My memories of the end of the Cold War

Posted in American, European, History, Russian by Alex L. on November 9, 2009

The Berlin WallIn the early 1990s, Russian-Americans joked that bananas were the national food of Russia, because newly arrived Russian immigrants to America would eat them zealously and in abundance. Of course, quite the opposite was true. Bananas were scarce in the Soviet Union so Russians who moved to Western countries were simply making up for lost time. My parents like to remember that shortly after our family’s arrival to the United States, I declared, “I will never get sick of bananas!”

That was the end of 1992, and I was seven years old. Since then, years of consuming banana slices with morning cereal or in cafeteria fruit medleys have eroded my—and perhaps most Russian-Americans’—enthusiasm for the fruit. Time heals all wounds and also dissipates all wonder. On November 9, 1989, the Iron Curtain was lifted, and for the first time in decades, East Germans crossed over the Berlin Wall, which would be dismantled in the weeks that followed. I don’t remember any of this, as I was only four years old. The only political events I remember appreciating while I lived in the Soviet Union were the inflation of the Soviet (then Belarusian) currency and Mikhail Gorbachev’s house arrest in August 1991. He graciously waved to me through the television screen in my grandparents’ living room and was worried, a journalist said, about his political enemies poisoning his food as they held the country hostage for four days. I was impressed by his calmness.

This is all I remember, though, of what the Economist recently described as the “most remarkable political event of most people’s lives . . . [which] set free millions of individuals and . . . brought to an end a global conflict that threatened nuclear annihilation.” I was young and years of living in the United States have made the Soviet Union, the Cold War, and Gorbachev memories from another lifetime. But this morning, twenty years to the day when the Iron Curtain fell, my father and I ceremoniously split a banana in two and each ate a half, savoring every bite.

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