Timo Laine
Publication date
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393 pages

Tanks and Roaches

Torakoita ja panssarivaunuja

The collapse of the socialist system as seen from the inside – An incredible journey through recent history

As a young student fascinated by Finland’s enigmatic eastern neighbour, Timo Laine embarks on an exploration of the world of real socialism. He travels through Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, entering conflict zones and gaining access to areas normally closed off to foreigners. The dramatic events of the August 1991 coup in Estonia he experiences first-hand.

Wherever he goes, Laine takes in everyday life and views national politics through the lens of local sources. He brings a keen eye and insightful mind to his unique access, opening up new perspectives on the breakup of the Soviet imperium, the nature of the Soviet state, communist ideology, cultural differences and ethnic conflicts.

Laine presents the carousel ride of dissolving socialist states as if it were an adventure story: the author’s open-mindedness takes him to places and to the heart of events that were the focus of the most surprising news of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Looking with fresh and unbiased eyes, he observes, gathers information and interprets incidents and developments that shifted the status quo in Europe perhaps more than any other peace-time event.

Irresistibly heartfelt storytelling, profound and considered trains of thought, and openness to change both in himself and his right-edge perspec tives make Tanks and Roaches a reading experience to which few works of non-fiction can compare.


Rights sold

Estonia (Varrak)


Reading material

Finnish edition
English sample


List of contents

The Eternal Soviet Union
The Mythical Eastern Frontier 7
Memories of War 13
Awakening of a Social Consciousness 22
Trip to Moscow 31
DXing 35
The General Secretary’s Parade 39
A Window to the East 43
Literature and Correspondence 49
The Problems of a Planned Economy 55

The Liberation of Eastern Europe
Travels in Eastern Europe 67
An Autumn of Revolt 79
The Romanian Revolution 89
The Age of Freedom Begins 101

Estonia Strives for the Impossible
Finding Estonia 113
Political Developments in Estonia 124
Planning and Waiting 135
The Attempted Coup of the Baltics 140
Summer in Tallinn 153

The August Coup 1991
The Power Grab Begins 169
Waiting for the Tanks 175
Defending the Television Tower 187
Estonia Gains Independence 196
Events in Moscow 204
Analysis of the Coup 212

In the Hinterlands of a Disintegrating Soviet State
Studying in Tartu 221
Estonia’s Most Difficult Year 228
The Soviet Union Opens Up 237
Longing for a Lost Superpower 244
From Azerbaijan to Uzbekistan 251
From Armenia to Kamchatka 257
Searing Heat in Transnistria 265
To China and Back 273
Memories from Tartu 283

Time for a Russian Reckoning
Cultures Collide 289
Summer in Moscow 297
Culture and History 308
Economy and Crime 313
On the Brink of Civil War 321

The Fate of Ideology
Strange Things Afoot in Kostamuksha 335
Serbia Under Siege 343
Albania’s Cycle of Chaos 349
Estonians and Russians 358
Ideology and Reality 371

Afterword 385

Index of People Mentioned 391


Praise for the work

“Laine combines memoir and travelogue with political analysis (…) His observations and insights are sharp and immediate, and there’s plenty of humor as well… (…) Laine offers keenly perceptive stories not only of militia interrogations and all manner of mishaps, but of delightful encounters and experiences. (…) As reportage, Tanks and Roaches demonstrates the breadth and depth it is possible to achieve when investigating phenomena, even with home-made tools – if you only possess the interest, the imagination, and the unflagging spirit. All of which Timo Laine has in spades.” – Helsingin Sanomat newspaper, Finland

“Throughout his observations, Laine humbly acknowledges his smallness and the limitations of his own perspective. But at the same time he has unlocked fresh vantage points, windows to broader contexts. The book does a superb job of bringing history to life. (…) It demands more than a little civilian courage to throw one’s self into the dangers and difficulties that a traveler like Laine must have encountered while venturing across the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. His reward? Unforgettable experiences. And these he shares with the reading public in a supremely captivating way.” – Kaleva newspaper, Finland

“The best part of the memoir Tanks and Roaches is its narrative style: an everyday realism that sprouts from the grassroots. (…) Laine’s unbiased attitude (although his biases are in no way censored!) and respect for his fellow man shine through the text. He doesn’t shy away from conflicting interpretations or varying viewpoints, and is always ready to modify his opinion if the facts so demand or new information comes to light.” – Kansan Uutiset newspaper, Finland

“Laine has written a rollicking report on his eyewitness trips to the crumbling Soviet imperium.” – Ilkka newspaper, Finland