Growing up in the Kingdom of Crooked Mirrors

Often people ask me what was it like to grow up in Soviet Union? What kind of childhood I had and how did it compare to the way they imagined it. They want to know the story behind the story.

Winston Churchill coined the phrase “Iron Wall”. Of course, there was a literal wall in Berlin and largely our borders were impenetrable but mostly it was an invisible but powerful barrier of different kind. Not physical, but ideological one. Like looking at each other through the Looking Glass where the reality appears very different. If not the reality itself, then certainly the definition and meaning of things.

Even children’s stories revealed this. In the USSR, we often had our own versions of famous Western novels. I am sure that some critics would argue but to me one of those ‘revised copies’ was a Soviet fairy tale called “Kingdom of Crooked Mirrors” by Vitali Gubarev which was also made into a popular children’s movie. A Soviet answer to “Through the Looking-Glass” by Lewis Carroll

The plot of each story is different but the main idea remains the same – reality is distorted on the other side. In Lewis Carroll’s story, the main character Alice experienced weird and illogical and confusing things in the strange chess world of power inside the looking glass. But the heroes of the Soviet story, Olya and her mirror image Yalo, were not confused. They saw things clearly. They discovered a world of evil and exploitation and greed and they overcame all the challenges because they came from the “best country in the world” and they were brave little “pioneers”. (Pioneers – a communist youth organization in the USSR. We wore red scarfs which symbolized the Soviet flag)

The evil powers were three plotting characters who wanted to overthrow the king. Their names were spelled backwards (actually in the kingdom everyone’s name was spelled backwards) but they were Kite, Snake and Toad. I saw the movie many times and I quickly figured out that they must be the Western capitalists, imperialists and exploiters.

In the story, Olya and Yalo saved a boy named Friend. He was what you would call a political prisoner because he was imprisoned and sentenced to death for refusing to make the crooked mirrors. The mirrors are everywhere and they show you thin if you are fat, young if you are old, smart if you are stupid and so on. So, the whole kingdom is based on lies and people are turned into either hypocrites or slaves.

I loved the story and I enjoyed the movie. I wanted to be a brave little pioneer like these girls and I wanted to rid the world of all evil and greed and lies.

Then as I was getting older, I started to realize that our own country was full of crooked mirrors and people were making them (think media, education, official history, even literature and art) and people were made to accept the distorted ‘truth’. You did not dare to disagree and those who did… well, they were silenced, sidelined or exiled.

One day the Looking Glass came crashing down. The longer the distance of time the more I start to feel – did I live in a movie? Was it real?

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Photos from the movie “Kingdom of Crooked Mirrors” (USSR)

Our renewed attraction to “greatness”

One leader has promised to make “Russia Great Again”, one businessman has vowed to make “America Great Again” and others in Europe and elsewhere are declaring the same. Then there are those of us who have never been so “great” and just want to keep our countries the way they are. Or keep our countries… period.

These days we talk a lot about nationalism, populism and all kinds of other “-isms”. I am not an expert in anthropology, sociology or political science. I write this blog simply as a person who expresses my own views. This time I write as a citizen of European nation and also as a Christian who wants to engage other Christians in a deeper conversation and reflection about these issues.

Honestly, I think we will soon have to nominate Adolf Hitler as the Time Magazine ‘Person of the Year’. It does not matter if in Europe, America, Asia or Africa – someone gets compared to him. I think Hitler would be very proud that he has such a monopoly on the ugly side of nationalism (I say it sarcastically). Calling people the modern day version of ‘Hitler’ or using the words ‘Nazi’ and “fascist” has become the norm.

Sometimes it makes me want to explode. For two main reasons. Firstly, much of the time people don’t even know what they are talking about. Nationalism and racist ‘national socialism’ of Hitler’s Germany is not one and the same. And I don’t like when people get insulted and demonized. Also, you have to understand what ‘fascism’ is as a form of governance and ideology to use the term properly (I don’t even understand it fully).

Secondly, by putting all this emphasis on Hitler we avoid talking about many other historical figures or national and community leaders (including our own) who were excessively nationalistic. It is easy to point all our fingers at Hitler and scratch our heads trying to understand how could Germans follow him. I scratch my head and think how could any of us follow such leaders and such ideas.But we have and we do and we will if we are not careful and self-critical.

I agree with Rosemary Caudwell (UK), a lawyer specialising in EU law, including three years in the European Commission in Brussels, and her definition of unhealthy nationalism. “We live our lives in the context of a particular nation or region, and it is natural to have a sense of belonging to that nation, and a desire that it should flourish. When that attachment is linked with a sense of cultural superiority, with hostility to those outside the particular national group, whether they are minorities within the nation or neighbouring countries, or even a lack of solidarity or compassion, then it is excessive nationalism.”

Let’s highlight the words ‘cultural superiority’, ‘hostility’ and ‘lack of solidarity or compassion’. Most of us have an immediate negative reaction and if we believe in an absolute moral truth, we will agree that these ideas are simply wrong and bad. Still, if we are honest and humble enough, we will admit that often we live it out or are dangerously close to living them out.

