Vlad and I fly from Moscow to southern Siberia on 23 July 1991. After we land I change my watch to the local time. It’s 6pm here in Barnaul, but the airport clock, like all airports, displays Moscow time: 2pm. We get a ride into the city. The car is driven by a casual driver making a few rubles on the side.
Pylons appear to be an essential part of the cityscape. Everywhere I look they are supporting inadequate street lighting, poorly maintained electric trolley-bus cables, large clocks displaying the wrong time, and loud speakers for communicating instructions. Vlad and I enter the restaurant in a cavernous space on the ground floor of a hotel just as the band finishes a Beatles song.
“Vlad, why is it that just about every second restaurant I go into has a cover band playing the Beatles. Is this a coincidence?”
“No, it’s not a coincidence. Many people would say that the Beatles inspired a cultural revolution that ultimately undermined Communism. You know that Gorbachev said that the Beatles were the single most important reason for the end of the Cold War?”
Incredulous, I say, “Seriously? How did they have such an impact?”
“At the time many young people were tired of the fear that existed in their lives because of state control. The state feared what the Beatles might bring, so officially their music was banned. But the Beatles gave us the courage to overcome our fear.” Pausing for a moment, and then continuing to speak quietly, he says, “The Beatles also allowed us to see that we had something in common with people in the West. We realised that we were all passionate about the same thing.”
“So the Beatles were really a catalyst for people to create a different life?” I say.
Vlad says, “Yes they were. And if you look around it appears to have worked. Imagine how great it would be if everyone in the world could create a different, less fearful world.”
“Yeah.” I pause for a moment and then say, “There’s no point even thinking about it, Vlad. I don’t think it’s possible. It could never happen.”