Sunday, December 18, 2011

A girl who was interested in politics

Somebody just implied to me that there must have been something wrong with me if at 16 I was more interested in free elections than in a prince on a white horse. She did not know that this was also the case at 10. I was gonna tell her off, along the lines of "takes all kinds to make a world", and then started wondering whether the above was in fact a sign that something was wrong with the country.

(Yes, I know that something was wrong with the country. OK, make it "almost everything". I am just wondering whether my interest in politics was a symptom of that.)

I sort of know where the woman who thinks something was wrong with me is coming from. She is also from the Soviet Union, a few years older than me. During our childhood everything was full of politics. Newspapers were full of politics (much more so than in the West at any point that I remember), and so was the TV. We had all kinds of politics (just a figure of speech - it was just one kind of politics) shoved down our throats from morning till night, politics before class, politics during class, politics after class, etc. Everything we did was interpreted as political statement. Personal was very much political, whether one wanted it or not.

Under those circumstances quite a lot of people became very strongly apolitical, in a "just leave me in peace to live my sex life and wear whatever I want, I am not interested in politics". At the time I wondered whether the leaders realized that their attempt to make everyone interested in their politics had the result opposite of the intended; nowadays, older and even more cynical, I wonder whether this was in fact the intended effect.

Anyway, this reaction is barely comprehensible to me now, and was even less comprehensible at the time. My personal is usually not very political, but it is quite clear to me that if the powers that be have chosen to lecture me on the style of my shirt, the personal has become the political whether I want it or not.

The funny thing was that pretty much everyone I knew understood that if a bully comes up to you in the street and expresses desire to punch you in the nose because he is offended by your makeup the thing to do was not to explain that the makeup was not intended as a personal offense to him - he knows it as well as you do - but to hit hard and/or run fast. But I felt fairly alone with the idea that the same is the case for the governments. Although, obviously, this was not the kind of thing I could easily discuss with my classmates, so I was pretty much limited to listening.

Yes, I also wished to be left in peace, I just realized that it was not gonna happen, or in any case not by leaving *them* in peace.

I remember the day that Brezhnev died. I was 11, and sat in class wondering whether the next guy was gonna be some new version of Stalin, and the possible implications of it. Nobody, including myself, ever mentioned this possibility out loud, but the general feeling that our lives depend on who the new guy will be was there. How can one not be interested in politics under those circumstances?

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