Europe Day

Although due to the current situation, the whole world knows what May 9 means to Russians in most countries the calendar is marked with another holiday – Europe Day.

Europe Day held on 9 May every year celebrates peace and unity in Europe. The date marks the anniversary of the historic Schuman Declaration that set out his idea for a new form of political cooperation in Europe, which would make war between Europe’s nations unthinkable.

The Schuman Declaration or Schuman Plan was a proposal by the French foreign minister, Robert Schuman, made on 9 May 1950. It proposed placing French and West German production of coal and steel under a single authority that would later be opened to other European countries. The ultimate goal was to pacify relations, between France and West Germany in particular, through gradual political integration, which would be achieved by creating common interests. Schuman said that “the coming together of the countries of Europe requires the elimination of the age-old opposition of France and Germany…the solidarity in production thus established will make it plain that any war between France and Germany becomes not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible.”

It is so sad to see today, that his hopes didn’t materialize and that the opposite happen, in the most unthinkable way! I hold a strong hope, however, that this time, the European countries won’t stop in the middle of the way and will make sure that nothing like this will ever happen again.

Vilnius Museum of Occupation

We had a list of museums we thought we wanted to visit on Saturday (our flight out was at 6-30 PM, so we had most of the day). The Museum of Occupation was something new on the list of Vilnius museums, and I saw that it was very popular. Since this museum was the furthest from our hotel, we decided to start there and see how much time we had left for other museums. 

But that museum impressed us so much that after spending 2.5 hours there, we realized we could not go anywhere else, so we spent the rest of that day walking along the streets of Old Town and talking about what we saw. 

There is no other museum like this in any of the former Soviet Republics, and I think that if such museums were open in all the Russian cities, maybe, maybe… maybe things would look differently today.

The museum is located in a former Lithuanian KGB building, and the KGB internal prison is still preserved in the basement. Exhibits on the first and second floors present the history of Lithuania’s fight for freedom from 1940 to 1991. 

After leaving the museum, Boris said: I am trying to figure out which parts we didn’t know. We knew most of the facts, but in some cases, we were not aware of the magnitude of the events, and in some, we simply never gave it enough thought, which I am now ashamed of. 

I knew about deportations in 1941, right before the start of the war, but I didn’t know that there were multiple waves of deportations after the war. The number of displaced people might not look so big until you think about the total population of Lithuania and realize that it was more than 10% of the total population.

We knew about the Forest Brothers, but I had no idea that they kept fighting until 1953! I didn’t know how well they were organized, how much support did they have in the country, and I didn’t know about their multiple unsuccessful attempts to get some support from the West. 

Knowing these facts, there is no wonder to see such overwhelming support for Ukraine everywhere in Lithuania! 

The exhibit explains how “a quiet resistance” rolled out after the Forest Brothers were defeated. And once again, it made me think about the time I visited Lithuania when I was a teen and a young adult. I am ashamed of myself now that I think about how we were coming there, the occupants, and how we were oblivious that we were seen as occupants. Also, I know many Russians who moved to Lithuania after the war and after the mass deportations, and they were completely ignorant about their role in the occupation. 

The part of the museum that talks about the labor camps was somewhat less impressive because I knew a lot about them. But the KGB prison left a completely grave impression, even though, theoretically, we knew how the suspects and the prisoners were treated. 

And one of the most impressive parts of the exhibit was the room where they presented the complete organizational chart of the Lithuanian KGB organization, with names and photographs! That’s where I thought – we should have had this for each KGB organization on the territory of the former Soviet Union! Then, maybe… 

I am not sure whether the pictures can add much, but I tried to make them informative. As for the prison, the most horrifying thing is that it is real, and not only real but also very recent.

Continue reading “Vilnius Museum of Occupation”

Igor’s Article: Ukraine World War II Legacy

I really liked it. And since I know that people do not like to click on the links – here is the full text.

To Belarusians, Russians and Ukrainians, few historical events loom as large as World War II. One would be hard-pressed to find an Eastern Slav who doesn’t have some relative who fought in the war, died in a war or lost something to the war. Many Eastern European cities still have lasting scars.

I grew up in St. Petersburg, a city that survived the nearly 900-day Siege of Leningrad, where over a million people perished from bombings, disease and starvation. A ring of mass graves around the city’s former outskirts serves as a lasting reminder of the sheer scale of the toll. My grandmother on my mom’s side was only 6 when the Siege happened, and she lived through the first year before she was evacuated. 

