Monday, August 22, 2011

The end of the Soviet Union - personal touch

In 1991 I was 13. I had just moved to France and was dealing with all of the usual early teen angsty stuff (new school, am I fat, what should I wear etc). At the same time the USSR was crumbling into pieces. I was born in 1978 so I remember the 80's pretty well. All kinds of things spring to mind: Maggie Thatcher, miner strikes, darkness, the IRA, being poor, family problems, death, life, moving etc etc.
And then my cousin Johnny telling me that Reagan and Gorbachev each had a special button that they could press at any time, and we would all DIE in a nuclear attack. Or that one episode on the Twilight Zone, where a woman finds a necklace buried in her back garden, and every time she puts it on time stops. The episode ends with the nuclear bomb sirens, and the woman putting the necklace on. Time stops and she walks around the streets, seeing people stopped in mid run to a shelter, and up in the sky is a nuclear rocket. Stop time forever or get incinerated. Nice!
I remember going to Poland on the train from The Netherlands. Stopping at the border between West and East Germany. Then stopping at the border between East Germany and West Berlin. And then again at the Wall. I'll always remember the difference in attitude between the West German border police and the East German ones. It didn't help that I was already obsessed with WW2 fiction and non-fiction, so hearing the harsh shout of "Ausweispapiere!" didn't really incite any feelings of comfort or warmth.
How about when some of my stepfather's Russian and Polish relations finally made it across the border for a few weeks to stay with us? For the Russians it was nearly impossible to get a visa, but they were so lovely and grateful, and didn't make any demands. But some of the Polish ones asked us to buy them a truck and fill it up with goods so that they could sell it in Poland. They thought that people in the "West" were able to buy anything they wanted without a worry... And didn't really understand when we had to explain that that wasn't really what Capitalism was...
Our little Russian cousin, the one with the swollen lymph glands in his neck, who we managed to get across the border for a few weeks so his dad could take him to a hospital in the West - everyone was worried it was a side effect of Czernobyl (it wasn't cancer thank goodness)...

And then the complete difference within one year, the wall coming down, one by one each ex-Eastern European country becoming free from Communism, and then finally, the last days of the Soviet Union. I'm so glad I had the chance to experience everything I did.
These last two decades have given us other powers to fear, but those of us who lived through some of, or all of the Cold War, will always remember what it was like to fear the power of the other "great evil". (I say that with enormous sarcasm, hence the inverted commas, not to be taken seriously).

All this to say, it's the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Soviet Empire, and you should all read these very interesting articles from this time: The Soviet Coup: best reads (on Global Post)

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