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Wednesday, 20 June 2018


Seven forms of patriotism for just one granny

2009-01-08 10:00

2/6/4/1264.jpegOnce an acquaintance of mine happened to tell me a fascinating story. Throughout the course of his grandmother's life (she was a Carpathian peasant), she lived under seven different states - though not once leaving her own peasant house. Powers fought, borders shifted, but she just carried on living as she always had. She cared for her cow, picked tomatoes, watered her apple trees, willingly helped her neighbours, and always found a glass of milk for anyone passing by. But she sometimes only had a vague conception of what regime she was under at that moment.


Nevertheless, she regularly got given tax papers in seven official languages: seven governments, seven armies, seven police forces took the skin off her milk, put their forks to her tomatoes and dipped their spoons into her broth. Seven regimes - Russian, Austro-Hungarian, just Hungarian, Czechoslovakian, German, Soviet and Ukrainian - demanded love from her, seven national ideas of loyalty, seven flags of respect, and seven anthems where she had to "stand to attention" with her hands by her sides.

But this immediately made me ask myself the following question: isn't that a bit much - seven forms of patriotism for just one granny?

Actually the twentieth century made a real mess of patriotism, especially in the USSR. Almost until the end of the century an imposed regime, un-elected by a single person, held out in the country, constantly betraying its own people. It's not just that it had no right to expect loyalty - it had no right to expect even the slightest respect. Just how many times were the borders re-drawn?

I've been lucky - I've spent my entire life in Russia, all my friends and relatives are here, I've spoken Russian since my infancy, it comes as easily as breathing. If I go away somewhere - I get a yearning to go home. The telephone rings from morning till night, I'm always needed by someone, and I need them. People I don't know write me letters asking for help. Essentially, all my roots are here, all my ties, I wouldn't leave Russia for love nor money. And I've never had to ask the question - which country should I love?

But millions of people have been far less fortunate.

At the start of the 1990s the enormous country disintegrated into fifteen different parts. And almost three hundred million people became victims of this catastrophe to a greater or lesser degree. Not everybody's life got worse - some people's got much better. But the debris from this explosion hit practically everyone.

In Paris I met a wonderful person called Pasha. We used to be fellow countrymen, but now... I don't know how to say whether we are fellow countrymen any more or not...

Outside it was fresh and sunny - a typical Parisian day in January. Pasha and I were sitting at a table eating the most delicious pâtés and drinking the most delicious French rosé and red wines, and we were talking about life. Pasha rented a flat, on the top, seventh, floor: it was small, but at the same time was on four levels - at the bottom there was a kitchenette, the library was on the mezzanine, a bit higher there was a tiny little bedroom, and at the very top was the way out onto the roof, from where you could see the whole of Paris.

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