Grandma Nina never sugarcoated the realities of the war.

“One winter day, I was playing in the yard when a young couple approached me,” she told me. I couldn’t have been older than 9. “They said, ‘Little girl, would you like some candy?’ But I knew better. There was no candy during the Siege. So I ran into my building as quickly as my little legs would carry me. And it’s a good thing I did — otherwise, I would’ve gotten eaten.”

Grandma Nina wasn’t my only connection to the war. Three of my great-grandfathers served in the military, in some capacity or another. My Belarusian grandfather and his sister (also named Nina) lived through the Nazi occupation of what is now Belarus. Even the relatives who barely saw any fighting have war-related memories. 

When I was a kid, there was a lot of emphasis on the toll the war took, how we must remember this toll because we must never allow anything like that again. But I feel like something shifted in the last 20 years, as members of my great-grandparents’ generation, and even older members of my grandparents’ generation, died of natural causes in growing numbers. 

There was less talk about pain and suffering, and more emphasis on the glorious Red Army heroically overcoming odds and triumphing over Nazis. Talking about some of the harsh realities of the war suddenly became controversial.

When I was growing up, calling someone a Nazi was about the worst thing one could do to another person. Our teachers told us to use the word carefully because “words have meanings.” But whatever restraint there was seems to have completely evaporated.

In 2014, when Russia encouraged separatists in the Donbass region and the war broke out, Russians and Ukrainians accused each other of being Nazis. It wasn’t that unusual to see social media posts and news segments where World War II veterans encouraged their grandchildren to fight against Nazi invaders. Aside from the language and national signifiers, they sounded practically identical.

Now, as the long-simmering conflict erupted into a full-fledged war, the Nazi labels flew with renewed vigor. The Russian government quickly positioned the “special operation” as “denazification” of Ukraine, and as the attacks intensified, Ukrainians were quick to call Russians Nazis. 

Of course, what’s different this time is the sheer scale and devastation of the attacks. When I saw photos of people huddled in Kyiv and Kharkiv subways to escape the bombings, I immediately thought of people hiding from Nazi bombings of Moscow. When I read about Mariupol getting encircled by the Russian army, its besieged residents huddled in the cold, it’s hard not to think about Grandma Nina talking about burning everything there was to burn in the house just to stay warm. When I see families fleeing west, I think of Grandpa Gena talking about how he was only 5 years old when his family tried, and failed, to outrun the Nazi advance.

“When the war started, my dad went off to serve, so it was just me, my mom, my older brother, Nikolay, and my younger sister Nina,” he told me. “I remember when we were trying to flee, my mom carried Nina in her arms, while I ran with her.”

I was taught to be careful about using the word “Nazi,” and I’m not going to stop now. But when one gets that kind of association … I know it makes at least some Russians pause. A couple of days ago, I saw a photo of a flier somebody put up in St. Petersburg. “A city that survived the Siege is against the war!” But so far there is also plenty of support, including from some of the people who were kids during World War II.

This war will end someday. Kyiv, which was shelled during World War II, will rise again, just like it did last time. And the scars of war will linger. 

Maybe this time, the generations to come will not so easily lose sight of the toll the war takes. 

Maybe this time, Russians won’t need a personal connection to understand the horror the war inflicts.

Summer 1969: The Sanatorium

As it often happens, after I started the daycare (detskiy sad), frequent colds started, but in addition, several times, they ended with pneumonia. Back in the 1960s, that sounded even more serious than now. A part of the reason for our trip to the Black Sea in 1968 was a belief that it should strengthen me against the frequent colds. At least that partially influenced mom’s decision.

Most likely, the situation somewhat improved, but not drastically, and the doctors recommended a sanatorium. Back then, a sanatorium mostly meant that I would stay “on fresh air” more than I would do otherwise. Also, it meant almost free boarding, which was a relief for mom. 

That summer, she sent me to the sanatorium in Solnechnoe, in Karelia. It’s not like she had a choice where I would go; pediatric clinics were getting quote, and they would decide who should go and where. 

Solnechnoe, former Finnish Kuokkala, was the most southern resort in the “Russian” part of the Baltic Seashore. This territory has a long history of changing ownership; some details can be found here. It is not like I cared back then, and I do not even think that mom cared. She mentioned that they routinely called Karelia “Finland,” so there was no confusion about this land. 

