Liberation (1940)?

I spent all day today in a senior management seminar. I started the opening session with a plea for what I journalistically entitled a ‘cultural revolution’. One of my basic arguments was that collectively the EU’s institutions had not yet fully understood the consequences of the last two waves of enlargement (2004 and 2007). We have a fierce attachment to the notion of a European public service. We know how difficult it is to compete in the international job market for high-performing polyglot staff. We therefore understand why our officials receive the salaries they do and work in the conditions that they do. But many of our members, particularly those coming from Central and Eastern European countries, understandably cannot avoid making comparisons with conditions back home and the conditions that used to exist back home until very recently. After my talk there was a table round in which participants agreed with the basic analysis. But the whole atmosphere in the room changed electrically when a Latvian deputy director, IS, took the floor and briefly recounted the world which she had known. When the Soviets invaded Latvia in 1940 they split up former grand townhouses into small flats. IS’s parents lived in half of one room. Their half was demarcated by a wardrobe and a curtain. All services – toilet, kitchen – were communal, shared with three other families. There was no bathroom. Washing was in a bowl of hot water. Because of theft, they kept their refrigerator with their food in their half room. IS was an only child. It was impossible to have another until, ten years later, they obtained an additional room, when IS’s brother was born. I have very briefly summarised IS’s account. This is a world which she knew. Indeed, she has lived more of her life under the old regime than under the new one. It was a perfectly timed and delivered reminder of just how lucky we are.