Dipping my feet in Americana waters

“What is the purpose of your visit? And how long are you staying?” are the routine questions I hear from US Customs and Border control upon arrival. I have quite the collection of memories from these annual interviews. Waiting in line for my turn, trying to decide which customs guy looks the friendliest, preparing my answers… I even have a list of my preferred airports to arrive in (Minneapolis, Portland) and my least favorite (Los Angeles, New York)

This time I traveled through Chicago and it was a late night arrival. I think the officer was ready to go home and not interested in long chats. “Where are you going?” was all he asked and stamped my passport. Surely he saw how many US stamps there are already. I hesitated when the customs guy asked if I have any food items to declare but decided that Latvian chocolate bars I was bringing as gifts did not count. Chocolate is not food, right?

I have never stayed longer than three months and have never lived in the United States. Besides visiting family and friends and speaking engagements, there are many reasons to enjoy it. America (even the US part of it) is just so big. I have lost count of the places visited but the wish list keeps getting longer and longer. I have yet to see the wilderness of Alaska, the mountains of Colorado, the museums of Washington D.C., the Grand Canyon of Arizona, the Statue of Liberty (if I don’t count seeing it from the airplane) and the list goes on.

It is no secret that Europeans and Americans often differ in their views. I would describe our relationship as mutual ‘I really like you but you frustrate me. And at times annoy’. It is sometimes complicated but, no doubt, we care about each other’s opinion. How can we possibly avoid it when so much of American gene is of European descent?! My American friends ask me what Europeans think about their international image, policies and politics. My European friends ask me what is going on in America. Especially after this summer trip I am expecting a lot of questions.

When there are things that frustrate me about the US culture, I start countering it with the things I like. Frustrating ones first? This is a big nation and very self-sufficient. It annoys me how many Americans still do not realize how interconnected and interdependent the world is. For better or worse. Americans can be individualistic to the extreme. It annoys me when so many who have the means and money to travel, have no desire to visit other countries and learn about other cultures. It annoys me when people here complain about first-world problems and many think they are poor. I challenge their definition of ‘poverty’.

It annoys me when Americans talk about their government (as dysfunctional as it often seems) as tyrannical and authoritarian. Again I want to challenge this definition of ‘tyranny’ and ‘authoritative regime’. I was born in a tyrannical and authoritative system (the USSR) and I know the difference. Of course, there is abuse of power and corruption and deep rooted injustices but which embassies people line up to? Where do they expect to find liberty and opportunity and choice and free expression of themselves? For sure, the US is still at the top of the list where people want to immigrate.

And my list of positives? The number one is the acceptance and welcome of the immigrant and foreigner. Yes, it is not perfect but human beings are not perfect. Still, this land is beautiful because of its diversity of race, culture, religion, ethnicity, political opinion and ancestors. Few weeks ago there was an International Festival in Burnsville, Minnesota and it was great. Music, dances, cultural performances, food, kids activities. Cambodian, Indian, Thai, Pakistani, Somalian, Nigerian, Brazilian, Mexican… you name it. The last performers was a Latino band which got the whole crown dancing. And Latinos can dance! Just like Africans, their bodies just know how to sway with the rhythm.

Besides the beauty of the land, the diversity of its landscapes and its interesting history, I like the energy of this place. There are so many interesting ideas floating  in the air and people like to dream. I like the entrepreneur spirit and the innovations. I like the arts, music, books… I even like the optimism of Americans and the attitude of “why not?”, instead of “why?”

And going back to the freedom issue… I remember the first time I landed in the US and walked outside the airport in Seattle, Washington. I breathed in the air and it felt very different from what I had experienced growing up. It was not just a physical feeling of freedom, it was something deeper. I felt like I am appreciated just the way I am and I can express myself any way I want. And the policeman walking outside was actually a public servant and on my side.

