Helpful or harmful to talk about painful national past?

This is a common and valid question. When do the wounds, losses and memories from time ago truly become things of the past? When does it heal and hurt no more? When does dwelling on the past become harmful and we get stuck in it? Increasingly many people in my global circle of friends are reflecting on these issues.

I was giving a lecture on principles of reconciliation and one Swiss student in Latvia asked me, “Why do we need to talk about these tragic things that people and nations have done to each other? Doesn’t this just stir the pain and keep it alive? Doesn’t it actually harm good relations and infect the present situation?” Again a very good question most often coming from the youth who are 25 and under. When I was 18 or 20, I would have asked the same thing as I often felt that the older generations talked too much about the past. I only had the future to worry about.

In my case, with time and experiences around the world came a desire to see the bigger picture and also a realization that actually we do inherit national memories from the generations before us. We claim that it is “not our problem” and that we are “not responsible”. But we look at the reality around us and see that ‘yesterday’ still has a strong effect on ‘today’. And then we start to take ‘tomorrow’ more seriously because it cannot be taken for granted.

I use the word ‘yesterday’ because in this part of the world we live in very young nations. I don’t mean cultures or ethnic identities because there is long history here but many of our republics are celebrating 100 year anniversaries. Republic of Latvia is preparing to celebrate its 100th anniversary on November 18, 2018 and Estonia on February 24, 2018. Lithuania has a much longer history of statehood but on February 16, 2018 it will celebrate 100th anniversary of the Restoration of the State.

100 years is not a very long time. I did not know it when I was a teenager but I understand it now because my grandmother is only 5 years younger than the Republic of Latvia. And her generation is still around with their memories and stories and things to teach and pass on. In this life span there have been exciting highs of free society, high achievements, big dreams and deep despair of war, bloodshed, holocaust, ethnic cleansing. 50 of those years Latvia and Estonia and Lithuania have been occupied by a Soviet regime and forced to live under a system which was foreign and destructive. Not just physically, but psychologically, emotionally and socially.

Metaphorically speaking, we still feel this Soviet system poison in our ‘veins’ and we need to flush it out if we want to be healthy. How? Part of it is calling things their real names. For example, the Soviet times taught people not to trust anyone and how to become hypocrites. Saying one thing but thinking another and then doing something else entirely. The private and public lives often did not match but everyone knew it and pretended. The system was good at pretending. And we still find it hard to trust anyone and we still struggle with lots of corruption because our psyche has been so corrupted.

Another thing we need to flush out is “us” and “them” mentality. Again, the Soviets were masters of this art and they had good disciples. “International” by name but “chauvinist” by nature. And history was so politicized and used for propaganda and brainwashing that we actually could not have an honest truth seeking, grieving, forgiving, apologizing and reconciling.

So, you see we are dealing with questions which should have been addressed before but were delayed. The first step in any reconciliation process is truth seeking. If there is a conflict, pain or resentment, it is a given that something happened. What happened? Why did it happen? How did it effect people? This part of the homework is super hard. Many people want to skip over it completely. One journalist asked, “Can we have reconciliation first and then try to find out the truth?” Sorry to disappoint but it is not possible. That would be called “avoiding the topic” or “sweeping things under the carpet”. And that is exactly what most people and societies do because it seems much easier.

(I am not talking about situations where there is real violence and war and brutal conflict. Of course, you first need to have a ceasefire and stop killing each other and let things calm down before you can even address these deep issues. The basic need is always to preserve people’s lives and take care of their basic need like food, shelter and safety. You do not hold Truth and Reconciliation Committees in a battle zone.)

Last week I wrote about a Reconciliation event in Riga. There I had a conversation with a Latvian whose ethnic background is Russian. He is 21 years old and he was completely convinced that “if we truly want to have better relations with each other, we need to start by apologizing. If we only come together and talk about the facts but take no personal responsibility, we will get nowhere. When we come together, we need to ask each other for forgiveness.”

He wants a good and long future for Latvia and all people in Latvia and for those who will come to live here. So do I. The same for Lithuanians, Estonians, Poles, Russians, Ukrainians… and you can add your country to the list. This is exactly why we need deep and honest reflections about ‘yesterday’ if we desire a good ‘today’ and better ‘tomorrow’. And start apologizing and forgiving where needed.

