When enough years have passed since the end of a dictatorship, some people will become nostalgic. They will talk up the positive aspects of the dictatorship, forgetting about the labor camps, the political prisoners, the censorship. They will promote their favorite dictator by saying that he was better than much worse dictators, as if that was the relevant standard. Often, they will mix up a longing for the time when they were young and energetic with a longing for the “good old times,” not realizing that they would have been at least equally young and energetic if they had grown up in a democracy.
One thing I learnt however, in countries from Iran to successor states of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, is that people are really cross if they didn’t need a visa to travel to other places in the past, but now do. In part, this is due to former Easter European countries having joined Schengen, sometimes due to a general tightening of visa rules, like in the US, and sometimes it’s a natural effect of the disintegration of empires.
Like one man in Transnistria told me: “When we had the Soviet Union, I could travel freely. I could go to Latvia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, everywhere. Now I need a visa for everywhere.” Despite the political, economic and personal freedom gained, the loss of a certain aspect of freedom of travel weighs more. And this overlooks that the real problem was often that the dictatorial governments didn’t let their own citizens go.
Whenever I see this kind of nostalgia for dictatorships or oppressive regimes, I wonder how those who survived persecution, the gulag or political imprisonment feel about it.
And, if Yugoslavia or the Soviet Union were really so great, why did they collapse?
(The photos were taken in Cetinje, Montenegro.)