Foreign Policy Blogs

Barbara: A voyage into the recent shadows of Europe


“You cannot be happy over there” tells Barbara to what seems to be her boyfriend. Barbara, a German doctor, sent in an somewhere in East Germany in 1980 as a punishment for undisclosed reasons tries to escape from the reality of an underdeveloped and oppressive East Germany under Soviet ruling. The movie, Barbara, directed by Christian Petzold and starring Nina Hoss, offers us a beautiful but harsh voyage into the heavy past of the Cold War and the Soviet Union. It is a human regard of the soviet oppression.

The current political evolution taking place in Europe with the rise of the extremes, the increase of nationalism, the retour and acceptability of neo-Nazism, and the massive waves of ignorant politicians serve as a direct reminder that peace and stability on the European continent should not be taken for granted. The European Union, far from being perfect, has offered the instruments and institutions needed in order to strengthen democracy and cohesion on a troublesome continent. The picture Barbara shows that these values and political system were not accessible to most European citizens in a very recent past. 46

Cause by the 2008 financial crisis leading to the Eurocrisis, massive waves of austerity measures have taken place in Southern and Western Europe leading to the demise of the welfare state and opening the gate to massive deregulation and privatization. As demonstrated throughout the history of the 20th century, economic crises lead to radicalism, extremism and nationalism – and all other types of –ism – all undermining the fragility of democracy. The rise of nationalism in countries like Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, Greece, Britain and others is worrisome. European citizens have been taken for granted stability and democracy, and would – to a certain extent – trade-off economic growth for less freedom. What is it the message sent by David Cameron less than a month ago? Barbara reminds us what it means to live under an oppressive regime where freedom can only be a dream.

Watching Barbara felt like reading a novel written by Hemingway; very few words but powerful emotions. The simplicity of the narratives and the beauty of the country-side raising a certain degree of nostalgia create a complex dilemma for the viewer. The simplicity of life in East Germany balanced with the darkness of the oppressive force of a greater invisible political system represented by what seems to be a member of the Stasi police force monitoring all the movements of Barbara. Certainly connecting the EU to Barbara may seem some sort of a far stretch, however the EU is the only political-system that has been developed and worked in strengthening peace and stability in recent times on the European continent. The EU is certainly not an end in itself, but a mean to a greater goal. Watching – as one can do with other movies like Goodbye Lenin, The Lives of Others, the Wave – the destructive power of a coercive political system as was the Soviet Union through its networks of prisons, camps and one of its greatest instruments the Stasi, is a good reminder of the complex and ephemeral beauty of democracy. Barbara is not only a must-see for any movie aficionados, but as well a hymn to freedom.




Maxime H.A. Larivé
Maxime H.A. Larivé

Maxime Larivé holds a Ph.D. in International Relations and European Politics from the University of Miami (USA). He is currently working at the EU Center of Excellence at the University of Miami as a Research Associate. His research focus on the questions of the European Union, foreign policy analysis, security studies, and European security and defense policy. Maxime has published several articles in the Journal of European Security, Perceptions, and European Union Miami Analysis as well as World Politics Review.