Why is Angelina Jolie causing a traffic jam in Battambang?

It turns out I have a few things in common with Angelina Jolie. She is in Cambodia and I am, too. She was in Battambang and I was there, too. She was shopping at the Night Market in Siem Reap and I was, too. She is researching the Khmer Rouge regime and the genocide of 1975-79 and I am, too.

I guess that is where our commonalities end. She is spending much more money and actually making an important movie about the history of Khmer Rouge, based on the autobiography “First They Killed My Father”, written by a survivor Loung Ung. Angelina Jolie has been interested in Cambodia for years and one of her sons was adopted from here. So, obviously with such a high-profile global celebrity in town, the people of Battambang have noticed the presence of film crews and other entourage.

I visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia. It is a sobering place. The Khmer Rouge (or Red Khmer) were a very radical Communist group with a utopian idea of restructuring the whole society. To create a class-less society,  they turned against education, religion, private ownership and any kind of freedom. Here are some of their slogans: “If you wish to get a Baccalaureate, you have to get it at dams or canals” or “Study is not important. What’s important is work and revolution.” (Mind you, many of the leaders were highly educated and had studied in Paris. Including Pol Pot himself.) The cities were emptied and the whole country was turned into a big labor camp with starving and suffering people. Almost 2 million died.

The Tuol Sleng or Security Prison 21 (S-21) had been one of the best high schools in the city before it became a place of torture. This was a special prison for mostly Khmer Rouge cadres and their families and many other random people. Approx 17, 000 people were held, tortured and killed in this place. The torture was meant to extract ‘confessions’ of what kind of traitor are you and who are you spying for – Americans (CIA) or Russians (KGB)? Men, women, teenagers and children, even babies… all were killed.

IMG_0909

The Khmer Rouge had photographed every victim at the time of arrest and many after their executions. Now there are thousands of photos of faces… smiling, sad, angry, confused, beaten, hopeful, hopeless and scared. I look at these faces and I think, it could have been me since I was born in the 70s. These could have been my parents, my grandparents, my brothers. I was fortunate to be born in Latvia and they were unfortunate to be born here.

I met on the survivors of this horrible place. His name is Bou Meng and he is 72 now. What saved him? His skill of painting and ability to draw portraits of the Khmer Rouge leaders. His wife and two young children perished. Bou Meng has written his testimony and advocates for justice and truthful remembering of Cambodia’s past.

One researcher said, “Wartime brutality, Marxist fanaticism, obsessive and threatened nationalism – these seemed to be three of the principal elements that had contributed to this totalitarianism. … I was disturbed not by the banality of evil but the intellectual pretensions behind it.” Words to reflect upon since these kind of ‘intellectual pretensions’ still exist. How to vaccinate yourself against it?

And no, I did not meet Angelina Jolie… but I will be waiting to see her new movie.

IMG_0931

Meeting Bou Meng, one of the survivors of S-21

Latviski:

Izrādās, ka man un Andželīnai Džolijai ir šis tas kopīgs. Viņa ir Kambodžā, un es arī. Viņa bija Batambangā, un es arī. Viņa iepirkās Siemrīpas nakts tirdziņā, un es arī. Viņa pēta Kambodžas vēsturi, konkrēti Sarkano hmeru (Khmer Rouge) režīmu un genocīdu no 1975. līdz 1979. gadam.

Te laikam kopīgais beidzas. Viņai ir daudz vairāk naudas, ko tērēt, un šobrīd viņa uzņem spēlfilmu par Sarkano hmeru teroru. Stāsts būs autobiogrāfisks, balstīts uz grāmatu “Vispirms Viņi Nogalināja Manu Tēvu” un Lungas Angas atmiņām. Andželīna jau daudzus gadus interesējas par Kambodžu, palīdz dažādos humanitāros projektos, un viens no viņas dēliem ir adoptēts no šejienes. Tāpēc saprotams, ka tādas pasaules mēroga slavenības un filmēšanas grupas uzturēšanās mierīgajā Batambangas pilsētā rada lielu burzmu un sastrēgumus.

Kambodžas galvaspilsētā Pnompeņā es apmeklēju Tuol Sleng Genocīda muzeju (S-21). Ļoti traģiska vieta. Sarkanie hmeri bija radikāla un fanātiska komunistu organizācija ar utopisku ideju par visas sabiedrības pārkārtošanu un ideālas zemnieku valsts izveidošanu. Tika likvidētas, skolas, rūpnīcas, nauda, privātīpašums un aizliegta jebkāda reliģija. Viena no šī režīma devīzēm bija “Ja vēlies iegūt bakalaura diplomu, dari to, būvējot dambjus un kanālus.” Vai arī “Izglītība nav svarīga. Svarīgs ir darbs un revolūcija.” (Tas nekas, ka paši ‘revolūcijas’ vadītāji bija guvuši augstāko izglītību, piemēram, Francijā. Arī pats Pols Pots bija studējis Parīzē.) Pilsētas tika iztukšotas, un visa valsts pārvērsta par vienu lielu darba nometni ar izsalkušiem un nomocītiem cilvēkiem. Aptuveni 2 miljoni bojāgājušo četru gadu laikā.