One day I would like to read this poem on the Statue of Liberty with my own eyes:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
MOTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

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More than a Wikipedia fact in postcard from Latvia

Do you have a wish list of influential people you would like to meet? High on my list is Vaclav Havel. I wish I could have met him as his prophetic wisdom is on my mind …

This goes out to everyone flirting with authoritative regimes and ideas where truth does not matter, where freedoms can be traded for economic stability and security, where all the problems is someone else’ fault and the rest of the world is threatening place to be isolated from. I wish I could transport you back in time to Latvia on May 4, 1990… There are some hard and painful lessons learned that Latvians can teach!

Today is a national holiday in Latvia. We celebrate and remember the events of May 4 in 1990 as the anniversary of Declaration on the Restoration of Independence of the Republic of Latvia which was adopted by the Supreme Soviet of Latvian SSR (Soviet Socialist Republic)

It sounds like a paragraph from Wikipedia but for millions of people from Europe it means something profound, life changing and universally important. It also means the experiences and lessons of the past, the realities and understanding of the present and the dreams and challenges of the future.

Talking about the past, one of our common and real experiences was living in a ‘post-truth’ and often ‘invented truth’ world. I want to quote Vaclav Havel from his famous essay The Power of the Powerless: “Because the regime is captive to its own lies, it must falsify everything. It falsifies the past. It falsifies the present, and it falsifies the future. It falsifies statistics. It pretends not to possess an omnipotent and unprincipled police apparatus. It pretends to respect human rights. It pretends to persecute no one. It pretends to fear nothing. It pretends to pretend nothing.”

Even the name – Latvia Soviet Socialist Republic. This was not real ‘republic’ with freedom, democracy and the rule of law. This was not real ‘socialism’ where social justice actually means something. And it certainly was not ‘soviet’ which literally should mean that it is the council of the people.

Another experience of this past is again well-expressed by Havel: “The essential aims of life are present naturally in every person. In everyone there is some longing for humanity’s rightful dignity, for moral integrity, for free expression of being and a sense of transcendence over the world of existence. Yet, at the same time, each person is capable, to a greater or lesser degree, of coming to terms within the lie. Each person somehow succumbs to a profane trivialization of his inherent humanity, and to utilitarianism. In everyone there is some willingness to merge with the anonymous crowd and  to flow comfortably along with it down the river of pseudo-life.”

On May 4, 1990 there was such a wide-spread and irreversible feeling that people are tired of living this pseudo-life. There was a large crowd gathering for demonstration and support but it was not anonymous anymore. Each face had a name, each voice mattered, each person felt important realizing that freedom and regained dignity is possible. This truly was the power of the powerless.

These experiences define who I am today. Even though I was very young and don’t remember details, it has a direct link to how I view the world.  We call the year 2016 as the year of ‘post truth’. It is tragic and dangerous and many other adjectives I could add. Havel wisely wrote that “Living within the truth, as humanity’s revolt against an enforced position, is, on the contrary, an attempt to regain control over one’s own sense of responsibility. In other words, it is clearly a moral act, not only because one must pay so dearly for it, but principally because it is not self-serving.”

Truth is not self-serving. It answers to a higher master and it serves a higher purpose and it calls everyone to personal responsibility. And this where the future challenge lies – we succumb again and again to pseudo-life, pseudo-justice, pseudo-plurality and other convenient lies.

Today in Latvia we remember where we were and who we were and we talk about where we are and who we are now. And we reflect on where we want to be and how to get there.

Celebrate with us! With love from Rīga

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Latvian:

Šoreiz es netulkošu burtiski, bet pārstāstīšu galveno domu, jo šis ieraksts latviešiem nozīmē pavisam kaut ko citu, kā maniem draugiem un lasītājiem ārzemēs. Mani turpina iedvesmot Vaclavs Havels un viņa pravietiskie vārdi un pasaules redzējums. Plauktā ir viņa grāmatas angļu valodā, un man nav pie rokas latviskais tulkojums (gan jau kāds ir iztulkojis), un pašai nav laika un spēju izdarīt to pienācīgi labi. Tāpēc Havela tiešos citātus lasiet pirmajā daļā.

Es gribēju uzrakstīt kaut ko par 4. maiju, un ko tas nozīmē šodien un tagad. Un tad sāku domāt, cik tā ir tik svarīga un joprojām aktuāla vēstures mācību stunda šodienas sabiedrībai visā pasaulē.

