February 1989 I was standing in the aisle of the most beautiful Moscow department store, the legendary GUM, with a plastic bag with rubles. A short time before, a five-ruble note had been a lot of money. Now I had a whole bag full of big bills, but you couldn’t do anything with it. I found a white lace hat with a brim and Lenin’s heads. Otherwise, the shelves were empty and the aisles strangely spacious. The GUM, built in the 1890s, was formerly known as the shopping paradise of the Soviet Union, where the lack of goods was not visible. There my mother had bought her most fashionable shoes at a young age.
The wall fell in Berlin in November of the same year, and this was also reported on Soviet Estonian television news – Mikhail Gorbachev allowed that policy of openness, the glasnost. The Iron Curtain in Estonia had also cracked. The year before, the Supreme Soviet of the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic had adopted a declaration on the sovereignty of Estonia. That was a step forward.
Nevertheless, the proclamation was seen as a desire by the perestroika communists to bind the country to the Soviet Union in a new way only, as if they were looking for a more acceptable way to stay in the Soviet Union, as the Estonian multi-purpose man in the field of culture, Enn Soosaar, recalled, It was not about getting rid of her for good. The proclamation only spoke of the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic.
I remember paying little attention to the matter. Instead, something remarkable happened a few months before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Something where change was palpable. My grandmother sewed an Estonian flag by hand and hung it on a wall in her apartment for Johanni 1989 in Soviet Estonia. We took a picture with our western camera, everyone was fighting with tears. In this family portrait in clear colors, we hold the flag between us. My cousin, who worked as a seamstress, managed to get the fabrics, they were in short supply. A short time before, the blue, black and white color combination of the flag had been dangerous. The Estonian artist Leonard Lapin was under the spell after using these colors in his abstract works, that electrified the people. It was then that I saw the Estonian flag for the first time with my own eyes.
The metamorphosis that led to the return to independence had started earlier, in the years of perestroika. At that time, requests for papers that would have made it possible for my Estonian mother and me to travel from Finland to our relatives in Estonia were rejected again and again. For three years we were not given permission to visit our relatives in Estonia. Instead, our friends’ invitation to visit them in Tallinn was a success. We then drove secretly from Tallinn to the relatives in the country, and so did the trip, in which the photo with the flag was taken. Because we avoided public transport and there were hardly any private cars, we made these secret trips by taxi and paid for them with Finnmark. In those years, everyday life was made to function with alcohol, a common currency, in addition to Western money. The yeast had vanished after the rationing of alcohol known as “Gorbachev’s Dry Law” came into force.