Do you want to know what kind of “greatness” bothers me the most? The kind that says “Everything good comes from us and everything bad comes from them.” The kind that says “They will respect us again which means they will be afraid of us again.” The kind that says “We are more special than others. We have a special destiny.” The kind that says “If you don’t agree with us, you are against us.” The kind that says “We don’t care what others think about us. We don’t care if they don’t like us.”

As a Christian, I believe that anything that promotes a sense of superiority, hostility and lack of compassion or solidarity, is not “great”. It is the exact opposite!

There are never ending debates about how these kind of ideas become popular. Is it the leaders who influence the people and tell them what to think? Is it the people who influence the leaders and tell them what to say? Is it the media who get used and manipulated by one or the other or both? To me it is like debating which come first – the chicken or the egg.

I think that these ideas are always around. They are always hovering in the shadows. It is a part of our human brokenness and we are all prone to it. But they will not take root and bear any fruit if there is no fertile ground. These beliefs and attitudes are always looking for a fertile ground and people who will cultivate it.

We need to take a hard look at our communities and nations. Where is the fertile ground for this excessive kind of nationalism. Then ask the difficult questions – why is it so fertile? I hear many explanations – people are so angry; people feel so victimized and powerless; familiar life is changing too fast; this or that nation feels disrespected and humiliated; nations feel threatened… the list of reasons goes on.

I cannot help but think of the time in history when Jesus explained the principles of God’s Kingdom to people who had all these things. If anybody could feel angry, victimized, powerless, humiliated and threatened, it was the nation of Israel. And in the end Jesus was rejected by its leaders because he challenged their sense of “cultural superiority, hostility and lack of compassion.

The book of John records this revealing conversation. “What are we accomplishing?” the religious and civil leaders asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.” So, they decided that Jesus was the biggest threat to their national security and also his way was not the way to restoring their “greatness” or the “greatness” of their nation.

So, what are we trying to accomplish? I hope that we don’t become fertile ground for idolatrous ideas which God so strongly opposes. I hope that we want our nations to be more humble and self-critical, more friendly and more compassionate. I hope that we want our communities and nations to flourish but never at the expense of someone else.

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Discussing these questions with a group of students from Myanmar

Viens vadonis sola, ka padarīs Krieviju “atkal varenu”. Viens biznesmenis sola, ka padarīs Ameriku “atkal varenu”. Politiķi un vadītāji Eiropā un cituviet dod līdzīgus solījumus saviem vēlētājiem. Kaut kur pa vidu ir pārējie, kas nekad nav bijuši “vareni”, un grib vienkārši savas valstis tādas, kādas tās ir. Vai arī vienkārši grib savas valstis.

Šodien mēs daudz diskutējam par tādām tēmām kā nacionālisms, populisms un visādi citi “-ismi”. Neesmu eksperte ne antropoloģijā, ne socioloģijā, ne politikas zinātnē. Blogā paužu savas personīgās domas un uzskatus, un šajā reizē rakstu kā vienas Eiropas valsts pilsone, un kā kristiete, kura grib iesaistīt šajā diskusijā un pārdomās arī citus kristiešus Latvijā un ārpus tās.

Teikšu godīgi. Man liekas, ka drīz būs jāpiešķir žurnāla “Time” Gada Cilvēka nosaukums Ādolfam Hitleram. Kur vien griezies, kāds tiek ar viņu salīdzināts gan Eiropā, gan Amerikā, gan Āzijā, gan Āfrikā. Pats Hitlers drošvien ļoti lepotos, ka viņam tāds monopols uz nacionālisma ļaunāko izpausmi (atvainojos par sarkasmu). Kur tik netiek atrasti mūsdienu “Hitleri”, un apzīmēti “nacisti” vai “fašisti”.

Reizēm liekas, es tūlīt zaudēšu savaldību. Divu iemeslu dēļ. Pirmkārt, vairākumā gadījumu cilvēki nesaprot, ko paši runā. Nacionālisms un ‘nacionālais sociālisms’, ko praktizēja Vācija Hitlera vadībā, nav viens un tas pats. Turklāt man nepatīk, ka cilvēki tiek tādā veidā demonizēti. (Neciešu karikatūras ar ūsiņām.) Manuprāt, daudziem nav arī zināšanu un izpratnes, kāda ideoloģija un valsts pārvaldes forma ir ‘fašisms’ (es pati to izprotu diezgan pavirši).

Otrkārt, veltot visu uzmanību Hitleram, mēs izvairāmies no sarunām un pārdomām par daudziem citiem tautu vadītājiem, varoņiem, politiķiem, kustību vadītājiem (arī savējiem), kuri praktizēja pārmērīgu nacionālismu un rasismu. Ir viegli norādīt uz Hitleru kā kaut kādu etalonu, un tad mēģināt saprast, kā izglītotie un civilizētie un kristietībā sakņotie vācieši varēja viņam sekot. Taču es mēģinu saprast, kā jebkurš no mums spēj sekot šādiem vadoņiem un šādām idejām. Bet mēs esam sekojuši, un sekojam, un sekosim, ja nebūsim paškritiski.

