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Banana past

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While hunting for a quick snack in the kitchen earlier today, I came across some overripe bananas overlooked in the haste of the last week. Their particular aroma brought memories of things I thought I had forgotten. When I was growing up bananas used to be rare (note: I grew up during communism not WWII to avoid confusion :-) ) – supplied to the shops occassionally and obtained by queueing for a long time unless you knew someone from the shop who would put some aside for you. This was buying under the counter, as we used to call the widespread practice of getting hold of both staples and luxury items, a rather dubious and fluid distinction due the vagaries of socialist economics (and economies).

The best time of year for bananas and other ‘exotic’ fruit was before Christmas and as children we would get a bunch of them on St Nicolas day. This holiday would not be known to the Anglosphere crowd – it is based on a Catholic saint St Nicolas and a particular tradition attaches to it. On the night of December 5 to 6 children put a boot on the window sill in their bedroom, which gets filled with gifts. We used to get chocolates, nuts and bananas, all of which rather precious and not to be eaten all at once. The trick was to make them last as close to Christmas as possible when the next batch of goodies was due. This can get rather tricky with bananas, as you can imagine. As a result, the smell of overripe bananas has strong association with something to be treasured and savoured. Strange, but true.

All this I have forgotten, or thought I had. I have spend the last decade or so trying to get away from it all, not by forgetting the limited and unfree world I was born into, but by building a better one of my own. The tiny joys found in the previous life, despite its twisted nature, were never enough to outweigh the damage done to people’s lives. And this should never be forgotten.

One of the reasons I find so hard visiting my native country is that I resent the fact that people back there carry on as if nothing happened. I bear a grudge against the easy forgiveness (or forgetfullness?), with which those who lived there in the past 50 years seem to treat the past.

I am not saying that I am right to feel this way only that it is how I feel. Intellectually I understand the need to move on, build a new life with opportunities that the changed world offers. What I cannot come to terms with is how those who suffered a death of thousand daily betrayals can go on living and working with the same people who spied and reported on them to their communist masters.

What must never be forgotten is that oppression does not come from the Big Brother alone, with his secret police, tortuous interrogations, human rights abuses, prisons and newsworthy front-page evil deeds. It is sustained, day by day, by the Little Brother with his neighbourly gossip, petty jealousies and revenges, frustrated ambitions or simple narrow-mindedness and prejudice. All these feed the beast of authoritarianism, which in the end devours its own.

So what’s with the bananas? They made me realise how far I have come in cutting myself off from the past whilst keeping the anger about it alive and close to the skin (pun not intended). There are many more stories to be told, not just by me but by others too. Understanding of the past comes from the everyday and mundane, the stories and memories. They form a more solid basis for historical patterns and trends that a purely analytical perspective cannot give. I speak as someone who studied international relations at a Western university and had to deal with the revisionist and ‘progressive’ theories. It was good to be forced to translate the suffering and evil I knew into the fuel for arguments against the various breeds of socialism, communism and Marxism that still permeate the Western academia. And I barely scratched the surface. For those who want research and sources there is always the Black Book of Communism, which is amazingly accurate and erudite.

In the meantime, I shall deal with my own bananas demons from the past, one by one.

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30 Responses to “Banana past”


  1. Samizdata.net
    on Jan 29th, 2006
    @ 18:00 pm

    Banana past

    Whenever I write about something touching on my experience of communism, I get a few kind commenters encouraging me to share more of it. I rarely do so, as busy life takes over. Still, today I managed to post an article on my other blog, Media Influenc…


  2. Tim Newman
    on Jan 29th, 2006
    @ 18:09 pm

    One of the reasons I find so hard visiting my native country is that I resent the fact that people back there carry on as if nothing happened. I bear a grudge against the easy forgiveness (or forgetfullness?), with which those who lived there in the past 50 years seem to treat the past.

    What baffles me the most, at least in the case of Russians, is why they are not absolutely livid with the Left in the West who supported and excused the tyranny yet never had to live under it. From what I can gather, I don’t think the Soviet citizens ever realised that their oppressors had much support in the West which might explain their present antipathy.


  3. Adriana
    on Jan 29th, 2006
    @ 18:15 pm

    Agreed. My point precisely… but not surprising if they can’t even deal with the communists in their midst!


  4. James Waterton
    on Jan 29th, 2006
    @ 19:30 pm

    Adriana: of course, you are quite right about the attitudes of Western academics and students. The latter can, on their low rung on the progressive tax system, afford to be socialists – the former have no excuse. My question is, are you coming to Australia any time soon? It would be great if you could sit in on some of my Internation Relations tutorials. A former citizen of an idealised socialist society should be able to silence some of the starry-eyed curmudgeons I have to grapple with in such forums.


  5. michael farris
    on Jan 29th, 2006
    @ 19:38 pm

    “What I cannot come to terms with is how those who suffered a death of thousand daily betrayals can go on living and working with the same people who spied and reported on them to their communist masters.”

    I can sympathize to some extent, but what do you propose people do instead?

    Bring the wicked to justice? How?
    Take revenge? How?

    Like it or not, the best thing for most people is to move on, either by moving away (like you) or by not obsessing about things they can’t change.

    I do it find it frustrating that so many voters in the former east bloc are so … gullible or cynical or rather manage to combine the worst traits of both. Still, I find life in central/eastern europe bracing and stimulating on the whole despite the 1001 irritations.


  6. Barry Dorrans
    on Jan 29th, 2006
    @ 19:44 pm

    Setting aside the socio-political gubbins (because it’s all too easy for me to point to Northern Ireland and wonder why the heck people who held armalites 20 years ago are now in government) throwing away or ignoring the past is ignoring what has shaped you.

    Good experiences, or bad experiences, personal, or societal all hone and polish your personality. You, and those around you, should take what has moulded you and celebrate it for making you who you are, to grasp at precious memories. The past is but an irritant that creates the pearl that is who you are now.

    Just remind me and I’ll make banana cake next time we end up at the same geek dinner :) And now, if I could only work out how to apply that to myself these days.


  7. Perry de Havilland
    on Jan 30th, 2006
    @ 4:02 am

    “Bring the wicked to justice? How?”

    Via a process not unlike de-Nazification in Germany after WWII. Forgiveness only comes *after* repentance.

    “Take revenge? How?”

    The usual ways: social opprobrium, jail, hanging. Sic semper tyrannis.


  8. michael farris
    on Jan 30th, 2006
    @ 7:56 am

    Perry, that’s would you would do, but

    a) where do you draw the line? the tragedy of eastern europe was that so many were incriminated to some extent. would merely belonging to the party be punishable? would working for the party without joining be punishable (what about local boss’s secretary? the cleaning lady?)

    b) how do you establish guilt? people’s reccolletions (then get ready for lots of unrelated score settling and/or imagined cases) records kept by the party itself? I assume that people who kept security files were no more competent or honest than the rest of the system and I’m hestitant to take said files at face value, absence from the files doesn’t indicate innocence necessarily and presence doesn’t indicate degree of guilt.


  9. Adriana
    on Jan 30th, 2006
    @ 8:59 am

    You start with calling things their right name, making sure the world knows the true extent of what happened in Russia and Eastern Europe and the words communism, socialism and Marxism are pronounced with the same unequivocal horror and disgust as nazism and fascism.

    Establishing guilt is tricky but leaving the ‘ex-communists’ roam freely is trickier still. A good starting point would be to make sure that no member of the Communist party can ever hold an office or benefit from the economic upheavals such as privatisation etc. Joining the party was a ticket to one’s career and a slightly better life while knowing the nature of the beast. Those who joined knew very well the price others have to pay for their ambitions and comforts. The differences were stark.

    Also, the system was pretty regimented, it’s possible to know what ‘official’ did what in various offices. Communism, like all totalitarian regimes, was incredibly bureaucratic, so there is much record and evidence that should be disclosed. Not perhaps for court proceedings, but for all to understand what was going on in everyday life. Perhaps eastern europe does not have its equivalent of concentration camps footage but it certainly has more dead… and that should never be forgotten.


  10. Aurora
    on Jan 30th, 2006
    @ 12:08 pm

    I live in Romania and bananas have the exact same effect on me…they were usually green when we got them and we would put them on top of the furniture and wait for them to ripen…it was such an event when one did. I remember my parents never ate them so that I could…these are memories that stay with you no matter what.


  11. Barry Dorrans
    on Jan 30th, 2006
    @ 13:24 pm

    “A good starting point would be to make sure that no member of the Communist party can ever hold an office or benefit from the economic upheavals such as privatisation etc”

    That would be a lot harder than you think. If prices come down as part of privatisation then everyone benefits. If you exclude part of a population for owning shares simply because of an idealogical belief then surely you are starting to become that which you despised.

    As much as I feel it is wrong sometimes the communal act of forgetfulness I see in Northern Ireland where those who everyone knows were sitting members of terrorist organisations are now clean cut members of parliament is healthier than then continual remembrance of wrongs past. Hell, for over 300 years the continual remembrance of wrongs past drove Northern Ireland.

    Of course the Ulster body count is nowhere near as high as that of Eastern Europe; the amnesia, interspersed with a rare act of contrition or focussed examination into the past seems to be driving the country forward. It’s driving forward that needs to happen now, and you can only do that without crashing if you keep your eyes focussed on the road, not in the mirror.


  12. Rob Halper
    on Jan 30th, 2006
    @ 14:37 pm

    Amongt all the politics is a poignant personal story. Despite the bitter memories of living under Communism there is still sweetness is some of the memories from the past. The human spirit is resilient and resonant with sensory associations.


  13. Adriana
    on Jan 30th, 2006
    @ 15:23 pm

    Hm, Rob, human spirit may be resilient and all that but no ’sweetness’ can compensate or diminsh the suffering. Too much pain and too much waste… Even the best stuff is transient, as without freedom you can’t build on it. I still want to blast the f*** commies to the kingdom come. Sorry.


  14. Rik
    on Jan 30th, 2006
    @ 16:53 pm

    Hi,

    If you celebrate 5th december, St. Nicholas, you must’ve grown up in the Netherlands. Since that day belongs to the old bishop of Smyrna, who seems to have been the model for Santa Claus & is only celebrated to my knowledge in the Low Countries.

    PS. don’t get me wrong – there are so many good and interesting sites – but I do feel more bloggers should put up photo’s of themselves. Wow!


  15. Barry Dorrans
    on Jan 30th, 2006
    @ 19:55 pm

    I can’t leave this one alone :)

    Tim’s comments on the west strike another cord; consider the support in the US for “the cause”. Do you think the good old boys in Boston saw the pictures of children injured by the IRA bombs? Put a body conut to the dollars they shoved in a jar?

    People who believe in a cause unthinkingly, be it a United Ireland, the Communist state, a Free Market Economy or Papal rule will only ever see that which they want to believe in


  16. Ice Scribe
    on Jan 30th, 2006
    @ 20:34 pm

    Adriana–Please forgive my presumption in recommending to you that old James Cagney film from the 1960s “One Two Three”–not only is it a brilliant send-up of Communism, but there’s a scene where an East German band sings “Yes, We Have No Bananas” in German. I imagine you would be able to relate.


  17. Lee
    on Jan 30th, 2006
    @ 23:25 pm

    Hi Adriana,

    I found that a touching and well-written piece. For me it was about bananas and social memory more than political ideology … but then I find many Samizdaters and their half-jokey references to hanging and flogging …. well …. bananas ;-)

    The majority of comments above make me slightly cringe, but then I don’t suppose they see East Europe 1945-1990 as anything other than a story about an ideology and its implementation, with no historical, cultural and geo-political antecedents. Not to say I don’t accept your views about the Czechoslovak regime, because I do and the regime was grotesque, absurd and inhuman, In fact probably all Communist regimes ultimately are/were like that.

    Anyway, ramble ramble, I liked your piece. As it happens, I have been helping some people seeking reckoning and remembrance and their stoic humility quite literally makes me cry – not a very Samizdat response, I know ;-)

    It’s at http://headgroups.com/display/om

    Bananas are on me next time – I’ll start one rotting now….


  18. Adriana
    on Jan 31st, 2006
    @ 0:09 am

    Lee, thank you for your very kind comment, I know you understand. However, next time bananas are on me as well as lunch. :-)

    I also know what you mean about the stoicism and humility of those who lived through too much pain and suffering, it always humbles me and makes me both sad and angry that anyone should ever go through that.


  19. Perry de Havilland
    on Jan 31st, 2006
    @ 0:10 am

    “If you exclude part of a population for owning shares simply because of an idealogical belief then surely you are starting to become that which you despised.”

    That would be true if all ideological beliefs were equal, but they are not. Should Goering and Himler have just been left with the expectation that they would be able to run for office in a democratic Germany in 1945 if they agreed to surrender in 1944? Yet Communist tyrants got exactly that sort of treatment.


  20. Adriana
    on Jan 31st, 2006
    @ 0:17 am

    Ice Scribe: Many thanks for the recommendation. Will check it out.

    I find the film “Goodbye Lenin” capturing the absurdity and sadness of everyday life under communism just right. Amazingly accurate and highly recommended.


  21. Teerbal
    on Feb 2nd, 2006
    @ 13:42 pm

    Adriana,
    your text and comments are incredibly misleading. I am glad that only the western crowd that had never seen the communist world with its own eyes and watches only CNN and BBC-like news and analytics can fall for your **llshit. Beautiful phrases telling ugly lies, nothing more. I am sorry for your **cked up life in Czechoslovakia, but, girl, you have to shake off the past and look forward to the future. That will help you to be more objective in many aspects.


  22. Adriana
    on Feb 2nd, 2006
    @ 14:38 pm

    Teerbal, how exactly am I misleading? How is what I say an ugly lie? Methinks you protest too much. I’d like to you know exactly which bit of my recollections is bullshit. In any case, my story is not the only one and you can’t silence them all.

    You don’t need to worry about my past or future, it’s your past I am concerned about. You imply that you are not part of the ‘western crowd’ and that your experience or view of communism is diametrically opposite to mine. Well, doesn’t take much to work out what to people like you…


  23. Perry de Havilland
    on Feb 2nd, 2006
    @ 16:06 pm

    Oh, never mind Teerbal, he is just another one of those David Irving types trying to pretend the evils of the 20th Century never really happened. For people like him the truth is intolerable.


  24. Teerbal
    on Feb 3rd, 2006
    @ 8:16 am

    I am from Hungary and I know what communism was like. Nothing how you described it. But for the crowd here, I could say that white bears are walking on the streets in Russia and everybody would knock their heads and beleive it. If I said that I licked crumbles off the bread-shop’s floor because there was no food in my country in 1980, 90% of the crowd in Europe would beleive it. Try posting the article in your language in a decent blog in Czech rep. or somewhere in the eastern hemisphere, and I assure you – people who witnessed the past will disagree with you. Poor you.


  25. Adriana
    on Feb 3rd, 2006
    @ 8:44 am

    Blah, blah, blah, Teerbal.

    And the authors of the Black Book of Communism also made it up. Get some perspective and some facts too.

    What I find astonishing is that you have the audacity to doubt the story of those who lived under the communism. You seem to be oblivious to the oppression and the suffering that so many was subjected to.

    I still wonder why you protest so much, why would my experience of communism would be unacceptable to you?


  26. Teerbal
    on Feb 3rd, 2006
    @ 9:21 am

    Communism was the best that could have happened to Central- and Eastern Europe. Pity it was replaced by the cruel capitalism. In some decades, the socialisation of the west (progressive income taxes getting huge, lower incomes lifted up so that there is no difference between the classes) will reach the stage that it almost won’t be any different to communism of the east back then. It is a pity that Gorbachev destroyed everything and had let go all the East Europe. A sad moment in history of your and my countries.


  27. Adriana
    on Feb 3rd, 2006
    @ 9:24 am

    Splutter, splutter, splutter Mr Teerbal. Thanks for showing your true colours.

    Long live capitalism!


  28. Teerbal
    on Feb 3rd, 2006
    @ 9:50 am

    Now I am offended.
    You will definitely regret this one day. True communism is a much more advanced and socially fair system than any other existing now. My prediction – Europe will start approaching this in 2040’s. You should pack your bags and flee to U.S. before then – only a humble suggestion…


  29. Adriana
    on Feb 3rd, 2006
    @ 9:56 am

    Excellent. This is getting fun, really. Thank you sooo much for this wonderful display!


  30. Perry de Havilland
    on Feb 3rd, 2006
    @ 10:58 am

    People like teerbal are why a process analogous to de-Nazification should have been conducted in the former communist nations (and it is still not too late). In some ways what happened in Romania (i.e. Communists ending up hanging from street lamps or dead in the gutters) was preferable to just letting them slink off into the night. The Nazis were not allowed to so why should their spiritual twins the Communists have gotten off so lightly?

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