DSCN4221

Spring time in Rīga (photos from personal archive)

 

Time to bridge the chasm of dividing memories in my own nation… Latvia

Does time heal all wounds? Few months ago I was asked by an American how much more time we need in Latvia to bridge our ethnic and historical divides and to have a real sense of ‘one nation’. 30 years? 40 years? More? Wait a few decades when the older people will be gone and the personal memories will fade and the conflicting versions of history will cease or not be as painful?

And I shook my head, “No, I don’t want to wait  and see what happens.” What if nothing happens? What if the younger generations pick up the same hurts and stories and don’t want to hear the ‘other’ side? And what about my generation who grew up with one foot in the ‘past’ of the USSR and the other foot in the ‘present’ of free and democratic society? We were told that we can finally dream of a better future for Latvia and this is exactly what I have been doing.

In Latvia, May 9 is a tense and strange day. People either celebrate, remember, speak against or simply try to ignore it. Most of Europe commemorates  May 8 as the date when WWII ended in Europe but in most countries that used to be part of the USSR, May 9 is celebrated as Victory Day (to understand this better, follow the link), but for the Republic of Latvia it did not mark the end of WWII because the Nazi troops and regime were exchanged with the Soviet troops and regime which only ended in 1991. Because of our history, geography and people, we now have two days, two stories and two memories.

I cannot do justice to all nuances and complexities in such a short blog. For thousands of ethnic Russians (and Ukrainians, Belorussians and others), this is a very emotional and important memory which brings a lot of pride and gratefulness for the sacrifice of previous generations. Likewise for thousands and thousands of ethnic Latvians, an image of a Soviet soldier brings up pain, bitter memories and grievances over previous generations. Latvians simply stay away from May 9 commemorations.

So, here we are… and what can we do?! If you follow my blog, you know that I am a strong believer in restoration and reconciliation. Each generation has choices to make. We cannot change the past and we are also not responsible for everything that took place before our time. But we are responsible for today and tomorrow. My choice is healed, diverse, united and respectful society.

Lately I meet more and more people who make the same choice and do their part (often very personal and difficult) to build the bridges. I am a Latvian and I also carry some pain of my family who suffered under the Soviet regime. My great grandparents were arrested and sent to Siberia because, as landowners and farmers, they were the class enemy. I look at the few old photos which my grandmother received from them while they were living and doing hard labor in Irkutsk region, Russia and I get very emotional.

My great grandmother had lost her mind while in exile and as a little child I remember she used to swear in Russian. She used bad words like ‘bitch’ and ‘whore’ and ‘fascist’. When I would repeat them, my parents scolded me but when I told them where I heard it, they went silent or tried to explain to me that granny was crazy. Later I understood that her fragile and broken mind remembered the names she had been called in Russia.

You see why my first introduction to Russian language was not a very positive one but it is not anymore. I can speak Russian, I learned it in school and I loved it because I could watch all my favorite cartoons and films in Russian and my parents could not use a ‘secret’ language anymore when talking about us, kids.

See, I have to do my own homework when I talk about this stuff. I am grateful for everyone who is doing it or has already completed. People who have listened, who have forgiven, who have apologized, who have accepted the “other” and who have moved on to the bridge. I think and I hope that I am on this bridge, too.

This week there was an event “8/9: Words crossing the gap of memories” at the Anglican Church in Riga organized to promote reconciliation. Reconciling our memories, our narratives, our communities, our people. There were prayers and Bible readings and two very personal speeches. One of them was quite extraordinary and I will translate few of the words here. It was written and read by Denis Hanov, a professor and Doctor of Humanities, a Latvian whose ethnicity is mixed Russian/Ukrainian and mother tongue is Russian.

He started by saying, “Tonight I will speak about things that I have been thinking about for a long time. More precisely, for 20 years I feel that I need to talk to be able to understand what is happening to me here, in this land, in Latvia.”

I hope to translate the whole speech in English and include it in another post, but let me conclude with his words, “Can pain form our future or is it possible to break it? Pain cannot be cancelled, cannot be forgotten and cannot be hidden, but it can be overcome. (…) Therefore tonight I decided, by my own initiative with encouragement of many friends and skepticism of others, to bury the pain of 20th century and to create my personal bridge to cross the gap. I will build this bridge according the the highest standards of safety – I will try to hear others and ask for forgiveness.”