Es gribu citēt Rozmariju Kadvelu no Lielbritānijas, ES likumdošanas eksperti ar pieredzi darbā Eiropas Komisijā Briselē. Man patīk viņas definīcija nacionālisma negatīvajām izpausmēm. “Mēs visi dzīvojam kādas konkrētas nācijas vai reģiona kontekstā, un tas ir dabiski, ka jūtamies piederīgi savai nācijai, un vēlamies, lai tā plauktu. Taču, ja šī piederība tiek saistīta ar sajūtu, ka tava kultūra ir pārāka, ar naidīgumu pret tiem, kas nepieder tavai nācijai, vienalga vai tās ir mazākumtautības valsts iekšienē vai kaimiņvalstis, vai arī trūkst solidaritātes un līdzcietības, tad ir izveidojies pārlieku liels nacionālisms.”

Iezīmēšu vārdus “kultūras pārākuma sajūta… naidīgums… līdzcietības trūkums.” Lielākajai daļai ir skaidrs, ka tās ir negatīvas lietas. Turklāt, ja mēs ticam absolūtai morāles patiesībai, tad šīs attieksmes un izpausmes ir vienkārši sliktas. Diemžēl mums jābūt godīgiem un atklātiem un jāatzīst, ka pārāk bieži dzīvojam ar šādu attieksmi, vai arī esam tai bīstami tuvu.

Ziniet, kāda “varenība” man nav pieņemama? Tāda, kas saka “Viss labais nāk no mums, un viss sliktais nāk no viņiem.” Tāda, kas saka “Viņi mūs atkal cienīs, jo atkal no mums baidīsies.” Tāda, kas saka “Mēs esam īpaši. Mums ir savs īpašais liktenis.” Tāda, kas saka “Ja tu mums nepiekrīti, tu esi nostājies pret mums.” Tāda, kas saka “Mums vienalga, ko citi par mums domā.”

Mans kristietes uzskats ir, ka jebkura ideja, kas veicina sava pārākuma sajūtu, naidīgumu un līdzcietības trūkumu, nav “varena”. Tieši pretēji!

Nebeidzas debates par iemesliem, kāpēc šīs idejas kļūst atkal populāras. Vai vainīgi ir vadītāji un politiķi, kuri ietekmē tautu, un saka, kas tai jādomā? Vai vainīga ir tauta, kas ietekmē vadītājus un saka, kas tiem jārunā? Vai vainīgi ir masu mediji, kas cenšas izpatikt gan vieniem, gan otriem? Man tas atgādina prātošanu par to, kas radās pirmais – vista vai ola.

Manuprāt, šīs idejas vienmēr pastāv. Tās var paiet malā, bet kaut kur ēnā un tumsā lidināsies. Tā ir cilvēces salauztības sastāvdaļa, un mums visiem var būt uz to nosliece. Bet šīs negatīvās nacionālisma idejas neiesakņosies un nenesīs augļus, ja nebūs auglīgas augsnes. Šādi uzskati vienmēr meklēs auglīgu zemi, un cilvēkus, kuri to kultivēs.

Mums jābūt ļoti paškritiskiem. Kur ir auglīgā augsne šīm idejām manā tautā, manā valstī? Un jāuzdod vēl viens svarīgs jautājums – kāpēc šī augsne ir auglīga? Kāpēc cilvēku sirdis un prāti to visu tik labprāt pieņem? Ir daudz un dažādi skaidrojumi. Cilvēki ir novesti dusmu stāvoklī; cilvēki jūtas kā bezspēcīgi upuri; viss ierastais un pazīstamais tik strauji mainās; tautām liekas, ka citas tautas tās neciena un pazemo; tautām ir bail… tie ir tikai daži no iemesliem.

Man prātā nāk Jēzus dzīves laiks un viņa laikabiedri. Jēzus skaidroja Dieva Valstības principus cilvēkiem, kuriem bija visi no šiem iemesliem. Ja kāds varēja teikt, ka jūtas dusmīgs, bezspēcīgs, pazemots, apdraudēts, tad tā bija Izraēla tauta. Taču tautas vadītāji noraidīja un ienīda Jēzu, jo viņš izaicināja viņu “pārākuma sajūtu, naidīgumu un līdzcietības trūkumu.”

Jāņa grāmatā ir pierakstīta vienreizēja saruna. “Ko mēs ar to visu panāksim?”, sprieda tautas vadītāji. “Šis cilvēks rāda tik daudz zīmes. Ja mēs ļausim viņam tā turpināt, tad visi sāks viņam ticēt, un tad nāks romieši un atņems gan mūsu templi, gan mūsu nāciju.” Tā viņi nolēma, ka Jēzus ir vislielākais drauds nācijas drošībai, un viņa piedāvātais ceļš galīgi neatbilst viņu priekšstatiem par “varenību”.

