The Fall of the Soviet Union – a love story
“They say that when Mikhail Gorbachev first heard the Muzak version of Edge of Seventeen, it knocked him out cold.”
This is what Alexis told me, as we sat blowing smoke rings on the banks of the Sava river. The thing about Alexis is, he doesn’t know how to lie. He can’t. He hasn’t got a scrap of imagination. I took another toke, passed the roach back to him, and did what any normal person would do – I believed him.
So this is the story. One day, Mikhail Gorbachev is walking down the Moscow River and he hears a commotion at a cafe. Being an inquisitive man – in those days, he was very active in the Politburo – he headed into the fray to see what was amiss.
The two brawling men in the cafe weren’t to know that this new arrival would one day be the most important man in Russia – so naturally one of them punched him in his round face. This did at least have the effect of ending the brawl. As Gorbachev lay sprawled out on the floor of the cafe, seconds away from falling into unconsciousness, he thought to himself, “well at least I have ended the fight, no matter what the cost to myself, which was my intention all along”. It was at this moment that he heard the Vyacheslav Mescherin version of Stevie Nicks’ song and forever connected the two events in his mind.
Years later, on a delegation to meet Margaret Thatcher, he heard the original song in his hotel in Knightsbridge. It barely resembled the Muzak version he was familiar with, but he instantly recognised it. He sat up straight on the edge of his bed, so the story goes, and called up the concierge. “Bring me this song!” he said. “I would have this song on a record!”
The concierge – actually an MI6 agent – hurriedly dashed off to fetch the requested record and within fifteen minutes had thrust it into the middle-aged Russian officials’ quivering hands. Gorbachev tore the plastic wrapping off the sleeve and, suddenly realising he had no record player in his room, he hugged the record to himself with such violence that it shattered into pieces against his chest.
All this Alexis told me as we watched the sun set over Jarun lake. As I say, Alexis is incapable of fabrication, but he does have a prodigious memory, so I assume that he must have read this in an economics text book. Like everyone in Zagreb, Alexis is studying economics.
“So you see,” he said later, when we were walking down Savska Cesta. “We can blame the collapse of the Soviet Union and the break up of our region entirely on Stevie Nicks.”
“What about the role of Mescherin?” I exclaimed. “Surely he has a role in this sorry mess, also!”
“I will grant you that,” Alexis said.
After some further discussion at the studentski centar bar, we agreed that the burden of glasnost should fall to Mescherin, while Nicks was apportioned her share of the blame for perestroika. And this I now fervently believe. Like any normal person.