I came to Solnechnoe in mid-May, shortly after “the May holidays” – the sequence of May 1st, 2nd, and 9th, which were all days off, plus the weekends in between. In the beginning, it didn’t feel at all like summer, we wore coats outside, and the spring bulbs just started to bloom. 

I do not know why I remember this boy’s name – he is Seriozha Morev

Other than that, I didn’t see much difference between being at the dacha and in the sanatorium. The building was somewhat better, and for sure, it was somebody’s summer cottage nationalized by the state. In the picture above, you can see how close the building is to the seashore.

Can you find me? I am the one with the white bow

Our building housed the “younger group” and “the older group,” which included children from 5 to 7 and even two school-aged girls, Lilya and Laylay (the very back row on the left). Looking at the class picture, I remember most of the kids, how they looked in real life, what color their clothes were. For some reason, I do not remember the names of the kids with who I played most often but remember others My best friend was a girl who is the fourth from the left in the second row, but I don’t remember her name. And I remember that the girl on the very left of the second row was Ira Kolesnikova, but I was not that close with her. Also, I am surrounded by boys in all pictures, but I do not remember hanging out with the boys that much. I mostly remember the fights :).  

That summer, I learned to jump a rope, and there are lots of pictures where I demonstrate that skill

Looking at these pictures, I remember one funny thing: there were some rules about what we should wear in certain weather. For example, we had to wear sweaters over the dresses when the temperature was below 20C (68F). On the other side of the building, the beach was right there, but we were not allowed into the water until both the air and the water temperature reached a certain degree (I have no idea what it was). There were still days when we swam, and that was a real delight!

One of these warm days

More pictures in the next post!

My historical posts are being published in random order. Please refer to the page Hettie’s timeline to find where exactly each post belongs, and what was before and after.

Spring 1969

I am six, and I am walking with my mom along the Griboedova Channel embankment in Leningrad. The weather is exactly what you expect in March – grey, foggy, a little bit over freezing. Once again, since mom and I are both on one of the pictures, my father had to take them. What was so special about this day, I can’t tell. But here I am happy and smiling.

My historical posts are being published in random order. Please refer to the page Hettie’s timeline to find where exactly each post belongs, and what was before and after.

Spring 1968

I can’t tell for sure whether these pictures were taken in spring 1968 or later in the fall after we returned from Loo, but most likely in spring.

As in many other cases, they were taken during my father’s visits with me. One the first of these visits, he came close to the end of my afternoon nap time (there was no option of going to bed without changing into a nightgown, even though I didn’t sleep).

Continue reading “Spring 1968”

Loo, September 1968

I asked mom whether she remembers why we chose Loo, did she know anybody there, and how she found these landlords who rented a room for us. She does not remember, so there is no way to find out. neither how the arrangements were made, nor how much it cost.

I remember walking to the house, which will become our temporary home for a month. It must have been a five-story building, and I think we lived on the third floor. The owners rented all the rooms they had during the season. I remember that the owners slept on the couch in the living room. They had three children – two older boys and a girl around my age named Ania. Most likely, they got their apartment from the government because they had three children, but I can’t recall where all these children slept when they rented all the rooms except for the living room. Since the people were moving in and out, mom and I spent the first two nights on the huge balcony and then moved into a small room with two twin beds and a desk.

We had breakfast at home in the morning; then, we would go to the beach and stay there till noon (no sunscreen in existence). I saw these beaches from the train window; I had never seen anything like that before – they were covered with flat pebble stones instead of sand. We stayed inside for the hottest hours, and then we would go to the beach again until dinner time. Usually, we had dinner in a cafeteria by the beach and then often returned to watch a sunset.

Afternoon nap
At the beach

I was not tired of that repetitiveness – everything was new to me!. The Black sea, the beach, the mountains which started right behind a narrow strip of houses, the abundance of fruits at the market, the corn on the cob sold right at the beach from large buckets – ten kopecks an ear.
I am skeptical about the medical benefits of this trip, but it made great memories.

My historical posts are being published in random order. Please refer to the page Hettie’s timeline to find where exactly each post belongs, and what was before and after.

And More To The Previous Post

Two things I forgot to mention in the previous post. 

One is about the resemblance between the Long COVID and the long-term effects of the Spanish flu on people’s ability to think and concentrate. John Barry even analyzes the behavior of President Wilson during the peace negotiations in Europe. He goes as far as speculating that his inadequate after-flu decisions affected the resulting treaty in such a way that it late made it easier for Hitler to come to power. 

