Summer 1994 (2.2)
by Svetlana Krasnova
Companion Piece to "When the Choice is Between Bread and Freedom" by Azar Panahli
When I think about the changes that this new sovereignty of Azerbaijan has brought in the lives of my relatives, friends, and myself, I basically can't see many benefits. Azerbaijan's independence seems to be merely a formality brought about by the collapse of the USSR.
To be honest, I'm beginning to appreciate the well-being we had during the Soviet Union in the once united, powerful and great state which we all used to curse. What a good, comfortable, and quiet life we used to lead.
I blame the Armenians, Gorbachev, the "Democrats", especially the Russian ones, for all that has happened to us since then. And, certainly, I also condemn the-once-so-much-respected Western world-America, Europe, etc.
I understand, of course, that the existence of the USSR-that huge, powerful and armed-to-the-teeth State that dictated its will to half of the mankind did not sit well with the West. But why should America be comfortable? And how is it they also weren't branded as "the world's scarecrow?" Of course, we didn't approve of the way the USSR was created. And it was far from perfect by any standard and in need of desperate reforms.
But if we had only been able to see the future, we probably would have been aghast. It's extremely hard and sad for a middle-aged person like myself to be separated from everything I've grown to love and respect, starting from the national hymn and flag and the feeling of belonging to such a vast territory.
It used to be that we could travel across the USSR-that expansive country spanning 12 time zones - without any problem. Today, I can't even go across the nearest border to Russia because I don't have a single kopeck (Russian currency) nor the means to do so. Besides even if I could afford it, I would be afraid as my human rights would not be protected by law. So many cars and trains are being attacked these days because the Chechnyans are fighting for independence against Russia.
The decision to dissolve the Soviet Union has caused me much suffering. When you look at our elderly, it's pathetic. They're humiliated, pitiful, and begging. Everything that they've lived and fought for during World War II has gone down the drain. It's really hard to imagine that so much suffering could be squeezed into a single lifetime.
For several years now, our World War II veterans, so proud of their uniforms and medals, have not been able to officially celebrate the "Day of Victory" on May 9, commemorating the defeat of Nazism like we used to do before. But would Azerbaijan's independence be jeopardized if our old people were able to spend that day away from work, dressed-up, and walking the streets with flowers in their hands, sharing the joy of that decisive event with relatives and colleagues? One might get the idea that the Azerbaijan people hadn't fought or died in that hideous war. I could understand if it were the former authorities who were depriving Azerbaijanis of that holiday, as they so often refused to give us the credit we deserved, but we were a determining factor in winning that war because most of the oil for the Soviet defense was pumped from our wells at the time. And it was so pure they didn't even have refine it before they used it.
So, what have the changes been like for my family and me over these past three years? In my opinion, practically nothing for the better. My father who lives in Sevastopol, Crimea, can't even afford to come to Baku to visit the grave of his father. Nor can I imagine when I'll be able to visit him.
Being Russian, myself, and only speaking Russian, not Azerbaijani, the majority of my dearest friends have left Azerbaijan for Russia, America or Israel. My telephone book looks like a sad martyrology in which almost all the names, telephone numbers, and addresses have been crossed out. Thank God, the deletions only indicate that moved away, not passed away.
As for the practical financial side of life, we have suffered nothing but losses. Despite the fact that I used to have no other income except my salary, I as a journalist used to be able to afford to go to Moscow or other regions several times a year, not to mention, a yearly vacation outside the Republic. I never had difficulties procuring tickets, vouchers, or hotel reservations. Of course, I didn't travel first-class, but I had adequate accommodations just like other average citizens.
The last time I took a vacation was more than three years ago just before Azerbaijan gained its independence. That was when I went to the writer's resort in Yurmala, Latvia. Since then vouchers to other Republics of the former USSR are no longer available. A return ticket to Moscow costs five times my monthly salary (not to mention the cost for food and accommodation).
Of course, this is only my personal opinion about what's going on. I quite admit that others may not feel this way at all. As I see it, our lives have been destroyed, and I, for one don't have enough time to wait until a new life-shiny and beautiful-is rebuilt. Changes are so slow, so evolutionary, it's difficult to believe they'll be carried out in time to effect our lives.
From Azerbaijan International (2.2) Summer 1994.
© Azerbaijan International 1994. All rights reserved.