Language of Safety

ANDREI CODRESCU

September 23, 1991|By ANDREI CODRESCU

NEW ORLEANS. — New Orleans.-- The language of recent changes in Eastern Europe hasn't gotten the attention it deserves. For years we refered to those places as Communist, which kept them safely confined, and we spoke of them in heat metaphors. There was the Cold War, the thaw in Soviet-American relations, the Prague Spring.

And then came 1989, the year of the Meltdown. Inevitably, if one is to continue along this line, the unfreezing of these places caused some putrid corpses to come back to pseudo-life. These corpses, named variously racism, anti-Semitism, nationalism, had been frozen by communism in mid-sentence. Now they are coming back to resume their interrupted discourses where they left off.

The ''corpse'' metaphor now takes its place alongside all the others. In Romania, a discovery of shredded secret police files on dissidents has been dubbed ''the corpse of Securitate.'' Watching the cadaverous countenances of Politburo members for years gave one a pretty good idea of what the living dead looked like. Brezhnev had in fact been literally dead as he reviewed his last May Day parade.

Those kinds of corpses are gone but in their stead rise the abstract corpses of buried pre-war ideologies less easy to identify. These ancient corpses are being fed blood by the more recently deceased organs of state security. As dead Nazis receive their police-transfusions they rise from their graves and walk the streets of Bucharest, Sofia, Prague, Leipzig and Budapest just like Karl Marx's ghost who once more haunts Europe, only this time arm in arm with Hitler's ghost, a real danse macabre.

Andrei Codrescu teaches at Louisiana State University.

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