Voices From the Center, produced in 2009 and 2019, is a multi-platform oral history project examining the changes in Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia since the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989. The project was initially sparked by my desire to better understand the lives of people living on the other side of the Iron Curtian . I talked with new neighbors and colleagues in Bratislava, Slovakia, where I was teaching at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design as a Fulbright Scholar in the 2006-2007 academic year, about their experiences growing up during the Cold War. Many of the conversations were so compelling that I began to write them down and soon a project was born. Wanting a more expansive view of people’s experiences during Socialism, I expanded the project from the Slovak Republic to Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland, comprising the grouping known as the Viśegrad or V4 countries. This gave the project geographic definition as well as a wider lens into the range of social and economic systems that made up the Socialist or Communist (the terms are used interchangeably) Eastern Bloc. The original website, exhibitions and programs were produced in Central Europe and the United Stats from 2009 (the 20t anniversary year of the fall of the Berlin Wall) - 2011.
With the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 2019, I returned to the project to look at what has changed, and what has not, in the past decade. In addition to re-interviewing some of the people that I talked with in 2009, I also had conversations with others that were not part of the original project. Many of these people were part of significant historical events just touched upon in the original iteration of the project, such the Solidarity movement in Gdańsk, Poland.
The project also included conversations with former dissidents, communist party chiefs, Olympians, villagers, teachers, artists and people instrumental in the fall of socialism in Central Europe. I also talked with young adults, who had been children when the wall came down, about their views of life in the post-communist era. People from both groups talked about what freedom meant to them and had the opportunity to express their dreams, fears and hopes for themselves, their countries and the world. Together these conversations created a portrait of a people emerging from one political and cultural era into another.