Lustration and flushing out the Soviet poison for good

I belong to two generations. One is Gen X – Nirvana, grunge, MTV, alienated youth, indie, The Cure, flannel shirts, cynicism… I am also generation between two worlds, two truths, past disconnected from future. Born in the USSR but becoming an adult in free and independent Latvia.

The feature photo was taken at a former Soviet military facility in western Latvia which used to have many Soviet army bases. The small village of Irbene had one of the top secret facilities, used for listening in on military conversations and spying on NATO countries during the Cold War years. It had huge antennas. Now it is a tourist destination, offering tours in the underground tunnels (which are very long and eerie) and the abandoned laboratories.

A quote by a local astronomer, “It is possible to film a horror movie here called Frankenstein and the KGB, and nobody would need to spend anything on creating the movie set.” Precisely! I felt like I was in one of those movies, except the depressing feeling of familiarity. The faded Soviet star used to be bright red, the warning in Russian used to instill fear, the secret facilities and weapons were meant for the enemies which we were told hated us.

For Western tourists this can be an interesting discovery, for me it is a stark reminder. These secret facilities do not pose a threat anymore but what is the legacy left behind. We can re-paint and re-use but we cannot afford to whitewash.

When talking about our Soviet past, experience and system, people use words like ‘poison’ or ‘cancer’ that infiltrated the individual and collective psyche. Often the outsiders point out things which don’t take long to notice in Latvia. One of the symptoms of this lingering poison is inability or unwillingness to trust. The Soviet system like any other totalitarian regime was built on very twisted human relationships – where people spied on each other,  where friends betrayed friends, where colleagues reported things to authorities. Where you walked the party line to succeed. Where you silenced your conscience or starved your mind. Where you lived a double life – one in public and another at home.

Those who were born in already free Latvia carry very little of this residue but they still feel it. Feel it in their parents, grandparents, older teachers, government, society at large. And they question louder and  louder why are we they way we are? Why aren’t we more trusting, more open to new people, experiences and cultures? Why aren’t we more transparent, willing to take responsibility, ready to take make decisions? Why do we have historic  topics which we avoid or shut down? Something is still holding us back, something is still bending our necks, something is still casting its shadow.

I was a little child but even I remember the manipulation and hypocrisy and propaganda. I remember how it looks, how it sounds and how it feels. It acts arrogant, self-righteous, aggressive (very aggressive); it glorifies military might above everything else.  It always has “us vs them” world, it has many enemies, it punishes those who dare to disagree. It creates its own reality. And it never repents and never admits any guilt… never.

Latvia is not this world anymore but our healing is still in process. Restoring personal and national dignity, respect and justice takes time but time does not heal all the wounds. We don’t have the luxury to wait decades until “the old people from the old system” die and then all will be well. I don’t believe that. I believe that we have to be very intentional and active in exposing this ‘sickness’ and ‘shame’ that still infects us. We need deeper lustration and talk openly about the broken relationships.  Bravely and humbly condemn, repent for the things people did to each other because the whitewash never holds… and then our dignity and respect for ourselves and each other can be restored.

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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.

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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…

 

 

Good Friday and The Cranberries in my head

The keywords  – Ireland, The Cranberries, Good Friday and Jesus – are not equal in importance but they are all part of my story.

I am a big fan of Ireland! I have never lived there (my brother has, my friends and close relatives do) but I have always been fascinated by it. The Celtic art, the history, the music, the land, the people. No, let’s put the hospitality first! Through marriage I even inherited a family name that is well-known in Ireland. Lansdowne road, Lansdowne rugby club and so on.  My American husband is an ‘Irish wanna-be’.

I am a big fan of 90’s rock bands! The Cranberries, Pearl Jam, Jesus Jones and Nirvana to name just a few. While living in Southeast Asia, I discovered how much Asians like to sing cover songs and I cannot count how many times I heard “Smells Like Teen Spirits” or “Zombie“, And every time I heard someone sing “Zombie” in open cafe, bar or street corner, I could not help but think, “They probably have no idea. What if they understood what the Troubles in Northern Ireland were?”

When I first heard this song I did not pay attention to the lyrics either. At the time it was just another popular rock song with great female vocals. We tried to sing as angry and aggressive as Dolores O’Riordan because we felt it was a protest song. But protesting against what? And what is this zombie in your head?

