Lustration and flushing out the Soviet poison for good

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DSCN4485

I will not give up on truth seeking

Few weeks ago Oxford Dictionaries announced the word of 2016 is “post-truth”. Followed by “alt-right” (alternative right) or “Brexiteer and others. It was chosen because this year there has been such a sharp increase in how and when this concept is used. Especially during the Brexit campaign and US elections.

According to Oxford Dictionaries, post truth is an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’. Now I hear people, including my friends, say that “we witness post-truth politics” and “we live in post-truth society”. And there is long list of other expressions like virtual reality, fake news, polarization, etc.

This is not completely new but I will agree that post truth concept is looming large. Like a big, dark cloud over our society. It is in the social media, it is in the mainstream media, it is in the experiences, it is in the conversations, it is in the arguments… it is in the air. It is on my mind and it is definitely destroying the peace of my mind.

Because I believe in truth. I believe in searching for the verifiable facts. I believe in truthfulness and integrity. I believe in certain absolutes. I believe in truth seeking.

I try to choose my words carefully because I believe that we should call things as “they are” if we care to get to the point where things are as “they should be” (even the words “should be” imply something certain).

I believe in truthful politics. Yes, we all know that it is a dirty and complicated thing but we should apply the same standard we try to apply to business, education, media, science, family and especially the church. Without integrity we are doomed in every sphere of our lives.

I refuse to live in a post-truth world because such life would be foolish and meaningless and, of course, dangerous. It would be the survival of those who just want to survive or pure existence. But I want to live a good life that is God’s design for all of us.

If we are created in the image of God (Imago Dei), than we have God’s imprint of truth in us. It may be distorted but it is there and we are on a lifelong journey to discover these things which are true, good, just, honorable, excellent and worthy of praise (Phil 4:8)

How to be practical about it? Well, this is the challenge. We live very busy lives and we don’t want to spend our time to research and verify everything said or published if it is true, partially true or false. Something true and something false can be stirred equally fast (unfortunately the bad news spreads faster). We are struggling to trust anything and anybody. We need to regain this trust because without it we will not make it.

I want to hear your thoughts, reactions and practical ideas about how to reverse this trend of post truth. Let us pursue “back to the truth seeking world”!

blogger-image-669135390

Preach it!!! (photos from personal archive and internet)

Latvian:

Pirms dažām nedēļām Oksfordas vārdnīcas paziņoja, ka 2016. gada ievērojamākais vārds ir “pēcpatiesība” (postpatiesība). Šo jēdzienu izvēlējās kā šogad arvien biežāk un plašāk lietoto. It īpaši Brexit kampaņas laikā un ASV priekšvēlēšanu cīņās. Sekoja tādi vārdi kā “alt-labējie” (alternatīvie labējie) and “Brexitietis”.

Saskaņā ar Oksfordas vārdnīcas terminu definīciju, pēcpatiesība (postpatiesība) ir apzīmētājs, kas “attiecas uz apstākļiem, kuros sabiedrības viedokļa veidošanā objektīvi fakti ir mazāk ietekmīgi nekā vēršanās pie emocijām un personīgiem uzskatiem”. Man visapkārt cilvēki, arī draugi, sāk lietot frāzes, ka “mēs piedzīvojam pēcpatiesības politiku” un “dzīvojam pēcpatiesības sabiedrībā”. Tālāk iet runa par puspatiesībām, viltus ziņām, viedokļu vienveidību, utt.

It kā tas nav nekas jauns, taču es piekrītu, ka šobrīd šis pēcpatiesības jēdziens ir pārklājis rietumu sabiedrību. Kā liels, drūms mākonis. Tas ir jūtams sociālajos tīklos, plašsaziņas līdzekļos, sarunās, debatēs… tas vienkārši virmo gaisā. Un tas ir ienācis arī manā prātā kā vēl viena aktuāla problēma, kas laupa sirdsmieru.

Jo es ticu tādam jēdzienam kā patiesība. Es ticu tādai lietai, kā faktu pārbaudīšana. Es ticu patiesīgumam un godīgumam. Tātad es ticu kādām absolūtām vērtībām. Es ticu patiesības meklēšanai kā vienai no dzīves prioritātēm.

Parasti cenšos izvēlēties savus vārdus ļoti uzmanīgi, jo mums jāsauc lietas “īstajos vārdos” (ja tos vispār zinām), ja gribam nonākt līdz tam, “kā būtu jābūt” (jau pats apgalvojums “kā būtu jābūt” kaut ko izsaka).

Es ticu patiesīgai politikai. Jā, mēs visi zinām, ka tā ir pelēkā, sarežģītā, korumpētā un netīrā zona, bet vienalga uz to ir jāattiecina tādas pašas prasības kā pret izglītību, biznesu, zinātni, medijiem, ģimeni un pat baznīcu. Bez patiesīguma un godīguma nevar nevienā dzīves jomā.

Es atsakos pieņemt pēcpatiesību kā normu, jo tāda sabiedrība būtu muļķīga, bezjēdzīga un, protams, briesmīga. Tajā izdzīvotu tie, kuri vienkārši vēlas izdzīvot. Taču es vēlos dzīvot labu un pilnīgu dzīvi, ja tāds ir Dieva dizains mums visiem.

Ja pieņemam, ka esam radīti Dieva līdzībā (Imago Dei), tad mūsos ir arī patiesības nospiedums. Varbūt tas ir izkropļots vai sagrozīts, bet tomēr tas tur ir, un mūsu dzīve ir meklējumi pēc patiesā, labā, taisnīgā, cieņpilnā, vērtīgā un slavējamā (Filip 4:8)

Ko tas nozīmē praktiski? Jā, tas nav viegli izdarāms. Mēs dzīvojam ļoti aizņemtas dzīves, un mums nav daudz laika meklēt, salīdzināt, pārbaudīt, vai lasam, dzirdam un saņemam patiesību, puspatiesību vai klajus melus. Kaut kas patiess un kaut kas viltots var izplatīties vienlīdz strauji (parasti gan viltotais izplatās straujāk). Vēl mums strauji zūd uzticība jebkam un jebkuram. Bez uzticības vispār mēs ilgtermiņā neiztiksim.

Gribētu dzirdēt jūsu domas un praktiskus padomus, kā nesekot šai pēcpatiesības modei. Dzīsimies pēc pasaules, kurā mēs vienmēr meklējam patiesību!

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.

DSCN1784

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…

DSCN1661

Photos from personal archive