Monday, January 25, 2010

The Yellow Island Disappears


During the Cold War years, used Eastern Bloc rail cars
were imported to New Island for luxury Russian VIP travel
and to help mollify the locals.
The Czech-built electric locomotives above
were a "gift of the Russian People" in 1962, and
have been lovingly maintained ever since.

Russia's political upheaval from Czarist to socialist governments was slow to arrive to distant Yellow Island since travel and news to the island took several months. Indeed, in the years immediately following the 1917 revolution the island was nearly forgotten.

Meanwhile, Governor-General Poloustrov continued building the island's roads and railways. He was a skilled negotiator and tried to be fair to islanders displaced by the projects. At the start of construction, native islanders had only crude dirt roads and wooden carts for transportation, so they grew to love the trains and were also grateful for the free medical care the Russians provided. Roadbuilding almost became an obsession for a while as every settlement wanted to be connected to the new Russian roads and railways. Local residents readily offered labor in trade for a road to their village. Now farm tribes could easily trade their produce with townspeople and the Russian garrisons. People could wander the island with relative ease. When the Bolsheviks finally arrived, they found the islander culture to be already socialized, so they raised the Soviet flag, changed Poloustrov's title to "Commander" and allowed him to keep his post.

As the 20th Century progressed, Soviet Russia's relations with the islanders became more harsh. In the 1930's Joseph Stalin raised the island's export quotas of wool, wheat and fish and replaced Commander Poloustrov with a strict "committee". In the late 1940s land was taken for a secret submarine base and other military projects that were beyond the comprehension of the islanders. To their consternation, islanders were no longer allowed to travel offshore, make international calls, own radio transmitters, or use typewriters without special permission.

By 1949 the Cold War arrived on the island and eventually led to its virtual erasure.

An American commando unit arrived on a dark night that year, and took the Russians by surprise by quickly cordoning off an area surrounding Desert Point on the island's desolate northern coast. It appears now that the newly organized American CIA had been watching Soviet Russia's military activities on the island and clandestinely set up a fortified tracking station of their own to monitor the Russians. In a hush-hush agreement, the Soviets allowed the Americans to stay in return for denying the island's existence! The Yellow island was then deleted from all published maps in both the Soviet-bloc East and the Capitalist West. It became a Blank Spot in the region, something not that uncommon! Amazingly, it was then completely forgotten by nearly everyone (except the islanders and a few military staffers) for about 50 years.

This military presence did have the benefit of Soviet Russia adding more hydroelectric, road and rail service, including streetcar lines in both Putney and Kronstadt, as well as the restricted phone service. As long as the islanders were allowed to live relatively unmolested, they were more or less satisfied.