Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Stalin World and Bunkers: A Trip to Latvia, Lithuania and Belarus

by Dodo Charles 

Outside the Bunker
“Young Idiots, you have two minutes to escape to your freedom” These words were uttered in translated Russian, as we stood in an underground bunker in mouldy jackets, with a large dog barking at us. This was all after we had been made to put a gas mask on in under three seconds, then run around the bunker; got shouted at in Russian and learnt to reply Yes or No back in Russian very quickly (there was also lots of squatting, and for some, squatting and marching at the same time). What I am describing is the authentic Soviet Bunker experience that we did one morning for nearly three hours. At the end of the experience, we had been so indoctrinated that when asked if we wanted our freedom, we said “No.” And that sums up the majority of the trip for me.

However, I can’t write something about the trip without bringing up Stalin World: the home of hundreds of huge sculptures of Communist figures, a giant playground, a bear, an emu and lots of chickens. I don’t really need to say more about that one.

Stalinist play-doh
The other main theme (from a non-history point of view) has to be the dill- Nina’s article in German also references this. In the Baltic States it would appear that dill is not just a garnish, it is not just a food, but it is a lifestyle. A lifestyle that would be ever-present throughout all of the food we ate that week- including dill crisps (yum…) Food continued to be of an interesting variety, with highlights of the “parent-child” chicken dish, and beetroot soup at varying temperatures.

I thought that I would write this article about the experience of the trip, but what I realised is that what we were experiencing was so traumatic and harrowing, that a natural human self-defence mechanism kicked in- that of humour to distract ourselves. Anyone who has been around myself, Paul, Nina, Hakan and Harrison will have witnessed this first hand, as we frequently descend into hysterics… It is not that we were insensitive to what was around us, rather that we found humour was the only way to cope with it, which in itself is an interesting look into what it must have been like under Soviet occupation: terrifying.

Nuclear Missile launcher
What resonates so soundly with me is that this history is still so fresh in these countries- whilst we may look back at it and study it, they were the ones who lived it, and you can see that in the surrounding architecture and their lifestyles. Our tour guide in Belarus announced that she was proud of her dictatorship, something that seemed bizarre to us, living in a country where democracy is a basis, but for her must have been liberation from the Soviet ruling Belarus was formerly under.

On a slightly lighter note, there is only one appropriate way to end this article, and in true Soviet style, here it is:

UUUUURRRRRAAAAAAAA.

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