And Denis did. He asked forgiveness and he asked to be heard.

I heard him and I hope that I will be heard, too. I don’t have time to wait 50 years. Latvia does not either.

To be continued…

Siberia

My great grandfather Jānis Kūda (bottom left) doing hard labor near Irkutsk, Russia around 1950

Latvian:

Vai laiks dziedina visas brūces? Pirms kāda laika man viens amerikānis jautāja, cik ilgs laiks vēl vajadzīgs, lai Latvijas sabiedrība tiktu pāri savām sāpēm un sašķeltībai. Paaudžu maiņa? 40 gadi? 50 gadi? Kad visi vecie nomirs, un visiem būs tikai vēsture, varbūt tā izbālēs, un vairs nevienam nesāpēs?

Man tas izklausījās briesmīgi. Es negribu gaidīt, man nav laika gaidīt, kas notiks. Ja nu nekas nenotiek? Ja nu nekas nemainās? Vai arī paliek sliktāk? Varbūt jaunā paaudze vienkārši pārmantos šos stāstus un sāpes un konfliktējošo skatu gan uz vēsturi, gan uz tagadni, gan nākotni. Un kā ir ar manu paaudzi? Kas uzaugām ar vienu kāju PSRS “pagātnē” un ar otru kāju Latvijas Republikas “tagadnē”. Kur beidzot varam sapņot par labākiem laikiem un labāku nākotni Latvijai un visiem cilvēkiem Latvijā. To es arī cenšos. Gan sapņot, gan darīt.

8. maijā Anglikāņu baznīcā Rīgā notika samierināšanai, nožēlai un piedošanai veltīts pasākums. “Atceroties 2. pasaules kara traģēdijas un piedzīvojot pretnostatītas atmiņas par to, meklēsim saprašanos un izlīgumu.  Pasākums krievu un latviešu valodās.” Bija lūgšanas, bija Bībeles lasījumi, un bija divas ļoti dziļas un personīgas runas. Un es nolēmu, ka vienu no šīm runām iekļaušu šajā blogā. To nevar sagriezt, to jālasa pilnībā. Tā ir uzruna no Denisa Hanova, RSU komunikāciju fakultātes profesora, kurš pats dzimis jauktā krievu/ukraiņu ģimenē, un kura dzimtā valoda ir krievu.

