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Independence means...

 

Independence means that you are born in a maternity hospital where there are no the world’s most germ-free Soviet cockroaches but there are disposable syringes and nappies instead.

 

Independence means that your father goes to the registry office to receive your birth certi¬ficate stating you are called Ryhor in honour of your grandfather, and a woman-registrar calmly gives him this document without opening the Reference Book of Personal Names of Peoples of the USSR and hysterically trying to explain to your father that he can easily name his son Faizulla or even Mamai but he cannot call him Ryhor because there is no such name in the world, but there is a good Russian name Grigory instead.

 

Independence means that you go to school and are taught in your native language, while little Grażyna, who you took to in kindergarten, is taught in her native language; and your neighbour little Misha, whose father is called Isaac, in his own; and another neighbour, little Alyosha, whose parents have moved here because in their town on the Volga they had to queue from 5 a.m. to buy milk for the baby, in his own. You are taught in your native language, and for this purpose your Mum and Dad don’t have to collect other parents’ written requests for their children to be taught in their native language door to door all summer, because the other parents in fact don’t mind it – it’s just that the idea has never crossed their minds, since they were brought up as internationalists. The Headmaster doesn’t lose these requests three times and his secretary doesn’t do so twice, and at the opening exercises to mark the beginning of the school year on 1 September you are not told that ‘the school’s facilities are becoming more and more attractive year by year,’ only to discover as you come into the classroom that thanks to the Communist Party’s continual care, your class has one ABC book and two books of maths in your native language.[1]

 

Independence means that your pioneer brigade does not strive to be worthy of Pavlik Morozov’s or Alexander Myasnikyan’s name,[2] because all of you know very well how Pavlik loved his father and how Myasnikyan loved the Belarusians.

 

Independence means that you go to university and at a lecture on higher mathematics your dark-skinned peer from Madagascar, whose education is paid for by his country rather than yours, asks you what ‘calculus of probability’ means and you explain it to him in French.

 

Independence means that you do military service without going any further than a town or village on the border of your country, but you are never ordered to paint grass or clean the territory ‘from here till lunch’.[3] On Sunday you can visit your parents or your girlfriend, and no one will ever call you names like Buĺbaš[4] and your friend will never be nicknamed ‘a black arse’[5] only because you two think in your native language and speak it in sleep, and the army’s old-timers – ‘expert marksmen in military and poli¬tical training’ will not make you ‘ride a bike’[6] in the process of this training, and you will never be ordered to sharpen your trench shovel for ‘work’ in Baku or Tbilisi.[7]

 

Independence means that your girlfriend says that she wants to spend a weekend in Vienna, and you promise her in all sincerity that on Saturday she will be having a cup of coffee with you opposite Schönbrunn Palace, and you know for sure that before you go there, no one will scrutinise your background to find out if you were a Jew as a child or have been abroad before and if so, what your secret mission has been since you returned.

 

Independence means that you go to the cemetery at Dziady, the Forefathers’ Commemoration Day, knowing that you will light a candle and put some flowers there without being subject to tests of new V-agent sprays or a state-of-the-art model of rubber truncheon.[8]

 

Independence means that your son gets an A in history and you praise him, knowing he is not doing a subject that is all about the defeat of the German knights on Lake Peipus by Prince Alexander Nevsky or the triumph of collectivisation, but he learns about the Battle of Grunwald,[9] which prevented your nation from annihilation, and is told the truth about the regime that executed your grandfather and star¬ved your grandmother to death.

 

Independence means that one day a Belarusian bard from New York calls on you and you drink with him a glass of good cherry brandy, and the next day well-mannered guys in civvies don’t suggest that you give a detailed account of what you were drinking and who you cursed in the process.

 

Independence means that you don’t stand a chance of hearing your president preach to his fellow citizens on TV, ‘One speak as he want,’ because your president is a literate person who can speak at least one language well.[10]

 

Independence means that all of a sudden TV programmes and papers are no longer littered with letters from war veterans – no less enigmatic than untiring phantoms, or horrendous reports of vicious nationalists and extremists from peoples’ fronts who never sleep a wink, trying to stir the fire of ethnic hostility and bloodshed between you, Alyosha and Misha, whose father was called Isaak, and Grażyna, who has been your wife for years, in order to derail the train of perestroika.