Parasti manu blogu lasa līdzīgi domājošie (kā jau tas mūsdienās pieņemts, mēs lasām to, kas mums glāsta pa spalvai, bet negribam lasīt to, kas izaicina vai aicina paraudzīties no cita skatu punkta), bet mans dialogs jeb saruna ir ar tiem, kuri domā savādāk. Man gribētos, lai šo rakstu izlasa tie, kuri flirtē ar autoratīviem režīmiem, kuri gaida “īsto glābēju” vai “stingro roku”, kas visu sakārtos un atgriezīs vecos labos laikus. Kuri ir gatavi pievērt acis uz patiesības un faktu nomelnošanu un uz vārdu un jēdzienu devalvāciju. Kuri ir gatavi apmainīt brīvību pret ekonomisko ‘labklājību’ un stabilitāti.

Tie vecie labie laiki ir pasaule, kurā var izlikties, jo tā ir norma, un visi izliekas, ka neviens neizliekas. Pasaule, kurā pie visa vienmēr vainīgs kāds cits, un nevienam nav jāuzņemas personīga atbildība. Vecie labie laiki, kuros ārpasaule liekas nedroša un bīstama vieta, no kuras vajag izolēties.

Es vēlētos ielikt manus sarunas biedrus laika mašīnā un atgriezties Latvijā 1990. gada 4. maijā, lai ļautu izjust un piedzīvot to, ko nozīmē atteikties no šādas pseido-dzīves, pseido-patiesības, pseido-drošības un pseido-brīvības. Šie ‘vecie labie laiki’ (jeb Padomju Savienības variantā ‘jaunie labie laiki’) tika Latvijai uzspiesti ar varu, bet cilvēki ar laiku pielāgojās, lai varētu izdzīvot.

Tā mēs izdzīvojām, bet pienāca brīdis, kad ar to bija stipri par maz. Cilvēks nav radīts tādai dzīvei, kaut gan viņš ir spējīgs tā dzīvot. Par to Havels rakstīja sava slavenajā esejā “Nespēcīgo spēks” (The Power of the Powerless). Katrs ir spējīgs kļūt par daļu no anonīmā pūļa, kas vienkārši peld līdzi dzīves straumei.

1990. gada 4. maijā arī bija liels pūlis, bet tas vairs nebija anonīms. Katram cilvēkam bija sava seja, gaidpilna, cerību pilna, un katram bija ko teikt, un katrs būtu gatavs balsot. Es biju skolniece un daudzas nianses neatceros, bet atceros to, ka šo dienu iezīmēja pavisam cita realitāte. It kā tu aizgāji gulēt vienā pasaulē, bet pamodies pavisam citā.

Un pilnīgi skaidrs, ka tajos ‘vecajos labajos laikos’ es nevēlos atgriezties, un nevienam neiesaku. Un esmu gatava brīdināt pa labi un pa kreisi, ka līdzīgus ‘jaunos labos laikus’ arī nevienam nenovēlu. Ne Eiropā, ne Amerikā, ne citos kontinentos… nekur un nevienam.

Priecīgus 4. maija svētkus! Ar sveicieniem no Rīgas

 

 

 

 

30 years later I still cringe at the name of Chernobyl

They say it was a beautiful spring day. What did I do on April 26, 1986? Since it was a Saturday, I must have gone to school in the morning (we used to have school on Saturdays) and then had a weekend to enjoy. I was 12 years old and did not worry about too many things.

But the following weeks and months became the one of the most sad and scary memories of my childhood. Latvia does not border Ukraine but we are not far. People had no idea that 1000 km away we just had the worst nuclear accident in history. A product of severely flawed Soviet-era reactor design combined with human error.Nobody was telling us, the citizens of USSR, anything. Only few days later the first official news started coming through.