Paaugstinātas Drošības cietums Nr.21 (S-21) tika izvietots vienā no galvaspilsētas labākajām vidusskolām. Bijušās klases kļuva par cietuma kamerām. Pārsvarā te turēja, spīdzināja un nogalināja ‘savējos’ – Sarkanos hmerus, kuri tika apsūdzēti nodevībā. Arī viņu sievas un bēŗni, pat mazuļi, un ģimenes locekļi tika nogalināti. Apmēram 17,000 upuru. Spīdzināšanas mērķis bija noskaidrots, kā labā tu spiego – vai amerikāņu (tātad CIP agents), vai krievu (tātad VDK)?

Sarkanie hmeri fotografēja visus apcietinātos aresta laikā, un daudzus arī pēc nāves. Tagad piemiņai un liecībai ir tūkstošiem fotogrāfiju. Sejas, kas raugās uz mums… ar skumjām, ar smaidu, ar dusmām, apjukumu, cerību un reizē bezcerību un lielām bailēm. Skatos šajās sejās un domāju, kā tā varēju būt es, jo esmu tās desmitgades bērns. Tie varēja būt mani vecāki, vecvecāki, brāļi. Man bija tā laime piedzimt Latvijā, un viņiem bija tā nelaime piedzimt šeit.

Muzejā satiku vienu no nedaudzajiem, kas izdzīvoja. Šo vīrieti sauc Bou Mengs, un viņam tagad ir 72 gadi. Kas viņu izglāba? Spēja zīmēt un gleznot Sarkano hmeru vadītāju portretus. Viņa sieva un divi mazi bērni gan tika pazudināti. Bou Mengs ir pierakstījis savu liecību un atmiņas, un aktīvi piedalās taisnīguma un dziļas pagātnes pētīšanas procesā. Viņš bija liecinieks tiesas prāvā pret vienu no bijušajiem Sarkano hmeru vadītājiem, kas notika visai nesen. Šie tiesu procesi sākās tikai pēc 30 gadiem. (Taisnīguma meklēšana Kambodžā ir garš un sarežģīts stāsts.)

Viens no Kambodžas pētniekiem nonāca pie šāda secinājuma. “Kara laika brutalitāte, Marksistu fanātisms, milzīgs un it kā apdraudēts nacionālisms – tie bija trīs no galvenajiem elementiem, kas noveda līdz šādam totalitāram režīmam. … Mani satriec nevis ļaunuma banalitāte, bet gan tā ‘intelektuālās pretenzijas.” Svarīgi pārdomāt šos vārdus, jo līdzīgas pēc dabas ‘intelektuālas pretenzijas’ jeb pamatojumi pastāv vēl šodien. Kā iegūt imunitāti pret šādām idejām?

Un, nē, es nesatiku Andželīnu Džoliju, bet es gaidīšu viņas jaunāko filmu.

 

Thinker, believer and one of Latvia’s best kept secrets

Few days ago I heard some sad, bitter and sweet news. Sad because I found out that a very special person has passed away. Bitter because I was hoping to meet him again this year. Sweet because I am happy for him… at 88 years old, he has gone to the Big World as he called it. I know he was looking forward to it.

Paulis Klavins – Latvian human rights activist, politician, theologian and social thinker – lived his life well. Sadly I only met him two years ago, but I am very grateful for those meetings. Glad that I recorded our talks and that I got to discuss his views and rich experience in person.

Is it just me or it seems that there is a shortage of people with good common sense? That basic wisdom of how to live responsibly and well in relation to yourself and others. Paulis had such wisdom and it was contagious. I was reading an interview in a respected intellectual magazine “Rigas Laiks” in Latvia where the journalist gave this introduction, “I think in Latvia or at least in its public space there is a lack of people who are brave enough to speak their mind. Even less people who are not only brave, but thinking; and very few who are both thinkers and believers.”

Paulis Klavins was a very significant person in Latvia’s contemporary history. He was born in Latvia but his family became refugees after WWII. They ended up in Germany and there Paulis eventually made his home. His love for Latvia and also his strong faith in Jesus brought him back to Latvia for visits in late 1960’s when Latvia was still behind the Iron Curtain and very much oppressed by the Soviet system. He and his wife became involved with a Christian human rights organization led by Richard Wurmbrand, a Romanian pastor who had suffered torture and many years in Communist prisons.

As a person of action and strong conviction, Paulis asked the question that such people ask, “what can I do? what can people do when they feel so powerless?” There was strong darkness in the form of Soviet ideological lies and system that robbed people of their basic freedoms, even freedom to live. What overcomes any darkness? The Light!!! (The Czech dissident and writer Vaclav Havel wrote his famous essay called “The Power of the Powerless” where he talks about the same struggle – the struggle to live in the Light and resist the Darkness.)

These concepts can seem so abstract and lofty. Like something from “The Lord of the Rings” saga or “Star Wars” movies. Light vs Darkness… but it has very real forms and very real consequences. It is amazing how quickly we forget things. Even about our life in the USSR. I know people who were sent to prison as late as 1983 because of their Christian faith and their free thinking. These were some of the main crimes against the system… To have your own thoughts… To speak Truthfully… To disobey the Communist Party… To promote human rights and freedoms… To honor and protect your conscience…

Paulis, his family and like minded friends in the West organized an amazing (and also underground) network of people on both sides of the Iron Curtain. He made connections and built friendships with believers and people of conscience in the USSR who were suffering and persecuted. It is a long and incredible story and he has written a book, chronicling the history of this Christian human rights group called “The Action of Light” (“Gaismas Akcija”)

Gaismas_akcija_Minsteres_stacija-500x300

I love the motto of the group. “To Shine the Light on Everything and Forgive – the Light Will Win!” These prisoners of conscience did not use military weapons or any kind of violence. Their main resistance was their testimony (not only religious) which revealed the Truth – this was their weapon of Light! The principle and value of forgiveness also revealed their conviction that the highest judge is God because he is Light. His justice will come. It gives a strong and firm foundation – to know that there is an absolute moral clarity and goodness in His judgement.