“Another head hangs lowly
Child is slowly taken
And the violence caused such silence
Who are we mistaken

But you see it’s not me
It’s not my family
In your head, in your
Head they are fighting

In your head, in your head
Zombie, zombie, zombie”

This song came to my mind recently! Last week I wrote about Syria and my words felt so inadequate, small and flat.  Innocent children keep dying in this war and I hear this angry and aggressive voice  singing again “And the violence caused such silence, Who are we mistaken?”

Here is the important part – I am also a big fan of Jesus of Nazareth! This week Christians around the world are celebrating and remembering the events that are the cornerstone of our faith . For me it has everything to do with what I see around. Borrowing the words of a Croat theologian Miroslav Volf, “A genuinely Christian reflection on social issues must be rooted in the self-giving love of the divine Trinity as manifested on the cross of Christ.” To many people the cross is an offensive symbol but I think of it as a scandal. This kind of humiliation and seeming defeat is the ultimate scandal. Jesus gives himself for the others but the violence does not stop. It takes his life and the powers-to-be seem unshaken.

But there is no way around the cross. There is no modern or post-modern solution to our or any age. M. Volf thinks that modernity creates “culture of social hope” and post-modernity creates “culture of endurance”. Jesus creates neither. Our world is healed by the “weakness” and “foolishness” of the self-giving love.

Going back to the Cranberries and Northern Ireland, I am also a big fan of Good Friday Agreement! What a beautiful name to have for a reconciliation process! Next year it will be 20 years since it was agreed in Belfast on April 10, 1998. Again I am speaking as an outsider who has neither lived through the violence nor faced the challenges and the walls that still exist. But I have much hope and faith and the people in Northern Ireland show us all something crucial.

Our world desperately needs Good Friday agreements. Unless we want to keep singing, “In your head, in your head… zombie, zombie… du, du, du, du”

Cranberries

The Cranberries (photos from internet)

 

Shape of my heart

September 21 is the International Day of Peace. So, what? The world does not seem very peaceful; many relationships strained or broken; armed conflicts and rumors of wars in too many places; resources and environment being fought over; refugees in millions; fundamentalists clashing with libertarians; anxiety and fear in the headlines; elections becoming so divisive for societies… should I go on?

“Peace” has become such a cheap word. “Peace” sign can be such a cliche. “Peace agreements” look like a joke. “Peace building” often feels impossible and futile. It reminds me of the ancient prophet Jeremiah who said, “They offer superficial treatments for my people’s mortal wound. They give assurances of peace when there is no peace.

There comes a moment when you become still and start to think  – where does peace start? It seems that we are good at “ceasefires” but where is the source of true peace? Where does the will and the choice and the ability to be peaceful come from?

Few years ago in a group of friends we wrote a song, “Where does peace start? With God enlarging my heart!” I want to quote one of my favorite authors on spirituality and relationships, Henri J.M. Nouwen. He wrote that “We tend to run around trying to solve the problems of our world while anxiously avoiding confrontation with the reality wherein our problems find their deepest roots: our own selves. … To build a better world, the beginnings of that world must be visible in daily life. … We cannot speak about ways to bring about peace and freedom if we cannot draw from our own experiences of peace and freedom here and now.” (“Creative Ministry”)

I realized this early in own my journey. One friend from Thailand-Burma border sent me an-mail some years ago. “I like this subject of peace very much but I feel that a trainer of the course should have a clear mind. I am good at solving other one’s conflict (I think) but I myself am violent.” His honesty made me look at my own heart and my daily interactions. There are many stories to tell of what I have experienced.

We would like to think of ourselves as open-minded, friendly, inclusive, welcoming, accepting, non-judgmental, reaching out, respectful, humble but these ideas get tested daily and how often we fail the test. Like H. Nouwen said, it is the “here and now “that matters the most.

I realize that I started a subject that is too deep and too wide for this blog but I wanted to remind myself that peace starts with me. Peace with God, with myself, with others and with the created order. How to have this peace in all these relationships? Well, that’s the real art!

And just because it rhymes and I love this song by British artist Sting:

I know that the spades are the swords of a soldier
I know that the clubs are weapons of war
I know that diamonds mean money for this art
But that’s not the shape of my heart

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Peaceful place in Latvia (photos from personal archive)

Latvian:

21. septembrī tika atzīmēta Pasaules jeb Starptautiskā miera diena. Nu, un kas par to? Pasaule galīgi neliekas mierīga; visāda veida attiecības sabojātas un salauztas; bruņoti konflikti un kari daudzviet; cīņa par resursiem un strīdi par vides aizsardzību; miljoniem bēgļu; sadursme starp fundametālistiem un libertiāņiem; bailes un satraukums ziņu virsrakstos; vēlēšanas, kas sašķel nācijas… vai vēl turpināt?

