I haven’t read any books about Russia for a long time. Russians have beautiful literature; they have Leo Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Pushkin, Chekhov, Gogol and many other wonderful writers. I did not stop reading their books because I didn’t like their stories; I did like their literature. Though, I guess my rebellious mind unconsciously protested against anything that had to do with Russia because I grew up in a communist country and I blamed communism and everything that had to do with it on Russia.
Indeed, by the end of WWII in the countries that the Red Army ‘liberated’, communist-dominated governments took power. By 1949, all the governments of Eastern Europe, except Yugoslavia, became Stalinist regimes.
The map of Europe looked like this….
Romania became communist in 1947. I wasn’t born back then but my grandparents were. Unfortunately we were a noble family and that was really bad! The Communists took everything my grandparents had, all the lands and….everything. Later on they sent my father and my uncle to a correctional school because they had to “un-noble “ them and they had to be educated in the “communist spirit”. Appalling ….but other people had it worse….
My grandparents never talked much about this past.
I don’t really have a feel of what was life before communism but I do know what was like growing up under communism. Here are some things that I remember:
–It was allowed only 2 hour per day to watch television between 8 and 10 PM and usually they will put just news or documentaries about Ceausescu and his wife. As kids, we would only have cartoons 10 minutes a day and in the weekends it was half an hour. I remember all of us kids running from outside where we were playing to go in front of the TV so we can watch some Tom and Jerry….
— The communist party was trying to denigrate the image of Christmas, as it was considered too religious. So we did not have Santa Claus, Santa was banned! Instead we had Mos Gerila, a kind of slim, funny version of Santa. They wanted kids to believe that this guy was bringing presents from the state…..and that it wasn’t a magical creature. We still believed though, because our parents somehow managed to nurture our imagination…..
This is a picture of Mos Gerila from a newspaper in 1947. Still, our image of it was the one with beard and it pretty much looked like Santa, because our parents, the ones who dressed up like it, never looked so hunky :))).
–When my aunt who moved to Germany sent me a pair of jeans it was a miracle. In communist Romania, almost nobody owned a paired of jeans because that was a luxury.
–I remember my parents planning to go in vacations or visits during the weekends. The planning was a whole production! Why? Because depending of your license plate you could only drive your car two weekends a month! They would alternate between even and odd license plate numbers! In some weekends you could only drive your car if the license number plate was ending in 2, 4, 6 e.g. and in others the ones ending in 1, 3, 5, 7 e.g. If they caught you with wrong plate number you would have been arrested. How weird is that!!
–Every month you could only use 20 L gas, that is about 5 gallons a month!! Yes, that was all you had! So you had to plan your travels carefully and save gas if you wanted to take a longer trip! Also, we had a car but to own a car back then was a complete luxury. In 1989, before the revolution, in Bucharest there were only about 200. 000 cars. Now there are millions of cars in Romania…..
–During communism the borders were closed. Nobody could go outside the country. We never imported many goods, so imagine when after 1989 when finally products were imported! Juices, cigars, sweets were things nobody tasted in their life!
So yes, I remember all these things and others too. Russia, communist rule, our lives. I never wanted to go back, not even in my mind. And apparently I kept everything away, even the wonderful Russian novels that were completely unrelated with the spread of communism and what it did to us……
An old trilogy: “Sisters” (1921-1922), “The Eighteenth Year” (1927-1928) and “Gloomy Morning” (1940-1941), by Aleksey Nikolayevich Tolstoy.
I’ve bought these three books from my neighborhood bookstore, in California. I think what attracted me most were the covers and the old feel! These books are over 50 years old; they were published in 1953. Who knows who left them in this bookstore ….
This author is not Leo Tolstoy, but some sources say that they were distant relatives. I don’t know much about their relationship, but whereas Aleksey was not an influential global writer as Leo Tolstoy, he did leave an interesting legacy that includes many wonderful works.
And so, I read them….
The story revolves around 4 main characters, 2 sisters and their husbands. Dasha and Katya are the sisters and Telegin and Roshkin are their husbands. I was swept by the true love between these people but most of all I was swept by how the turmoil of historical events shaped people’s lives and their destinies.
This trilogy traces the development of the Russian society during the critical years of WWI, the 1917 Russian Revolution and the civil war in Russia.
Russia fought WWI on the Eastern Front. As many other armies, Russian army too lost a lot of soldiers, and more …because the Russian Army had about one doctor for every 10,000 men. Thus, many wounded soldiers died from wounds that would have been treated on the Western Front.
This is a map of Europe in the year of 1914, drawn by a German graphic artist, Walter Trier
Then the Russian Revolution started in March 1917, the monarchy was abolished. The Civil War followed….
The Civil War was between the Red Army, known as the communist Bolsheviks and the White Army, who greatly favored nationalism and monarchism. And in between, there was also the Green Army that rose from the peasantry. The Greens grew tired of the Red Army requisitioning their livestock, food, and able-bodied men so they rose to protect their communities.
As the history of Russia was being made, people’s lives were turned upside down to the point that soldiers and officers that fought together in the WWI ended up fighting against and killing each other in the revolution and in the Civil War.
Reading these books made me think about a distant past and about these people, about how much they went through and about how much they suffered. Then about the Russian Revolution, the spread of communism and what it did to people living in Eastern Europe…
People and places, our lives
You see, we create meaning through the exchange between spheres of different rationalities. Depending to what we are exposed to, we create our identities and shape our life trajectories.
During communism, people were in a deeply flawed position. They learned gobbets of information and wrong teachings and information were stored in the society’s collective memory banks. Thus how could one give a reasoned critique to what was really happening?
I saw what happened to my family, what they took from us, how they transformed our lives. But I was just a child. Human mind displays great ingenuity and so I blocked everything that had to do with Russia, even their literature. Looking back, this was crazy……..
I will have to ponder about it more, but one thing that comes to my mind now is that are all people, we are individuals with similar fears, needs and desires. We are all living histories; we are told or untold biographies. We have to take time to learn about the world and about other’s views of the world. Our lives are our own and we have to keep learning.
Since tomorrow is Christmas, let’s try to give our best to the ones around us! Peace and love from me to all of you.
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