I talked with Paulis about these concepts and values because one of the crucial things that was destroyed in Latvian society during the years of Soviet system was our belief in justice and righteousness. We were taught to be ‘hypocrites’ – our public actions and private thoughts and conversations did not match. I told my teachers what they ‘needed’ to hear; I gave the Communist pledge even though I didn’t believe in it; I sang the Soviet anthem even though it reminded the tragic fact of Soviet occupation. As one of my friends said it, “we were all pushed down on our knees”.

Paulis Klavins will be missed. As a Latvian, as a Christian, as a thinker, as a truth-seeker and simply a great person. I never felt patronized because he was truly a brother of faith and someone who was always learning. Never claiming that he has ‘arrived’ but always pressing forward in his search for truth and good life. I call him one of Latvia’s best secrets because there are so many people in Latvia who have not even heard his name. Especially the younger generation who was born in free Latvia.

Nobody can fill his shoes but we do need to know what kind of shoes they were! We desperately need to promote this design, this brand. Actions of the Light!

Paulis Kļaviņš

Photos from my personal and P. Klavins archive

Latviski:

Nesen uzzināju skumjas, bēdīgas, bet arī labas vēstis. Skumjas, jo ir miris brīnišķīgs cilvēks. Bēdīgas, jo es cerēju viņu šogad atkal satikt. Labas, jo es priecājos… 88 gadu vecumā šis vīrs ir aizgājis uz Lielo pasauli, kā viņš pats to sauca. Un viņš to ļoti gaidīja.

Paulis Kļaviņš – latvietis, cilvēktiesību aizstāvis, politiķis, teologs un domātājs. Žēl, ka mēs iepazināmies tikai pirms pāris gadiem, bet esmu pateicīga par mūsu tikšanām. Priecājos, ka ierakstīju mūsu sarunas un varēju pārrunāt viņa uzskatus un bagāto dzīves pieredzi.

Vai tikai man, vai arī jums liekas, ka ļoti pietrūkst cilvēku ar patiesu dzīves gudrību? (angļu val. ‘common sense’) To veselo domāšanu, kad tu māki dzīvot savu dzīvi atbildīgi un līdzatbildīgi. Paulim bija šāda gudrība, un tā bija lipīga. Es lasīju interviju žurnālā “Rīgas laiks” 2011. gadā, un A.Rītups raksta: “Manuprāt, Latvijā vai vismaz tās publiskajā telpā trūkst drosmīgu cilvēku, kuri nebaidās teikt, ko domā. Vēl mazāk ir tādu, kas ne tikai ir drosmīgi, bet arī domājoši; pavisam maz ir tādu, kas ir gan domājoši, gan ticoši… Paulis man šķita brīvdomātājs šī vārda vēl nesagandētajā nozīmē, kas paredz, ka patstāvīgas domas brīvībai, nemitīgai gatavībai mācīties un ticības drosmei ir lielāks svars nekā savas taisnības, savu interešu un savu metafizisko bildīšu aizstāvēšanai.”

Paulis Kļaviņš bija un ir ļoti nozīmīga persona Latvijai. Dzimis Latgalē, bet kopā ar ģimeni devies bēgļu gaitās Otrā Pasaules kara laikā. Viņi nonāca Vācijā, kas kļuva par mājām. Bet mīlestība uz Latviju un arī stiprā ticība Dieva dotai brīvībai mudināja braukt uz Latviju 60-tajos gados, kad vēl bija spēcīga Padomju sistēma. Kopā ar sievu Zeltīti, viņi iesaistījās Palīdzības akcijā martīru baznīcai, kuru dibināja Ričards Vurmbrands. Mācītājs no Rumānijas, kurš pats bija daudz cietis un vajāts savas pārliecības dēļ.

Kā jau darītājs un domātājs, Paulis uzdeva jautājumu, ko parasti uzdod aktīvi cilvēki. “Ko es varu darīt? Ko var darīt, kad liekas, ka neko nevar darīt?” Bija sajūta, ka tumsas vara, kas piemita Padomju ideoloģijai un sistēmai, ir liela un stipra. Kas var uzvarēt tumsu? Gaisma!!! Arī čehu politiskā disidenta, rakstnieka un prezidenta Vaclava Havela spēcīgā eseja “Nespēcīgo spēks” (“The Power of the Powerless”) apraksta šo cīņu starp Gaismu un Tumsu.

Šīs idejas var likties tik abstraktas un gaisīgas. Kā no triloģijas “Gredzenu pavēlnieks” vai “Zvaigžņu kari” filmām. Gaisma pret Tumsu… bet tam ir tik reālas izpausmes un reālas sekas. Apbrīnojami, cik ātri mums viss aizmirstas. Pat dzīve bijušajā PSRS. Pazīstu cilvēkus, kas vēl 1983. gadā tika notiesāti, ieslodzīti, izsūtīti vai ielikti ‘trako namā’ savas ticības un brīvo uzskatu dēļ. Tas jau bija tas lielākais noziegums… domāt savas brīvās domas… runāt Patesību… aizstāvēt cilvēktiesības un brīvību… cienīt un klausīt savu sirdsapziņu…

Paulis, viņa ģimene un līdzīgi domājošie izveidoja apbrīnojamus ‘pagrīdes’ sakarus un kontaktus, un rezultātā tapa kristīga cilvēktiesību aizstāvības programma “Gaismas Akcija”. Kā raksta Paulis, visus Gaismas akcijas dalībniekus pavadīja apziņa par savas rīcības dabisko tiesiskumu — uzzināt visu par jebkuru cilvēku, kam tiek apdraudēta dzīvība, brīvība, tiesības un cilvēka cieņa. Tas ir garš un spēlfilmas scenārija cienīgs stāsts, un ir izdota grāmata par “Gaismas Akcijas” vēsturi. Te būs viena informatīva saite.