“Miers” daudziem ir kļuvis tukšs vārds. “Miera simboli” kļuvuši par klišejām. “Miera sarunas” bieži vien izrādās nenopietnas. “Miera celšana” sāk likties neiespējama un veltīga. Man prātā nāk senā pravieša Jeremijas vārdi: “Tie grib pavirši dziedināt Manas tautas meitas dziļo brūci un saka: miers, miers! – kur taču miera nav.”

Un pienāk brīdis, kad tu apstājies un sāc domāt – no kurienes nāk miers? Mums tik labi padodas “pamieri”, bet kas ir īsta un paliekoša miera avots? Kur rodas griba, vēlēšanās un spēja būt mieru mīlošam un mieru nesošam?

Pirms dažiem gadiem mēs kopā ar draugiem uzrakstījām dziesmu, kuras galvenais jautājums bija, kur sākas miers? Un mēs atbildējām, ka “manā sirdī, kuru maina Dievs.” Gribu citēt vienu no saviem mīļākajiem rakstniekiem un teologiem. Henrijs Nouvens rakstīja, ka “Mēs skrienam apkārt, mēģinot atrisināt pasaules problēmas, bet tajā pašā laikā drudžaini cenšamies izvairīties no konfrontācijas ar mūsu problēmu visdziļāko sakni: sevi pašiem. … Lai veidotu labāku pasauli, šīs pasaules pamatiem ir jābūt mūsu ikdienas dzīvē. … Mēs nevaram runāt par mieru un brīvību, ja mēs nevaram smelties šo mieru un brīvību no savas pieredzes šeit un tagad.” (no grāmatas “Radoša kalpošana”)

Šī vienkāršā patiesība man atklājās pamazām. Pirms dažiem gadiem kāds draugs no Taizemes – Birmas pierobežas atsūtīja e-pastu. “Man ļoti patīk miera tēma, bet man liekas, ka šīs tēmas pasniedzējam jābūt ar skaidru prātu. Man pašam izdodas risināt citu cilvēku konfliktus (vismaz tā šķiet), bet pats esmu diezgan vardarbīgs.” Viņa atklātība lika man padomāt pašai par sevi, ielūkoties savās sirdī un savās ikdienas lietās. Te būtu daudz ko stāstīt par pieredzēto.

Mums gribētos domāt, ka esam ļoti atvērti, ar plašu domāšanu, iekļaujoši, laipni, viesmīlīgi, nenosodoši, cieņpilni, pazemīgi, utt, bet šie pieņēmumi tiek pārbaudīti katru dienu, un tik bieži mēs neizturam šos pārbaudījumus. Kā jau Henrijs Nouvens teica, vissvarīgākā ir mana pieredze “šeit un tagad”.

Apzinos, ka esmu pieskārusies tēmai, kas ir pārāk dziļa un pārāk plaša šim blogam, bet gribējās atgādināt pašai sev, ka miers sākas ar mani. Miers ar Dievu, miers ar sevi, miers ar citiem un miers ar pārējo radīto pasauli. Kā šo mieru iegūt un paturēt? Tas jau ir tas lielais jautājums un dzīves māksla!

Un vienkārši tāpēc, ka man patīk Stinga mūzika, viens neliels citāts no dziesmas “Manas sirds veidols”

Es zinu, ka pīķi ir kareivja iesmi
Es zinu, ka kreici ir ieroči karam
Es zinu, ka kāravi apmaksā to
Bet manas sirds veidols tas nav

By losing our neighbors we lose a part of ourselves

I continue to reflect on my recent trip to Ukraine. Particularly the city of Lutsk, the regional center of Volyn province. It is a very nice, slow paced city in northwestern part of Ukraine with very fascinating story. It has a beautiful old castle and lots of other interesting cultural, historical and architectural sights.

But there was a day when I got very sad. In fact I was grieving. We walked around the historical center of Lutsk and I realized what a multicultural and multi faith place it used to be. Many of the places of worship are still there but it is only a shadow of the former things. You can still feel and see the tragedy of the destructive wars of 20th century and the intentional neglect of the Soviet years.

There is a beautiful old Roman Catholic Cathedral named after St.Peter and St.Paul and built in the 17th century. It used to have a Jesuit college where education was free and conducted at a high level. Inside the church I saw many Polish names and later found out that in 1939, about 34% of the population of Lutsk city was Polish. After the war, the Soviet regime closed the church and later it was even the Museum of Atheism.

