Good Life Socialism
After part 1 of my travel was over, I took the plane to Georgia to meet up with my sister. After she moved to London a couple of years ago, we see each other much less than we used to. Though we went together to Paris a couple of times, I visited her in London, this was our first real holiday together without the parents tagging along. To make it even more exciting we agreed on a country that has a growing tourist industry but is still less developed than the countries we have been together before. Also both of us did not know much about the culture, history or what we were supposed to check out before we went. In our case those are all the ingredients we need to start fighting like sisters do. Luckily for us we have grown older and we argued like sisters do, but we also made up like sisters do. Without much words, a smile and a new topic to talk about. We also had fun like sisters do, knowing each other for the whole of your life offers the opportunity for the same humour and inside jokes. Making a fool of yourself is not really new to the other one, making it a very comfortable travel buddy.
Somehow Georgia really fitted our expectations of what a holiday should offer. First of all Georgia has a huge amount of sightseeing that you can do. We stayed mostly in Tbilisi and did some day tours from there. Georgia has a very old civilization which makes it even more interesting for history lovers. We walked around reading up on their history and were a bit shocked by our lack of knowledge on this very old and developed civilization. Also for the adventurous people there is more than enough to explore. Though we are not really hikers, we were seduced to take a tour up one mountain and walked along the border with Azerbaijan. I had never before seen such a beautiful landscape, definitely worth it to climb up the mountain in 35 degrees. The rest our time we spend tasting all the food and wine, because that part of their culture is also very developed. We did not had any bad meal anywhere and felt so lucky because it is also very affordable. But what makes Georgia worth most to visit is to learn from their youth and youth culture that has been blooming.
It was this combination of old traditions, religion and on the other side the youngster culture that amazed us the most. We did not felt much tension while walking around in the city, like the freedom that the youngsters are demanding is already granted in some ways. Tbilisi has a lot to offer for nightlife, nice bars, activities, music and this all combined with traditional food and wine. The clubs are legal and in the open, but at the same time not long ago the police stormed in and arrested some of the owners. As an outsider I don’t think I can explain why this is kind of working out in Tbilisi. As a westerner going to Georgia and wanting to write about some of the experiences, it brings a certain responsibility of knowing your place. It is not my place to explain their culture as I do not feel that I know enough about it just yet. Though Tbilisi does offer the opportunity to write about the new form of socialism that has been rising in the West and with this development some side notes come along as well. I would recommend to read this article of the Postpravda magazine, before continuing reading further.
Being in Georgia inspired me and my sister to have many of our endless conversations about society, the world, politics, freedom, culture and identity. And as we were sipping our wine at one of the many nice bars, we started talking about the biases that are imposed on socialism in Western countries.
In the Netherlands we have the saying ‘Grachtengordel socialist’, by which are meant the upper middle class who can afford to live at one of the most expensive areas of Amsterdam, but remained voting left wing. It points out to a certain assumed discrepancy that these people are wealthy but socialist, thus salonsocialist. In their free time they vote and support left wing, go to the theater and discuss left wing policies, while in their professional life they earn money in the neo-liberal system. It is presented as a contradiction, being socialist and at the same time being upper middle class or even higher.
To some extent one could argue that it is exactly the kind of family that I come from. My parents live in the city center, own their own house but always remained socialist. In our free time we visit the theater, go to debates, visit exhibitions or discuss politics. We read left wing newspapers. Also my sister and I are taught to enjoy life, food, wine, friends, good conversations, music, events and spend the money that we have. We are high educated and went to one of the most prestigious schools of Amsterdam. So when people talk about the ‘Grachtengordel socialisten’ that would most certainly apply to us. This term has always been bothering me a lot, but it was difficult to put in words what about it is exactly the problem. After walking in Georgia and having this quality time with my sister, we came up with a new term, Good life socialism.
Socialism is associated with scarcity of everything, people think that when you are a socialist you also kind of believe in scarcity. This could not be more false. My sister and I are taught that everything that our parents have they worked for. Though that does not mean that they want to keep it for themselves. They always want to share their richness in money, friends, love, food, wine, family with everyone who is interested. Because they believe that what they have, others deserve as well. This is the cornerstone of Goodlife socialism. Everyone should have access to a good life, that means that people who have more, share with the ones who have less. Less opportunity, less education, less money, less friends or less access to culture. In that way everyone will be able to a have a form of the good life that they deserve.
Every generation has their own way of discussing these topics. We do not go to salons or have heavy debates, but we go to a bar, restaurant, nice events and have nice conversations with our friends. We drink our craft beers, local wines, good food and discuss the problems in society. Culture is also a main part of the expression of Good Life socialism. It is where we come together and influence each other with ideas through dance, theater, art etc. We are not pessimistic about the world or think that we should live sober as long as not everyone has everything, but we do think that we should redistribute. Because in the end, it is hard to enjoy your nice life, as long as you know that many in the world can’t because of the place where they are born.