Mani iedvesmo šīs akcijas devīze. “Visu apgaismot un piedot – gaisma uzvarēs!” Vēl viens citāts: “Tiesa atstājama augstākajam, jo Dievs pats ir gaisma un var vienīgais būt taisnīgs tiesnesis. Šāda devīze šķīra garīgo cīņas lauku no militārā, un tas bija svarīgi mūsu partneriem Latvijā. Ikviens, kurš vēlējās piedalīties un atbalstīt patiesības lieciniekus, kļuva par brīvprātīgas garīgās kopības Gaismas akcijas dalībnieku.”

Mēs ar Pauli daudz pārrunājām šīs idejas un pieredzi, un ko tas nozīmē mūsdienu Latvijai. No intervijas žurnālā “Rīgas Laiks”, “Padomju laika apziņā cilvēks bija pieradis lietot šādu formulu: vienu domāt, citu runāt un trešo darīt, savā veidā trešās pakāpes šizofrēnija. Tas atstāj pēdas. Un viens no satraucošākajiem faktiem, kas ir mūsu sabiedrībā palicis, ir neticība taisnīguma principiālai iespējamībai. Šī ticība ir tik pamatīgi apkarota no padomju sistēmas, visā tanī ietvarā, ko darīja ar cilvēku, kā viņu virzīja, ko viņam lika teikt, kā viņam lika piedalīties melos – tas ir tik pamatīgi izkopts, ka jābrīnās. Kad es sāku strādāt Saeimā, es biju optimists. Pazinu Vācijas demokrātiju un domāju: nu tad tagad uz priekšu kristīgo demokrātu līnijā, un mēs tagad darīsim un veiksim, un uztaisījām pamatprogrammu, visi piekrita. Taču tas neiet. To nevar uzbūvēt tik ātri. Tas prasa laiku.”

Uzdrīkstos teikt, ka mums visiem ļoti pietrūks šis cilvēks. Kā domātājs, kā patiesības meklētājs, kā latvietis, kā kristietis. Kaut gan viņam bija tik liela pieredze, erudīcija un zināšanas, nekad nejūtos ‘pamācīta’. Kāpēc virsrakstā pieteicu Pauli kā vienu no Latvijas labāk slēptajiem dārgumiem? Jo tik daudzi no mums pat nezin viņa vārdu. Vai arī nezin šo vienreizējo un drosmīgo stāstu.

Katram cilvēkam ir savas kurpes un to izmērs. Neviens nevar aizstāt Pauli Kļaviņu, bet mums Latvijā jāzin, kas tās bija par kurpēm! Mums ļoti nepieciešams zināt un atdarināt šo dizainu, šo zīmolu, un mums ir ko eksportēt. Gaismas akcija!

Lessons from Ukraine: peacemaking can be counterintuitive

My current ‘office’ is a nice coffee shop in Riga where I enjoy the warmth and tasty treats. The days are getting shorter and the evenings darker. The air is much colder, too. Is it just me or the autumn is a perfect time for reflections?

As promised in my last post about Nobel Peace Prize laureates, I will continue my thoughts on people who are peacemakers. People who should be honored and supported and imitated. And my mind is in a country not too far from Latvia. Where the days are also getting shorter and the weather colder – Ukraine. I think of people in eastern parts of Ukraine who are bracing for another winter without all the things we appreciate so much. Heat, electricity, food, accessible healthcare…

The global community, including Europe, is facing many challenges and it seems that news headlines change very fast. But the issues and conflicts don’t go away just because the attention shifts elsewhere. I wish I could think of Ukraine as “yesterday’s news” but I cannot. The war in the two eastern provinces – Donestk and Luhansk – is still there. Yes, there is ceasefire (mostly holding) and negotiations and different initiatives but there is no peace. Not yet. And it will not come easily.

One of the things I have learned and start to experience in the times of tension, pressure and conflict is that everyone talks about “peace” but not everyone wants to be a “peacemaker”. Because honestly – real peace is counter intuitive. It goes against our emotions and our normal thoughts. It is much easier to get angry and hateful when you get hurt then to do the hard work of searching for some grace and forgiveness deep inside. It is much easier to blame. It is much easier to seek justice as in ‘eye for an eye’ but it has to be ‘my’ justice. Or even revenge as in “your whole head for my eye’.

In the times of war, the peacemakers can be some of the most ‘unpopular’ people. Admired by many but hated by others. I want to honor all the men and women in Ukraine who are committed to non-violent and sacrificial resistance to any kind of oppression, corruption, aggression and hatred. I hope to meet some them in person in the future. Meanwhile one of the ways we can support peace and restoration in Ukraine is by sharing the stories of love and compassion and great sacrifice.

