Last summer, on the eigth anniversary of the June 13-15, 1990 coal miner’s massacre of Romanian anti-government protesters, a hunger strike was held at University Square in downtown Bucharest. The strikers staged their protest at the location of the bloodshed beneath the twenty-two story, luxury Intercontinental Hotel and across from the fountain colloquially known as Tianemen Square II. The idea was to draw attention to the government’s reluctance to prosecute those responsible for the three days of violence that killed 60 people and injured over a thousand.
A humanitarian disaster looms on the horizon in Kosovo. As winter approaches, thousands displaced by the fighting live out in the open, running the myriad risks associated with exposure. Meanwhile, safe within the walls of fortress Europe, efforts are underway to reinforce barriers to entry through an Austrian proposal to "harmonize" European Union (EU) immigration and refugee policy.
Not only would that plan mean greater difficulties for those seeking asylum, it also threatens to set a precedent for countries outside the EU, and even redefine the Geneva Convention on Human Rights. By limiting the definition of who can be considered a "true" refugee, it could restrict the rights of refugees and asylum seekers worldwide.
During a popular morning show in Hungary, police revealed the images of suspects in the high-profile murder of a prominent businessman earlier this year. As the news report continued, the camera zoomed in on the face of the key suspect until his face covered the entire screen, continuing until all one saw were his eyes, staring menacingly. The announcer’s tone of voice reinforced the effect, searing into viewers’ consciousness that this was a Kosovo Albanian.
Ever since the murder, the Hungarian media has taken every opportunity to reiterate that the suspects were thought to be — and are now positively identified to be — Kosovo Albanians.While such media techniques may be suitable for art or entertainment, they’re not appropriate for news. In terms of propaganda, however, they’re very effective, coming precariously close to brainwashing.
It’s no secret that Eastern Europe is still struggling under the burden of its transition from communism. Internet usage reflects both the pace of change and the attitudes toward it. And particularly in Bulgaria, the prospects don’t look promising.
Many Bulgarians tend to approach their problems by insisting at the outset that the situation is hopeless. This overriding apathy permeates society, which partly explains why the Internet has so far made very little impact here. People live basically from day to day. Most of their plans are short-term at best. They’re wary of trying anything new unless financial rewards are high and immediate. In the West, Internet activity is viewed by many as vaguely anti- establishment. This is fine when a society’s development is sufficient to tolerate — and even accommodate — anti-establishment attitudes and activities. However, in the developing democracies, still within a period of transition (i.e., from past to present; dictatorship to "democracy"), these attitudes are noticeably absent. But Bulgaria not only lags behind Western countries, but other developing democracies: With the exception of Albania, it’s one of the most undeveloped. As a result, rather than developing an anti- establishment "telematic culture" (one that uses telecommunications and information technology), people devote most of their energy to being part of the establishment in hopes of attaining a certain amount of economic security and social mobility.
When Hungary voted overwhelmingly to join NATO in November, Socialist prime minister Gyula Horn’s government was quick to call the result a testament to Hungary’s commitment to democracy and desire to be part of Europe. Yet, while many celebrate the victory, a window of opportunity has closed, finishing the “period of transition” that began with the quiet revolution of 1989. At the very least, it’s the end of the beginning, though the beginning itself was rather stillborn.