“Nožēla un cerība – Deniss Hanovs

Šovakar es teikšu to, par ko domāju jau vairākus gadus. Precīzāk, 20 gadu garumā es jūtu, ka man ir nepieciešams runāt, lai saprastu kas notiek ar mani šeit, šajā zemē, Latvijā.
Viss sācies ar to, ka es piedzimu 1977. gadā valstī, kura nedrīkstēja pastāvēt, jo bija varas spēļu, politiskā ārprāta, cilvēku bezspēcības, baiļu, moku, represiju, nodevības un akluma rezultāts. Es piedzimu Padomju Latvijā, kas tapa kā svešas varas projekts.
Tīņa vecumā vēlme studēt augstskolā izmeta mani ārā no Pļavnieku guļamrajona noslēgtās vides, no noapaļotās vienaldzības pret 20. gs. vēstures lūzumiem un to salauztajiem cilvēkiem.
Tā es atklāju ka par spīti tam, ka krievu kultūras šedevri ir kļuvuši par Eiropas kultūrmantojuma daļu, krievu valoda trolejbusā var pēkšņi likt kādai grumbainai sejai sarauties nepatikā, skumjās un tam var sekot dusmīga piebilde kas man nesaprotamā veidā ir saistīta ar manu tautību – krievs. Ilgstoši negribēju pieskarties šādai sejai un noskaidrot kāpēc cilvēkam var sāpēt, kad viņš dzird manu valodu. Neviens arī necentās man to skaidrot, klusēja vai vienkārši nezināja – nācās skaidrot pašam.
Vēlme noskaidrot citu sāpes un to cēloņus pati veidoja vidi, laiku un telpu, kas pavēra man durvis uz līdz šim nezināmo.
Latvijas Kultūras akadēmija – šauri klosteru gaiteņiem līdzīgi koridori, pavisam jauni studiju priekšmeti, savādāka Latvijas vēstures interpretācija un arī mana paša dalība sarunās, noklausoties stāstus, izlasot atmiņas, apmeklējot izstādes – tas viss lika man saprast, ka arī mana klātbūtne var būt sāpju avots. Mana un manas ģimenes klātbūtne var
sāpināt. Izrādās, ka sāpes ir pārmantojamas, tāpat kā vecas grāmatas, vēstules vai slimības.
Tad es sapratu, ka Čaikovska Oņegins vai Tolstoja Nataša sadzīvo ar sētnieku īstenoto stučīšanu, ar nāvi un mokām cietumu pagrabos, ar neaprakstāmiem vergu darbiem nometnēs, arī ar ilgstošām, klusām bailēm glabāt atmiņas par tuvākajiem, kuru līķi bija izmesti ceļā uz Sibīriju. Par to man atgādina tukšie koka vagoni dzelzceļa stacijās Latvijā, veco cilvēku klusās asaras vai pāris fotoattēli – viss kas palika pāri no iznīcinātas dzīves pirms 1940 gada.
Kāds man ar to visu sakars?
Netiešs, un pavisam tiešs – jo nakts vidū mājās iebrukušie zaldāti, NKVD virsnieki iznīcināja 20.gs. cilvēku atmiņas un sakropļoja dvēseles, krieviski izkliedzot pavēles, lamājoties, rakstot viltotus protokolus, liedzot brīvi domāt, cenzējot, bojājot zinātniskās karjeras, neļaujot izbraukt no valsts, publicēties. Kopš tā laika daudziem vārdi “krievs”, “krievu”, “Krievija” ir baiļu un naida sinonīmi. Man tas jāpieņem, jo tāda ir traumētas sabiedrības realitāte. Latvijā naktīs, cietumos, kolhozos, darba vietās, parkos, universitātē 1940. gadā un pēc tam vēl pusgadsimta garumā nāve, fiziska un psiholoģiska vardarbība runāja krievu valodā, mainīja ielu nosaukumus, aizliedza iepriekšējo topogrāfiju, aizvietojot to ar nevienam nepazīstamu un nevajadzīgu revolucionāru biogrāfijām.
Man ir jāpieņem, ka jauni cilvēki var drūmi atskatīties atpakaļ, kad dzird krievu valodu, jo viņi kļūdaini, bet droši zina, ka valoda un es esam līdzatbildīgi. Un man jādzīvo tālāk ar atziņu, ka 1940. gada Rīgas jūnija putekļos tie bija krievu tanki, kas atnesa krievu laikus, nevis padomju. Es varu ilgi stāstīt par 30. gadu atklātajiem procesiem Krievijā pret padomju opozīciju un GULAGA iemītnieku miljoniem, es varu rādīt studentiem “Saules nogurdinātos”, viss paliks pa vecam – sāpes būs klātesošas, tās veidos pagātni un tās būs saistītas ar manu klātbūtni Latvijā. Vai sāpes drīkst veidot nākotni, vai tās var pārtraukt? Sāpes noteikti nevar atcelt, nedrīkst aizmirst un nevar paslēpt, bet tās var pārvarēt.
Pārvarēt var tad, ja saproti, ka turpināt ciest nav jēgas, ka viss ir aizgājis, ka nav iespējams atgriezties pagātnē, kaut gan ļoti gribētos, lai saprastu ka es, mēs, mūsējie ir varoņi vai upuri, un citi tikai varmākas un noziedznieki. Šādā sadalījumā mēs apmānām paši sevi, meklējot vienkāršotus skaidrojumus šodienas sarežģītībai.
Tā mēs visi un es pats palikšu ieslodzīts 20. gadsimtā. nespēsim iet tālāk. Tā es nekad nesadzirdēšu Cita sāpes.
Bet es vēlos iet tālāk, man jāiet tālāk – pasaule ir sagatavojusi vēl daudzus skaistus mirkļus ko atminēt, atklāt, izstāstīt citiem. Tāpēc šovakar es, pēc paša iniciatīvas, bet ar vairāku draugu atbalstu, arī skepsi, nolēmu apglabāt 20. gs. sāpes un plaisu vietā veidot savu personīgo tiltu.
Es būvēšu savu tiltu atbilstoši visdrošākajiem celtniecības standartiem – es mēģināšu sadzirdēt citus un lūgt piedošanu.
Es pieņemu, apzinos, izdzīvoju un saprotu ebreju, latviešu, lietuviešu, poļu, romu un visu citu grupu, kopienu un atsevišķu cilvēku sāpes, sēras, skumjas, kas izēd dvēseles un saindē domas, kas bloķē skatu uz nākotni. Tālis Tisenkopfs, kura tekstus es apbrīnoju, ir rakstījis, ka vēl piecdesmit gadus viņa sirds būs ciet – mums nav tik daudz laika. Jāpasteidzas… No padomju varas vardarbības cietām mēs visi.
Ar šo runu es no sirds dziļumiem un ar cerību lūdzu piedot man, lūdzu pieņemt manu personīgu visdziļāko nožēlu par noziegumiem pret Latvijas cilvēkiem, kas mira, cieta, palika garīgi un fiziski sakropļoti, iztukšoti, vientuļi. Es neesmu vainīgs, bet es jūtu atbildību – morālu un pilsonisku – par padomju okupāciju un tās sekām. Es lūdzu piedot, es lūdzu pieņemt mani. Un es aicinu iet tālāk kopā, kopīgi sērojot par visiem aizgājušajiem, bet vienlaikus pieņemot visus, kas veido mūsu Latvijas sabiedrību, ar viņu atmiņām un emocijām, kurām ir tiesības pastāvēt daudzveidīgajā sabiedrībā, kurā brīvība ir visaugstākā vērtība. Es ticu, ka nožēla un žēlsirdība dara brīnumus, spēj pretoties naidam, dusmām un politiskām fantāzijām. Citēšu vienu 18. gadsimta tekstu: “Taisnīgums, ko pavada žēlsirdība, ir cēls.”
Tu šodien esi klāt, un dzirdēji manu lūgumu. Lūdzu neklusē, lūdzu sadzirdi, lūdzu runā ar mani.”