Through social media and some personal contact I know one of these remarkable men. A local pastor from Donetsk who was forced to leave his home city and his church in 2014 because his humanitarian work was putting him and his family’s life in danger. Sergey Kosyak would not like to be singled out but he has inspired and encouraged thousands of people. In Ukraine and beyond. I love his motto “Do good. It is possible.”

11034265_10153188979282754_3357672451886801251_n

Last year when the violence and conflict broke out, many cities organized prayer tents, including in the Constitution Square of Donetsk. The tent was there for many months with the banner “Pray here for Ukraine” and it united people from all Christian denominations and even other religions. A local Muslim imam joined. They faced harassment, violent opposition, eggs, bottles, even rocks. Eventually the tent was removed by force and destroyed and the prayer movement had to go “underground”.

Here is a story from his FB posts which Sergey Kosyak gave me permission to share. (Also all photos in this post are from his personal archive.) On May 23, 2014 he wrote: “Friends, today was a tough day, but for me very difficult. To begin with, representatives of Donetsk People’s Republic destroyed our tent, and then there was the following story.

Several times I have gone to the city administration building to talk with the leaders of the Donetsk People’s Republic, so I went once again. I didn’t find the person I had talked with earlier there but happened to see someone who attended my church. I was glad when I saw him, but he didn’t seem too glad we met. He began to yell that I was manipulating the people and things like that. In short, the negotiations failed, in the eyes of these people I had become the enemy. You tend to have short conversations with your enemy.

People are very angry, because, first of all, their hearts are empty and not filled with God. I told them that God loves them; I harbored no anger or hatred towards them in my heart, even when they beat me. I will not describe the beating itself, but that I am still alive, is just by the grace of God.

Among them were people who knew about our prayer tent, they cursed the others for what they did to me. After that, they gave me my things back and my money, then asked for forgiveness from me and that I would not be offended.

Before they started beating me I told them about Christ, called them to turn their hearts to God, and while they beat me I just prayed. I couldn’t make it to the prayer meeting in the evening because I had to go to the hospital.

Dark times have come to our region, people hate each other, they’re ready to kill, beat for a preposterous idea, and to die for those ideas. And they cannot see Him for whom it is really worth living and dying. God save the people, turn their attention to You.”

Since my post is getting long, I will continue with other stories later. But let me finish with the same encouragement that is even truer in the dark times… Do good! It is possible!

Volunteer team

Latviski:

Mans patreizējais ‘ofiss’ ir jauka kafejnīca Rīgas centrā. Te ir silts un garšīgi smaržo. Dienas kļūst īsākas, un vakari tumšāki. Gaiss arī daudz aukstāks. Kāpēc rudens vienmēr mani vedina uz dziļām pārdomām?

Kā jau solīju iepriekšējā rakstā par Nobela Miera Prēmijas laureātiem, es turpinu savas domas par cilvēkiem, kuri, manuprāt, ir miera veidotāji. Cilvēki, kurus jāciena, jāatbalsta un jāatdarina. Un manas domas ir valstī, kas nav pārāk tālu no Latvijas. Tur arī dienas kļūst īsākas, un laiks aukstāks. Ukraina. Domāju par cilvēkiem Ukrainas austrumos, kuri gaida kārtējo ziemu bez visām ērtībām un pamatvajadzībām. Siltums, apkure, elektrība, veselības aprūpe…

Pasaulē šobrīd ir daudz grūtību un izaicinājumu, un ziņu virsraksti strauji mainās. Taču problēmas un konflikti nekur neaiziet un nepazūd tikai tāpēc, ka mūsu uzmanība ir vērsta citur. Gribētos, kaut Ukraina būtu ‘vakardienas ziņas’, bet diemžēl tas tā nav. Karš divos austrumu apgabalos – Doņeckā un Luhanskā – turpinās. Jā, ir pamiers (kas pārsvarā tiek ievērots), tiek vestas sarunas, un ir dažādas idejas, bet miers vēl nav iestājies. Un neiestāsies tik drīz, jo smags darbs priekšā.

Es sāku arvien vairāk ievērot un piedzīvot, ka ‘juku’ laikos, kad ir liels sabiedrības spiediens un konflikts, daudzi runā par “mieru”, bet ne visi vēlas kļūt par “miera veidotājiem”. Jo atklāti runājot – īsts miers nav pašsaprotams. Tas ir pat pretrunā mūsu tā brīža emocijām un domām. Ir daudz vieglāk un ‘loģiskāk’ ļauties dusmām un naidam, ja tev kāds dara pāri. Nekā cīnīties ar naidu, un meklēt sevī spēju sniegt kaut kripatiņu žēlastības un piedošanas. Ir daudz vieglāk vainot. Ir daudz vieglāk dzīties pēc taisnības, lai būtu “acs pret aci”. Vēl vieglāk dzīties pēc atriebības, lai būtu “visa tava galva pret manu aci”.

Kara laikā mieru turošie var kļūt ļoti nepopulāri. Vieni viņus apbrīno, citi ienīst vai nosoda. Es gribu izteikt dziļu cieņu visiem cilvēkiem Ukrainā, kuri izvēlas cīnīties pret visa veida agresiju, korpupciju un naidu, bet ar nevardarbīgiem līdzekļiem. Tas prasa no viņiem ļoti daudz. Es ceru kādreiz satikt viņus personīgi, bet šobrīd es vēlos atbalstīt šo pašaizliedzīgo miera celšanas darbu Ukrainā, nododot tālāk stāstus par mīlestību, žēlsirdību un cerību.