Everyone was shocked and worried. I started hearing words like “terrible accident, Ukraine, nuclear plant, Chernobyl, radiation, radioactive cloud, radioactive rain, polluted environment, tragedy, emergency, victims…” There was lots of fear and frustration because the official news in the media was so censored and even false that people did not believe it. Everyone realized it must be much worse than the official version. People were also angry but felt powerless.

One of my friends who grew up in Ukraine, still gets very emotional when she speaks about those events. The annual parade in Kiev on May 1, the Worker’s Day, did not get cancelled. Even though the authorities knew what had happened and how the radiation had spread. Chernobyl is only 135 km (88 miles) from Kiev and thousands of children and youth and adults were parading through the city streets, singing, holding signs of Soviet leaders while everything was covered in invisible radioactive dust.

In childhood I had heard so much about the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that I had horrible pictures of Chernobyl in my mind. Only much later we saw some images of the actual blown-up reactor.  I had never thought about radioactive clouds but the wind blows where it wants and it blew the poisonous particles across large part of Eastern and Northern Europe. I remember being told not to pick wild mushrooms and berries in the woods.

But the greatest fear was very personal. There was a massive forced mobilization of men into military service to go and contain the contamination and clean up the area. Especially young men with construction skills (the average age of those later called “liquidators” was between 30-40) and my dad worked in construction. Mom was indignant at the thought and I was scared and dad must have been worried. I don’t know how aware were my younger brothers. Eventually he was not mobilized. I have never asked but most likely he was exempt because of family and three young children.

I know other men, though, who were forced to go. My stepdad was one of those ‘unlucky’ ones. He had tried to avoid it but the Soviet army truck drove up to their home and soldiers loaded the “unwilling ones” in. They had to take off their civilian clothes and put on uniforms and travel to Ukraine. He spent 6 months in the worst affected region not so far from the epicenter. Since this clean-up crew was now ‘officially’ in the army, they were guarded by other soldiers to make sure people did not desert. And their ‘protective gear’ was rubber gloves and simple face mask.

My stepdad has already passed away from cancer. Not doubt his health and peace of heart were destroyed by the Chernobyl. Nobody knows the actual number of immediate victims and those who died later. The numbers are big and they vary but it is not about the numbers. What we remember is an overwhelming tragedy, people’s sacrifice and bravery and also terrible injustice.

Therefore I can never place April 26, 1986 in the spring. In my subconscious mind it is a very dark dark time.

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Liquidator pushes a baby in a carriage who was found during the cleanup of the Chernobyl nuclear accident, 1986

Saka, ka esot bijusi jauka pavasara diena. Ko todien darīju? Neatceros. Tā kā 1986. gada 26. aprīlis bija sestdiena, drošvien gāju uz skolu, un pēc tam priecājos par nedēļas nogales brīvdienām. 12 gadu vecumā nav daudz rūpju.

Taču nākamās nedēļas un pat mēnešus atceros kā vienu lielu, melnu mākoni. Atceros, kā pieaugušie sāka runāt par “briesmīgu avāriju, Černobiļu, atomreaktoru, radiāciju, ārkārtas stāvokli, radioaktīvu lietu” un tā tālāk. Atceros tās bailes un uztraukumu, jo bija skaidrs, ka oficiālās valsts ziņas nesaka visu vai pat melo. Tātad patiesība bija daudz briesmīgāka, ja jau slēpj. Cilvēki bija dusmīgi, un reizē jutās bezspēcīgi.

Kāda man pazīstama sieviete no Ukrainas joprojām nevar runāt par to dienu notikumiem bez dusmām un sāpēm. Kaut vai par 1. maija, Darbaļaužu dienas, gājienu Kijevā, kas netika atcelts, lai gan valdība zināja, kas noticis 135 km attālumā. Tūkstošiem cilvēku – bērni, jaunieši, pieaugušie – priecīgā gājienā ar dziesmām un plakātiem, kas pārklāti ar neredzamo radioaktīvo putekļu kārtu.