Es sadzirdēju, un arī man ir ko teikt. Turpinājums sekos nākamreiz…

 

 

Don’t talk in maybe’s… Sing it like it should be

There is this one guy I would like to meet. He is very tall, very skinny, very bald and very cool. Well, he is kind of intimidating, too, but in a good way. His name is Peter Garrett and he is an Aussie.

He also happens to be the lead singer of my favorite Australian rock band. No, not AC/DC or Jet… I am talking about Midnight Oil. My teenage music library and first introduction to MTV would not have been the same without this passionate and intense band and the beautiful but deep songs with a strong anti-nuke, anti-corporate and pro-environment message.

It was a very catchy song and easy to sing along. “How can we dance when our earth is turning? How can we sleep while our beds are burning?… The time has come to say fair’s fair… To pay the rent, to pay our share” I was trying to understand whose beds are burning? what’s not fair? Then I found out that Midnight Oil were active supporters of the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and protection of the environment.

Years later I saw Midnight Oil perform this song “Beds Are Burning” at the Sydney Olympic Games and they were wearing suits with the word “SORRY” in front of 2.5 billion worldwide audience. It was a strong and bold message to a new generation. I felt challenged, inspired and convicted and I’m not even Australian. This is the power of art and music and lyrics that speak of our human brokenness and search for hope.

This is what I meant by him being intimidating in a good way. To make more sense of Peter Garrett, it is good to remember that he describes himself “a sporadic, occasional, very ecumenical, spiritual sojourner” who is committed to Christian social justice. He said that his Christian faith is his personal moral compass. Besides being a successful musician, he is also a former politician who served as Australian MP and member of the Cabinet.

One interviewer asked him, “How do you as someone with such a big profile, fame and commercial success, answer the call of humility as Christians are called to do?” Peter’s answer, “I have been around long enough to know that it is not about me. I have always believed in working with others to get things done. I have been fortunate to experience that in my time with Midnight Oil and working with my colleagues as conservation activist. To me public politics is public service. It may sound naive but I have always seen myself as someone who has chosen public service in whatever shape or form it comes.”

January 26 is Australia Day and I have very fun memories celebrating it together with friends in Perth, Western Australia. It is truly a beautiful land with breathtaking landscapes and great beaches. I have never seen sky so blue… I have also never met people who are more laid back than Aussies. No worries, mate!