Ko mēs ar to visu panāksim? Es ceru, ka mēs nekļūsim par auglīgu augsni idejām, kas Dievam nav pieņemamas. Idejas, kas nāciju vai ko citu dara par elku. Es ceru, ka mūsu tautas kļūs arvien pazemīgākas un paškritiskākas, arvien draudzīgākas un arvien līdzcietīgākas. Es ceru, ka mūsu saviedrība plauks un zels, bet nekad uz kāda cita rēķina.

 

Looking at our compass to guide through the EU crisis

For sure I am no expert on the EU but I do know a thing or two. Firstly, most people, including myself, recognize that we are in a serious crisis. You hear it described as ‘existential’. The question of ‘to be or not to be’.

Also, I know that any crisis and pressure – personal or social – exposes and reveals many things. It exposes our inner thoughts, our character and values. Like a piece of fruit, under pressure we crack and ‘juice’ comes out. Is it a bitter lemon or sweet mango? We learn more about each other when things get hard. While the sun is shining, we can be polite, respectful, unselfish and share smile and hugs. When disaster or tragedy strikes, we often react in unexpected ways.

I have noticed this in my own life. I can be quite satisfied with myself when things are easy but during a major challenge or stress I suddenly start thinking, doing and saying things that later make me ashamed. Some of it is normal and healthy but some of it is very ugly and shocking.

Major crisis will often have different results. Some people (and communities and nations) go though it with dignity and it makes them a better person – wiser, gentler, more compassionate, generous and humble while others become worse – foolish, harsh, bitter, proud and aggressive. Or they simply give up on living. This is the age-old mystery for philosophers and spiritual leaders and all of us. Where does the inner strength come from? Where does the courage and wisdom come from when there seems no ‘way through’ or no ‘way forward’?

There is a saying that “Trouble does not come alone” or “When it rains, it pours”. Well, it is pouring trouble right now in Europe. I am sure that for many of the EU leaders it feels like a hurricane (I should not say this since I am writing this blog but I would not want their job). Grexit, Brexit, refugees, border closures, barbed wire fences, Russia, Ukraine, right-wing, left-wing, new tribalism…

Our official EU motto is “United in diversity.” Nobody doubts the ‘diversity’ part but what about the other? Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, said these words in his State of Union address in 2015. “There is not enough Europe in this Union. And there is not enough Union in this Union.” So, we continue to see reactions and actions and many of those have shocked us. I hear this expression a lot, “We are cutting the branch we are sitting on.” What is this branch?

I think of it as our moral compass. There are major directions it is supposed to point to:

Peace and Reconciliation: In 2012, the EU received the Nobel Peace Prize for having “contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy, and human rights in Europe” We have enjoyed peace among the EU member states for many decades and we start to take it for granted. This peace was very hard to accomplish and the reconciliation is still ongoing. Again and again we forget that if France and Germany did not reconcile, we would not have any European integration. It is also important to know and to remember that the political leaders who made these courageous decisions, were very much inspired by their religious beliefs and values.

Humanity and Human Rights: One of the high expectations of anyone who lives in Europe and those who come here is the emphasis on dignity and worth of every individual human being. Again it has spiritual roots – human beings made in the image of God. European Convention on Human Rights was adopted in 1950. It is a  “living instrument” which means that it incorporates changes in law and society. It is legally binding for 47 European countries, not just the EU. Also, we have the European Court of Human Rights with possibly the highest success rate in the world. It is understandable why in so many interviews, the refugees and asylum seekers who have experienced mistreatment on our soil complain, “We thought that Europe is the place where human rights are respected.”

Common good and Solidarity: This is one of the most challenging principles of our supranational institutions. The idea that we share all the responsibilities and obligations as much as the privileges. The idea that bigger and stronger ones cannot take advantage of smaller and weaker ones. Again and again we see our solidarity tested and often we fail. The critics will say that it is humanly impossible; that nations are too selfish and greedy because we are human. It is true and that is why holding ourselves accountable to the goal of common good is existential.

Freedom and Democracy: There are certain standards that countries need to achieve before they can become members of the EU. Latvia had to do its own homework for the privilege of joining. What was required?  A stable democracy that respects human rights and the rule of law. It was not easy and it still a work in progress but we have come a long way. Freedom has to be learned and lived. Tunne Kelam, MEP from Estonia, says, “True freedom is not arbitrary or aimless. True freedom is to reach truth and common good. “As we can see from so many examples around the world, it takes time and lots of political will.

Time of crisis is time for great opportunity. I agree with the words of Tomáš Halík, the Czech philosopher, priest and theologian. “We need great Europeans with spiritual strength, intellectual vitality and practical thinking. … European democracy needs European ‘demos’.”

 

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Geographical center of Europe in Lithuania (photo from the Internet)

Latviski:

Katrā ziņā neesmu eksperte Eiropas Savienības jautājumos, tomēr šo to saprotu. Pirmkārt,  ir skaidrs, ka mēs piedzīvojam ļoti smagu krīzi. Daudzi to raksturo kā ‘eksistenciālu’. Tātad tiek uzdots jautājums – būt vai nebūt?

