Thursday, June 6, 2013

Les Miserables

This week I embarked on an overseas trip.  The trip takes me from Chicago to Montreal to Tunis to Budapest to Paris and home again.  It's funny how Russia and its revolution can follow me anywhere.  On the plane, I'm reading Zhivago's Children, about the post-Stalinist intelligentsia, but I also know that I'm landing in a place that only recently sparked the Arab Spring.  In fact, I began dating my current wife when the Tunisian Revolution had just gotten underway. I remember helping her with speech ideas after the fall of the government.  My wife talked about talking to her mother by Skype in code to avoid the prying ears of government officials or spies.

Now that I'm in Tunis, I stay off the subject of revolution, but it's obvious that some Tunisians worry about the aftermath of revolution.  Did revolution change anything?  Are things better or worse than before the revolution?  Did revolution unleash conservative forces that will overturn the progress of women in the country?  Will revolution overthrow all forms of secularism in the country?  The debate about revolution isn't always abstract.  My in-laws claim that the revolution has led to certain forms of social disorder, including random garbage dumps along the beach and "squatter" make-shift homes along the directly behind their home.  My wife says that the revolution engendered the religious prayers that now precede local electrical engineering conferences.

Clearly, Tunisia isn't the place to escape revolution.  Being here reminds me that revolution isn't something that happens every century or so.  In fact, people in all, or almost all countries, are thinking about revolution on some level.  Where there's no possibility of slow, democratic transformations, people are forced to dream about revolution.  You either accept the status quo, or you dream of sudden, dramatic change.

After Tunisia, we're off to Hungary, which of course recently overthrew a communist government, and famously failed to do so in 1956, courtesy of Russian tanks.  After Hungary, we'll stop in Paris, home of Europe's foundational revolution, on the way back to North America.  Paris, more than anywhere else, should remind one of the pervasiveness of revolution.  Or perhaps the Paris leg of my trip would have been more of a vacation from revolutionary themes if I hadn't watched Les Miserables on the plane trip to Tunis?

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