So, maybe one day I will get to meet Peter Garrett and tell him in person how much I appreciate people like him. The ones who work for the healing of a nation… as in the song “One country”

Who’d like to change the world?
Who wants to shoot the curl?
Who wants to work for bread?
Who wants to get ahead?
Who hands out equal rights?
Who starts and ends that fight?
And not rant and rave,
or end up a slave.

Don’t call me baby,
Don’t talk in maybe’s,
Don’t talk like has-beens,
Sing it like it should be.

one vision, one people, one landmass
be our defenses
we have a lifeline

one ocean, one policy, see bad light,
one passion, one movement, one instant, one difference,
one life time and one understanding.

Transgression, redemption
one island blue, our place (magic),
one firmament, one element,
one moment, one fusion,
is so on time.

MidnightOilGarrett

Photos from the Internet

Latviski:

Ir viens džeks, kuru es vēlētos satikt. Viņš ir ļoti garš, ļoti kalsns, ļoti plikpaurains un ļoti foršs. Un man no viņa ir mazliet bail, bet labā nozīmē. Viņu sauc Pīters Garets, un viņš ir austrālis.

Turklāt viņš ir manas mīļākās Austrālijas rokgrupas solists. Nē, nevis AC/DC vai Jet… man patīk Midnight Oil. Mana pusaudzes gadu mūzikas izlase un pirmā iepazīšanās ar MTV nebūtu bijusi tik iespaidīga bez šīs dedzīgās grupas un viņu skaistajām, vienlaikus dziļajām dziesmām ar spēcīgu vēstījumu – pret atomieročiem, korupciju, ekonomisko nevienlīdzību un par dabas aizsardzību.

Viena lipīga dziesma, kurai viegli varēju dziedāt līdzi… “kā mēs varam dejot, kamēr pasaule griežas? kā mēs varam gulēt, kamēr mūsu gultas deg? Ir pienācis laiks teikt, kas ir taisnīgs… Laiks maksāt īri, maksāt savu daļu” Es gribēju saprast, par kādām gultām ir runa? Kas nav taisnīgs? Tad uzzināju, ka Midnight Oil aktīvi iestājas par Austrālijas pamatiedzīvotāju – aborigēnu – tiesībām, un arī daudz darbojas dabas aizsardzības jomā.

Pēc vairākiem gadiem es un vēl kādi 2,5 miljardi cilvēku redzējām Midnight Oil dziedam šo pašu dziesmu “Beds Are Burning” Sidnejas Olimpisko Spēļu ceremonijā. Viņiem bija tērpi ar uzrakstu “SORRY” kā atvainošanās, kā lūgums pēc piedošanas. Tā bija spēcīga un drosmīga vēsts jaunai paaudzei. Tas izaicināja, iedvesmoja un pārliecināja, kaut es neesmu austrāliete. Tāds spēks piemīt mākslai, mūzikai un dzejai, kas runā par mūsu cilvēces salauztību un cerības meklējumiem.

Tāpēc šis cilvēks mani baida… labā nozīmē. Lai labāk izprastu Pīteru Garetu, ir vērts atcerēties, ka viņš pats sevi sauc par “izkaisītu, dažreizēju, bet garīgu ceļotāju”, kura vērtību pamatā ir kristīga izpratne par sociālo taisnīgumu. Savu kristieša ticību viņš sauc par personīgo morāles kompasu. Būdams ne tikai populārs un veiksmīgs mūziķis, bet arī bijušais politiķis gan Austrālijas parlamentā, gan kā ministrs valdībā.

Kāds žurnālists jautāja, “Kā tu savieno savu atpazīstamību, slavu un komerciālos panākumus, ar Kristus aicinājumu būt pazemīgam?” Pītera atbilde, “Es jau ilgi ar to visu nodarbojos un zinu, ka lieta negrozās ap mani. Vienmēr esmu ticējis, ka tikai strādājot kopā var kaut ko panākt. Man ir paveicies gan ar Midnight Oil, gan ar kolēģiem dabas aizsardzības organizācijās. Būt politiski aktīvam man nozīmē kalpošanu sabiedrībai. Varbūt tas izklausās naivi, bet es vienmēr esmu uztvēris sevi kā tādu, kurš ir izvēlējies kalpot sabiedrībai vienalga kādā formā vai veidā.”

