Friday, April 10, 2020

Eastern Europe 1990: Final Observations

First Observation: Socialism Doesn't Work.

Near the Berlin Wall: a memorial to those who were
killed trying to escape to freedom in West Berlin.

One of my initial impressions was that things in Eastern Europe were not as bad as I  had been led to believe. However, first impressions aren't always correct. The people of Eastern Europe, like people everywhere, did the best they could to cope with the situation in which they found themselves, but that could not hide the fact that they were living out the consequences of a failed system. 

The meat display shelves in Sofia's largest supermarket.
Under Socialism, everyone is equal. No one has anything.

Socialism, far from providing for everyone an equal and abundant share of good things, provided endless scarcity. Standing in line to obtain basic necessities was a daily routine. In West Germany, people drove Volkswagens and Mercedes; in East Germany, people drove Trabants, a tiny plastic car with a motorcycle engine, and waited years to be permitted to buy one.
Standing in line for the basic necessities was
a normal way of life in Soviet Russia,
as in all the Iron Curtain countries.
And because Socialism requires unanimity, there could be no dissent. Since Socialism was a system invented to give man a way forward without a God who is not believed to exist, those who believe in God must be ostracized, persecuted, and eliminated if possible. Christian believers found the doors of higher education, good jobs, even decent living quarters closed to them. Even so distinguished a man as Dr. Zaprometer, a noted biochemist, was a believer in secret for fear of losing his position as a scientist and teacher.

The symbol of the Union of Soviet Socialist
Republics is everywhere in Moscow.

It was even against the law in many countries to own a Bible. By 1990, it was estimated that there were no more than 250,000 Bibles in all the Soviet Union.

And religious persecution was a very real thing. All over Eastern Europe, believers met in secret, in constant fear of the authorities and their secret police. Pavelle Ignatov, a leader of the Pentecostal movement in Bulgaria, was arrested ten times between 1981 and 1990, lost his job nine times, was continually harassed by the government, and had his life threatened. Countless other believers lost their jobs and were denied privileges such as access to schools and better housing. Many were beaten and imprisoned. Yet, the church in Bulgaria grew 600 percent during this time.

A memorial to a young girl in Timisoara
killed by Ceausesqu's forces.

But Communism? It never worked. Any time, anywhere. It never brought anything but death. By conservative estimate, more than 100 million people lost their lives in the 20th century as a direct result of attempts to establish Marxism in its various forms -- socialism, fascism, Nazism, and communism.

Second Observation: The Hospitality Trap and the Scheduling Trap. 

Ferdinand and Lydia Karel. Gracious
hosts, but in some ways too helpful.

In all of this, we found the people of Eastern Europe to be unfailingly warm, gracious, and endlessly hospitable. So much so that the Hospitality Trap was a real hindrance in our work.As I said in a previous post, everywhere we went, these gracious people wanted to share with us the best of their food. We couldn't eat it all, but neither did we want to disappoint them. It was always difficult to avoid gorging ourselves but still return graciousness for graciousness. 

Likewise, our hosts did not understand the work of documentary photographers, as indeed, few do. Consequently, we spent too much time being treated as guests or being shown things that were only tangentially relevant to our mission, and  not nearly enough time finding and photographing the things that would help us put their ministries into the context of the life of the community and the nation. But in each country we did our best to create an accurate, although limited, portrait of the nation as we found it.

 Third Observation: Louise Jenkins is the World's Greatest Travel Companion.
David and Louise Jenkins at the wedding of their
son Don to Kimberly Keith, June, 1990.
(Photo by Alan Vandergriff)

It was a total delight to have her with me on this trip. Besides doing a great job as a videographer, she took every situation in her stride and was never daunted by hardships or problems. And she is very pleasant to look at.

Fourth Observation: Communism is not dead.

In the 1990s, after the fall of the Soviet Union, many people believed Communism was dead. Being a contrarian, I said, "No, Communism is not dead. The Soviet Union is dead, but Communism is alive and well and living in the faculty lounges and classrooms of America's colleges and universities."

I was right.

(Photographs made with Olympus OM and Leica M cameras and lenses, Fujichrome 100D and 400D films.) 

Soli Deo Gloria


  1. I have my own photo of the crosses that lead your post. I made my photo in 1984.

  2. "Give me liberty or give me death!" was not just a slogan for these people, was it, Jim?