Hong Kong stands courageous and defiant

After visiting Hong Kong, you never forget this unique, vibrant and beautiful island. I find this city, which has the most skyscrapers in the world, simply breathtaking. This is especially true when viewing the city from the Sky Terrace on the top of the mountain overlooking Victoria Bay or capturing the skyline at night.

Still, Hong Kong is much more than one of the financial business centers of the world. Last week it made the headlines as the center of political activism with large protests against a controversial law that would allow Hong Kong citizens to be extradited to mainland China. I want to join the Hong Kong people in the hope that the world will take notice. Not just take notice as in 3 min news clips but speak up for the democracy and freedom that is threatened in this part of Asia.

Hong Kong’s political future is clearly at stake. “One country, two systems” is a constitutional principle which means that there is one China but certain regions, for example, Hong Kong, have its own governmental system, legal, economic and financial affairs. When Britain transferred Hong Kong to China in 1997, the Sino-British Joint Declaration signed in 1984 guaranteed these rights to Hong Kong for the next 50 years. How Hong Kong will be governed after 2047 is an open question – reintegrate with mainland China or stay under separate administration… Nobody knows what that future looks like.

It is very clear that China under the leadership/rule of Xi Jinping is becoming more and more authoritarian. Surveillance of its people like no place else; a social credit system to be fully implemented by 2020 which will monitor the behavior of all citizens  and rank them based on the “social credit“; a continued oppression and re-education of Uighur Muslim minority in Xinjiang province which human rights groups describe as the largest mass incarceration in the 21st century; increased religious persecution, closing of Christian churches and jailing pastors who do not submit to the government control.

These are only few of the obvious abuses of universal human rights in the name of order and control of this vast country with large population and turbulent past. I would dare to say that in China the line between authoritarian and totalitarian rule is very fine.  The age-old idea of one strong hand (party), one ideology, one strong man (supreme leader, king, emperor) is steadily enforced and Hong Kong feels increasingly targeted and pulled by force into this authoritarian orbit.

I don’t understand all geopolitics and I have no idea what goes on behind closed doors. Nevertheless I can’t shake the feeling that the democratic nations are either completely consumed with their own domestic problems or care much less about using the “soft power” of diplomacy to support democratic initiatives around the world. Recently I was discussing these issues with a Hong Kong friend. I made a remark how Western governments, including in my home country of Latvia, are suspiciously quiet on these obvious human rights abuses and erosion of any signs of democracy in China while focusing on trade wars and economics. My friend replied: ” The only place to stand up to China is Hong Kong!”

After seeing the photos of 2 million people marching on the streets of Hong Kong last Sunday, I have to agree with her. Hong Kong may be afraid about its Chinese future but people are not willing to accept it without strong resistance and letting their common voice be heard around the world. At the forefront of this political activism are young people who are no longer passive about their future prospects.

Another friend of mine who grew up in China but few years ago moved to Latvia, told me that he does not think the Westerner societies care about Chinese people (he meant the effects of authoritarianism). Those were sad words to hear and, I am afraid, mostly true. Still, I hope that this time Hong Kong people will not feel completely on their own.

 

 

 

 

How the whole world “elects” the US president

From my little corner of our planet in Latvia, it seems like the whole world just “voted” for who should become the next president of the United States. My friends in many countries have countless postings on Facebook. Every news channel, talk show and every conversation at one point or another brings up this topic. At the moment Donald Trump is the most talked about person in the world. He is in our heads.

I went to my theology class and guess what??? We discussed the election results. Many of my friends in  Latvia feel sad and shocked, others are amused and say “it will be interesting” and others are happy because they think the Americans chose wisely. The same mixed emotions and opinions as in the USA (overwhelming majority of Latvian and, I will say, European young people are upset, though)

This is something quite hard to explain to some of my American friends who have not traveled outside the US. The whole world watches what happens in this most powerful country and the whole world cares. Literally.

Personally I think it is not normal that the choice of 120 million (people who just voted) which is less than 2% of the world’s population, has such an overwhelming impact on the rest. I am not an American citizen, my husband is and I see and feel this reality every election year. But I have never seen such a global interest and concern and anxiety as this time. So many hopes and fears and expectations invested in one person and one country.

I don’t know how it makes my American friends feel. This is such a huge responsibility and, like I said, not just for domestic affairs but for the whole global community. For better or for worse, this is how it is and will be for some time.

We live in such a fast paced world. Things are changing and so are we. The results of many recent elections and referendums, including Brexit, show that the young people think more globally and are not as afraid of these changes. I may be proven wrong but I think they feel more connected to the rest of the world. Whether it is through the internet and global social media or through traveling around the world in a more engaging way. If I think of all the volunteers from NGO’s, religious organizations and aid groups and how young they are, I can see why they care so deeply about the global challenges – environment, human trafficking, inequality or better term “injustice”, marginalized people groups and so on.

One of my Latvian friends said: “I think the whole Erasmus program for student exchange in Europe is meant for stopping wars and teaching people how to live as good neighbors with each other”. That is why so many young people in the UK voted to stay in the European Union. When you actually become friends with people from other nations, they are not just another news story. Estonia, Spain, Russia or Iraq or Nigeria or Thailand becomes personal. Their challenges become something you care about and  you don’t want to withdraw from them.

There are great challenges around the world right now. No need to list them. For example, for people in the Baltics every word the US president says about NATO is of utmost importance. So, we all know what a difficult job the next president of the United States has and how much is at stake domestically and globally. No doubt we need to pray for him and his team of advisors because without wise council and wise decisions this is mission impossible. Of course, the US has an amazing democratic system where all the power is not in the hands of one person or his clique (versus to the current regime in Russia) and it is for a good reason.

