Picnic at the Iron Curtain: A Memoir: From the fall of the Berlin Wall to Ukraine's Orange Revolution

Picnic at the Iron Curtain: A Memoir: From the fall of the Berlin Wall to Ukraine's Orange Revolution

Susan Viets

Language: English

Pages: 276

ISBN: 0987966405

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Picnic at the Iron Curtain won a 2013 Next Generation Indie Book Awards finalist's award. It is also a 2012 Foreword's Book of the Year Award finalist and received an honorable mention at the 2013 San Francisco Book Festival. Welcome to the world of collapsing Communism. It is the eve of the fall of the Berlin Wall when people are still willing to risk all to cross the Iron Curtain to the West. In this adventure-packed memoir Susan Viets, a student turned journalist, arrives in Communist Hungary in 1988 and begins reporting for the Guardian, not at all prepared for what lies ahead. She helps East Germans escape to the West at a picnic, moves to the Soviet Union where she battles authorities for accreditation as the first foreign journalist in Ukraine and then watches, amazed, as the entire political system collapses. Lured by new travel opportunities, Viets shops her way across Central Asia, stumbling into a tank attack in Tajikistan and the start of the Tajik civil war. "Picnic at the Iron Curtain" shows every day people at the centre of dramatic events from Budapest to Bishkek and Chernobyl to Chechnya. It is a memoir that spans a period of momentous historical change from 1988-1998, following through with an eyewitness account of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution in 2004.


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flowers, grass, soil, insects, mushrooms and berries, we continued to a nearby village. In such beautiful sunny weather on board a bus full of excited Swiss visitors, I stopped worrying. We drove through the centre of the village to the local administrative building. We all disembarked and climbed the stairs to a reception room. The organizers invited us to sit at tables draped with white cloths. Several bottles of red wine stood on each. I had not seen wine since an ill-fated video evening. A

at the Foreign Ministry press office and I think we’ll get accreditation soon,” she said. “This is important for Ukraine. It’s a way to show Moscow that Ukraine has some autonomy.” I did not know what to think. Politics had see-sawed so dramatically throughout the fall and early winter that I could not tell where the power lay – with hard-liners who opposed any move toward independence or with a more moderate faction that seemed to include the Foreign Ministry. I had waited so long for

to my balcony and caught glimpses of a crowd gathered in October Revolution Square. Usually piano melodies floated skywards as students at the conservatory across the courtyard practised. That morning I heard the sound of megaphones and chants. I made coffee and toast, washed, changed and went out to investigate. On Khreshchatyk, a car passenger shouted through a megaphone, “Don’t be a sheep, march with us to Parliament.” A sea of blue and yellow Ukrainian flags fluttered over the square. It was

spent hours pleading with the receptionist to check us in Charlotte threw her arms back and let out a howl. Compassionate after all, the receptionist ran to put the kettle on and made us tea. Then she found us a room on a deserted floor. “A British documentary filmmaker is staying in this room but he’s away for a few days,” the receptionist told us. “Which filmmaker?” Charlotte asked. “Michael Palin,” the receptionist said. Khiva, beautiful in that arid, dusty, Central Asian way, is a city

plugged them into a tape deck, swivelled tape, cut sections with a razor blade and taped the ends together. I heard her chat in what seemed to be flawless Russian with colleagues. When she had finished editing her tape, I complimented Alison on her Russian and asked how she learned to speak it so well. “I studied it at university and spent time in Moscow. I met my husband over there, so I have an advantage. I can speak Russian at home,” Alison said. She told me a little bit about her husband,

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