Posted by: thebluemusicblog | August 18, 2011



In my very first blog post I promised to share with you a story from real life, a story about old enemies becoming friends through the dark years of the cold war. Here it comes.

Before I take you forward to visions and goals and hopes for the future of our world wide YMCA, I want to take you backwards, back to the darkness of the cold war, back to an ice cold winter night, the Saturday of December 13, 1981.

It is bitterly cold in Neuruppin, DDR, East Germany. A captain in the Soviet Air force is in full battle uniform sitting in the cockpit of his SU 17 bomber fighter. The alarm is still ringing in his ears. According to special orders he is switching on the engines of his aircraft. He sits there with the engines running for thirty minutes. Still no details about the late night mission, but he expects that the reason for the alarm a few minutes ago is related to the counter-revolution in Poland. He expects the final order to be to fly over Poland and maybe to bomb Polish cities.

In Estonia the evening of 13th of December 1981, the weather is equally cold, and snow is falling on the Soviet troops in their camp outside the city Tallinn. The young Soviet officer in command is waiting for orders to march.

The same evening I was sitting in a military camp in Norway, a lieutenant in the NATO forces. I was watching the news; the cold war was heating up. Europe was at the brink of war that night.

While the bomber planes in Neuruppin were still running their engines and the young officer in Tallinn tried to look through the falling snow, a group of Solidarity activists in Poland were trying to hide from the Secret Police. One of their members slips onto a train.

Not far away from the main railway station, and at exactly the same time as the young guy enters his train, General Jaruzelski with his typical black glasses introduced Martial Law in Poland. All of a sudden there were tanks in the streets, the phone-lines were cut, no television, no newspapers. The prisons started to fill up, Solidarity- activists disappeared from the streets.

The news of the Martial Law is spreading all over the world. The tension is over.

Sasha Artushenko in DDR stops his engines; he never received any orders that night.

Misha Guskov in Tallinn leaves his battle against frozen windows and Michal Szymanczak falls asleep in his Polish train.

In the military camp in Kongsberg, Norway, I turn off my television set and go to bed.

You see, today Michal Szymanczak from Polish Solidarity is the deputy Secretary General in YMCA Europe. Sasha Artucshenko, the pilot of the bomber fighter is today the National General Secretary of Belarus YMCA. Misha Guskov, the soviet captain, is Executive Secretary in YMCA Europe, based in Moscow. We were a kind of symbols of a divided Europe, soldiers of different armies, preparing to go to war against one another.

8 years after that December night the Berlin Wall came down.

I have walked through the ruins of a fallen empire, and I walked together with former enemies, now my closest friends, and we started to build YMCAs together.

This crucial experience has made me believe in the power of friendship, believe in the power of the YMCA to change life perspectives and build new ones. It has made me believe in hope against mighty walls and friendship against iron curtains and made me believe more than ever in the weaponless armies of the YMCA when they go to fight for love against hate. I believe in the words of the famous writer James Joyce: “To live, to fail, to fall, to win, to recreate life from life.”


  1. I am a one person from this true story… Far away from now… But till now I am proud of power of YMCA… Me, being successful Air Force colonel of Soviet (later Russian) army, PhD, in one moment changed life of my family and myself, accepted the invitation for professional work in the EAY. It was a God’s providential dispensation… My life now – my family, my YMCA work and my friends from YMCA – around the Globe!!!

    • The Power of YMCA – I like your expression, Misha! And I am proud to be your friend! Johan Vilhelm

  2. Thanks for the helpful blog.

  3. I treasure the trip I was able to make to Ukraine in 2009. I was touched by the love and friendship shared so freely by all involved. Misha, I especially remember our swim in the Azov Sea! God Bless you all my YMCA friends!

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