Caur soctīkliem un saraksti, es pazīstu vienu lielisku cilvēku, kurš ir šajā komandā. Vietējais mācītājs no Doņeckas, kurš 2014. gadā bija spiests pamest savas mājas un dzimto pilsētu, jo viņa labdarība apdraudēja viņu pašu un ģimeni – sievu un bērnus. Sergejs Kosjaks negribētu, ka viņu īpaši izceļ, bet viņs ir iedvesmojis un iedrošinājis tūkstošiem cilvēku. Gan Ukrainā, gan ārpus tās. Man patīk viņa motto: “Dari labu. Tas ir iespējams.”

Pagājšgad, kad spriedze pārauga vardarbībā, daudzās pilsētās tika uzceltas lūgšanu teltis. Arī Doņeckas centrā, Konstitūcijas laukumā. Telts tur stāvēja vairākus mēnešus zem plakāta “Šeit aizlūdz par Ukrainu”, un lūgšanas apvienoja cilvēkus no visām kristīgām konfesijām. Pievienojās arī vietējais muslimu kopienas vadītājs. Viņi tika nosodīti, apsaukāti, pat apmētāti ar olām, pudelēm akmeņiem. Beigu beigās telts tika ar varu nojaukta, un aizlūdzēji nogāja “pagrīdē”.

Šeit viens īss stāsts no Sergeja Kosjaka Facebook lapas. (Viņš man deva atļauju izmantot gan stāstus, gan foto.) 2014. gada 23. maijā viņš rakstīja tā: “Draugi, šodien bija smaga diena, bet man pašam ļoti grūta. Iesākumā Doņeckas Tautas Republikas pārstāvji iznīcināja mūsu telti, un pēc tam sekoja šis notikums.

Vairākas reizes esmu gājis uz pilsētas administrācijas ēku, lai runātu ar Doņeckas Tautas Republikas pārstāvjiem. Tāpēc gāju arī šajā reizē. Nesatiku cilvēku, ar kuru runāju iepriekšējās reizēs, bet satiku kādu, kurš agrāk bija manā draudzē. Es priecājos viņu redzēt, bet viņš nelikās pārāk priecīgs. Viņš sāka kliegt, kas es grozot cilvēkiem prātus, utt. Vārdu sakot, nekādas sarunas nesanāca, jo viņu acīs es biju kļuvis par ienaidnieku. Un ar ienaidniekiem ir īsas sarunas.

Cilvēki ir ļoti dusmīgi. Pirmkārt, viņu sirdis ir tukšas, un tās nepiepilda Dievs. Es teicu viņiem, ka Dievs viņus ļoti mīl, ka es nedusmojos un neienīstu viņus. Pat tad, kad viņi sāka mani sist. Es nestāstīšu daudz par savu piekaušanu, bet tā ir Dieva žēlastība, ka paliku dzīvs.

Tur bija arī kādi, kuri zināja par mūsu lūgšanu telti. Viņi nolamāja tos, kuri mani piekāva. Tad viņi atdeva visas manas mantas un naudu un lūdza piedošanu. Lūdza, lai es neapvainojoties.

Pirms tiku sists, es stāstīju viņiem par Kristu. Aicināju vērst savas sirdis uz Dievu. Lūdzu Dievu, kamēr tiku sists. Vakarā gan es netiku uz lūgšanu sapulci, jo braucu uz slimnīcu.

Mūsu pusē ir pienākuši drūmi laiki. Cilvēki ienīst viens otru, ir gatavi nogalināt un sist kaut kādu iedomātu ideju dēļ. Ir gatavi arī šo ideju dēļ mirt. Un viņi neredz Personu, kura dēļ tiešām ir vērts dzīvot un mirt. Dievs, izglāb ļaudis.”

Vēl ir daudz stāsti, bet tos vēlāk. Nobeigumā es gribu citēt vēlreiz šos iedrošinājuma vārdus… Dari labu! Tas ir iespējams!

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…”

Hannovere 53

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.”

Hannovere 58

 

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”

Can we have shortcuts in reconciliation?

I will be honest – I struggle with confession. I struggle with acknowledging the truth that I have hurt someone by my words, actions or attitudes. Even when confronted, I try to minimize, avoid, justify or simply hide the truth.

I guess some things have not changed since I was a little girl who was often fighting with my brother. Two years younger than me, he was also my best friend and favorite playmate, but sometimes my greatest ‘enemy’. While I was bigger and stronger than him, I would usually win the fight (often after instigating it). But when confronted by our parents, I would say the most ‘natural’ things like, “He started it. I only broke his toy because he broke mine first. He bit me harder than I bit him…”

We would face each other while my mom or dad tried to get the facts straight. The tears would come again when the other would not tell the truth. Why was it so difficult? Why was the silence or denial so painful?

As I reflect on the journey of reconciliation, I find that there is a strong consensus. The first and essential step in this process is looking for the truth. Miroslav Volf, a Croatian theologian and founding director of Yale Center for Faith & Culture, calls it “memory”. He emphasizes remembering rightly and truthfully. Egils Levits, a Latvian member of European Court of Justice, calls it “acknowledgement of truth.” He said that if we don’t believe in any kind of truth, we can just forget about trying to reconcile.

Micah Jazz, an English mediator and spiritual mentor, defines it as “honest acknowledgment of injury.” Forgiveness involves truth. Richard Twiss, a Native American leader and founder of reconciliation ministry Wiconi, called it “confession.” People of faith are very familiar with this term as it is one of the key elements in our relationship with God. We have to be truthful with ourselves and our Creator.

