East Europe and Hungary – on the eyes of a Dominican

Dr. Domingo is Dominican but he studied in Ukraine during the last years of the Soviet Union, travelled throughout East Europe and has a deep knowledge of the Cold War, Latin America, the multipolar world, and the transatlantic migratory movements. He is the head of the Department of Spanish and Ibero-American Studies at the Faculty of Humanities, in the University of Pécs as well as associate professor and researcher.

PécsiBölcsész: What was your motivation to leave the Dominican Republic, what made you decide to go to study in another continent, in this case in the Soviet Union?

Domingo Antonio Lilón Larrauri: When I decided to come, I was a young boy who heard at the university in Santo Domingo, about all the different ideologies, either on the right or on the left side of the spectrum. In the eighties in Latin America, the political concept, not the geographical location of

Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union were quite unknown in practice, therefore, very radical opinions could be heard about it.

For that reason, my idea of ​​coming to the Soviet Union was to get to know in situ how the system of people’s democracies and socialist states worked in reality.



PB: How was your first approach to the Soviet Union and your experience in general?

D.A.L.L.: I came from a different reality from the Dominican Republic; Dominican society was capitalist, yes, but in a process of development. When I arrived to the Soviet Union, I was able to make several trips, to go and to know firsthand different countries like Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, German Democratic Republic, Hungary among others. The Soviet Union allowed me to have an incredible experience. We lived in a university city with thousands of foreign students from Asia, Africa, Latin America, Europe itself. There we had a lot of contact and I was able to realize what was happening in other places and about the realities of other continents and their major events. That is why it was the best school I have attended, in it I had the pleasure of meeting a lot of people.

PB: In your opinion, what was the most wanted thing by people within the Iron Curtain? How could you describe the general situation?

D.A.L.L.: The desires and aspirations of human beings are endless. However, what the people in the Soviet Union and the people’s democracies populations most yearned for was freedom.

For a long time, I could not understand why people criticized the system, I came from the Dominican Republic where many people were hungry, lived on the street, were poor, without work, without access to basic or university education.

While here there was no unemployment or homeless people, those were tendencies of the capitalist world (laughs). The people had a job, salary, education, housing and health guaranteed by the State, but the power was centralized and directed by a single political party. I understood then that it is not enough to have our basic needs covered, you also need to satisfy the spiritual side: to have the freedom to speak, to debate, to say, to discern, to choose.

PB: How do you think the fall of the Soviet Union affected Hungary?

D.A.L.L.: In the 1990s in Hungary, the term Latin Americanization was used to describe the fear that the change from a socialist system of planned economy to a market economy would cause a polarization between rich and poor. Another fear was that the private sector would impose itself on the public sector in state policy, on issues such as health or education. I have been here since 1988 and I would say that the change has been positive for Hungary, nonetheless we have to clarify that it was different for everyone, many people were affected and not everything was rosy.

PB: Hungary has had to solve different problems in its history and it will have to continue doing so like any other nation, from your perspective. How do you think the scenario for Hungary will be in the following years?

D.A.L.L.: A problem, which is actually a state policy, is that of demographic decrease. This entails a series of socio-economic and social challenges, if we continue like this; we will not have enough population to maintain the education, retirement and social services system.

On the other hand, we must not only address the demographic problem, we need to improve our infrastructure in general, means of communications, of transport and develop our country more comprehensively, Hungary is very centralized in Budapest since there are the best opportunities, jobs and salaries, while that the provinces remain isolated.