Христос Воскресе! That is, Happy Easter everyone!
After my 4 am arrival home from my belated spring break in Sochi, I awoke to sounds of the entire extended Cherkashina family once again gathering in our small apartment. Oh goodie.
But then again, it is Easter, and while I know Tatiana herself doesn’t regularly attend Orthodox services, it sounds like others in the family do. And of course, like any holiday, it’s a cause for gathering together. But like any holiday, there’s always that one topic to avoid….
Long story short, Uncle Seryozha asked me about Stalin. I have no clue why. But he does have a habit of bringing up historical/political/economic topics, so it’s not really out of character. But let me preface this with the fact that I am still in Russia. Which means that with Easter lunch we’ve been doing shots. I’ve maybe had four, with food, so all is well. The men however are at at least seven drinks, which shouldn’t be a problem, but when sensitive topics come up it certainly becomes one.
I tried to stay as neutral as possible. “Americans in general don’t really like Stalin. It’s just how we’re taught in school.” However Roman, Anya’s husband, takes this moment to jump in on the discussion.
“He shot 6 million people!” Of course the generation gap between him and Vladimir Vasilich causes problems.
“You’re young, you don’t know how bad it was, you don’t know how it was after the war! I lived-”
The mothers/grandmothers at this point are yelling for silence, that it’s all a misunderstanding, etc. It ends when Roman, attempting to shout down Vladimir, gets shouted down himself, and he, Anya, and Liza leave, while he’s still shouting, “Even the Americans know!” After about half an hour, the rest follow.
Fast forward to this evening, Tatiana and I watching The Lord of the Rings (dubbed in Russian, of course) on the couch. She got a call from Anya, and talked for a while. Apparently Liza was running a temperature too, so it wasn’t a bad thing that they had left early. This naturally brought up “nash Roma” (“our Roma”). “His head is so empty!” I suggest that maybe since he’s younger he just has a different perspective. Tat just shakes her head and sighs. “I think Vladimir Vasilich is…smart.” I try, searching for words. I forgot what wise was, so that was the next best thing, obviously. She laughs. “Well maybe not smart, but he has experience! That means he knows something.” She laughs again. “Was he in the war, or was he too young?”
“His father died in the war. He and his older brother were just teenagers. His wife, her father fought on the front lines. He came back with both legs and a hand missing.”
When you hear stories like that, it’s not hard to see why every city in Russia – from the poke-n-plumb towns you don’t even notice by the side of the road to Moscow itself – has at least one monument dedicated to those who died in World War II. I’m so excited to be here for Victory Day – May 9. One of my very favorite sights in Vladimir, other than Sobornaya Ploshchyat at night, is Ploshchyat Pobyedy (Victory Square) at night. It reminds me of a smaller version of the memorial in DC, names inscribed on a shiny almost reflective stone wall. While there are no names here, the dates are inscribed as well as outlines of famous figures from Vladimir. The national and regional flag fly above this, and an eternal flame burns in the very center. I’m just saying, does Carmel, Indiana have such a memorial? Maybe a section of each graveyard, but there is nothing so obvious, a meeting place for everyone to see. To be honest, the statue of Lenin that still stands in almost every town freaks me out a little, but you can’t say Russians don’t respect their history. If I didn’t actually hate history as much as I do, I would definitely push for America to do more of the same.
All in all it was what anyone could expect from a holiday – drinking, laughing, eating, drinking, yelling, watching soccer. And at the end of the day, I still got to see Johnny Depp as Icabod Crane dubbed in Russian. SUCCESS.