New Year in Russia

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One intrepid researcher was in the right place at the right time!

'How about a 'Dr Zhivago' style dacha to see in the New Year, Century, Millennium?'

I was thinking out loud through images of snow covering the blemishes of this war-ravaged century, a sledge travelling into the future, and a huge wood-burning fire giving comfort as we prepared for the unknown.

It turned out to be more a 'Chekov' type of dacha!
The Dacha

'Dacha', in my English dictionary, is listed as a small country villa in Russia. Not a bad description but, splitting hairs perhaps, to me a dacha is a place where Russian citizens go to recuperate, debate, relax, and say things that, in Soviet times especially, they wouldn't dare express in the city. This Dacha, out in Kratovo, was very definitely created in the Soviet era for worthy scientists and the like.

It's almost as if Dacha's have their own soul, their warm wooden walls encouraging, thereby contributing, to the discussions that are so much part of their particular kind of 'out-of-the-world' experience. I couldn't help wondering how many citizens had been sent from there straight to the wild deep freeze of a Siberian gulag because of a misplaced word in the dreadful Stalin days of the century we were about to leave.

We, Vera (my wife) and lots of Russian friends, collected there late on the 30th December. Our first meal, the centre of every healthy discussion, was, therefore, breakfast on New Years Eve, 1999 -the start of the most momentous New Year for a thousand years.

The first day of the New Year kicks off, rather then ends as in the West, the festivities in Russia. I had already enjoyed a food-rich Christmas and, in preparation for far too much more imbibing, I was just sipping coffee when a mobile phone rang:

'Yeltsin's resigned'.

Somehow, neither the mobile phone, nor the television we'd brought from Moscow, felt as incongruous as you'd expect. I still can't quite explain why they fitted in so well with the ancient, but very effective, 24-hour-a-day central heating system that stays on throughout the winter. The fabric-covered wiring, which makes it so easy to work out which switch works which light or electrical socket also seemed to blend in to the surroundings.

Yeltsin's resignation, however, came as a complete surprise. Our Dacha, with light snow falling outside, was strangely quiet as everyone shushed everyone else and just listened.

I've no idea how the announcement was received in the West, but in Russia or at least in the Kratovo dacha, there was amazement at what the President was saying.

Yeltsin on the television

He was resigning, not clinging onto power. He was apologising which is unheard of for a Russian ruler. He was dignified, which turned recent history on its head.

To my astonishment tears started to glisten the eyes of my friends, a television executive, an entrepreneur and the financial director of a small business.

Over the next three days, as the snow gently fell and continued to cover all the hideous mistakes of the past, our discussions remained fairly and squarely in the old century, drifting mostly towards the hope that had emerged in the last decade.

Soon, I've no doubt, Dacha-talk will turn to the future - will Putin be President? If so will he be an enlightened reformer? A ruthless paranoid? A mediocre bureaucrat? I have no doubt that the Dacha will be the first to know!


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