I spent 20 years, from 1990 to 2010 in more than a dozen countries in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union working with UNICEF and the World Bank. My assignment was to help create new social welfare systems in those countries. I began working in Romania in 1991 with UNICEF and the government of Romania to create a new child protection system when the horror of their so-called orphanages became known to the world. I made 48 trips to the region during those years, to Romania, Lithuania, Armenia and Tajikistan, Latvia, Albania, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, Hungary, Poland, East Germany, Moldova, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Ukraine. Ten of those countries are represented in this exhibit.

It was a historic period. The transition from communism to capitalism began with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Soviet Union in 1991, 25 years ago. During that time, I took thousands of photographs in institutions, in communities and in people’s homes. The photos are presented with a brief description to provide a historical or cultural context.

Some changes in the region have been positive and some not. Some things have changed very little. There continues to be environmental damage, racism, and large residential institutions. These institutions continue to house children who are poor, abused or disabled. They are mislabeled “orphanages.” What also has remained the same in many places is the absence of real democracy.

A popular joke in Eastern Europe during the reign of communism asked, “What is the difference between communism and capitalism? The answer said ironically and in protest was “In capitalism man exploits man. In communism it’s the other way around.” Reflecting that quote, in some of the photographs it is difficult to tell if the scene is a product of communism or capitalism.

Click on the image to see the full picture.