Katru gadu 26. janvārī ir Austrālijas Diena. Man ir foršas atmiņas no šo svētku svinēšanas kopā ar draugiem Pērtā, Rietumaustrālijā. Tā tiešām ir skaista zeme ar elpu aizraujošiem skatiem un vienreizējām pludmalēm. Nekur citur neesmu redzējusi tik zilas debesis… Nekur citur neesmu satikusi tik atbrīvotus un nesteidzīgus cilvēkus. No worries, mate! (Nav par ko, draudziņ!)

Varbūt kādu dienu satikšu Pīteru Garetu un varēšu pateikt viņam, cik ļoti cienu tādus cilvēkus. Tos, kuri cenšas palīdzēt dziedināt savas tautas pagātni… kā grupas dziesmā “Viena valsts

Kurš grib izmainīt pasauli?
Kurš grib braukt uz viļņa?
Kurš grib pelnīt maizi?
Kurš grib izrauties?
Kurš grib vienādas tiesības?
Kurš pabeidz iesākto cīņu?
Nevis trako un ārdās, vai vergo
Nesauc mani par mazo
Nerunā varbūtībās
Nerunā par izbijušo
Dziedi par to, kā jābūt
Viens redzējums, vieni ļaudis, viena zeme
Tā mūsu aizsardzība,
Kas ļaus mums dzīvot
Pārkāpums, izpirkums
Viena zila sala, viena pasakaina vieta
Viens avots, viens elements
Viens brīdis, viens savienojums
Tieši šim laikam
 

Hannover and Hiroshima and the church without roof

So many reflections after my recent trip to Hannover, Germany. I had the most unusual tour of the city. It told a story of significant past, diverse community, powerful kings and fascinating facts, but also tragedy, violence and beauty from the ashes. In the literal sense.

In just one night of October 8, 1943, more than 200,000 bombs were dropped on the city of Hannover. Not much was left standing. I think of my own city, Riga, and what it looked like after the war. I think of Sarajevo in Bosnia, Aleppo in Syria, Gaza in Palestine, towns and cities in eastern Ukraine…

Now you walk around and enjoy beautiful buildings and parks and street-side cafes. You see people enjoying a good life. You see diverse cultures welcomed here. Hannover is a very nice place to be. Still, the scars remain and I appreciate how people in Germany do not hide from these scars. As painful and ugly as they are. It speaks about healing and restoration.

There is a church without roof, now covered by our beautiful sky. Aegidienkirche originated in the 14th Century. It was destroyed in a bomb attack in 1943 and has not been rebuilt. Its ruin is now a memorial to the victims of war and violence. Like many other people before me, I stood there thinking, “If these ruins could speak…”

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The church has a Peace Bell, which the city of Hannover received in 1985 from its partner town of Hiroshima. The bell has a twin, which hangs in Hiroshima. Every 6th August a special memorial service to commemorate the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima is held in this church. As part of this service the peace bell is rung at the same time as its twin in Hiroshima chimes.

There is a statue of person who embraces. The person is on his/her knees. To me it shows humility, brokenness and longing to embrace and to be embraced. When we speak about forgiveness and repentance and redemption, there are many powerful and beautiful symbols. During workshops on reconciliation I ask for mental pictures and commonly people see ’embrace’ or ‘handshake’.

‘Ubuntu’ is an African thought and expression which is usually translated as “humanity toward others”. No wonder my African friends love to hug and to hold hands. There is something deep within us that tells us that an act of embrace is the acknowledgement that ‘I am what I am because of who we all are’. Archbishop Desmond Tutu from South Africa describes it like this, “A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, based from a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.”

And one more thought as I reflect on this embrace. Theologian Miroslav Volf from Croatia said it the best: “Forgiveness flounders because I exclude the enemy from the community of humans even as I exclude myself from the community of sinners.”

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Mitsubishi and three little words that make grown men cry

Most of us would be quick to point out that there is lots of media coverage of the brokenness of our world – stories of corruption, pollution, conflict, wars, extremism, human trafficking, injustice, etc. It is because the world is broken… so the media does their job and shines the spotlight on the ugliness. I thank them for it but even more I thank those who put the spotlight on stories of forgiveness, healing, restoration, humility and hope. For the common knowledge says that ‘good stories’ do not sell.