There is another church building, originally Lutheran. It was built in 1907 as the principal place of worship for the Germans living in Volyn. The church fell into decline as a result of the Second World War. Then for many decades it was used as an archive. (The Soviets were very practical when it came to using the church buildings. If not a museum for atheism or science, most became storehouses.)

And then I found the Great Synagogue, completed in 1629. Located in what used to be the Jewish quarter, it was the religious, educational and community centre of Lutsk. Again the tragedy which destroyed this community and this temple was the Second World War and the Holocaust. In 1939, the city’s population was 40% Jewish. In December 1941 the Łuck Ghetto was established. In August and September 1942, about 17,000 prisoners of the ghetto were killed. After the war the synagogue stood empty. Then came another practical Soviet idea –  it was reconstructed as a movie-house and a gym.

I was thinking about these tragedies and brutal Nazi and Soviet regimes, changing the fate of community and the face of the city completely. Old neighbors were gone and new neighbors moved in. I know that this is the story of so many places (too many) but somehow Lutsk really broke my heart.

It felt like there is still a big, open wound which needs healing and redemption and restoration. I believe as Ukraine is defining its national identity, the story of its rich multicultural and multi faith heritage needs to be told and reminded.

It has a lot of parallels with my own nation of Latvia and other places around the world which used to be much more multicultural before wars and conflicts that drive people out of their home. In the past or in the present.

I grieve. We all should.

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The Great Synagogue of Lutsk. Currently a gym.

Latvian:

Joprojām ir daudz ko pārdomāt pēc nesenā brauciena uz Ukrainu. Īpaši par Lucku, Voliņas apgabala centru. Jauka, lēna, mierīga pilsēta Ukrainas rietumos, un tai ir ļoti interesants stāsts. Ir arī skaista, veca pils un daudz citu kultūras un vēstures pieminekļu.

Man tur bija visai neparasta diena. Diena, kurā pārņēma skumjas. Pat tādas kā sēras. Mēs ar vīru staigājām pa Luckas vecpilsētu, un es aptvēru, cik multikulturāla un multireliģiska bija šī pilsēta savā pirmskara dzīvē. Daudzi no dievnamiem vēl pastāv, bet no šīs raibās kopienas ir palikusi tikai ēna. Joprojām pāri kā neredzams palags ir pagājušā gadsimta karu sekas, un padomju laika apzināta vēstures aizmiršana.

Te stāv skaistā Sv.Pētera un Sv.Pāvila Romas Katoļu katedrāle, uzcelta ap 1630. gadu. Agrāk tur darbojās jezuītu dibināta koledža, kurā izglītība bija par brīvu, turklāt augstā līmenī. Uz katedrāles sienām ir daudz poļu vārdu un uzvārdu, un vēlāk uzzināju, ka vēl 1939. gadā apmēram 34% iedzivotāju bija poļu tautības. Pēckara gados padomju režīms aizslēdza draudzi, un pat izveidoja Ateisma muzeju.

Vēl stāv bijusī luterāņu baznīca. Celta 1907. gadā, lai kļūtu par galveno pulcēšanās un draudzes vietu Voliņas vāciešiem. Arī šis dievnams padomju laikos tika nolaists un izmantots kā arhīvs un noliktava. (Kā jau zinām, komunisti atrada ļoti praktisku pielietojumu šādām ēkām.)

Pavisam netālu es atradu tā saukto Lielo sinagogu. Pabeigta 1629. gadā, tā atradās bijušajā jūdu kvartālā, un kalpoja kā reliģijas, izglītības un kopienas centrs. Tā pati traģēdija – Otrais Pasaules karš un tad Holokausts – iznīcināja gan šo kopienu, gan šo pielūgsmes vietu. Pirms kara ap 40% pilsētas centra iedzīvotāju bija ebreji. 1941. gada decembrī tika izveidots Luckas geto, un nākamā gada augustā un septembrī apmēram 17,000 geto ieslodzīto tika nogalināti. Sinagoga stāvēja tukša, līdz padomju varai atkal radās ideja  tur ierīkot kino un sporta zāli. (Tagad tur ir fitnesa centrs.)

Es domāju par šo lielo traģēdiju, kas pilnībā pārmainīja gan pilsētas, gan kopienu seju. Agrākie kaimiņi tika padzīti vai iznīcināti,  jauni kaimiņi sāka dzīvot to vietā. Protams, ne jau Luckai vienīgajai tāds stāsts, bet nez kāpēc tas man šoreiz riktīgi aizķēra sirdi.

