When Dominating Cultures Move In And Out

Co-written with Klaudia Kovacs


American culture is ubiquitous and no matter where one goes in the world, from Copenhagen to Beijing, one will encounter the same US brands of jeans, T-shirts, computers, phones and burger joints.

Over the course of history, dominating cultures have expanded and contracted, forcing their dominance into their conquered territories. One might wonder what happens in the cultural void they leave behind.

The fall of the Roman Empire, spreading from North Africa to England and from Spain to Turkey left big parts of Europe in the dark for a thousand years. It was not until the mid-nineteenth century that sanitation and medical services returned to the level of pre 300 AD Rome.

It is not everyday we experience this same magnitude of collapse, however perhaps some insights can be gained from the more recent rise and fall of the Soviet Union.

Only sixty years ago, the Soviet Union crushed the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and Europe changed dramatically. The event is captivatingly described in Klaudia Kovacs's Klaudia Kovacs's documentary Torn from the Flag Torn from the Flag. While Hungary's occupation continued for another thirty-three years (a generation and a half in human terms) the effect of the occupation continues on until today.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Hungary, like all Eastern European countries, experienced a crash of their communist regime. In the beginning, this led to euphoria regarding the country's future but things turned bleak within just a few years.

For us to understand the difficulties Hungary is still going through today, we need to analyze how the occupation impacted a nation that already had a history of oppression.

Hungary's birth rate dropped dramatically and alcohol consumption went up six hundred percent. Their suicide rate increased and, during the 1980's, it was the highest in the world! These statistics give one a glimpse on how debilitating the occupying system felt to those who lived there.

Trauma has long-term effects, and one cannot help but think that there might be a link to this recent statistic. In 2012, Hungary was the "Most Miserable Country" in the world. The Russian Federation, Estonia, Poland, the Slovak Republic, and Slovenia also made the list. (Source: USNews.com)

Eastern European countries are the most recent in experiencing the departure of suppression. African nations experienced these transitions after World War II, going though a period of withdrawal and an attempt at self-reliance. Just before these nations achieved liberation, countries such as Korea and China had undergone decades of Japanese occupation.

Occupation by a dominating culture is therefore much more debilitating than what can be observed by the naked eye. Previously occupied countries struggle with the cultural trauma caused by their humiliating defeats. They experience oppression and have difficulties in forgiving their oppressors, which often plants the seed for future conflicts, such as the flawed peace treaties of World War I later setting the stage for World War II.

America's recent occupation of several middle eastern nations, whatever their intention, is disrupting proud, ancient cultures and effectively preparing the soil for generations of discontent with the western powers. A backlash, expressed in clothing, grooming and contempt for objects expressing western ideals is the first step of a process back to normality that may take generations.

Special thanks to Klaudia Kovacs for co-writing and researching this article