It was in the summer of ’86 when I got my first lessons about what freedom and the lack thereof really mean. A very long time before said summer my parents had started to safe money and, in an attempt to show us at least the small part of the world kind of accessible to East Germans, they had applied with the National Travel Agency for a trip for the four of us to theUSSR. They were granted the right to take us for approx. four weeks through what is todayMoldaviaand theUkraine. A week to and to would add up to a six weeks adventure for ten year old me, my 14 years old brother and my parents.
In April of that year the super-GAU ofChernobylhappened. The route, we were told to use and not to differ from, would take us directly into the heart of the disaster area. But, what disaster? The official East German line on what had happened was that only a minor incident occurred with no real damage or danger. My parents knew better from West German media, but the choices they had were either take their children and hope for the best or go to jail and loose their children for spreading propaganda.
We went. The poverty, calamity and hardship I saw – not at all related to Chernobyl, but a normal part of daily life – the real hunger I suffered – the trips nature forced us to care for ourselves and so we joined the long lines on the empty markets with the natives; the only thing available without limits was vodka – and the fear of repressions I experienced – some folks volunteered to take us to the old Synagogue in Odessa, but looked over their shoulders and peeked around corners to make sure we weren’t followed as they were forbidden to do so – destroyed any illusions, East German education might had built up in me so far. Even the child that I was could clearly see that something didn’t add up between the words, the acts and the facts.
Three years later, I was still only 13, people all around me took to the streets. They asked for a change. They asked to be allowed to go where they want and when they want it. They asked to be informed by whoever they choose. They asked for permission to form their own opinions. They ask for the freedom to believe – not just in a religious manner, but also to believe in themselves. With candles in their hands they asked to be free.
The universe granted them their wish. I could end on the happy not that the light has won, the Wall fell and everyone lived happily ever after. Yet it is proven again that you should always be careful with what you wish for. The term freedom is far from easy to be defined. Freedom implies a lack of any boundaries. And it is true that it is usually the crazy dreamers that change the world in the end. But if you look closely they don’t work in a vacuum, because every lever needs at least one point in space to exponantiate one’s tiny, single power. So, it turns out that limitless freedom connected to the need to self-actualization big time no matter what – something today’s society cherishes so much – is really something that locks us up in a cage.
That doesn’t mean that I would ever want to reverse what has happen and go back to what has been. Freedom is one of the most precious goods a person can have and a society can implement in their system. Yet, freedom should always be paired with the courage to use his own brain. And my brain tells me that the true power of freedom doesn’t come from the individual alone, as self-realized as he may be, but from its acts in and for the group.