 

Independence means no one threatens you that your nation cannot survive without the great Big Brother[11] because you have no bauxite or diamonds, and you realise that you needn’t have been sorry for poor Belgians or Dutchmen who have neither bauxite nor diamonds nor even a Big Brother.

 

Independence means that huge eighteen-wheelers with a logo Tsentrovyvoz (have you ever seen an eighteen-wheeler with a logo Tsentrovvoz[12]?) pull up at our supermarkets and stores instead of elsewhere.

 

Independence means that it suddenly turns out that we have some smart people too, so that if – God forbid! – there is an explosion at a plant or some other disaster, we won’t have to wait for a commission from Moscow to give us orders.[13]

 

Independence means that you know on your deathbed that when you depart this world the church were you were baptised and got married will not be demolished to dig a pond with a dirty swan or build a swimming pool in honour of the 28th CPSU Congress, and the cemetery were you rest in peace will not be bulldozed and turned into a Comrade Gorbachev or Comrade Ligachev[14] Recreation Park cluttered with empty beer cans and bottles.

 

Independence means...

 

Independence means that from cradle to grave you feel you are a free person in your own right living on your native land.

 

I believe that some time it will come true.

 

Otherwise, life would make no sense.

 

1990

 

 

 

[1] After centuries of Russification, first in the Russian Empire and then in the Soviet Union, Belarusian had virtually been eradicated from education, so parents willing to give their children an education in Belarusian ran up into huge difficulties.

[2] As part of the Soviet propaganda machine, each pioneer brigade had ‘to strive to deserve the name’ of some Soviet hero. Pavlik Morozov was a 13-year old boy who reportedly denounced his father as a kulak to the authorities and was in turn killed by his family. Alexander Myasnikyan was a prominent Armenian Bolshevik who became chairman of Belarus' Central Executive Committee in early 1919 and chairman of the Bolshevik Party in Belarus. At the same time he did not consider the Belarusians a nation in their own right and denyed them the right to state independence.

[3] ‘To paint grass green’ became a catchphrase that symbolised all the stupid and meaningless tasks practiced in the Soviet Army. ‘From here till lunch’ is another catchphrase that gives an idea of how illiterate Soviet officers were.

[4] A pejorative name for Belarusians, which literally means ‘potato-eater’.

[5] A pejorative name for people from the Caucasus and Central Asia.

[6] One of the methods of the notoriously harsh treatment of new recruits by old-timers, who would put paper between young soldiers’ toes as they slept and then light it; when the fire reached their feet, the new recruits would move their legs as if they were cycling.

[7] On 9 April 1989 army units and riot police dispersed a mass rally in Tbilisi using truncheons, tear-gas, trench shovels and firearms against the protesters. 16 people were killed and three more died in hospital. On 20 January 1990 army units stormed Baku. Hundreds of civilians were killed in the process.

[8] On 30 October 1988, the Forefathers’ Commemoration Day, riot police in Minsk used V-agent and truncheons to disperse a peaceful assembly organised by the Belarusian People’s Front to commemorate the victims of Stalin’s atrocities.

[9] On 15 July 1410 the forces of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of Poland defeated the Teutonic Order at Grunwald (the Battle of Grunwald is also known as the Battle of Tannenberg).

[10] The quote belongs to the former Speaker of the Supreme Soviet of Belarus (formally head of state at the time) Mikalaj Dziemianciej , who was notoriously tongue-tied and illiterate.

[11] In the USSR Russia was called the Big Brother.

[12] Tsentrovyvoz literally means ‘CentreExports’, i.e. ‘Deliveries to the Centre’. Tsentrovvoz would mean ‘Deliveries from the Centre’. Amidst unremitting poverty in the Soviet Union, where even the bare essentials were in short supply, the metropolis was much better supplied with food and other goods at the cost of the provinces.

[13] Following the meltdown at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant on 26 April 1986, which led to radioactive contamination of a significant part of Belarus’ territory, the Belarusian authorities, completely subordinated to the central government in Moscow, couldn’t take any action on their own.

[14] Yegor Ligachev was a conservative communist ideologue of the late Soviet epoch.

 

 

 

  Беларускі Моладзевы Рух у Амэрыцы