Everything changed in one day.
We used to have a flag once. Then they seized it from us, it was just a start before seizing everything else. However, every September we all recall how it first appeared. The deputies of the Supreme Council of the 12th convocation tell how they persuaded the Communist part to vote for new symbols, how the latter resisted, how they voted several times and couldn’t get the necessary number of votes. I recall this, too – how can it be any other way?
It was the easiest to meet with the deputies in a trolley bus back then. There was the #2 trolley bus coursing along the central avenue, and most deputies went to and from work by it. People knew them by the faces – the sessions of the Supreme Council were shown on TV, and quite often the public transport turned into a place for discussion, after the working day. Young, bold, smiling (rather, Zianon Pazniak always looked stern) – they were perfect audience for their voters. I have no doubt that many ideas for legislative bills were born in those trolley buses. We were confident that those guys would surely take the Soviet symbols off the facades, and gracefully unroot the Soviet methods of the state administration.
Once we had a flag, and I don’t remember how it appeared on the facades. It’s just – I was walking by the building of the district executive committee – and saw it. However, the very day of its appearance, the solemn atmosphere, the clear realization of the future changes and independnece – I don’t remember this, at all. Because our flag was so natural on all the official facades, like bread in a bread basket. We don’t memorize the day when we buy fresh bread, right? It just should be in the bread basket. That’s it.
This is an ordinary, routine, peaceful part of life. The feeling of joy, though, accompanied every step back then, even without the flag: the three-day August coup took place and demonstrated there could be no Communist revanche; the Declaration of Independence was adopted, and Communists in the Supreme Council somehow shrank and no longer acted as allmighty ambassadors of the Big Brother. It seemed that nothing could ever change back, to the past.
I don’t remember the moment when our symbols appeared, but I clearly remember how they disappeared. On May 15, 1995 we – a small group of journalists – were standing in front of the Administration in Karl Marx Street and looked up, at our flag. We didn’t see the faces of those who climbed onto the roof, and we didn’t expect that the heavy-faced groundskeeper Ivan Tsitsiankou would lasciviously cut our flag into pieces. But we saw the flag disappearing. Some of us cried. For the first time in several years, there was that nasty feeling of helplessness, like some Soviet echo, that nothing depended on us here anymore.
They had a right thought, to start the hostile take-over of the country exactly from the flag. The people remembered the many-thousand demonstrations and protests back then. And, if someone had hinted on the possible retirement age rise, insurance period or social parasitism, for example – hundreds of thousands people would have swept away this power in one day. But the flag – what is the flag?… It can’t be put in the pocket, or smeared on a piece of bread, so it is not worth spending moral efforts on. The people survived on the wages of $10-15, so the issue of smearing at least something on bread was the sorest. No, they did not complain, but were too busy to notice how life changed after just one flag that had been taken off.
And then, after only three months – they seized Radio 101.2 from us. Then it came to newspapers, free TV air, business, private property. Then – consitutional rights, freedom, labor record, pensions and wages, and then – the life itself. I don’t know why, but it seems to me that if we had managed to keep the flag back then, they would not have dared to attempt at everything else. And we could have kept many things and many people. As if the flag tried to protect us, but we betrayed it.
Lithuanian MP Emmanuelis Zingeris once told how his grandmother in Kaunas every morning before getting up asked her grandson to come up to the window. The window looked to the main square of Kaunas, with the city committee of the Communist party and the red flag waving over it. The grandmother asked: “Emmanuelis, dear, please, take a look – are those scoundrels still there?”
Grandmother cannot word it wrong. Every time, when I walk past the state buildings with the red-and-green flags on them, I recall her words.
These scoundrels are still here.
Iryna Khalip, specially for Charter97.org