The Price of Dreams

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Chapter Twelve

SERGO LIONIDZA swallowed his distaste and greeted Tengiz Alavidza with four kisses and a warm embrace. ‘It’s good to see you again, Tengiz.’

‘You too, Sergo,’ said Alavidza, handing him an American cigarette.

‘So, about this business of Aleksander Mingrelsky’s son breaking that athlete’s leg,’ Lionidza said as a cloud of smoke enveloped them. ‘The army are hopping mad. They say you put him up to it. Not you personally, of course, but they’re convinced it was the KGB.’

‘Well, they’re wrong. It was nothing to do with us.’

‘I’m relieved to hear it.’

‘You know there’s been bad blood between them for years, don’t you?’

‘Yes, but the army say the police are refusing to arrest Mingrelsky junior. They say he’s got high-level protection.’

‘Not from us.’

‘That’s not what the army say.’

’Oh come on, Sergo. His father’s still got plenty of blat.’

‘So you’d have no objection if I ordered the police to arrest Mingrelsky junior for battery.’

‘None whatsoever, but you’d better check it out with Comrade Abdullayev first.’ (Elman Abdullayev, leader of the Party in Soviet Azerbaijan.)

‘Why’s that?’

‘Well it was his lot who told the press Shanidza was hit by a car.’

Lionidza frowned.

‘Anyway,’ Alavidza said, ‘the army are just picking a fight over this because it’s highlighted their carelessness. I mean, what if he’d earned a place in our Olympic team? There’s no way we could ever have allowed someone like him to compete abroad. He was a defection waiting to happen.’

‘The army say he’s put it all behind him.’

‘That’s nonsense. He’s just waiting for his instructor to be released, and then he’s going to shack up with her again.’

‘But she ended their relationship.’

‘Yes, very loudly in front of the guards. It’s not as if they never had any chances to talk privately during the trial.’

‘So you think that was just for our benefit?’

‘Of course it was. Ask the army how many girlfriends he’s had since his release. Just a single one-night stand. Apart from that he isn’t interested. He’s a good looking boy, you know. He gets plenty of opportunities.’

‘Looks like you’ve been keeping an eye on him.’

‘Of course we have. It would be dereliction of duty if we didn’t. We warned the army right from the start, but they didn’t want to listen to us, did they?’

‘Look, Tengiz, you should realise the army are very touchy about the KGB interfering in their affairs. It’s a sore point since the repression in the thirties.’

Alavidza snorted.

‘You have to be diplomatic with them. All it needed was a quiet word between two big fish in a steam bath, and young Shanidza would never have run another step. As it was, the army felt you were giving them orders. Not you personally, of course, but the KGB.’

‘At least we weren’t promoting enemies of the Soviet Union.’

‘Anyway, the reason I’ve been asked to get involved is that the problem hasn’t gone away. The military say Shanidza’s broken leg isn’t as bad as at first feared. He should be able to start training again in a few months.’

Alavidza glared at Lionidza. ‘You’re joking.’

‘No I’m not.’

‘God’s bollocks. And I suppose you’re going to tell me the army want to let him run again.’

‘Yes.’

‘There’s no way we can agree to that.’

‘Well, I’ve been asked to look into it. I’ll keep an open mind, and I’ll get you and the army to sit down together with me afterwards to see if we can come up with something we can all agree on.’

Ruslan’s leg was still in plaster when he was sent to meet Lionidza, who started by asking him about the attack.

‘And you’re sure it was Mingrelsky junior?’

‘Yes, sir. I recognised him.’

‘From what I hear, there’s bad blood between you two.’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘So why do you think he was working for the KGB?’

‘I only know what the army tell me, sir.’

Lionidza looked at Ruslan intently. ‘All right. Now tell me about your instructor Nina Begishveli.’

‘What would you like me to tell you, sir?’

‘Are you in touch with her?’

‘No, sir.’

‘Are you waiting for her?’

‘No.’

‘Do you still love her?’

Ruslan hesitated. ‘You don’t just stop loving someone with a click of your fingers.’

‘Do you agree with her politics?’

‘No, sir.’

‘Really? Let’s have a look at a few examples, shall we?’ Lionidza rummaged through the papers on his desk. ‘Do you think the Bolshevik takeover of Ksordia-Akhtaria was neither a liberation nor a revolution but a foreign invasion?’

‘No, sir.’

‘Really?’

‘The independent Pan-Kuban republic was a shambles. We’re better off in the Soviet Union.’

‘Well what about the things you said at the first meeting of the Ronkoni Committee? Do you still detest the Party? Do you want to see Soviet rule overthrown and capitalism restored?’

‘No, sir.’

‘But you did say these things?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘So what’s happened to change your mind?’

‘Funnily enough being arrested has a lot to do with it.’

‘Oh yes?’

’Well, for one thing, I’ve had a lot of time to think. The other thing is, I used to be anti-Party, I admit that. But it was never ideological. It was personal. My parents suffered a lot during the Stalin era, you see. They were both victimised, and my father was locked up for eight years for absolutely nothing. He was rehabilitated under Khrushchev, but by then it was too late. It ruined his health. He died when I was ten and I blamed the Party.

’Then when I was arrested, I could see how much things have changed. They tortured my father, you see, but when the KGB interrogated me, they were absolutely correct. It was a pretty unpleasant experience, but I’ve got no complaints whatsoever about the way I was treated. They never laid a finger on me, even when I stopped answering their questions altogether.

‘And then my trial – my father was framed for some ridiculous conspiracy that never existed, but I had a fair trial. I was not guilty and I was acquitted. My friends were guilty, the authorities laid the evidence before the court and they were convicted fair and square.’

‘But you refused to testify against them?’

‘That was personal too. There was no way I could ever testify against Nina. But I’ve been influenced by the way I’ve been treated since my trial too. My father was officially rehabilitated, but the village authorities still treated him and my mother like lepers. With me it’s been different. I’ve been given a second chance.’

‘And you expect us to believe you’ve really changed?’

‘It’s the truth, sir.’

Lionidza looked straight into Ruslan’s eye. Ruslan wasn’t sure whether he should look away or try to outstare him. Eventually he said, ‘Everything I’ve said is the truth,’ and looked down.

Lionidza paused for a moment before he spoke. ’I’ll think about what you’ve said, and then I’m going to discuss your case with Goskomsport and with the army and the KGB. We may let you run again and we may not, I don’t know. But I’ll tell you this: if we do let you run, and it’s a very big if, you can bet your bottom kopek we’ll be keeping an eye on you all the time. And if you think it’s enough just to keep your head down and take us for fools, then you’ve got another think coming.

‘You’re going to have to prove yourself. You’re going to have to give an interview on TV in which you say very clearly that you’re completely opposed to this Nina Begishveli’s activities. Don’t imagine you can sit on the fence, because you can’t. You’ll have to come down on our side if you ever want to run another step.’

‘I’ll do whatever I have to do, Comrade Lionidza, sir. I’m not a dissident any more.’

February 1986

Tatarstan, Central Russia

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