One of the international headlines that made my day was coverage of an event at Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles last week. Japan’s Mitsubishi corporation made an official and public apology for using US prisoners of war as forced labor during WWII. It was described as the first such apology by a Japanese company.

One of the former US prisoners, who had survived the inhumane and terrible conditions without food and medicine (basically slavery) in the copper mines when he was a young man, was present to receive the apology as a 94 year old man. James Murphy said that he had forgiven his captors but he still wanted to hear an apology.

So, 70 years after the end of the war and even without any offer of money or other restitution, this was a very important event. This was Mitsubishi but also the Japanese government officially apologized to US prisoners of war five years ago.

Why is it such a big deal? Why would someone wait 70 years to hear an apology? Why not “forgive and forget”? And why would the company wait 70 years to apologize?

Sometimes I think what my grandmother would do if someone she knew came to her and said, “Back in 1948, I was working for the Soviet system that took away your family’s farm and sent your family, your parents and grandmother, to the labor camp in Siberia. I was part of the system that sentenced your brother to hard labor in prison camp because he tried to get back the family’s farm. I am so sorry for your grandmother who died near Lake Baikal and was buried there. I am so sorry for your younger brother who perished.”

My grandmother is loving, joyful and creative person. She is not eaten by bitterness and unforgiveness. She has forgiven a lot but she still misses her family. I think she would cry if she heard an apology like that. No, let me be honest – I would cry if someone apologized to her.

Acknowledgment of truth is the first step in reconciliation process but repentance – apology, remorse, sincere regret – is crucial. Without it you cannot have a true healing and restoration of relationship.

There are also times when it is appropriate to apologize on someone’s behalf. I doubt that the Mitsubishi owners, managers or employers are old enough to have been working for the company during WWII. Still, they recognized the stain and guilt of their company and are seeking to deal with its legacy. Often to go forward you have to go back to the past.

It is amazing how difficult it is to say these three little words, “I am sorry”

Railway man 1

Photo from movie “The Railway Man”

Where to begin?

If you wanted to study about reconciliation, where would you start? Well, I started with Google search… It can be quite overwhelming to dig through all the resources and information available but eventually I found what I was looking for – School of Reconciliation and Justice (SORJ) in Harpenden, England.

I read the introductory statement of SORJ: „Our aim is to train individuals or teams to work in many different areas of society that need God’s work of reconciliation and restoration. If You want to be involved in peace building in an area of conflict; or if You want to be an advocate for the voiceless; or if You want to develop a restorative justice team in an inner-city; or to work in the political arena; this school will help you in developing your plans and your heart to serve God in these areas. During this three month school, we will be training with international practitioners, researching current issues of conflict or injustice issues, and taking time to seek God’s heart for reconciliation and justice around the world.”

When I told my husband about this course, he was very supportive until he found out that it was in England. Why? England seemed far far away from Burma border. Weren’t there similar study courses in Southeast Asia? Most likely there were, but there was something special that drew me to this particular school. This training was born out of a movement called Reconciliation Walk.

To quote  Reconciliation Walk website: „This movement was born in response to the 900th anniversary of the Crusades, an epoch that represents the failure of the Church to embody Christ’s ministry of reconciliation. Through an apology and thousands of face-to-face meetings between Western Christians and Muslims, Jews and Eastern Christians, we sought to erode the bitter legacy and mythologies of enmity that originated with the Crusades.”

Middle East road

The Reconciliation Walk was a real peace-road; a literal walk across the path of the first crusade.The participants were bringing the message of peace, forgiveness, and hope across the nations of Europe and Middle East. I wish I would have been able to participate in something like this but I also know that there is a unique journey for every one of us. I cannot walk in someone else’s shoes or actual footsteps, but I will have my own path to make and my own footprints to leave.

I was looking for not only theory, but the practice of reconciliation. With such topics as Character Development of the Peacemaker; Foundations of Reconciliation and Justice; Principles of Forgiveness; Origins of Conflict; Faith, Geopolitics, Nationalism and Tribalism in today’s Conflicts; Effective Peace building models for transforming communities; Conflict Mediation; Restorative Justice and Advocacy, this seemed like a great place to start.

So, in 2010 I boarded a plane from Bangkok, Thailand to London, England. Little did I know that this school would be much more than I expected or bargained for.

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