And once again, about an extremely important balance between panic and informed decisions. As John Barry states, people should know the truth. When the government officials are honest in their communications, they help to maintain trust in society. Also, he cites Lincoln about the importance of identifying the thread – only when the thread is identified can you fight it. I would add to this what I’ve already said many times: whenever there is a need to change the course, it is important to explain why these changes are made, what prompted these changes, and why it was not the case before. We all know what would be the reaction otherwise 🙂

“The Great Influenza” book

I have so many things to say about this book! I started reading it because, like many others, the current COVID pandemic prompted my interest in the 1918-1920 flu pandemic. I wanted to know more about it, how people handled a pandemic a century ago, what was the effect on society and the economy, and most importantly – why we know so little about it?! 

The book gave all these answers and even more. It is more “medical” than I thought it would be; sometimes, I felt like there were too many medical details, but that’s what makes this book so convincing. 

 It starts with a survey of medicine and medical science history in America. I could not imagine that there was such a lack of science until the beginning of the 20th century! And then, the book proceeds with documenting the development of the flu pandemic, covering all medical, social, and political aspects. You can’t stop making parallels with the COVID pandemic, even though the book was written more than ten years ago. (The last version of the afterword was written when the COVID pandemic had already begun, so some similarities are discussed)

The big question I had from the very beginning of the current pandemic was the following: why do we know so little about the Spanish flu pandemic? Historical textbooks mention briefly that “one hundred million people got sick,” but that’s pretty much it. When you read anything related to the 1918 – 1920 period, the flu is never mentioned as a background of events. 

The most important reason why it all but disappeared from world history is that it was forbidden to write about it! The world was at war, and none of the participating countries wanted to spread panic or “hurt the morale.” That statement explained much of what was going on. It’s unbelievable: people were getting sick and dying. In some cities, like Philadelphia, dead bodies were piling in the houses because there was nobody to carry them away and nobody to bury them. And newspapers said nothing!

It was primarily because of the wartime censorship, but also because there was (and there is) nothing heroic in dying from a disease. 

The government kept saying, “it’s nothing but the common cold.” Same as know there were people in denial. A quote from the book:

The government’s very efforts to preserve “morale” fostered the fear, for since the war began, morale—defined in the narrowest, most shortsighted fashion—had taken precedence in every public utterance. As California senator Hiram Johnson said in 1917, “The first casualty when war comes is truth.”

Barry, John M.. The Great Influenza (pp. 333-334). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 

And one more – especially pronounced because it was written way before the pandemic:

So the first two items on the list are the lessons from 1918, which COVID has confirmed: 

Number one, tell the truth. 

Number two, NPIs work.

Barry, John M.. The Great Influenza (p. 467). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 

The author notes that not only the newspapers were silent, but also almost no works of literature mention the Spanish flu pandemic (that prompted me to start actively looking for such books, found some). You can’t stop thinking that our COVID memories might vanish in less than a hundred years! And you can’t stop thinking that the Spanish flu lessons were not learned!

In Tartu First Time After 39 Years

I disappeared from everywhere except for Instagram because first I was en route to Helsinki, and then we left for a two-day trip to Estonia, and I didn’t take my laptop with me (since I only have my work laptop in Finland). Now I have no idea when I will have enough time to blog about this trip.

The trip was amazing, and every tiny detail of it was just incredible. But in addition, it was a very meaningful trip in a way I didn’t think it would become. Only when we were on the way to Estonia, I realized that the last time I was in Tartu was approximately the same time of the year, 39 years ago, during my winter break at the University. I realized that it was sort of closing the circle because Tartu nearly became my hometown. I was going to transfer to the University of Tartu; I already talked to the Dean, and he had nothing against my transfer, except that I had to catch up with classes in Estonian, but my friend Anna Mints was saying it was not so difficult. There were reasons I wanted it, and there were reasons I didn’t. Recalling it now, I think I was just not adventurous enough, but it was just a couple of months before I met Boris for the first time. And if I would transfer, I would never meet him. I would probably “become Estonian” because I had a reason to become. And I can’t even imagine how different my life would be…
I didn’t find a thing of what I remembered from Tartu of 39 years ago. I was trying to find the old building of the Department of Mathematics. I remember how it looked, and I thought I remembered where approximately it was situated, but I didn’t find it.

There is a new building called Delta, in a different place. And Tartu does not look a bit of how I remembered it. Which is actually good 🙂