Explaining Freedom (and Leningrad Cowboys) to a 5 year old

As we were driving the 9 hour trip to visit our parents, the childrens grandparents, for New Years, my wife at some point decided we had enough of childrens songs and inserted daddy's favorite CD: the live recording of Leningrad Cowboys Total Balaika Show in Helsinki, 1993. This historical and amazingly weird outdoor concert is perhaps best explained by you simply watching a few Youtube videos from the concert, but it brought together a Finnish punk band turned Soviet Union parody and the actual, very much official Red Army choir aka Alexandrov Ensemble. Wikipedia has more details, but just to underscore the historical backdrop: in 1994 they also performed in Berlin, while the last Russian troups were leaving Eastern Germany.

(While they both wear uniforms on the video, the cowboys are distinguished by their trademark pointy hairdos, while the actual army choir wear the caps.) After about 5 minutes, the back seat section started protesting and demanded a return to their favorite CD: Arne Alligator. I decided that since my son had just turned 5 some weeks ago, it was appropriate to give a little history lesson to explain why the music he was forced to listen to was of such significance. So this is how I explained Leningrad Cowboys, Finland, Russia, Cold War, Freedom and Peace to my 5 year old son:

The choir that you hear singing is from Russia. Russia is a country next to Finland. When daddy was a small boy like you, then Russia had a President1 who had decided that Russian's were not free to travel anywhere they want to, they just had to stay in Russia. So for example they couldn't just say that they wanted to visit California like we did together, because the President didn't allow it. And if someone was living in Russia, and they had a friend who lived in Finland, he could never go to Finland to visit his friend, because the President would not allow it. And we who lived in Finland could not go to Russia either. But then one day, the people who lived in Russia decided that they didn't like this President anymore. So they told the President they didn't want him as President anymore, because they wanted to be free so they could travel anywhere they wanted. And therefore the President had to give up his power, and the people living in Russia could freely travel wherever they wanted. So now they could visit their friends in Finland. This made people both in Russia and in Finland very happy. So to celebrate this they held a big concert in Helsinki. By the way it was in the same square where we went to celebrate last year when Finland won gold in ice hockey. And there was this big choir from Russia that came to sing, and a rock band from Finland who played guitars and drums and everything. And they sang these songs together because they were so happy that they could finally be together.

I don't know how much my son got out of all this, but it's unusual for him to put up with me for such a long story without interrupting. For myself I got quite teary eyed. What can I say, it's no secret I'm a big sucker when it comes to topics like freedom. Especially when manifested in historical events like break up of the Berlin wall or toppling of the Soviet Union. I suppose that's what drives me to work on free software too. For some people it's just an exercise in algorithms or performance tuning, but for me they are tools that enable freedom. Freedom for me to self-actualize as an engineer, and freedom for Arabs to express their views on their dictators. And everything in between. I wanted to share this story with my online friends, and wish you a Happy New Year 2013. May it bring even more freedom to people around the world!

(As a lot of my blogging, I blogged this mainly so that I can accidentally google it and read it years from now. Still, if you enjoyed it, I'm happy to share. Happy New Year!)

  • 1For my American friends, or those of you that are just too young to know such things, or just otherwise ignorant, a few notes on historical accuracy: "Russia" was known as "Soviet Union" and it wasn't ruled by a president, rather supreme power was wested in the Secretary General of the Communist Party.

Well, I don't know if you do, but I'm kind of fond of certain stereotypes I've developed wrt Americans :-) You of course had a part in the cold war too. And fittingly, Leningrad Cowboys and the Red Army Choir also performed on US soil, hosted by - who else - MTV. So we all bring something to the table.

In other words: the cold war really *was* won by Rock'n'Roll music :-)

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