Vēl es zinu to, ka katra krīze un izaicinājums izgaismo un atklāj daudzas lietas. Gan personiskajā, gan sabiedrības dzīvē. Krīzes izgaismo mūsu dziļākās domas, raksturu un vērtības. Kā auglis, kuru saspiežot, iztek sula, arī mēs zem liela spiediena izrādam savu iekšieni. Vai esam skābs citrons vai salds mango? Mēs uzzinām viens par otru vairāk, kad iet grūti. Kad saule spīd, ir viegli būt pieklājīgiem, pazemīgiem, nesavtīgiem, un smaidīt, un apkampties. Kad problēmas vai nelaime, mēs bieži vien reaģējam pilnīgi neparedzētā veidā.

Es neesmu nekāds izņēmums. Kad man iet viegli un labi, esmu diezgan apmierināta ar sevi. Kad nonāku grūtos un sarežģītos apstākļos, pēkšņi sāku domāt, darīt un runāt lietas, ko pēc tam nožēloju vai par kurām kaunos. Daļēji tas ir normāli, veselīgi un cilvēcīgi, bet daļēji tas ir neglīti un šokējoši.

Krīzes noved pie dažādiem rezultātiem. Ir cilvēki (un kopienas un nācijas), kuri iet cauri grūtībām ar cilvēcisku cieņu un drosmi, un kļūst labāki – gudrāki, mierīgāki, žēlsirdīgāki, dāsnāki, pazemīgāki – , bet citi kļūst sliktāki – muļķīgāki, sarūgtināti, mazāk žēlsirdīgi, vēl skopāki, dusmīgi un agresīvi. Vai vienkārši pārstāj dzīvot pilnvērtīgu dzīvi. Tas ir tas lielais un mūžīgais noslēpums, ko cauri gadsimtiem mēģina izprast gudrie un vienkāršie. No kurienes nāk šis iekšējais spēks? No kurienes nāk gudrība un drosme atrast izeju no strupceļa jeb bezizejas?

Ir tāds teiciens, ka nelaime jeb problēma nenāk viena. Vai arī, kad līst, tad gāž. Nu, Eiropā gāžas pamatīgs ‘problēmu’ lietus. Varbūt daudziem ES vadītājiem liekas, ka pat orkāns. Lai gan rakstu, jo neesmu pret šīm lietām vienaldzīga, teikšu godīgi, ka negribētu būt viņu amatos šajā brīdī. Brexit, Grexit, patvēruma meklētāji, aizvērtas robežas, dzeloņdrāšu žogi, Krievija, Ukraina, galēji labējie, galēji kreisie, pašizolēšanās…

Mūsu oficiālā ES devīze ir “Vienoti dažādībā”. Neviens nešaubās par dažādību, bet kā ar to otro? Žans Klods Junkers, Eiropas Komisijas presidents, savā runā par Eiropas Savienības stāvokli 2015. gadā teica šādus vārdus. “Šajā Savienībā ir par maz Eiropas. Un šajā Savienībā ir par maz Savienības.” Mēs turpinam vērot eiropiešu dažādās reakcijas, darbības, vārdus, un daudz kas mūs šokē. Bieži dzirdu frāzi, ka paši zāģējam zaru, uz kura sēžam.

Uz kā tad mēs sēžam? Es to sauktu par mūsu morālo kompasu. Atļaušos atgādināt dažus no virzieniem, uz kuriem šim kompasam jānorāda.

Miers un izlīgums: 2012. gadā Eiropas Savienība saņēma Nobela Miera prēmiju par ieguldījumiem sešu desmitgažu garumā, veicinot mieru, izlīgumu, demokrātiju un cilvēktiesības. Mēs esam baudījuši šo mieru tik ilgi, ka esam jau pie tā pieraduši, un bieži vien pienācīgi nenovērtējam. Šo mieru nebija viegli sasniegt, un izlīguma process vēl daudzviet turpinās. Mēs piemirstam, ka, ja Francija un Vācija nebūtu izlīgušas, nekādas Eiropas integrācijas nebūtu. Vēl ir svarīgi atcerēties, ka tā laika politiķus un viņu drosmīgos lēmumus iedvesmoja viņu reliģiskā pārliecība.

Cilvēcīgums un cilvēktiesības: Viena no lietām, ko mēs sagaidām, dzīvojot vai pat tikai viesojoties Eiropā, ir cieņa pret katru individuālo cilvēku. Arī tam ir garīgs un morāls pamats – uzskats, ka katrs cilvēks ir īpašs un vērtīgs, jo radīts Dieva līdzībā. Eiropas Cilvēktiesību Konvencija tika pieņemta 1950. gadā, un tā seko izmaiņām likumos un sabiedrībā. To ir parakstījušas 47 valstis Eiropā, tātad ne tikai ES dalībvalstis. Vēl mums ir Eiropas Cilvēktiesību Tiesa, kas darbojas ar lieliem panākumiem. Tāpēc ir viegli saprast, kāpēc tik daudzās intervijās ar patvēruma meklētājiem, kuri piedzīvojuši sliktu apiešanos vai cilvēktiesību pārkāpumus, var dzirdēt vārdus – mēs sagaidījām, ka Eiropa ir tā vieta, kur tiek ievērotas cilvēku tiesības.

