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Sunday 4 December 2016

Eyewitnesses bring gigantic black cloud back to life

Published 22/01/2012 | 06:00

I'm of an age that I remember quite clearly the Soviet Union, the Cold War, and the permanent and enormous threat of thermonuclear war which hung over mankind like an infinite black cloud.

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And because I was a child at the time, this era has since come to occupy a huge portion of my memories and dreamscape, as I presume it does to many people my age.

Maybe that's why I like Death of an Empire (Radio 1) so much. This five-part series, running since January 7, is a brilliant and hugely evocative account of a time which seems like the distant past; so strange and eerie it was, so removed from the cultural and political themes of the present.

But it's only been 20 years since the USSR broke apart, which means this show, presented by Seamus Martin, former Irish Times Moscow correspondent, has access to plenty of first-hand witnesses.

Russian citizens, Irish journalists, our ambassador to the Soviet Union, a right-wing Muskovite politician, even the economist Constantin Gurdgiev, now of course domiciled in Ireland, remember their experiences.

And what an experience it must have been. A veritable waterfall of iconic names and terms comprise the narrative: Gorbachev, Yeltsin, coup d'état, glasnost, perestroika, KGB, CIA, nukes and breadlines, strikes and espionage.

This is literally living history, and absolutely fascinating for the listener. Especially those of us who still recall that gigantic black cloud.

On a smaller scale, but equally affecting, was Ryan Tubridy's extended interview on his 2FM show with Sarah, a young Cavan woman who was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2010.

Normally I'm not a massive fan of this kind of thing: the whole notion of the public "confessional", I suppose. The sort of thing you find a lot in Oprah Winfrey-type shows, memoirs and autobiographies, newspaper articles and, yes, magazine-style radio shows like Tubridy.

But in fairness, it would be churlish to deny the simple power of this interview, or to deny this woman her right to speak, if that's what she wanted to do. Tubridy handled it very well, with sensitivity and good humour.

And Sarah came across as a smashing character -- smart and honest and full of life. You couldn't help but wish her the best.

dmcmanus@independent.ie

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