Vēl atceros, kā tika apspriests radioaktīvais mākonis un indīgais lietus. Toreiz domāju, kāpēc vējam japūš to tieši uz ziemeļiem pāri Latvijai uz Skandināvijas pusi. Kāpēc nevar to aizpūst kaut kur citur. Un kā lai tagad zin, vai var lasīt tās sēnes un ogas mežā. Un kas man tagad līs uz galvas? Visas tās sarunas likās kā murgs vai šausmene. Bērnībā biju redzējusi japāņu multeni par Hirošimu un Nagasaki, kas man neļāva naktīs gulēt.

Bet vislielākās bailes bija par tēti. Ka tikai nepaņem viņu tajā piespiedu mobilizācijas vilnī, jo viņš strādāja kolhoza celtnieku brigādē. Tieši vajadzīgais vecums un vajadzīgā profesija. (Lasīju, ka lielākā daļa avārijas seku likvidētāju bija vecumā no 30 līdz 40 gadiem. Vidēji 34 gadi.) Mamma bija kareivīgi noskaņota… nekad to nepieļaušot. Mēs taču esam trīsbērnu ģimene. Man bija bail. Neatceros, bet drošvien arī tētis bija satraucies. Beigās vinu nepaņēma. Varbūt tiešām to trīs bērnu dēļ.

Bet citiem ‘nepaveicās’. Pēc gadiem dzirdēju patēva stāstus par šo piespiedu mobilizāciju. Armijas auto vienkārši atbrauca uz viņu mājām Līgo vakarā, jo zināja, kur ‘slapstošos’ latviešus tajā vakarā atrast. Iesauktie vīri pat mēģinājuši mukt, bet kur aizskriesi. Atdod civilās drēbes un velc armijas formu. Viņš nostrādāja avārikas seku likvidēšanas zonā 6 mēnešus. Tā kā oficiāli šie strādnieki skaitījās karavīri, tad tika citu karavīru uzmanīti, lai nebēgtu. Esot bijuši gumijas zābaki, gumijas cimdi, sejas maskas… un nekā cita īpašai aizsardzībai.

Mans patēvs jau aizgājis mūžībā. Ar vēzi un veselu slimību sarakstu. Nav šaubu, ka Černobiļa sagandēja gan veselību, gan dvēseles mieru. Viņš nespēja piedot šo netaisnību, un tuviniekiem bija bieži jādzird šie stāsti. Statistika par upuriem ir nepilnīga, bet par skaitļiem es nedomāju. Es domāju par šo briesmīgo nelaimi, par cilvēku pašaizliedzību un drosmi. Domāju arī par tiem, kuri kaut vai ne no brīvas gribas, bet tomēr upurēja savas veselības un pat dzīvības, lai šo indi savāktu. Domāju arī par lielo netaisnību.

Tāpēc man vienmēr liekas, ka tas nenotika pavasarī. Jo manā zemapziņā tas palicis kā drūms, drūms laiks.

 

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)

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”)

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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!

The barricades and my experience of nonviolent resistance

It is January and it is another cold one in Latvia I am not in Riga but I do know what a cold winter day or night feels like. And in 1991 it was a cold January. Still, most people in Latvia (including me) remember it with special warmth because it was also a time of campfires and hot tea and passionate living.

I wish I had the kind of good memory my dad has. He always fills me in with details since some of those events 25 years ago are starting to blur. In January 1991, my beautiful city of Riga was filled with barricades – all around the Old City, around any important government building, around the national TV and Radio stations… The barricades were built with an amazing speed and determination, using anything that could create an obstacle. Huge blocks, tractors, public buses, piles of wood…

We were in the middle of Latvia’s peaceful independence movement. The previous year in 1990, the Latvian government with the overwhelming support of the people had voted to restore the independence of Latvia. It had been occupied by the USSR for many decades but everyone could sense – now is the time for freedom! For many people it felt like ‘now or never’.

People were also afraid the Soviet power will not go without a fight. Nobody knew what to expect. It was a critical time and it was obvious that there will be provocations to restore the control of Moscow. The worst provocations came that month, January of 1991, when the Soviet tanks attacked the main television tower in Vilnius, Lithuania. 14 people died and the news went around the world. As the news reached Latvia, Latvian government and the people reacted quickly and started building the barricades to protect government buildings. Thousands of people gathered in Riga.

