Preface to the book of Isolde Charim: "Me & the others"
The Hungarian philosopher Agnes Heller was said that she was twenty years old before she saw her first black person. He was, of course, visiting Hungary. "That sort of person" didn't exist in Budapest back then. Today, if you talk with Western European children, both in big cities and increasingly in smaller places as well, they tell of five, six or seven languages – German, Serbian, Bulgarian, Arabic, Chinese, Italian or French – being spoken in their school classes. The same applies to countries of origin, skin colors and religions. What a change! Heller's world – and also the world of my own childhood in Vienna – has disappeared, just as Communist East Germany has disappeared. In the case of East Germany, I was at the scene on the day, or more accurately the evening it disappeared. November 9, 1989. At Checkpoint Charlie and East Berlin. There you could witness a state power implode in real time. For the end of the former Europe, the former Vienna, there is no one such moment or date. Their disappearance wasn't a discrete event. It was a creeping development people first noticed once it was complete. In that sense, even if he or she lived in Austria, Vienna or Europe, no one was at the scene when the Austrian, Viennese or European world turned into another one. Because no one noticed. We weren't present when we became different people because we didn't realize it. Even if this change – the change that comes with pluralism – was as massive of that of the fall of the Berlin Wall, we didn't experience it. It happened to us. One day, we simply awakened in a new world and as a new person. This sort of fundamental change was possible within a single lifetime. Over the course one and the same life, people could experience what Agnes Heller did, that is, a relatively homogenous, unified society, and what we today are experiencing. And our experience today can be summed up in a single sentence: We live in a pluralized society