People say, “Whose truth? Everyone has their own truth.” I heard someone suggesting, “Can we first reconcile and then deal with the truth?” It is totally illogical but honest statement of people who realize how difficult this first step is.

Still, to reconcile we need to know what needs to be reconciled. We need to know what are the issues and the roots. Not long ago there was a new political party in Latvia called “United for Latvia” which had a slogan of ‘national reconciliation.’ In my view, it was just that – a political slogan but not a real or focused effort to have an honest dialogue in the society. Reconcile what? With who?

We live in a world where we are familiar with Truth Commissions. Many know about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in South Africa. Its mandate and purpose was to discover and reveal the past wrongdoings of the Apartheid system, in the hope of bringing healing and restoration. Recently the news headlines focused on TRC in Canada. Its mandate was to inform all Canadians about what happened in Indian Residential Schools. The Commission documented the truth of survivors, families, communities and anyone personally affected by the IRS experience.

So, why is ‘truth seeking’ and ‘truth telling’ so difficult and controversial? And why is it so difficult to listen to someone else’s truth?

residential-schools-20150603

Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada

Part Two: Unfinished business with our neighbors

We had a wonderful visit to Cambodia and one of the stops was Angkor Wat in Siem Reap. This ancient Hindu/Buddhist temple is one of the most famous landmarks in this part of the world… an amazing monument of history, craftsmanship and art. It is impossible to take a bad photo while visiting these beautiful ruins. Walking around the grounds were many visitors and tour groups and a few of them had guides. Sometimes I would eavesdrop on the English commentary.

There was one comment which caught my attention more than once. The guides were telling the visitors about the history and also current affairs in Cambodia and they mentioned that ‘Cambodians do not like the Vietnamese.’ It was not news to me since I had already heard it from some colleagues. I was just surprised that this was such a ‘common knowledge’ even shared with foreigners.

One of the common things I experience – in most places around the world people can very quickly identify who they ‘don’t like.’ Very often it is the neighboring nations as we remember the history shared between us. Sometimes it is a recent history, event or current situation. Other times it is very ancient history but ‘the embers are still glowing.’

Ask many Thais and they point to Burmese; ask Chinese and they point to Japanese; ask Burmese and they point to Chinese; ask Armenians and they point to Turks; ask Indians and they point to Pakistan; ask Ukrainians and they point to Russians; ask the Russians and they point to Americans…

Not everyone has ‘bad’ history with their neighbors. Maybe places like Canada and Norway and Switzerland and others ?… well, I have not asked them yet.

I was talking with a guy whose wife is from Finland. When I asked about Finland’s relations across borders, he said that in Finland he gets the feeling that many people simply ignore the fact that the eastern border is with Russia. He said, “There is this big country to the east that gets ignored. The Finns try not to think about this big neighbor.” One of the reasons not to look east is to look at the land, towns and villages that Finland lost because of the Winter War in 1939-40.

I thought to myself, “I can relate to that.” Many Latvians act and talk the same way. As if we stand with our backs to Russia. We cannot choose our neighbors but we can try to ignore them, right? Until it gets to a point where you cannot ignore each other…

Suddenly you realize that this neighbor is occupying so much of your thoughts, conversations and attention. It is practically living in your ‘living room.’ Some people react with fear; others with anger and hatred and aggression; others with confusion or indifference. I can understand these feelings and reactions but they are not good guides while reaching for better or restored relationship.

What are the guiding signs toward reconciliation and the bridge building tools we need? Join the conversation…

26

Bridge crossing from Thailand to Myanmar

Part One: Unfinished business with our neighbors

Have you noticed that once you start paying attention to a certain thing or topic, it seems to appear everywhere? When I started my journey of ‘peaceroads’ and started thinking and studying about forgiveness and restored relationships in a deeper and intentional way, suddenly I heard the word “reconciliation” a lot. Is it just me or is this actually a common goal that people struggle with and long for? Issue that nations talk about? Or is it just a nice word, a trend?

I hear it in the news and media of all kinds… all around the world. I hear politicians, social activists, religious leaders, educators talk about the need to reconcile people. This message is even stronger in the arts. There are movies that focus on reconciliation in personal lives, in families, in communities and between nations. There are songs, paintings, books, plays… I feel like artists are often the ones who express things that many of us feel or think but either are afraid to talk about or don’t know how to talk about it.

Often we are afraid or hesitant to talk about it because it may stir emotions and opinions and narratives that seem opposing. We feel like by saying it aloud that ‘we have a conflict’ or that ‘we have unresolved issues’, we are adding to the conflict and making things even more complicated. So, we pretend it is not there; try to ignore; whitewash it; downplay it. We say ‘harmony and unity’ where there is tension and division. We say ‘peace, peace’ where there is no peace. Yes, maybe there is no war but there is no peace either.

It sounds like my favorite way of dealing with a conflict. Keep it inside, keep it to myself. Even if I start to become bitter and miserable, I feel like I have done the right thing by not confronting it. Until I get headaches and stomach pain and sleepless nights. Until I cannot ignore that person any longer and actually have to communicate and try to fix the relationship. Until I bring it into the light!

In one of my earlier blogs I talked about a friend from Russia who helped me to understand how many people in Russia felt towards the West. I remember her words when she said that people in Russia talked about the Cold War now being ‘Cold Peace.’ What is the difference between the two? And is it OK to have ‘Cold Peace’?

