‘Where are you from?’ – ‘Lithuania.’ – ‘Oh, Soviet Union?’
Seventeen years ago today was the day everyone ought to have stopped saying that. Ever since then, we have two Independence Days. One is the day of our Independence from the Russian Empire in 1918, the other – celebrated today – is the day of our separation from the Soviet Union in 1991.
When I was eleven, we spent three months in a village near Oxford. My brother and I went to school with the local kids. They were so friendly and welcoming, we felt very warm. Every day for three months someone would smile at me and ask – ‘Can you say the name of your country again?’
It’s Li-thu-a-ni-a, darling. The country that almost every American sitcom I’ve seen (and I’ve seen many!) has used for ‘obscure location’ jokes at least once. The country that has struggled for centuries to be independent and is now struggling to be recognized. It’s not that I’m bitter, of course.
The notorious Art Lebedev has just blogged about his recent U.S. trip, which could have been ruined for the simple reason of denied car rental, had the clerk not discovered USSR on the list of allowed countries. Russia was not on that list, because someone had no comprehension of geography.
As I said in the beginning, all this should have ended in 1991. It hasn’t. Happy Independence Day, Li-thu-a-ni-a! Everyone else – USSR is no more. That’s fifteen new countries to learn. Make a note in your calendars or something.