Last week I read Cafe Europa: Life After Communism by Slavenka Drakulic. Drakulic is a Croatian journalist, novelists, essayist and commentator on life in communist Yugoslavia and the former Yugoslavia of the 1990s and early 21st century. She is thoughtful and challenging and funny. One of her most well-known books is How We Survived Communism and Even Laughed. I highly recommend her work if you are interested in reading about the causes and consequences of the Balkan wars of the 1990s, especially the horror of the wars for women. It is heart-wrenching stuff.
This particular book is a collection of essays that she wrote in the 1990s, in the midst of the post-communist transition. I have been thinking quite a bit recently about that time period and that experience in Eastern Europe. In September 1994, I arrived in Kaunas as one of the first set of Fulbright students to come to Lithuania. At the time, I was getting my master’s degree in Russian and East European Studies at the University of Washington. I spent 10 months doing research for my master’s thesis and surviving post-communism. It was a tough year in many ways. Seventeen years later, I am back in Kaunas. It is a different time and, in many ways, a different place. But there are still vestiges of the post-communist transition and, of course, lots of memories for me. As I explore the Kaunas of the 21st century, I’m looking forward to also sharing some of my experiences from seventeen years ago. So stay tuned!