakaway republic of a breakaway republic of the old Soviet Union”, the party leader of the communist party, proudly wearing “a new silver Breitling chronomat” explains that his job “as party leader is to preserve – and carry forward – the positive attributes of the USSR”. Transnistria is a “country”, or intending be a country, not acknowledged by even a single other country in the world.
In Hungary MacLean hears “… I told you: Hungary placed its faith in losers of every war since the sixth century. This twenty-first century will be no exception.”
Many chapters I read with a certain unease, a growing disappointment that the feeling of optimism, of hunger for openness, freedom and democracy of the 1990-ies had melted away in many countries. People were now listening to politicians who promised simple answers to complex questions, willing to dismantle part of the democratic freedom. I was glad to read MacLean’s assessment at the very end of the book about the same unease:
“For many years I have travelled and lived with certain principles, prizing certain values with a firm … believe in the promise of the future. Now I realise it’s us who must fulfil that promise. We kid ourselves if we believe that one day the … demagogues and xenophobes will retire to Foros, Key West or Clacton-on-Sea … Either we shape the future or we sleepwalk into it.”