Grey and Red

At the time of writing, I am staying with a hipster kid in Kaunas, Lithuania and am preparing to catch the bus to Warsaw, Poland tomorrow. There, a young couple with kid are so friendly to welcome me even though I probably won’t make it there before midnight.

I finished my time in Riga sharing a table with a Russian drunk out of his skull, at a folk club, for the occasion turned karaoke bar. True story. We didn’t understand a word of what the other was saying but frankly, I had the time of my life. If I were to imagine a drunk Russian, he would be the guy. To the minute detail. It was awesome. Something to tell my kids.

Since my fascination with the Soviet legacy only grew, I couldn’t have imagined my current host any more fitting, either: A master student in political sciences, living in -get this- the “sleeping district” of Soviet apartments. Looking out the window to my left, I can see the exact same buildings as this one copy-pasted all over the place. It’s eerie almost, but somehow it doesn’t have the psychological impact on the locals as one might expect. From talking with them, it seems that they don’t define the buildings by what makes them stand out, but by the memories they have tied to them. It’s their own life that ultimately adds color to the concrete, and injects some sort of identity in each repetition.

My host, a proud Lithuanian, insists that the Soviet influence in these parts is very superficial and waning. “This is not Russia!” He gave the example of his own room, where nothing is even remotely Russian, but I pointed out that his very room was built by them.

This block is an example of  a blueprint used all over the former Soviet Union. The organization, infrastructure, building materials… All replicas of one design. There are examples of people traveling thousands of kilometers, only to find the same school and building block as they grew up in. Every type of building had a few designs, and these were repeated until a better model was developed.
This whole block, consisting of a dozen apartment buildings, was built in one year. While they look like shit, you can’t deny the efficiency. It’s a regime I passionately dislike but I have to admit that to a certain extent, it worked.

Many of the people here too, actually lived through both regimes and the drastic change in between. There is a great difference in opinion between generations: Those my age are thankful for the new ways but their parents, and grandparents most of all, seem to miss the old days. When they finished studying, the state had already decided what they would be doing and how much they would be making. My host, and I take his views serious because of his education, says they got so used to this lack of decision taking that they got lazy in that respect; and that is exactly why they’re having such a hard time changing along with the system.

All in all, it makes me wonder who is closest to the truth and I try to imagine how it must have been like. I’m so obsessed with my personal freedom  and individualism, that I can’t possibly fathom how I could grow up here- Let alone long back to the regime now that it is gone. It’s easy to say that “it worked” but I doubt that in those days, I’d have it so easy coming here and discussing politics in public, or writing about them.


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