Still, these elections were run in a way that made it look like all the hope is in one person who will fix everything. This is trust misplaced.

But there is something else about these elections and other deeply polarizing campaigns which grieves me immensely. It is the irresponsibility and ignorance of politicians and leaders and media and even the church (yes, we need to point the finger at ourselves) to drive the wedges between “Us” and “Them”, add “fuel to the fire”, manipulate, tell half-truths or even lies and then the next day tell people “Now we need to unite and respect each other”

Yes, we need to unite. Yes, we need to respect the people who think differently or have a different vision for our nation. Yes, we need to listen. Yes, we need to heal our divisions and bridge the gap. Yes, we need to support our government and help them to succeed.

But what about the horrible words and attitudes and actions that were modeled for so many months that hurt so many people and drove the wedges even deeper? “Out of the fullness of heart the mouth speaks”. Who will take responsibility for this? Who will be humble enough to say “I am sorry for being a part of the problem”? Who will say that this is not right and this is not American?

So, the whole world will continue watching and discussing and learning from the US…

us-elections-2016

(Both photos taken from the internet)

Latvian:

Pat mūsu mazajā zemeslodes stūrītī Latvijā rodas sajūta, ka visa pasaule “piedalījās” ASV prezidenta vēlēšanās. Vērojot draugu ierakstus Feisbukā dažādās pasaules malās, šobrīd nav karstākas tēmas. Katrā ziņu kanālā, aktuālo tēmu raidījumā, arī lielākajā daļā ikdienas sarunu tiek pieminēts Donalds Tramps. Lūgts vai nelūgts – viņš ir ienācis visos prātos, un tik ātri nekur neaizies.

Šobrīd studēju teoloģiju, un ko mēs šonedēļ pārrunājām? Protams, ka ASV jaunievēlēto prezidentu. Daudzi Latvijā ir galīgi satriekti, daži pat tuvu asarām; citi groza galvu un saka, ka “būs interesanti, kas tur tagad Amerikā notiks”, bet ir arī daudzi, kas priecājas gan par ASV demokrātijas izturību, gan par vēlētāju izvēli. Vieniem tādas pašas kardināli pretējas domas un sajūtas, citiem neitrāli viedokļi. Gluži kā šobrīd ASV (man gan liekas, ka vairākums jauniešu Latvijā un Eiropā uztver Donalda Trampa ievēlēšanu ļoti negatīvi, bet par to vēlāk).

Man ir ļoti grūti izskaidrot to saviem amerikāņu draugiem, kuri nav daudz ceļojuši ārpus savas valsts robežām. Visa pasaule skatās, kas notiek šajā visspēcīgākajā valstī, un lielākajai daļai ir viedoklis par to, kam tur vajadzētu notikt. Pasaulei nav vienaldzīga ASV politika. Burtiskā nozīmē.

Personīgi man tas neliekas normāli. 120 miljoni (apmēram tik daudz cilvēku tikko nobalsoja) ir mazāk kā 2% no visas pasaules iedzīvotājiem, bet viņu izvēle tik spēcīgi ietekmē visus pārējos. Neesmu ASV pilsone, bet mans vīrs ir, un katrā vēlēšanu kampaņā es redzu un jūtu šo globālo realitāti. Bet neatceros neko līdzīgu šim gadam. Tik milzīgu globālo interesi un uztraukumu piedzīvoju pirmo reizi. Tik daudzas cerības, bailes un gaidas liktas uz vienu cilvēku un vienu valsti.

Nezinu, kā amerikānim par to visu justies. Tā ir ārkārtīga atbildība, ne tikai attiecībā uz ASV iekšzemes lietām, bet uz ārpolitiku un attiecībām ar pārējiem. Gribam vai negribam, tā tas ir, un arī tuvākajā laikā nemainīsies.

Mēs dzīvojam pasaulē, kur viss notiek ātrāk un ātrāk. Lietas mainās, un mēs paši arī. Pēdējā laika vēlēšanu un referendumu, piemēram, Brexit rezultāti atklāj, ka jaunatne domā daudz globālāk, un tik ļoti nebaidās no šīm straujajām izmaiņām. Varbūt kāds pierādīs pretējo, bet man liekas, ka jaunieši daudz labāk izjūt šo globālo saiti. Varbūt dēļ interneta, vai sociālajiem tīkliem, vai ceļošanas apkārt pasaulei daudz iesaistošākā veidā. Domājot par visiem sev pazīstamajiem brīvprātīgajiem gan starptaustiskās nevalstiskās, gan starpkonfesionālās reliģiskās organizācijās, kur lielākā daļa ir gados jauni cilvēki, es saprotu, kāpēc viņi jūtas daudz tuvāk un daudz ciešāk sasaistīti ar visu pasauli. Viņiem rūp globālās problēmas, piemēram, vides aizsardzība jeb cīņa ar cilvēktirdzniecību un mūsdienu verdzību.

Pirms dažiem gadiem viena mana paziņa teica: “Man liekas, ka visa Erasmus studentu apmaiņa ir domāta tam, lai Eiropā nebūtu karu un lai mēs labāk iepazītos un tuvinātos viens otram.” Arī Brexit referendumā lielākā daļa jauniešu nobalsoja par palikšanu Eiropas Savienībā. Viņi jūtas daudz piederīgāki pārējam Eiropas kontinentam. Kad tev ir draugi citās valstīs, tie vairs nav tikai ziņu virsraksti. Tu vairs neesi vienaldzīgs.

Pat vienaldzīgajam skaidrs, ka šobrīd globālo izaicinājumu ir daudz. Kaut vai no Baltijas valstu perspektīvas raugoties, NATO vienotība un rīcībspēja ir akūti svarīgas. