by CHRIS MIDDLEBROOK*
The small east Siberian town of Shushenskoye stands about 6000 miles from my home in Minneapolis. A train ride from Moscow takes more than three days. It took a lot longer in the late 19th century, when the Tsarist government of Russia ordered Lenin into exile there to silence him. The world knows how that turned out. From 1897 to 1900 Lenin lived in a log house on the banks of the Yenisei River. After the Russian Revolution and Lenin's death, Shushenskoye became a destination of pilgrimage for devout Soviet communists.
In 1971 the Soviet government created a museum at Shushenskoye dedicated to Lenin's time in Siberia. Shushenskoye was considered a sacred place by the Soviet Communist Party.
In 1988 Shushenskoye was only 50 miles from the city of Abakan and the Rossiya Bandy Tournament, held every other year for national teams in the off year between Bandy World Championship tourneys.
What a wonderful idea to take the U.S. National Team, in the Rossiya tourney for the first time ever, to visit this hallowed place. To our knowledge we would be the first Americans to visit Shushenskoye, an extreme honor.
A bus picked us up at the hotel in Abakan. The bus, however, was not the only vehicle that arrived. We were to be escorted by a six military vehicle convoy complete with transport trucks loaded with soldiers of the glorious Red Army, three vehicles in front of our bus and three vehicles behind-sufficient precaution to ensure our safety, and a gesture pointing to the importance and meaning of our presence in Abakan and Siberia.
There were few private automobiles in Siberia in 1988 and none on the road that day between Abakan and Shushenskoye. The road was, however, busy with large trucks. We quickly realized that no vehicles were allowed to drive past us from the opposite direction. The purpose of two of our escort vehicles was to force all vehicles coming in our direction onto the side of the road until we had driven past. This was an effective measure to eliminate the possibility of a head on crash with our bus. The military was very effective in their work.
During the course of our 50 mile trip more than 100 vehicles were compelled to pull over to the side of the road. One truck, a bit slow in initially responding, jackknifed as it abruptly came to a stop.
On the way to Shushenskoye our convoy drove through the heart of Minusinsk, a city of more than 70,000 inhabitants. To prepare for our passing through, the entire main street had been cleared of vehicles, with police and military blocking every intersection. The citizens of Minusinsk lined the streets waving to us as we drove by. Several buildings were being built and we looked up to see the workers waving to us while perched on their scaffolds.
Safe and sound we arrived at the sacred Lenin Museum in Shushenskoye. In the main entrance was a life sized bust of Lenin sitting atop a five foot tall marble base.
These dimensions proved unfortunate as they offered one of our less thoughtful players the opportunity to pull his coat over his head and pose in front of the bust while making the peace sign and giving the thumbs up. The humor of the moment, complete with a few photographs, was short lived. Rushing footsteps were heard from multiple directions and our comedian was corralled and escorted away by the ear, just as a little boy would be. Although his tour of the museum was over, he was allowed to rejoin us for the bus ride back to Abakan.
This ill advised attempt at humor was not intended
to be disrespectful. In the U.S. nothing and nobody is exempt from levity and
facetiousness; furthermore some of our players were unfamiliar with Russian and
Soviet history and did not understand the place of Lenin in Soviet culture.
These players did not understand that people waited in line for hours in Red Square
to get a 30 second view of Lenin in his tomb, and they had not seen the
inscriptions to Lenin on schoolroom walls. They didn't understand that making
fun of Lenin at a shrine dedicated to him in the Soviet Union was the
equivalent of a joke at Jesus' expense at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in
Jerusalem. I still cringe when I think about it.
*CHRIS MIDDLEBROOK (He is a lawyer, was a professional bandy player and is also the author of a collection of 118 short stories - "The Bandy Chronicles-My Pursuit of a Forgotten Sport." As a US National Bandy Team player, coach and the current President of The American Bandy Association he has traveled extensively in the Nordic Countries, The Soviet Union and Russia as well as Central Asia and China. He currently resides in his hometown of Minneapolis together with his wife of 36 years, Cathy)