Tāda sajūta, ka šī dziļā rēta vēl stāv vaļā. Vēl nav pilnībā dziedināta un atjaunota šī pilsēta. Šobrīd, kad Ukraina un tās cilvēki tik strauji meklē savu nacionālo identitāti, šo stāstu par daudzajām kultūrām un ticībām un kopienām vajag stāstīt, atgādināt un iekļaut savējā.

Jo zaudējot savus kaimiņus, mēs visi zaudējām daļu no sevis pašiem.

This one goes out to Brussels

So, this week I was away from the Internet for a few days and quite enjoyed it. No Donald Trump, no Apple and FBI, no crisis, no war, no bad news… actually no news. I was teaching in a remote place on Thailand – Myanmar border, surrounded by farms, villages and beautiful mountains. I enjoyed the sound of roosters, dogs barking and some of my new friends singing while they are taking a shower or working outside. All I had to worry about was making sure my mosquito net was fully tucked in at night.

Whenever I am away from the Internet for more than three days while traveling, my greatest fear is that someone in my family will get hurt or even die and I will find out much later. I make sure my relatives have our phone number in Thailand or wherever but they still prefer to contact me through social media. Little frustrating but this is how it goes.

Life is a mysterious thing with lots of irony. I left my peaceful surroundings to find out that indeed somebody has died. Not in my family but in many other families. People in Belgium and other countries have lost their loved ones because of a senseless act of violence. Even the families of the suicide bombers have lost their loved ones – these guys were somebody’s sons and brothers and cousins. Evil does not discriminate, it destroys everyone in its path. It has no preferred race, gender or religion.

Another irony was that during those days I was teaching about peace building and reconciliation. Even using Europe Union as an example of peace and stability and how in 2012 it was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for “over six decades [having] contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.” Of course, I told my students that Europeans are not perfect and there are many issues and challenges but we have come a long way from being a continent of constant wars and feuds.

I really did not want to hear such bad news. Not from Brussels or anywhere else. Not from Istanbul, not from Ankara, not from Baghdad, not from Paris, not from cities in Pakistan or Nigeria or Yemen. Each place where people experience this kind of evil, is traumatized and the scars remain. Life is not the same anymore…

Life is not the same for people in Belgium. It is not the same to go to the metro and to think that so many people did not reach the next station. Did not reach their job, their school, their family. It will not be the same to go back to Brussels airport and to think that the anticipation of travel and joy of having a vacation turned out to be ‘the wrong place at the wrong time.’

I am very sorry. Words fall short at such a time as this.

But I am also more than ever determined to continue to walk the road of peace. I do not mean being naive or singing “We are the world, we are the children” and proclaiming that some kind of positive thinking will take these evil things away. Evil is real and people make really evil choices. At the same time I will not join those who will find the fix-it-all solution in violence and declare “Nuke them all!”

Many have already written and many others will write articles and expert opinions about Belgium. There is plenty of blame to go around and people who are most affected will deal with their grief in many ways.

I don’t know if this was planned on Easter week or it was simply a chosen date. It does not matter. But it matters to me that Easter events from so long ago deal with exactly this kind of human experience. The Light came into the darkness and there was a moment when the darkness celebrated a victory. But its victory was short lived.

The Light is risen indeed. It is back with a universe-changing kind of force and the first words we –  the frightened, the bruised, the hopeless, the grieving – hear is “Do not be afraid. Peace be with you!”

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Title photo from the Internet; this one is mine.

Latviski:

Tas nenotiek pārāk bieži, ka varu atpūsties no interneta, bet pagājušajā nedēļā tādas bija vairākas dienas. Nekāda Donalda Trampa, nekādu strīdu starp Apple un ASV drošības dienestiem, nekādu karu, nekādu sliktu ziņu… vienkārši nekādu ziņu. Man bija jāpasniedz lekcijas nomaļā ciematā netālu no Taizemes – Mjanmas robežas, kur apkārt ir tikai lauki, mazi miestiņi un džungļiem klāti kalni. Varēju klausīties vistu kladzināšanā, suņu rejās un manu draugu dziesmās, kamēr viņi strādā vai mazgājas. Vienīgais, par ko bija jāuztraucas vakaros, vai odu tīkls virs gultas ir kārtīgi noslēgts.