I remember watching the news from Vilnius, shocked at seeing a tank run over a young man. Was this really happening? Will this happen in Riga, too? Everyone knew that the people stand no chance against the mighty Soviet army. What do you do when you are so powerless? Nobody had taught us about non-violent resistance. Most had never studied the methods of Gandhi  or Martin Luther King Jr but somehow we all knew what to do. We knew that the barricades are no obstacle for the tanks. We would be a human shield and if the tanks came, then the whole world would see what kind of regime was the USSR.

There were many Western journalists in the Baltic Sates. This was before cell phones, internet and social media but the communication was swift and effective. I asked my dad how did we communicate back then? He replied, “Don’t you remember there were pay-phones everywhere? And people used land lines?”

My mom was the activist in the family… If you ever knew her, you would know what a gentle woman she was but she could get really passionate when it mattered! I don’t think I had ever seen my mom so determined and unafraid. My grandmother told me that in one of the meetings where things got rough with the police and she could get arrested, my grandmother tried to talk her out of it. Telling her to go home because she had three children to raise. My mom had replied that she is not worried because my dad will do a fine job raising us. I doubt if she had asked my dad for his opinion…

So my mom and I went to Riga as soon as we heard that something needed to be done. I don’t remember the details but I do remember that we walked around the streets, talking to other people, watching the campfires being built, people starting to bring out food to those who were out of town. Big tractors appeared on the small streets and the barricades were built. We spent the whole night and next day went home.

Then it was my dad’s turn. The men from our village got organized to ‘protect’ the national television tower. They would stay there day and night, sitting around the fire and trying to keep warm. I visited him once or twice and remember thinking, “This is like the movies. Women visiting the men on the front lines and bringing them food and drinks and news from home.”

Well, it was not a movie (even though it sometimes seems so unreal) and I was just a normal high school student. Guess how much time did I spend studying that year? It helped that the teachers were ‘distracted’ from their responsibilities, too…

And then there is another important detail I remember. The churches! They were open day and night and served as the place of rest, refreshments and, most crucially, the place of prayer. Many people who had never stepped inside a church, were there. Riga has many beautiful old church buildings and they really served their purpose then. Places of peace and hope and faith in the One who is above all this ‘madness’. Peace in the midst of fear and anxiety. Hope and prayer that it will not get violent and that freedom will come peacefully. Trust in God Almighty because there was nobody else to trust.

And our trust and hope was not disappointed…

bk24_barricades_in_riga_boriss_kolesnikovsx

Photo by Boris Kalesnikov

Latviskais variants:

Ir kārtējais aukstais janvāris. Šobrīd neesmu Rīgā, bet varu iedomāties aukstas dienas un naktis. Un 1991. gada janvāris arī bija auksts. Taču mēs to atceramies ar zināmu siltumu, jo domājam par ugunskuriem, karstu tēju un dzīvi ar pilnu krūti.

Žēl, ka man nav tik laba atmiņa kā tētim. Viņs vienmēr atgādina kādas detaļas , bet man šie notikumi pirms 25 gadiem jau sāk zaudēt nianses. Atceros, kā mana mīļā Rīga piepildījās ar barikādēm. Turklāt tas notika tik ātri. Betona bloki, traktori, autobusi, malkas grēdas…

Atceros arī to sajūtu, kas virmoja gaisā – tagad vai nekad. To neziņu, kas būs tālāk.

Mājās skatījāmies ziņas (man liekas, toreiz televizors gandrīz netika izslēgts), un sāka rādīt kadrus no Viļņas. Tur bija kāds jauns puisis, varbūt pat mans vienaudzis, kuru sabrauca tanks. Vai tas tiešām notiek? Vai tas notiks arī Rīgā? Visi taču saprata, ka pret vareno Padomju armiju vienkāršā tauta nevarēs nostāvēt. Ko darīt, kad jūties bezspēcīgs? Neviens mums nebija mācījis par nevardarbīgu pretošanos vai Gandija, vai Martina Lutera Kinga metodēm, bet pēkšņi cilvēki zināja, kas jādara. Zināja, ka barikādes nebūs nekāds šķērslis tankiem. Bet aiz šīm ‘barikādēm’ būs cilvēku vairogs, un ja tanki brauks virsū, tad visa pasaule redzēs, kāda ir PSRS vara un sistēma.

