Egypt And Romania: Comparing Revolutions

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Commentator Andrei Codrescu watches the street protests in Arab nations with a memory of what happened in 1989 in his native Romania and surrounding countries as they threw off communism. He sees the vast differences more than direct comparisons.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris. As protesters swarm the streets of Egypt and several other Arab countries, commentator Andrei Codrescu is tempted to draw a parallel, a parallel to the fall of communism in Europe more than two decades ago. But Codrescu stops short of that.

ANDREI CODRESCU: Cell phone, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter video coming out of Egypt and Yemen are as murky and chaotic as the pictures we had coming out of Romania or Warsaw in 1989. What brings people to the streets isn't as important as what happens if they win.

In Bucharest in 1989, young people took over the state's television and looked for a moment like leaders elected spontaneously to bring an end to the dictatorship. And then the real guys showed up, the generals and the apparatchiks who had been getting ready to seize power.

The demonstrators in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and wherever there is a next, are drunk with freedom and ready to die for it, but it's the freedom of being together in a raging mass, the madness of crowds, as Charles Mackay called it in 1841. And what happens when and if they succeed won't look anything like what we are seeing on the Web and on TV.

In the bipolar world of 1989, the media broadcast, dutifully, images of the visible struggle, but those images didn't add up to a neat story of a communist demise and capitalist triumph.

The scenes we are seeing in Tunis, Yemen, and Egypt in the schizophrenic teens of the millennium won't add up to a simple story of the triumph of democracy and new media over tyrants and state-controlled news, either.

In Romania before 1989, they used to say that it was a country blessed with everything: oil, gold, good soil and great weather, just like Switzerland. The only problem, Romanians weren't Swiss.

In Cairo in 2011, just like in Bucharest in 1989, it took guts to imagine a different world. In Europe, that world came eventually, and it was a lot better than the one before. Let's hope the same thing happens now.

NORRIS: Andrei Codrescu covered the revolution in Romania in 1989 for this network.

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