Thursday, October 20, 2005

Communist Conundrum

Ludmila is very different from Stan. She lives in London now but spends her summers in Klezmer. A Buddhist, living in communes, making pottery, training to do social work, her ambition is to work for two days a week and live frugally in a rented room on the coast of England ‘enjoying my life’.

When I asked Stan about the differences in Klezmer between now and life under a Communist regime, his reply was unambiguous. ‘It is all better. We have freedom and richness. It was hard with the Communists. Many people didn’t agree with the regime but they couldn’t say so. I said I didn’t agree once, at school; I think I was twelve. A classmate of mine told his parents, who told the teacher, and my parents were called in. It was very dangerous for them. I didn’t realise it was dangerous until then, they had protected me from that. I was not a hero but I was glad when the Communists fell.’

Ludmila was more equivocal. ‘Yes, it is better for many people. We have more choices. But not everything is better. For an example, under the Communists everyone’s work was valued. My father was a doctor, and my best friend at school, her father was a cleaner. I went to her house and she came to my house. I learned how a cleaner lived and she learned how a doctor lived. Neither was better: in Communism if you are a good cleaner you are as good as a good doctor. People need cleaners and they need doctors. There is no difference. It wasn’t until I went to England, and learned how you see things there, that I knew this was unusual. To me it seemed normal, and it is still part of Klezmer society, and I am glad because I think it is better than the silly status game.’

Many parts of the Western world see Communism as at best a flawed philosophy, at worst a great evil. But Ludmila made me wonder: are there things that Westerners could learn from Communists?
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