Gimme all your lovin'
Growing up in the Cold War era Finland, I remember perceiving that strange atmosphere of self-censorship. Of course, I didn't fully understand it as a child, and the official political line was just one ingredient in the mixture. Well, but generally speaking - Finland had barely survived the WWII without being occupied by Soviet Union. And the official political line was one of of neutrality - although we pretty much saw ourselves as a western nation, we didn't want to join NATO, and tried to stand as a neutral ground in between the Cold War superpowers. That required some cold-nerved diplomacy (sometimes involving a lot of sauna and vodka), and avoiding anything which could anger Soviet leadership. I think our political leadership knew that if we give Russians any reason to invade our country, they can do it and NATO won't help. So better just stay calm and try to be friends even when we had different political and economical systems, and slightly different values, even though Finland lost a considerable land area called Carelia to Soviet Union in the war. We knew there won't be revenge, there won't be reconquering the lost territory of Carelia, so the best we can do is avoid future conflict, and to try to help negotiating de-escalation of the Cold War. All that required a careful attitude of avoiding any provocation.
Of course, not everybody was happy with that kind of atmosphere. And in so many different ways, it often blended with the general phenomenon of the younger generation rebelling against what they perceive as out-dated strictness of the previous generation. One notable player on the field of anarchistic counter-culture was a band called Sleepy Sleepers. I remember when I was a little kid and I heard both older kids and adults talking about Sleepy Sleepers. The adults saying that they are lowly and dangerous, and some of the kids being thrilled with the dangerous sense of freedom. Later on I have read that around those times, Sleepy Sleepers covered 'Paint it Black' with vulgar humorous lyrics. (Basically, they hijack a Russian passenger plane, threatening to ass-rape the pilot. They demand Carelia to be returned back to Finland. Well, the story goes all weird and doesn't end so well...). That piece was quickly removed from all the jukeboxes, as it was considered 'harming' to Russo-Finnish relationships. It not only crossed a line, but two lines - first, in public you don't even joke about demanding Carelia back, and second, inappropriate language is inappropriate. Sure, I don't know, but the way I understand it, the punk-rockers of Sleepy Sleepers wanted to let some steam out, to rebel against that general atmosphere where you always are supposed to behave in a strictly controlled manner.
Well, personally I had mostly just lost my faith in adults, and in the mankind in general. I remember at the age of 13, I had a discussion with our teacher. My opinion was that there is no avoiding total nuclear war, that it is merely a question of time when the war will break out. Our teacher said that he doesn't think humans would be so stupid, he believed in human rationality which will guard us against global self-destruction. In my eyes that seemed more like wishful thinking not based on evidence, as the history of mankind seemed to be a story of morbid warfare - the more advanced the technology, the more advanced ways to kill humans, and no matter all the good intentions sooner or later the peace was always shattered. Yeah, that was 1980's, when mutual assured destruction was both the deterrent maintaining the peace, and at the same time a very real threat constantly looming, waiting for that one false step which would trigger the all-out nuclear war.
And what happened then? Mikhail Gorbachev introduced new political doctrines to the USSR, aiming at economical reforms and increased openness. Nuclear stockpiles were reduced. And before we even realized, The Berlin Wall was down, The Baltic States regained full independence, Soviet Union collapsed as a system, and The Cold War was over. The war was over. No nuclear annihilation, no ground offensive, but more like freedom and friendship being given a new chance. There was new hope, new possibilities, there seemed to be new kind of prosperous future ahead. Related or not, there also was an ongoing sense of general atmosphere becoming more liberal and open. Sleepy Sleepers operated with a new name 'Leningrad Cowboys', and nobody said that they shouldn't do it, as we believed that sure the Russians have a sense of humour, too.
Now, I have absolutely no idea how it all got started, how it all was arranged, but anyway, this is what happened: Helsinki, June 1993, the Leningrad Cowboys played a major concert together with the Alexandrov Ensemble aka. The Red Army Choir. What the heck? Who would've believed this in 1977, when a Sleepy Sleepers album was considered 'harmful for Russo-Finnish relations'? Who would've believed in the 1980's that soon The Red Army Choir will be performing on the capital of European country, joyfully celebrating both Russian traditional folk songs and up-beat American rock classics? There really was this feeling of burying the hatchet. Since we can't change the past, could we change the future? Can't we just forgive each other and be friends without a constant military pressure? For a moment, it all felt real, finally we had peace. A peace I didn't believe was possible.
As we all know, since those times new tensions have been emerging. As a detail, in 25th December 2016 a Russian plane crashed into the Black Sea, killing all passengers on board. 65 of the passengers were members of the Alexandrov Ensemble. That time, they were not on their way to perform with a western rock band, but to perform for the Russian troops in Syria. Oh well. In this post, seriously, I'm not going to talk about the current world political situation, nor what I think about it. As, I wanted to write this blog post with the attitude of hope, so that's why I started with describing the 1970's and 1980's atmosphere in Finland, reflecting on my own sense of 'no hope for the mankind'. I was wrong. There was hope. And sometimes, when all the political dialogue is done, all the theoretical discourse is set aside, and people come together to celebrate with music. Instead of picture for this post, I chose one piece from that 1993 show of Leningrad Cowboys and the Alexandrov Ensemble. It is "Gimme All Your Lovin'. Their version masterfully includes a bit of Händel's 'Messiah', and a bit from Russian / Soviet National Anthem. I think this is about as perfect as it gets - respect all the traditions, combine a piece from here and there, and come up with a good show with a lot of talent and humour. If you have time, I recommend browsing YouTube for other songs from that show, too. Like Happy Together and Kalinka.
Now, at the age of 43, I'm not completely sure if I do believe in the human rationality. But I know that I do believe in the human ability to come together, the power of music to help get over divides. And I do believe that ability is more ancient than rationality, more fundamental, more powerful. Yes, maybe in the stone age we needed to group together in small tribes competing with other tribes. But that was with the stone age technology. Now, can we still hear the calling of tribal drumming, can we celebrate the ritual of dancing and leaping around - only this time all grouped around the big global bonfire, as this planet is our common home and we all have our beautiful valuable local traditions while we also all belong to the one big global family.