Rīgā bija rietumu žurnālisti. Bet nebija mobilie telefoni, internets vai sociālie mediji. Tomēr ziņas izplatījās ātri un efektīvi. Es prasīju tētim, kā mēs toreiz sazinājāmies. Viņš atbildēja: “Vai tad tu neatceries maksas telefona automātus uz ielām? Un to, ka katram mājās bija telefons?”

Mūsu ģimenē vislielākā aktīviste bija mamma… Tie, kas viņu pazina, zin, ka mana mamma bija ļoti mierīga un maiga, bet viņa varēja kļūt ļoti dedzīga, ja kaut kas likās svarīgs. Nekad nebiju redzējusi mammu tik mērķtiecīgu, apņēmīgu un bezbailīgu. Pat vecmamma (kura ir vēl lielāka aktīviste) stāsta, ka vienā no mītiņiem, kur varēja izcelties kautiņš vai arī policija (toreiz milicija) kļuva draudīga, viņa mēģinājusi atrunāt mammu no iesaistīšanās. Lai ejot mājās, jo tev taču trīs bērni! Mamma esot atbildējusi, ka viņa neuztraucoties. Viņa uzticoties mūsu tētim, ka viņš mūs labi izaudzināšot. Šaubos, vai viņa prasīja tēta domas…

Mēs abas ar mammu braucām uz Rīgu tikko, kā dzirdējām, ka kaut kas ir jādara. Atceros, ka staigājām pa Rīgas centru, runājām ar cilvēkiem. Vērojām, kā rodas pirmie ugunskuri; kā rīdzinieki nes siltu tēju un ēdienu tiem, kas uz ielām. Mazajās ielās iebrauca lieli traktori un mašīnas, un visur barikādējās. Mēs pavadījām to pirmo nakti pilsētas centrā, un nākamajā dienā braucām mājās.

Tad bija tēta kārta. No Ķekavas un no tēta darba vietas tika noorganizēts, ka viņi ‘sargās’ televīzijas torni Zaķusalā. Tā viņi tur pavadīja vairākas dienas un naktis. Arī šēžot pie ugunskuriem. Mēs aizbraucām apciemot (lai gan bija tāda kā neizteikta pavēle, lai sievietes un bērni paliek mājās). Atceros, ka man bija sajūta, it kā es piedalītos kādā filmā. “Lūk, sievietes apciemo savus vīrus un dēlus frontes līnijā… aizved ēdienu un pastāsta, kas notiek mājās.”

Bet tā nebija filma, lai gan reizēm liekas tik nereāla pagātne, un es biju vienkārši viduskolniece. Skaidrs, ka par mācībām es toreiz daudz nedomāju. Izglāba tas, ka arī skolotāji daudz ‘nedomāja’ par saviem pienākumiem…

Un vēl viena ļoti svarīga lieta, ko atceros. Baznīcas! Tās bija atvērtas dienu un nakti. Kā patversmes, kur atpūsties, pagulēt, pasildīties, iedzert kaut ko siltu, un galvenais, aizlūgt par Latviju un mums pašiem. Daudzi, kas nekad nebija kāju spēruši baznīcā, bija tur, un vecie, skaistie Rīgas dievnami vistiešākajā veidā kalpoja savam mērķim. Vietas, kur rast mieru, cerību un ticību Tam, kurš ir augstāks par šo ‘trakumu’. Miers baiļu un uztraukuma atmosfērā. Cerība un lūgšana, ka nesāksies asinsizliešana, un ka brīvība atnāks mierīgā ceļā. Paļāvība uz Dievu Visspēcīgo, jo nav cita, kam uzticēties,

Un mūsu cerība un paļāvība un uzticēšanās nepievīlās…

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”