At the same time there is another trend going on in the Western countries. More and more people are going to former Soviet states for their holiday and are getting interested in Post-soviet area. Some just for the cheap beer, others because they want to go outside touristic areas, some because the architecture looks good on their instagram. There is a certain renewed interest in the Post-Soviet area that has a huge attraction to our generation. This Post-Soviet area is associated with an extreme version of capitalism and modernity in countries that aren’t well developed yet. But with this obsession and renewed interest, comes a certain form of perceiving them as exotic. We write down how beautiful it al is, how surprising, how not discovered yet. But it is not up to the West to discover the East and it is not surprising that the countries offer more than just Post-Soviet area.
Fighting Capitalism without returning to Communism.
There is a thin line between fighting the over-capitalistic system in the West with a return to socialism and trying to glorify communism. One should carefully choose their words in order not to diminish the pain and suffer that they endured under the communist rule. It is a trap that I step into way too often myself. During the Euro Crisis, the Western countries undergone a huge process of crumbling down their social welfare states. This happened using the narrative that we were in austerity, there was no more money for a decent health care and a blooming educational system. Taxes went up, companies had to reorganize and we turned more and more into true Neo-liberal states without a solid safety net for the less educated or dependent citizens. It is especially our generation that has suffered and will suffer from this change in the future. We are the first generation since the World Wars that will not be wealthier than our parents, measured based on economic values. It is therefore also our generation that is looking for new answers to the problems of the neo-liberal system, it is looking for different ways of organising our society. A return to the socialist ideas does makes sense for many of them.
Taking this into consideration, I am thinking about a way how we can promote socialism without returning the communists ideas. To me Good Life Socialism offers opportunities of reorganising without going back to communism, because socialism is much more than solely communism. During my travel I talked to many ‘childs of the revolution’, my generation but than from former soviet states. Their views on socialism, Post-Soviet area and the new world can offer a lot of inspiration for us in the West. They fight against corruption and for freedom, but at the same time remember some things that were good about socialism. Take for example their view on culture as I written in my previous article. Or the fact that in Slovenia women and men still both have one year to divide among both of them for maternity and paternity leave. Those are characteristics remaining from the soviet period. At the same time they are yearning to become as economically developed as in the West by accepting the Neo-liberal thinking. They were surprised about my comments on the Euro Crisis and the effects it is having on our generation in the West.
This generation is blamed for being individualistic, phone obsessed, hypocritical about having no money but eating avocados, hypocritical because we use our vegan food for instagram, superficial because we take selfies, we are partying too much and are satisfied with average grades on school. But let me turn it around, we are stressed because if you are not the best, you’re not getting a job on the tight job market, if you are not individualistic you will lose in the neo-liberal system which rules for the strongest, we discovered new ways to interact with our friends and have learned to brand our persons as a brand which is totally in line with the basic rules of a neo-liberal economic system. Everything is for sale. We are looking for different ways, but our government did not listen to even one of the student protests that went on the last couple of years. We are not taken seriously by many. We have a 'lost generation' in Spain, Portugal and Greece because of unemployment, while nationalism and populism is rising on the political stage. It is time that this generation meets each other cross-border and starts working on a new narrative for Europe and the EU.
In Georgia we experienced a youth culture that is flourishing and being expressed in many ways. We also experienced an old culture that holds many mediterranean characteristics, when it comes to drinking and eating as a huge part of the social interaction between people, the way they treat their guests and the tradition of the food sharing among a big table. Therefor we thought that the youth in Georgia will be very interesting for the West to keep an eye on and be ready to learn from their experiences. Georgia is working really hard to get its way into Europe. When you arrive at the airport, it says: ’Welcome to Europe’. If a guide tells you a story about some historical site, it is the biggest, first, most important etc. from Europe. Since just two years EU citizens can travel into Georgia without visa and just a week ago the Georgian troops went training with the NATO. Though when I asked some people at the bar if they thought they were European they had no clear answer. Sometimes they are and sometimes they are not, they are in the middle. But when it comes to the way they are developing and their youth culture, it reminds of European capitals and trends.
And while we are looking for answers on the development on the Neo-liberal economic society, they are looking for answers to rebuild after the communist area. Maybe we can meet in the middle and combine both the experiences into a new system. Our generation needs to work together to redevelop our societies and systems and find the answers on the contemporary problems. For me, reducing the Western biases on socialism as ideology and the culture of the Eastern and Central European countries is one of the much needed answers.