LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Volume 37, No.1 - Spring 1991
Editor of this issue: Antanas Klimas, University of Rochester
Copyright © 1990 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
IN THE TIME OF THE HANGING
(DEMOCRACY IN THE SOVIET UNION)
Translated by Tadas Klimas
Democracy in the USSR, short-lived, having neither spread nor gathered strength, nor having penetrated deeper into many regions and areas, only kissed by some republics but not embraced, on 17 November of this year began to die. It was then that presidential rule de facto was initiated throughout the whole USSR. Let it call itself the government of the "Federation Council," but the members of that council are appointed by and completely controlled by the president. He will be able to try to repeal any laws at all, whether enacted in the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union or in the republics. He will be able to issue his own laws, appoint his own governor-generals, and so on. You saw, you heard. And you remember the past.
The Kremlin's deputies just applauded. Now we will have some order, the stores will be fully stocked, robbers will disappear from the streets, and railroad cars full of products won't be lost for half a year in the wastelands.
Will it be like this, can it be like this?
The hundred story tall Soviet skyscraper is built on a foundation of sand. Two of its supports Russian imperialism and communist ideology are disintegrating before the eyes of everyone. They can buttress the walls with any kind of ramparts, run to paint the facade, shriek like crazy so that no one would hear the edifice cracking but it won't help. In the time of the hanging of Saddam Hussein, you can't bring back old Joe Stalin. Moreover, Old Joe had the prophetic power of a founder. He was able to say, wait, you'll see how wonderful the building will look. Mikhail has inherited that building, and everyone can see just what it is like. Joseph was still able to lie that he was not expanding the Russian empire, but was uniting nations in brotherhood. The bolshevik idea was still forceful, and there were people who would have gone to their deaths for (and even more that did go to their deaths because of) that idea. Now the tide of reality has washed the cement out of the foundation, and you can no longer just station a soldier with a gun behind the back of everyone. No one is able any more to put 20 million in jail or to shoot 10 million so that the rest would be afraid. There will be no skyscraper.
I spent that long weekend in the Kremlin. A few of us participated as observers; as befitted those who, once elected by the people of Lithuania, had existed after 12 March. I spent most of my time in the anteroom, watching everything on television monitors and sharing my thoughts with foreign journalists and television crews.
How hotly, emotionally, and profoundly spoke the deputies! "We must take measures, we must quickly take measures, we must very quickly take measures, because the house is collapsing." Ail of them from Gorbachev to the weaver. Like shamans, lurching with their drums around a fire. "Olf, oof, we will hunt the bear, oof oof, let it be a clear day." Not one of them dared to see the simple truth: the foundation is rotten, everything has to be built anew, and the building cannot be of a hundred stories. Solzhenitsyn is able to see this from the far reaches of Vermont, but these people are drawing their hats down over their eyes. They do not see not because they are stupid, but because they do not dare to take a look. They would then have to admit they are unnecessary.
The president of the Soviet Union then completely blew it in his speech. He expressed doubt regarding the results of the elections in the Ukraine, the desire of the Georgians, and, of course, of the Baltics. "We have to take another look at how the voting there went, and what the voting was for." Does this need comment? But why should we hold back from commenting from modesty? We know how we voted and for what. And, by the way, who voted for Gorbachev? He even became a deputy by simply appointing himself as one. And he became president by the votes of those similarly appointed and "elected" in Tmutarakan. If he were to offer himself today as a candidate to the people of Russia, like Yelcin is planning to offer himself, I wonder if he would get even fifteen percent of the vote.
Even under these conditions, the president is taking all power unto himself. Which means, of course, he is also assuming all of the responsibility. Germany will send butter and canned food which was lying in storage waiting for a blockade of Berlin, and Italy will send macaroni. Another wooden two by four to prop up the hundred story structure.
The Soviet Union, rich in everything that God can give, especially in people longing to live like people, had its chance in this giant railroad station named History.
The Hungarian train waited a long time in that station. The Soviet Union came too late and missed it.
The train "Poland" rumbled merrily like a Cossack into the train yard. The Soviet Union looked the other way and then it was too late.
Breaking across walls, in sped the train "East Germany." "Ah, what do you Germans know?" It rolled down the line, on the way picking up kalashinkovs and deserters. In three years it will demonstrate an economic miracle.
Into the railroad station drew the chariot "Czechoslovakia": elegant, with velvet lining. It was ignored.
Now the platform is quiet and empty. Neither sausages, nor beer. And it waxes ever colder.
From the depo in the distance still can be seen the steam from yet one last train. Its boiler hisses as the vapors heat. It is the last and final train. And upon it in large letters is written the word: "Ceaucescu."
* Algimantas Čekuolis is the editor of the most popular and respected weekly newspaper in Lithuania, Gimtasis kraštas. Čekuolis was also a deputy to the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union and has appeared on many Western television news programs. This article appeared in Gimtasis kraštas #47 (1236). Vilnius, November 22-28, 1990.