Kopīgais labums un solidaritāte: Šķiet, ka te ir vislielākais izaicinājums mūsu pārnacionālajām (supranacionālajām) attiecībām un institūcijām. Ideja un ideāls, ka mēs dalām pienākumus un atbildību, ne tikai privilēģijas un labumus. Ideāls, ka lielākie un stiprākie nevar izmantot mazākos un vājākos. Šī kopība tiek nemitīgi pārbaudīta, un mēs bieži atkrītam. Kritiķi un skeptiķi teiks, ka šis ideāls vispār nav sasniedzams, jo nācijas ir pārāk egoistiskas un mantkārīgas, jo tās vada vienkārši cilvēki. Tā ir realitāte, un tāpēc ir tik svarīgi pašiem turēt šo latiņu augstu un negrozāmu, lai domātu par kopīgo, nevis tikai savējo labumu. Savādāk varam iet katrs savā viensētā, un celt savus žogus.

Brīvība un demokrātija: Lai kļūtu par ES dalībvalsti, ir jāparakstās zem šīm politiskajām tradīcijām un brīvības un likuma mantojuma. Latvijai bija jāveic liels mājasdarbs, lai iegūtu šo privilēģiju. Kas tika pieprasīts? Stabila demokrātija, kur tiek ievērotas cilvēktiesības un likums. To sasniegt nebija tik vienkārši, un mums daudz kas vēl jāuzlabo, bet esam nogājuši  lielu ceļa gabalu. Brīvību ir jāmācās un jāpraktizē. Tune Kelams, padomju laika disidents un šobrīd EP deputāts no Igaunijas, atgādina, ka “Brīvība nav nejauša vai bezmērķīga. Patiesa brīvība ved uz patiesību un kopīgo labumu.” Kā mēs varam secināt no daudziem starptautiskiem piemēriem, ir vajadzīgs laiks un stipra politiska griba.

Jebkura krīze ir arī laiks lielām iespējām. Piekrītu Tomašam Halikam, čehu filozofam, katoļu priesterim un teologam, ka “mums vajadzīgi eiropieši ar garīgu spēku, intelektuālu enerģiju un praktisko domāšanu. … Eiropas demokrātijai ir vajadzīgs eiropeisks demos.”

Cambodia and its complicated beauty

Have you ever unintentionally eavesdropped on someone’s conversation? I could not help it since this guys was talking on Skype very loudly. He was calling random people in China and always introduced himself as someone traveling in Asia. “I am in Cambodia right now”, he said. “It is a country between Thailand and Vietnam.”

I am in Cambodia, too. And currently reading a book called “The Quality of Mercy: Cambodia, Holocaust and Modern Conscience” by William Shawcross (1984) It reminds me of our complicated geographies and what it meant for Cambodia to be situated between Thailand and Vietnam. Very complicated story, indeed.

On my third trip to Cambodia, I continue to be amazed by the resilience and inner strength and warmth of these people. The children, of course, are adorable. I want to take photos with all of them as they wave, smile, say “hello” in English and send kisses. The adults smile, too. I cannot speak any Khmer even though (to my ear) it sounds very similar to Thai. I see lots of cultural and religious and linguistic similarities between Thailand and Cambodia.

It is a beautiful land but unfortunately not as beautiful as it used to be. One of the shocking facts is the horrific speed of deforestation. Just a few decades ago in 1969, its land was 70% forests. Now it is around 3% and the forests continue to shrink. In Siem Reap, there is still some green, natural beauty surrounding the national treasure – Angkor Wat. The huge ruins of temples and palaces from the former glory of Khmer kingdom.

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But most of the central plains are almost completely void of forests. Which means lots of things… Local people speak as common knowledge that each year gets hotter because of lack of trees. The flooding gets worse since the ground cannot drink it up; the air quality is bad. The wild animals lose their natural habitat and the list of man-made disasters goes on.

One of my friends from Malaysia made this comment about Cambodia. Dusty! Yes, it is very dusty, especially now in the dry season. I want to get one big hose and wash down everything. I also want to pick up all the trash on the ground. And I would like to see that all people have access to clean drinking water. Just yesterday I met with some great Khmer guys who are educating local villagers about the importance of clean water.

Here in Cambodia I hear two things a lot. Economic development and Community development. Often these two collide as money and corruption trumps the community needs. There is pride that this is one of the fastest developing economies in Southeast Asia. Honestly I have very mixed feelings about the’ speed’ and question some of the definitions of ‘development’. Transparency International research about global corruption currently rates Cambodia in 150th place out of 168 countries. So, obviously transparency and rule of law is not something that is developing fast.

Easy to write a blog but what else can I do? I am here as a visitor who is also promoting development. I promote God’s vision of good life… the kind of life that most of us want. Life that is lived in right relationships within the community and the environment. The Hebrews call it ‘Shalom’; the academic Miroslav Volf calls it ‘flourishing life’; the think-tank Legatum Institute calls it ‘prosperity’ but they talk about the same thing.

