I was born in the former Soviet Union, shortly before it began to fall apart. Although I did not live there very long, the incredible power of the Soviet regime managed to creep into my head, leaving me with a memory that is both silly, and rather sad….
When I was three years old, like all good Russian children, I went to kindergarten, and to the park, and to those wonderful patriotic parades, or demonstrations, that were held every now and then in honor of some great political leader. (I liked these demonstrations the most; there was always loud, happy music, and bright banners!) Almost everywhere I went, though, I encountered the same face. It smiled benevolently at me from enormous red posters, it looked down at the rest of the world from the pedestal of a statue, and it was tiny, but clearly there on coins, buttons, stamps, etc. Amazed by the abundance of his image, I asked an adult the name of this man. "Why, that's Grandfather Lenin", they replied," he is a very great man!"
This explanation satisfied my curiosity, but most definitely not my imagination.
Before I continue, let me explain something. I have never really known my grandfather. When I was little, I would look at the grandfathers of all the other children, and I would envision all the wonderful things my grandfather could be doing at the moment, and all the exotic places he has been to in his life. I wanted a grandfather very much. Imagine my joy and surprise when I heard that the man on all the posters and the statues was grandfather Lenin. It was truly a revelation. Here was a great man, a grandfather unclaimed, someone I found all by myself, and could finally consider for the position! I was very, very proud of myself. From that moment on, I was convinced that Lenin was my grandfather.
Now, it was inevitable that this disillusion would have to be broken. Not too long after I had had my revelation, I was helping my mother clean the house, and we came across one of the little buttons with the image of Lenin on it. She picked it up, and held it out to me. "Do you know who this is?" she asked, smiling. I was only too glad to answer. "That's my grandfather Lenin!" I said, beaming up at her. She laughed, and proceeded to explain to me that, no, Lenin was not my grandfather, that somebody else was, and that if I was good, someday, she would take me to visit him.
After the first few words, I barely heard her. I was too busy being very disappointed.
My distress in finding out the truth did not last very long. I was only three, and grief wasn't my specialty. The story was often repeated in my family as just one of those silly, little mistakes kids make. But now, as I have grown to realize and understand what had happened, and why it had happened…well, I am strongly reminded of 1984. I do not remember the expression on my mother's face when I so confidently declared to her that Lenin was a part of our family, but I can imagine how she had felt at that moment.
Propaganda is a very powerful thing.