Minsk, Belarus – June 2014
It is said that Lee Harvey Oswald slashed one of his wrists when the Soviet Union rejected his request for citizenship. He was hospitalized in Moscow and then sent to Minsk to work as a lathe operator in an electronics factory. His apartment has become a tourist attraction. Well, as much of a tourist attraction as something can be in a city virtually devoid of tourists.
I set out in search of this unlikely monument. It is Sunday morning. The tree-lined streets behind the Opera House are deserted. The cafe where I had dinner last night is open, however, so I pop in for a quick espresso. Afterwards, I turn right down Kommunisticheskaya Street. My pace is languid. Regal apartment buildings rise on either side, their facades impeccably maintained. The thing that has surprised me most about Minsk is how pleasant it is. Everything is as it should be, and that’s the way its residents appear to like it. Order, not restraint. The atmosphere this morning is infused with an eerie calm. Curtains waft out of open windows, but no faces are to be seen. No voices, human or animal, reach my ears. It is the echoless silence of a tomb. The aftermath of a peaceful extinction.
It doesn’t take me long to find the building. Reports differ on the actual apartment. One popular guidebook states that it’s the lower left; other sources say that it’s an upper apartment, third or fourth floor, left or right side, with a balcony. I stand across the street. The lower apartment seems to be a travel agency. Security cameras keep watch in both directions. I lift my eyes to the upper floors. No matter which apartment it was, he sure had a nice place to live. For a simple factory worker and a dubious foreigner, that is. He wasn’t given a choice. People were assigned apartments in those days.
I could let myself ponder this further, but I don’t. I know very little about the JFK assassination and the various alternative theories. The event happened so long ago, years before I was born, and I’m not young. Too much information, misinformation, and disinformation has festered in the wound of our collective memory. It’s too late. But I don’t mock those who continue to search.
According to a Gallup poll taken in 2013, the majority of Americans, sixty-one percent, believe that a conspiracy surrounds JFK’s assassination. More surprising to me, this percentage is the lowest found in the fifty years since it happened. Really? Are they polling a different demographic? Is it because some of the people who were alive then have passed on? What about the feature films and all of those YouTube documentaries? Are people becoming more afraid of being labeled as crazy for questioning the official story?
I move on down the street, cross the river, and drift down Praspekt Nezalezhnasci. Other humans appear. Young and old. The streets are free of the usual Sunday morning debris: rubbish, vomit, etcetera. Minsk is reputed to have good nightlife. If it exists, the partiers obviously compose themselves before venturing out to the street.
It is said that Lee Harvey Oswald grew bored with Minsk. He wrote in his diary: I am starting to reconsider my desire about staying. The work is drab, the money I get has nowhere to be spent. No nightclubs or bowling alleys, no places of recreation except the trade union dances. I have had enough.
It is said that he left “decadent” America of his own free will to be a “worker” in the Soviet Union.
What the hell did you expect, dude?
The KGB building looms ahead. Every guidebook and website that I’ve consulted has warned against taking photos. When I asked the staff at the guesthouse, they laughed and then assured me that it was fine to take photos of the outside, but never of the inside. As if I’d dare to enter.
From the shadows, I raise my camera and take a shot.