I am inspired and challenged by Cambodia. Inspired because the country has traveled such a difficult road and has come so far. Challenged because I worry about the direction and many of the advisers. Therefore I am encouraged by our Khmer friends who are determined to learn new ways of ‘development’. They are making a new road. The real beauty of good living that reveals mercy, love, kindness, justice, dignity and honesty…

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Photos from personal archive

 

My nominee for Nobel Peace Prize 2015 is …

The laureate of Nobel Peace Prize will be revealed this Friday, October 9. As usual, the nominees are kept in secret and it will be a secret for next 50 years. So, we will not know who were the people and organizations to choose from.

Having just visited Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, Norway, I was thinking about the previous awards. Some amazing people who have given their lives to makes this world a better place. I have my own list of favorites. The official website of Nobel Prize also lists the most popular laureates and there are three Peace Prize awards in the top 10. Can you guess who?

The most popular from all categories is Martin Luther King, Jr. I am not surprised. His life and work continues to speak and challenge us today. We can think of the famous speech in Washington, ” I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.” There are many places in the world where it has not become a reality yet. So, the work continues. He also said and believed that “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” I believe it.

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One of the people who inspired Martin Luther King, Jr, but never received the Nobel Peace Prize, was Mahatma Gandhi. Geir Lundestad, Secretary of Norwegian Nobel Committee in 2006 said, “The greatest omission in our 106-year history is undoubtedly that Mahatma Gandhi never received the Nobel Peace prize. Gandhi could do without the Nobel Peace prize, whether Nobel committee can do without Gandhi is the question”.

Another one of my absolute heroes on the list is Mother Theresa. She needs no comments. Just couple of my favorite quotes from her, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love” and “Live simply so others may simply live.”

Any guess who is another popular laureate? It is the young girl from Pakistan who advocates for female education. Malala Yousafzai is the youngest laureate ever at the age of 17. When she was 11 years old, Yousafzai wrote a blog under a pseudonym for the BBC detailing her life under Taliban occupation, their attempts to take control and her views on promoting education for girls in the Swat Valley. One afternoon in 2012, Malala boarded her school bus in the northwest Pakistani. A gunman asked for her by name, then pointed a pistol at her and fired three shots. She survived and went through intensive rehabilitation. Her advocacy work has become an international movement.

This is what Malala said  at the UN, “The terrorists thought they would change my aims and stop my ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born … I am not against anyone, neither am I here to speak in terms of personal revenge against the Taliban or any other terrorist group. I’m here to speak up for the right of education for every child. I want education for the sons and daughters of the Taliban and all terrorists and extremists.”

So, who will be awarded this most prestigious prize this year? I have no idea but I do know many people I would certainly nominate if I had the authority to do so. There is one person I want to write about but it will have to be the next post. So, I will keep it a secret just like the Nobel Prize committee does. But don’t worry … just for one more week, not 50 years.

Meanwhile, who would you nominate?

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The suffering of ‘unwanted’ people

This week I returned to my current home in Thailand and to the news headlines about the human tragedy in the Andaman Sea. This tragedy has been going on for many years since I have lived here. The story of suffering starts in Burma (official name – Myanmar) and it affects the whole region of Southeast Asia.

If you watch the news or read the headlines, you will see the boats crowded with starving, desperate people who nobody wants. Nations send their navy ships to pull them back out to sea. Thailand does not want them, Malaysia does not want them, Indonesia does not want them… but the source of tragedy is that their home does not want them. The Rohingya people are a large ethnic group, living in the western state of Rakhine. Most of them live in Burma and their religion is Islam.

International human rights groups describe them as one of the most persecuted people in the world. Since 1982 they are denied citizenship in Burma and the current government continues denying them citizen’s rights. They are not allowed to travel without a permission. There were even previous restrictions on marriage and children – allowed to have only two children, even though not strictly enforced. There has been communal violence in previous years, based on ethnicity and religion and a widespread sentiment in Burma, fueled by a few very nationalistic Buddhist monks, that these people do not belong there.

Thousands of them are forced to live in camps in terrible conditions they are not allowed to leave. In their own country! So, in desperation they attempt to make the dangerous journey across the sea. This becomes another huge tragedy of human trafficking, abuse, corruption and suffering. I will not go into all the details as you can read about it in any major international news source.

The challenges in Burma are complicated but one issue is very simple and clear. As I see the photos of these beautiful people… yes, poor… yes, uneducated… yes, Muslim and not Buddhist or Christian… yes, dark skinned… Rohingya are our neighbors. Human beings created in God’s image with exactly the same value as a Latvian, a German, a Thai, a Karen, a Chinese, a Barman, an Australian, etc.

Who is my neighbor? And do I love my neighbor as myself? Firstly, this is the difficult and important question for the communities in Burma. Secondly, this is a question for the neighboring nations and thirdly, this is a question for all of us. For me as a European, I think of our governments who are willing to ‘close their eyes’ and not bring up these questions in favor of economic trade since Burma is so rich with resources.

