I have been remiss in posting a regular blog so apologies for that. Here is the first in a series of posts – it’s a bit wordy. The rest will not be.

The clock it ticking – it is now only 9 days before travelling into Eastern Europe; Romania, Ukraine, Poland and Latvia and I wanted to start posting on some thoughts and discoveries along the way to try and get some understanding around what it is like to be living in eastern Europe today caught between the economic powerhouse of the EU and the expansionist regime of Putin. History has HUGE significance in this part of the world with large parts having been aggressively occupied by a foreign power 5 or 6 times in the past 90 years. Whilst travelling through I want to try to get a handle on how this has manifest itself in the psyche of the region and whether there is acceptance of the past in all its ghastly grotesqueness, or is this still politically denied and not even part of a national curriculum.

For the past few months, during my investigation of the region, I have had 3 words written on a piece of paper that I look at each day. These are, Holodomor Barbarossa and Pogram.

I try to reconcile myself to the significance of these three simple words and to the enormity of their brutality – their price in human lives is more than 10,000,000 souls.

I look at my BBC app every day. When I think about it I haven’t read much news recently from that neck of the woods apart from the assassination of Putin critic Denis Voronenkov in March this year in Kiev. That in itself is significant as Kiev, to the West, is portrayed as a progressive, cosmopolitain modern city not a place of political turmoil. Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko called the murder “an act of state terrorism on the part of Russia.” Is this a modern Wild West (or East in this case) and does it show the lengths that Putin will go to to silence dissension?

The Ukraine is used to suffering but it is testament to its resilience that it has survived. The British had an occupying force there during the Crimean War (1854 – charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava) when it sided with the Ottomans against the Russians – in response to Russian expansionism – umm, funny that! The Hungarians took chunks of it as well as the Poles, until the Stalin instigated Holodomor in the 1930s – a man made famine as punishment to the resistance of Communism but also in response to the cost of growing the Communism doctrine. It is estimated that the famine killed between 5 and 6.5 million people – and that was only 80 years ago !! Incidentally only last week Putin still denies Holodomor much to the disgust of the Ukrainians. Then it was the turn of the 3rd Reich, mid 1941, with Operation Barbarossa, when Hitler reneged on the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and invaded eastern Europe. State sanctioned mass murder ensued, but, and here’s the difference, carried out by citizens not the death squads or Einsatzgruppen – at least in the beginning. In my head that has to have an impact on a country’s national psyche – brother turning on brother, neighbour on neighbour – how can it not! And then guest what, the Soviets again, up until independence in 1991. What is not known during the Soviet occupation period, known as the Cold War, the soviet secret police, the NKVD, systematically detained, tortured and murdered dissidents and intellectuals. I’ll keep you posted on this one.

Romania: let’s go back a few years to the ousting of Ceauşescu in 1989. Depending on who you talk to Ceauşescu has been portrayed as either the modern day saviour of Romania or a self centered tyrant. No matter which, he was responsible in the shaping of the country as we see it now, or should I say, the country shaped itself on what it didn’t want to be and has aligned itself to Europe not Russia. However history runs deeper than just the past 25 years. I have talked recently to a Transylvanian Romanian (he came from the north west of the country). I was surprised when he spoke quite disparagingly about ‘those Turks’ who live in the south and east of the country like they were foreigners or immigrants. They, are not Turks, but they do have origins left over from the Ottoman Empire whose influence dissipated after 1908ish and probably have just as much right to call themselves Romanians. So, USSR, Nazis and Ceauşescu aside there are even deeper resentments and feelings there, albeit under the surface.

So what does this all mean? It might mean nothing. Everybody that I meet might be emotionally reconciled about the past and gracious in their outlook for themselves and their families for the future. I expect not. But what will be the resonance of such events and how will that be manifest into a nations’ psyche to be moulded politically, economically and socially for the future?