What I hear in the words “Cold Peace’ is that our relationship is cold and distant or that we don’t have a relationship. That we either don’t trust each other or don’t like each other. That we that we are not ‘enemies’ but we are not ‘friends’ either.

My immediate reaction to this description was, “This is not good. This is actually very dangerous.” Because if relationships are full of mistrust and resentment and bitterness and ignorance and prejudice and unforgiveness, this is a fertile ground for bad seeds to bring bad fruit. Much more dangerous than getting a stomach ulcer or sleepless nights.

My friend knew that in relations between Latvia and Russia there are issues. That is why she thought that I may reject her. And yes, she was right… the relationship between our two nations is not the best. And one of the main reasons is some unfinished business between us as neighbors. Things from the past that keep affecting our present.

Unfortunately now in 2015 our relations are even worse and the ‘Cold Peace’ feels even colder. So, it is more than timely to talk about it. Also, as a Christian I feel very passionately about our responsibility to work towards restoring and healing relationships in this fragile and volatile world. It is not optional.

So, let me start a conversation about our neighbors… and how can we change this ‘status quo’.

Canada ballet

“Going Home Star – Truth and Reconciliation” by Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet

The weapons of peacemakers

This title may sound strange – does peace and weapons go together? Let me explain what weapons I have in mind…

Last week I participated in an international forum called “State of Europe” which focused on many of the issues and challenges facing Europe today. It took place in Riga, Latvia on May 9 which is celebrated as Europe Day (I talked about the roots of Europe Day in my last blog). Also many people in Latvia but mainly in Russia and a few other nations of former Soviet Union celebrate it as Victory Day. Victory in WWII over the power and aggression of National Socialism…

As I reflect on these two celebrations, I come to personal conclusion… Victory Day celebrates winning the war because people sacrificed and the Nazi Germany was overcome and ‘destroyed’ … Europe Day celebrates winning the peace because the foundations were forgiveness and reconciliation.

Tragically in Latvia the victory over Nazism did not bring peace because Latvia was then ruled and oppressed by another totalitarian regime and ideology – totalitarian communism. The ‘war’ was won but peace was not… In some ways we are still catching up.

Winning peace is much harder then winning a war. Because peace is a state of mind and heart. Peace is restored relationships. Peace is a strong will for common good. Peace is embrace and inclusion. Peace is repentance. Peace has no personal or national selfishness. Otherwise the hatred, bitterness and the old grievances are just buried and can be re-resurrected again and again. Sadly we can see this through the history of humankind.

The peace in Europe for so many decades is an amazing achievement and we should not take it for granted. But there is still some unfinished business and we talked about it during the forum in Riga.

One of the most significant historical persons whose lifestyle was a personification of winning peace was Jesus. Even people who do not believe in his divine claims or who do not follow his teachings know that he is famous as a peacemaker. We know that he talked a lot about inner and social peace. He also taught and showed people how to do it. How to be at peace with God, with ourselves, with others and with the created order…

And one of the important weapons in this process is acknowledging the truth. The truth that we are not at peace in many areas of our lives… The truth that our brother has something against us and it is our responsibility to go and reconcile… The truth that there is a much better way than becoming fearful, aggressive or pretending that there is nothing wrong…

But the strongest weapon is love. There is no fear in love. Love is sacrificial. Love loves enemies. Love binds everything in unity. Love is not self-seeking. Love fulfills the law.  Love rejoices with the truth. Love hates evil.

If we care about winning the peace, let us choose our weapons very carefully.

IMG_2136

Why should I care about Europe Day

I will be honest… Two years ago I would not be able to answer what is Europe Day and why is it celebrated on May 9. I guess I thought it is just another day in the calendar which sounds good but has no special meaning.

I was wrong . I think it has a very special and deep spiritual meaning. So, why should I or any European care about Europe Day? Because we should not take the peace and stability and good relations in Europe for granted. The European Union despite all its faults and challenges, especially current ones, was built around a very strong vision.

The man who is known as the father of this vision is Robert Schuman, a French politician and Minister of Foreign Affairs in post-war France. He and a few other like-minded politicians understood that France and Germany needed to reconcile and forgive each other. On May 9, 1950 he read what is now called ‘Schuman Declaration’ which proposed a kind of political and economic union between France and Germany, based on equality and solidarity.

This started a journey which eventually led to European Union with its current 28 member states. My country Latvia joined EU in 2004 but unfortunately many people do not know the original vision of this union. Many people think only of economic gains and often forget the deep spiritual roots of the ‘tree’ that we are part of now.

Robert Schuman was also a deeply devout Christian and so was Konrad Adenauer, the first Chancellor in post-war Germany. These two men did a lot of the hard work to build the bridge between the two nations which were considered hereditary enemies. Of course, there were many others behind the scenes but without real courage and willingness to examine your own heart, you cannot reach out in forgiveness and reconciliation.

R. Schuman wrote in his declaration, “It may be the leaven from which may grow a wider and deeper community between countries long opposed to one another by sanguinary divisions.”

What is this leaven? Where is the idea of solidarity, equality and being good neighbors coming from? There was a story where Jesus also used the image of yeast…

I am grateful to people like R.Schuman for doing the hard and so often unrecognized work of building bridges that others can walk on. Now 507 million people are walking on this bridge. Let us, Europeans, make this bridge stronger and always remember the vision of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Solidarity