Pārbraucienu un darba laikā, kad neesmu tikusi pie interneta ilgāk kā trīs dienas, visvairāk uztraucos par to, ka kāds mans radinieks varētu ciest negadījumā vai pēkšņi nomirt, un es to uzzinātu krietni vēlāk. (Esmu bijusi līdzīgā situācijā.) Prombūtnē no Latvijas vienmēr iedodu radiem savu telefona numuru Taizemē vai kur citur, bet vienalga viņi parasti komunicē caur soctīkliem. Tas mazliet kaitina, bet ko padarīsi.

Dzīvē ir daudz noslēpumu un ironijas. Es atstāju savu ‘miera ostu’ pierobežā un, atgriežoties pilsētā, uzzināju, ka kāds tiešām ir miris. Tikai ne manā ģimenē. Cilvēki Beļģijā un citās valstīs ir zaudējuši savus mīļos caur briesmīgu vardarbību. Arī pašnāvnieku spridzinātāju ģimenes ir zaudējušas savējos mīļos – šie puiši bija kādam dēli, brāļi un brālēni. Ļaunums nav diskrimējošs; tas iznīcina visu savā ceļā. Tas nešķiro pēc rases, dzimuma vai reliģijas.

Visdziļākā ironija man personīgi bija tas, ka manas lekcijas bija veltītas miera celšanas un izlīguma tēmai. Es pat izmantoju Eiropas Savienību kā piemēru, un minēju 2012. gadā piešķirto Nobela Miera prēmiju  par miera un izlīguma, demokrātijas un cilvēktiesību veicināšanu Eiropā. Protams, es skaidroju studentiem, ka eiropieši nav perfekti, un mums ir daudz problēmu un izaicinājumu, bet mēs tomēr esam pielikuši daudz pūliņu, lai pārveidotu šo karojošo kontinentu par reģionu, kur valda miers.

Es tiešām negribēju dzirdēt šādas sliktas ziņas. Ne no Briseles, ne no citurienes. Ne no Stambulas, ne no Ankāras, ne no Bagdādes, ne no Parīzes, ne no pilsētām Pakistānā vai Nigērijā vai Jemenā. Katra vieta, kas piedzīvo šādu ļaunumu, ir dziļi traumēta, un šīs rētas paliek. Dzīve vairs nav tāda kā agrāk…

Dzīve Beļģijā ir mainījusies. Tagad, ejot uz metro staciju, tu iedomāsies par tiem, kuri nesasniedza savu nākamo pieturu. Kuri nesasniedza savu darbu, vai skolu, vai mājas. Braucot uz Briseles lidostu tu iedomāsies par tiem, kuriem ceļojuma prieka un brīvdienu baudas vietā bija tā nelaime atrasties “neīstajā vietā un neīstajā brīdī.”

Man patiešām ļoti žēl. Nav vārdu, kas to var līdz galam aprakstīt.

Bet man ir vēl viena reakcija. Šī traģēdija man palīdz vēl vairāk un skaidrāk apņemties turpināt savu darbu miera celšanas jomā. Es negribu, lai mēs būtu naivi, vai vienkārši, rokās sadevušies, dziedātu dziesmiņas, ka esam “pasaule un pasaules bērni”, vai sludinātu, ka pozitīvā domāšana palīdzēs atvairīt visus ļaunos uzbrukumus, vai arī par tiem nedomāt. Ļaunums ir reāls, un cilvēki izvēlas darīt ļaunas lietas. Tajā pašā laikā es nepievienošos otrai nometnei, kas atrod vienkāršu vardarbīgu risinājumu – uzspridzināt viņus visus!

Daudzi jau ir izteikušies, un vēl daudzi rakstīs savas domas un ekspertu atzinumus par Beļģiju, par Eiropu. Tiks meklēti vainīgie, tiks meklētas atbildes, un cilvēki, kuri cieta vistiešākajā veidā, izrādīs savas sēras dažādos veidos.

Es nezinu, vai šie uzbrukumi tika plānoti Lieldienu nedēļas laikā ar nolūku, vai arī tas bija vienkārši izdevīgs datums. Tam nav nozīmes. Bet nozīme ir patiesībai, ka vēsturiskie Lieldienu notikumi aprakstīja mūsu cilvēces pieredzi. Gaisma nāca tumsā, un bija brīdis Golgātas kalnā, kad tumsa svinēja uzvaru. Bet šī uzvara bija ļoti īsa.

Gaisma ir patiesi augšāmcēlusies. Tā atgriezās ar spēku, kas izmaina visu universu, un pirmie vārdi, ko mēs, nobijušies, sāpināti, cerību un ticību labā uzvarai zaudējuši un sērās, izdzirdam, ir “Nebaidieties! Miers ar jums!”