The above sentence was the message I received the other day from a Facebook-friend, together with a black and white photograph showing some African kids in a classroom with a tall, Germanic looking woman-teacher, and some German sentences on the big blackboard in the background. The picture was taken around 1984, in a small town in what was then East Germany, Staßfurt. My Facebook friend was one of a cohort of almost 900 Mozambican children who completed the long years of secondary schooling and adolescence in East Germany in order to become homem novo, a specific type of ‘new socialist man’, upon their return to Mozambique.
But when they arrived back at Maputo airport in 1988, Mozambique was no longer the socialist country they had left, Samora Machel, the President who had sent them had died two years earlier – and instead of becoming part of a new socialist elite most were initially made to serve as ordinary soldiers.
Some observers have thus claimed they were pawns in a wider geopolitical game of the Cold War, put into a total institution (the boarding school in Staßfurt) that violated their rights. Sitting with a group of former students of the Schule der Freundschaft (the School of Friendship), as this experiment in socialist development cooperation and education was officially known, in Beira in the summer of 2008, I am struck instead by the headline in a photo-album of a former student: ‘memories of paradise or dreams collapsed?’ it reads. And indeed, ‘memories of paradise’ is perhaps among the most pronounced lasting legacies of their stay in former East Germany, together with the longing for a particular type of sausages and the ability to sing songs by West-German singer-songwriter Nena to perfection!
My latest book, Legacies of Socialist Solidarity focuses on the life trajectories of former School of Friendship students now, 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. It not only analyses their life courses with a focus on personal aspirations, political orientation, collective memories, and shared horizons. It also shows lasting legacies of socialist beliefs and practices and in placing those into the context of the broader political developments in Mozambique, the book explores an important dimension for the understanding of contemporary Mozambique.
In addition, in showing how attachment to socialist ideals can serve as a meaningful response in the negotiation of contemporary realities and is not simply a sign of nostalgia for outmoded models of thought, the book makes a significant contribution to the comprehension of socialist cosmopolitanism and resulting patterns of identity and belonging, and to the wider literature on post-socialist change, the de-centering of Cold War histories, and the pervasiveness of the political in everyday lives.
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