The post-communist generation

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For some living in what was once the Eastern Bloc, the anniversary of bringing down the wall brings little cause for celebration. The last twenty years have brought freedom but also hardship and uncertainty ? especially for the youngest generation who have grown up without Communism. Laura Lynch visited a high school in Budapest, Hungary.

LAURA LYNCH: Students at this downtown school attend classes in a building that sits in the middle of Hungary's storied history, is just blocks from the banks of the Danube where you can see the majestic Buda castle and the houses of parliament. But being surrounded by history doesn't necessarily translate into knowing history, especially recent history.

SPEAKER: What are you going to be doing on November ninth? Do you know what November ninth is? Anybody?

LYNCH: The anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall isn't a notable date for this class of seventeen and eighteen year olds. Their parents may talk about the events of twenty years ago, but Norbert Nag and Fahnee Kerestesh are pretty much unmoved.

NORBERT NAG: What it means to my mother is not the same what it means to me so of course she felt it much more personally as I did because I wasn't even born at that time.

FAHNEE KERESTESH: I see it like any kind of other Hungarian historical event because it was important but not personally. Emotionally, it's nothing.

LYNCH: Daniel Szabo says his parents describe it as a time when life was simpler and safer.

DANIEL SZABO: They said that there were more security on the streets and the police guys were on the streets not for get money from the bad guys but for make security on the streets.

LYNCH: The students do study Hungary's history but the events of 1989 aren't covered in the official curriculum. That's frustrated for teacher Yanas Varga. He thinks students really don't understand or appreciate the monumental change that took place.

YANAS VARGA: Sometimes I have time to tell them my stories. For example, when I was a student in the 1970's, reading an English newspaper or reading a weekly such as the Newsweek was a serious offense. I was summoned by the deputy headmaster and I was threatened to be thrown out of school. I was really frightened. They laugh at it.

LYNCH: That apparent complacency is one of the reasons Hungary opened the so-called House of Terror a few years ago inside the former headquarters of both the Nazi and Communist era secret police. School groups are led through exhibits detailing the horrors of life back then. The trains that shipped thousands off to the Gulags, the harsh living conditions and toward the end, the killings. As an elevator descends to the basement prison cells, a video screen shows a former guard dispassionately describing the execution process. Curator Maria Schmidt complains Hungary's transition to democracy was so quick, so relatively smooth, Communist leaders were never really forced to account for what happened. The story was never told from the victims' point of view.

MARIA SCHMIDT: I wanted to win the battle against the monopoly of the left wing, narrative on Hungarian history of the mainly, particularly on the twentieth century. I think that's the most important part of democracy that you cannot monopolize the way of people are thinking on history.

LYNCH: But twenty years ago it seemed there was no time for reflection. Instead, it was a headlong rush into the future and the future was capitalism. Few sense that better than George Hemingway. Today the American-Hungarian businessman is investing in the next generation himself, buying a soccer team and building a training ground in the suburbs of Budapest. Hemingway has been in the game of investing here from the moment Communism ended, flying in from his home in Las Vegas to do business.

GEORGE HEMINGWAY: When we came here in 1989, everybody thought I was making a foolish decision. And we made a ton of money.

LAURA LYNCH: Hemingway bought dozens of restaurants, food stores, a computer company and more. He introduced Hungarians to Pizza Hut, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Dunkin Donuts. But a few years ago, the economy started to stumble. Government debt soared. Hemingway saw it happen and got rid of half of his portfolio.

GEORGE HEMINGWAY: The government was spending, spending and spending without any idea where the country, where it was taking the country. Even what they were spending, they were spending badly and Hungary became a basket case.

LYNCH: The global financial crisis made matters worse. Last year, Hungary had to turn to the World Bank, IMF and EU for a twenty five billion dollar bailout. There are new austerity measures in place. Hemingway thinks Hungarians still haven't come to terms with the sometimes harsh realities of the free marketplace.

HEMINGWAY: Yes they won freedom and yes they want to make money and yes they want capitalism as much as they understand it, but they also want free healthcare, they want free schools, they want free universities, they want to go to the mayor and get some money if they don't have it.

LYNCH: It's a combustible mix for a country still rising from the ashes of its Communist past. The disappointment has led to deep political divisions and as in other former Eastern Bloc nations, a rise in popularity for extreme right wing groups. Historian Attila Pok finds the shift disturbing.

ATTILA POK: For the great euphoria of ten years ago totally vanished and people who have no option, find these black and white answers appealing.

LYNCH: High school student Norbert Nag says he knows people who miss the stability that came with Communism and he kind of understands it.

NORBERT NAG: You don't want to know my opinion.

LYNCH: I do, go ahead and share.

NAG: No, it's just a childish opinion, you know. Dictatorship maybe because no, that's not going to work, really. It's just a joke, a childish joke.

LYNCH: This generation may not know that much about what happened two decades ago, but there's no doubt these young men and women carry the weight of the past. The expectations of 1989 have come to land at the feet of those who will have to move forward into the country's uncertain future. For The World, I'm Laura Lynch in Budapest.