Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Remembering the fall: Alexandra Grashkina-Hristova, Boston

This week we are remembering the fall. If you would like to share a story, please send me an email at petya.kirilova [at] gmail [dot] com.

On November 10th, 1989 I was at home in our one-bedroom apartment, on the fifth floor of a gray cement building in the Sofia District "Mladost" ("Youth"). The phone rang and a close family friend said to my mother, "Congratulations, we have a new secretary general." The secretary general of the Central Committee of the Communist Party had been, for over 30 years, the dictator Todor Zhivkov. My mother paused and said, "Stop telling me political jokes on the phone." In fact, we had known that for several years someone listened to our phone conversations. My uncle's phone was tapped, too, and so was my grandma's. All because none of them were members of the Communist Party. Not being a member, at the time, had cost them a lot of sacrifices, but it meant they stayed true to their beliefs, morally and politically. I don't think that my family had the courage to voice their hopes that Communism will fall. But I know they had such hopes. For years before November 1989, my grandma liked to quote a relative who was a prisoner at the Belene concentration camp and said, "The economy will collapse and so will Communism." When she talked about this, she lowered her voice.

We also secretly went to church on Christmas and Easter but suspected we were being "watched." Christianity was not a good thing during communism. I had repeatedly asked my mother why I can say "Merry Christmas" to her and to my dad but not to my second grade teacher, Comrade Kostova.

So how will I myself remember Communism? Well, I remember it with the one and only time my mother had to slap me. We were at a friend's house and I had blurted, "You know, uncle listens to BBC radio." I had given out what was almost a top secret: that we listened to Western radio station. That one slap was the only repression I have suffered. But even though I was 9 on November 10, 1989, I know what it feels like not to be allowed to speak freely. Being able to compare the 1980s in our gray apartment building with the years that followed is nothing short of priceless. I know and acknowledge that November 10th did not change Bulgaria overnight, with the move of a magic wand. Nor did it necessarily make everyone more happy. Yet, for me it is enough that the people who I love the most in this world don't have to whisper and hide anymore.

To brighten up this memory, I am attaching a picture of District "Mladost," no longer quite so gray, about 10 years after November 10, 1989. It features me and a purple trabant on the day of my high school prom and a couple of months before I came to the United States for my college studies.

Alex Grashkina-Hristova, Boston

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