Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Christmas 1989, part I - The Christmas Time Blues

It’s been 25 years since an amazing year. After month of protests all countries of Eastern Europe broke free from communist oppression. The last to do so was Romania, and it was touch and go whether it would erupt in violent civil war. Starting from Timisoara, the wave of protests spread throughout late December until a few days before Christmas, dictator Ceaucescu was booed off a balcony during a speech. On Christmas Day he and his wife had been arrested, tried and executed.

It was my last year in school. I had known nothing else than Cold War, although there was talked of detente in the 1970s and the 1980s saw glasnost in the Soviet Union. But there was also Afghanistan, there had been the threat of Soviet invasion of Poland in 1981 and there were always nuclear missiles. I had been protesting against nuclear missiles several times in the last years. I had had discussions on simultaneous or one-sided disarmament. All that I knew, and all that most people under 50 knew at the time, was Cold War. And suddenly it was over, and what was more, we’d ‘won’.

That year, between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, I went on camp with a few dozen kids from my school. The last evening was traditionally closed with some improvised theatre performances, and we came up with a version of Ali Baba and his 40 bandits. In this case, the story ended in the bunkers of the Securitate, Romania’s infamous secret police, where the soldiers were waiting for the Leader to give the sign for the great counter attack. Hunched by the radio, on Christmas eve, in came the call from the Leader’s HQ. The soldiers crowded around the loudspeakers so they could hear his message. It was now or never, what was it that the Leader would ask of them? There came his voice, crackling through the static…:

“Soldiers, long have you been loyal to me and in all difficult moments I knew I could count on you to stand by me. Now is such a difficult moment… But, I’m sorry, there is nothing I can do. I’ve got the Christmas time blues.”

And my friend Jorin set in the chords for a slow and wistful blues. I think that night we sang it dozens of times that night.

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