I was born and bread until the age of 21 within the oppressive totalitarian system of USSR which actively sought to place under surveillance and mind control all those who had the misfortune to be trapped in it. Paradoxically, or perhaps I should say ironically, the Soviet symbol was a star.
Not only did the powerful and mighty of the time have the ambition to invade the physical privacy and the minds of ordinary people, but they also aspired to a divine license allowing them to do their insidious work.
Therefore, as a citizen of USSR, you were either worthy of being awarded a star for complying with the system, or you became an outcast on whom the star would never shine, on whom the world and the powers would be turned their back for good.
In fact, every time someone fell out of grace with the system, the people around would justify their demise by summoning “orders from above”. No one ever was guilty of injustice, false witnessing against their neighbor, abuse against the powerless and the helpless or other such things, as they all put into practice “orders from above”. For years and years, the divine powers from above, mysterious and escaping the grasp and understanding of all mortals were blamed for all evil.
When the Iron Curtain fell and many of generation found ourselves free beyond belief, I decided to head off to the Western world, a much-demonized place by the political regime I grew up in. I can only imagine how difficult it is for someone who has only experienced life in the democratic Western world to relate to what life had in store for me from then on: amongst other things, the concept of sexual freedom was a shock to my system, something I struggled for a while to get to terms with.
It wasn’t only the direct approach of sex, which had been completely taboo in the reality I used to belong to back in USSR, but also the wide spectrum of it. It was the first time ever I heard about homosexuals, lesbians, transvestites, etc. Moreover, I found that these people lived amongst us and were an active and progressive part of the society: they had to work hard to keep a roof their heads, pay bills and put food on the table, their talents and abilities span the widest range you could possibly imagine, from labourers, to skilled workers and highly creative artists. The immensity of that revelation was staggering to me and, for a while, I was at a loss of comprehending it in all its complexity.
I spent time with myself for days on end trying to grasp at something in my past experience which would enable me to understand a reality which felt alien, and to overcome what I instinctively knew was unjustified prejudice. After much tossing and turning, my deliverance came from a piece of advice I managed to salvage from a remote corner of my memory.
It all went back to my father who had been unjustly sentenced to 25 years in prison. Luckily for him, his sentence was shortened by the fall of the political regime and he managed to piece back together with his life. Yet, he never missed an opportunity to teach us the importance of being able to empathize your fellow men:
With nothing else but my father’s advice as my guiding light, I slowly opened up to these new categories of people, taking one day at a time and suspending my reality in favour of theirs. Thus, my journey took me from reluctance to tolerance, to acceptance and eventually, to admiration and understanding. I also got to realise that, despite legislation that promotes tolerance and acceptance, the sexual minorities are still under a lot of pressure, and attitudes are only going to change with generations.
My unreserved admiration for all these people who willingly commit to a hard path meant to challenge stale and old-fashioned mentalities, while still following their own individual destinies, is openly expressed in my oil painting entitled Lesbian Marriage. This is a protest against prejudice and discrimination, as it is a nod of admiring acceptance in the direction of all sexual minorities...