Tuesday, 17 September 2013

It's Easy to Become a Traitor

I've been looking through my babushka's notebooks, trying to find a recipe for a plum jam torte and came across this note, which made me cry. (See the photo)

It's a list of all the countries I visited, followed by the Russian spelling of my husband's name.

The list reads:

1. America
2. England
3. Germany
4. Poland
6. France
7. Italy
8. Belgium
9. Luxembourg
10. Germany

Timothy Calland - Marina's husband
(first name) (Last name)

She wrote it after her first stroke, when her memory was fading - you can tell by the handwriting. It was a memo to herself. She wanted to remember where I went, because it made her proud. Being able to go abroad was (and still is) a sign of achievement. As there were times when only a handful of people could cross the Soviet border.

You see, the Russians and many Ukrainians have a difficult relationship with the 'abroad'. They kind of love it and hate it at the same time. The love for the Motherland has been drummed into out hearts and souls since childhood. Leaving your country to live abroad in the Soviet times was an act of treason. Once one left - one was never coming back. The phones would have been tapped, letters read and one would never get a visa to go and visit one's family. You were forced to denounce your Soviet citizenship forever. There was no return.

People just didn't travel. They were not allowed. A trip to Poland was like going to the Moon (so much for being part of the Warsaw Pact), a trip to a 'capitalist country' was equal to going to another galaxy! And yet, everyone wanted to go abroad. Because foreign lands seemed (and in true honesty were) so much better than the Soviet reality.

Babushka should know. She was in Germany during the war. And she was lucky enough not to be in a labour camp, where she would have been starved, humiliated and worked hard. She ended up working as domestic helper for a German labour general. Still technically a slave - she couldn't leave and she was not paid. But they treated her like their own. Instead of living in a basement and eating potato peels, like other domestic workers did, she had her own room and was taking meals with the family. They dressed her, fed her, loved her.

She saw what 'the rotting West' looked like. As did many of the Soviet soldiers who marched to Berlin in 1945. It wasn't 'rotting' after all. How could a bourgeois capitalist society produce such excellent living? They were quickly made to forget all what they saw on the other side of the border.

Babushka never told her own son-in-law, my father, about her time in Germany. Not until he was married to mum for ten years and proved trustworthy. She remembered only too well how she and other women who were taken to Germany were called 'German whores' by their neighbours and colleagues. As if they chose to go...

And yet she was proud of me. Because travelling to all those countries was amazing. If anyone told me or my family only a few years before the Soviet Union collapsed, that I would live in London and marry an Englishman - I would have laughed to their face. It seemed so impossible.

Of course times have changed and many Russians and Ukrainians travel and live abroad. But even 6-7 years ago, a neighbour of ours, told my babushka that HER granddaughter would have never defected to the West...

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