Saturday 23 August 2014

Pivot points: Where was I when...

The Dreamstress started it. It's something I've thought of before: what historical events do I remember? How? (And why.)

If you feel compelled to share your memories, maybe you should do it at the original post. I'm writing this here, because it grew into blog post proportions in the telling.

* * *

Bandykullan, in her comment at The Dreamstess', is correct about remembering the aftermaths more than the event itself: my first memory of this kind is the separation of Czechoslovakia. I don't think I really remember the news, but I do remember being puzzled that my country was no longer ČSFR (Czechoslovak Federal Republic) and trying to get used to the name Czech Republic. It's connected to the name of a publishing house that published colourful children's books, like Disney books (those were also new and exciting for us at the time! although I was too young to have experienced life without them much). The name used to be Egmont ČSFR (it's actually a branch of an international company), so I was closely acquainted with it, and then suddenly it was no more (the publishing house changed to Egmont ČR eventually).
In retrospect, it was mostly a good thing, though, I think. Relations between the Czech Republic and Slovakia are, to the best of my knowledge, good, which may not have been the case by now have we stayed in one country. Maybe I was lucky to have only experienced Czechoslovakia for such a short time. I don't have much to be nostalgic about. I don't need to mourn the death of the country of my birth (even if technically it was the country of my birth). All I have is the good legacy: the abundance of good old books available in Slovak, the ease of understanding between the languages (to such an extent, in my case at least, that sometimes it would take me weeks to fully realise some people in my classes at university were Slovak), the ease of travelling to a foreign country (even if I've only taken advantage of it once so far).
Yesterday, me and my sister talked, among other things, about the urge some countries have to expand and retain their territory at all costs. We're lucky to live in a small country without such an unhealthy urge.

* * *

I do remember, vaguely (not in an "I was there when..." way), both the death of Princess Diana and the death of Mother Theresa that The Dreamstress mentions. I remember the media-and-society crazy over the former, and the more subdued but longer-lasting sadness surrounding the latter. I don't remember that it happened in such close succession - maybe exactly because the latter was more of the kind you come across and think of over a longer period of time, as the name is casually brought up in connection with other issues.

* * *

The "I was there when" way is strongly connected to 9/11 for me - because I wasn't there.
At the time, there was a practice in a certain class at my school of having a short presentation on current events each week. (I hated it. I've never been one for closely following the news, surmising that most of it was useless in long term.) I was the first, alphabetically, so I was the first to have the presentation the second week of September (school starts at the beginning of September here). And that day, the day before my presentation, in the afternoon / early evening here, when it happened, I was at a basketball training. I came home and found father listening to the radio. He told me what had happened. We've never had TV, so all I had was what father told me and what more came on the radio. First thing in the morning next day at school, I had to stand in front of a class full of people who've seen it on TV, and talk about a terrible event I knew less about than anyone else (or so I thought at the time). It was all kinds of horrible rolled into one for a young schoolgirl.
And there was, once again, the aftermath. A lot of aftermath. The whole terrorist scare. I can't tell if it was more grounded than usual or not, but it was most certainly something new and horrible in this country - I've lived in a free, unafraid country most of my life, and suddenly, being a NATO member, we were dragged into something that did not have much to do with us. So it was my first taste of global events.
And there was suddenly an Arab / Muslim scare, a whole new sort of mindless impersonal racism (not many Muslims in this country at the time, certainly not in my hometown), which lasted much longer, which I saw in my classmates, too, and which I was scared by. The Dreamstress mentions not being too keen on brimstone as a Baha'i. My brand of Christianity isn't too keen on brimstone, either, and it's very keen on thinking things through. So of course I knew right away that not every Muslim was a terrorist, just like I'd spent my school years explaining to my classmates that not all Christians answered to the Pope or that no, me being Christian doesn't mean I want to enter a convent (seriously, the idea was so ingrained that for a while I had to convince myself it was not the case!).
It's all died down. Sort of. We're back to being a country where an explosion in the centre of Prague makes people think of gas leaks. Where I can carry a pocket knife in my pencase and people's reaction is to ask if I'm a Girl Scout (for the record, I'm not). In many other ways, the situation and mindset here is not ideal; but it's the sort of thing you know you love about your country if you've lost it for a while.

* * *

I have lived through the Velvet Revolution. And reportedly, my family, including me, saw the Northern Lights on November 17.
The story goes like this: Father went to Prague that day on some errand, and mother heard about the demonstrations on the radio and was of course very worried. Father came home in the evening, wide-eyed, and said: "Guess what I've seen!" Mother said: "Revolution." Father said: "The Northern Lights!" And they packed us all into a cart, wrapping us in warm clothing, and took us to a hill above the town and we watched the Northern Lights.
There's a little detail in the story that I wonder about. Did Mother really say "Revolution" on November 17? Was it because the Communists spoke of Revolution (theirs) and contra-Revolution (everyone else's) that the word Revolution came so easily? Did many people really feel something was changing right then, just like it's also shown in Kolya? Or is it a detail added in the retelling?
I was too small to remember anything, which irks me to this day. Not the Revolution. Having seen the Northern Lights and not remembering it. To top it off, it seems no one else had seen them, because everyone else was concerned with something else that day; so it's like it never happened. Were there really Northern Lights to be seen in Czechoslovakia on November 17 1989?
But then, it's also what I love about the story. It's a family legend about the Velvet Revolution, and in that way, it's perfect.


  1. You write so beautifully. Thank you for your memories.
    I tried to post a comment ages ago when you went to the World youth Christian
    Congress (sorry I forget the name) but it got eaten by blogspot after I typed it. It's so nice to hear people speaking out for a Christianity that is not about judging people first. That's my kind too. Thank you for sharing your faith as you do - not preachy, just there.

  2. Thank you Hana, for a thoughtful piece of writing which I very much enjoyed reading.

  3. Very thought provoking. I too remember 9/11 and the death of Princess Diana. but it was wonderful to read about your memories about the Czech Republic etc. Blessings to you!

  4. I'm so glad you turned this into a whole post! I particularly thought of you as I was writing my pivot points post, as I've found your mentions of living in a former Eastern Block country so fascinating. It may not have been one specific pivot point, but the whole process of transition is still a big thing to live through.

    I remember being in primary school and winning a spelling contest with Czechoslovakia, and the suddenly it was the Czech Republic and it was very confusing. And trying to explain to other students that I'd been Yugoslavian and now I was Slovenian and Croatian when we did activities on heritage. I always seemed to have very literal teachers who wouldn't accept that you were Alsace-Lorrainian or Frisian or Catalan or Basque instead of French/German, Dutch, Spanish, French/Spanish.