Many of my friends in Burma are wrestling with this most important question God asks of us. Also, to help Rohingya people can mean to become persecuted. Even big international NGO’s have been told by Burma government to stay away and not get involved.

This is time for serious and deep soul searching and time for brave and real neighborly love…

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Photo from news headlines

Walls that keep us ‘in’ or ‘out’

This week I was traveling on a long international flight. Usually my flying routine is sleep, eat and watch movies. The airline had a good selection, especially documentaries. So, I watched a short documentary about the fall of Berlin Wall in November of 1989.

It brought back lots of memories and a flood of emotions. I was just a teenager during those days and followed this world breaking news from Latvia, hoping with all my heart that the same power of change would transform my own nation. And it did!

I think about walls often. There are a few walls that come to my mind immediately. The Great Wall of China (which I have visited), the Berlin Wall (which I hope to visit one day… the part that is left as a reminder) , the Israeli Wall in the West Bank (which I hope will come down one day soon), the big border fences/walls on the US-Mexico border and the EU border in Greece… Just to name a few walls that are meant to keep people apart.

Some build prisons to keep people in; others build fortresses to keep people out. Like the Great Wall of China built to keep the invaders out. But most walls have two sides and it depends on which side you live. Like the Berlin Wall which was supposed to keep out the ‘fascists’ and ‘capitalists’ from the West. Only nobody from the West would risk their lives to climb this wall; the desperate attempts were made by people from the East side of the wall who felt like were living in a prison.

I watched again the scenes of people collapsing on the ground and crying when they had escaped to West Germany… People running through the barbed wire and not caring if they get injured. And then the amazing scenes of Berlin Wall coming down and people rejoicing and celebrating and embracing and crying… The wall that separated families and nation and people for decades coming down without any violence or single shot.

I remember in my own country Latvia how the Baltic beach was considered an invisible wall. The border of Soviet Union to protect us from those ‘capitalists’. The beach sand was raked, so that anyone trying to cross the sea would leave footprints… We all knew if anyone even tried  which way the footprints would point. In USSR we built prisons…

The Wall in the West Bank is called ‘separation’ fence or ‘security’ fence in the Hebrew and the wall of ‘apartheid’ in Arabic. It depends which side of the wall you live or what you think in your heart – is it to keep people out or keep people in?

In Europe, we build our fences to keep people ‘out’. Those we don’t want. We build fortresses…

These are the visible walls, but what about the invisible ones? I keep discovering them in my own heart. To dismantle a wall we start by removing one brick, one stone, one block at a time. So, I will start with myself because I don’t want to be just another brick in the wall.

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Don’t judge the book by its cover?

In Latvia we like to use another saying “Don’t judge a man by his hat.” It can have different meanings like do not think he is smart or important or trustworthy because he wears a nice hat. Or that a person is not what he wears. Or that we cannot know the hearts of people.

But there are times when I look at someone’s clothes and I do judge them. So, let’s talk about it… Is it right or is it wrong? Actually the clothes that I have problem with are some T-shirts and the messages they advertise. There are times when I read someone’s T-shirt and think, “what in the world? …”

There are lots of markets here in Thailand that target the tourists since it is a very popular holiday destination. Gary and I enjoy many of them, especially the Walking Street in Chiang Mai which is every Sunday evening. Lots of creative and beautiful things for sale. And lots of T-shirts… lots of them…

Many of the shops I don’t even look at since the printed messages are so obscene and vulgar. But people buy them and wear them. Often I think that foreigners while traveling wear clothes that they would never wear in their home country because it would be too offensive.

So, here are TOP 3 shirts on my “DO NOT LIKE; CANNOT STAND; FIND OFFENSIVE” list:

USSR T-shirt

As someone who grew up in the Soviet Union and learns more and more about the evils of totalitarian systems, I have a strong reaction when I see this T-shirt. I remember seeing it while working in Australia and I wanted to go up to this young Australian and ask, “hello, mate… do you have any idea what you are wearing?” I always try to think of what would be an equally offensive or disturbing message to an Australian or any other person. And, of course, I realize he would never want to live in a country like USSR. For one, he would not be able to wear any T-shirt that does not agree with the System.

Equally disturbing to me is a shirt with the Chairman Mao. It has become such a fashion statement. Sometimes he is a Mickey Mouse, sometimes he is cool, and sometimes he is just the Leader. Why do people think that it is fashionable to advertise bad people? If he was still alive, he would probably be very happy for all this world-wide attention, “Look, I am a brand.” Someone who is in the company of likes like Stalin, Hitler and other totalitarian leaders…

And even closer to my current home, this is the one I hate here in Thailand. I think it is such degrading and offensive message and view of self and other people. Unfortunately Thailand has a global reputation of sex tourism, human trafficking, availability and cheapness of sexual ‘services’. And most visitors only see the visible side of it; the invisible is much more ugly, cruel and inhumane. Money and ‘honey’ is destroying people’s lives… It is not something to be proud of or to laugh at.

This makes the whole “Do not judge the book by the cover” challenging.

no money shirt