Before the Putin Olympics, there was the Tartu Pop Music Festival in 1988.
A few thousand teenage Estonians — the Tallinese — gathered cross-legged on the grass of the common; undenimed and undrugged, yet wild in their own way; men sideburned and smoking furiously; women low-eyed and smoking furiously, too.
One person — we don’t know their name — listened to the song that the band was playing and held out his or her hand and someone — we don’t know his or her name, either — took it gently. Then another did this and then another and soon they were a slack chain of arms slung low to the earth so that no one could see. Moments passed, and then one of the Russian soldiers who had been told to police the event raised his rifle as if it were a hound’s snout sniffing the air.
The kids’ hands fell limp.
Their fingers spidered open. Still, the band kept playing out of crumby amps, a falling apart drum kit and a mic stand that noodled when you leaned on it, and pretty soon the crowd were mouthing the words under their breath. At first, the soldiers and the soldiers’ commanders couldn’t make out what the tall figure in the middle of the clapboard stage was singing — his name was Gunnar Graps; he was shaggy-haired and lean-bodied; his T-shirt sleeves cut off — but it sounded like, “Oh, for the captured heart of Tallinn,” a national hymn set to tom rolls and hammer ons.
At the commanders’ signal, the sound system shunked to rest and all power drained from the speakers (“I am doing them a favour,” he thought to himself, his ears sore after the tumult). Amp lights went from red to dead. Gunnar laughed and waved and made faces as he storked his way around stage, knowing that most of the cops and the police were losing the will for whatever might happen next.
Later on, in people’s kitchens and the dark corners of nameless bars, voices lowered to a whisper around tables as men and women spoke about what they’d seen and how it had once all seemed so impossible. Gunnar kicked out a leg to the crowd before being dragged away by a soldier. A girl sitting on the lawn thought of the damp middle of her friend’s palm and how she’d never held another person’s hand that way before.
All of this happened.............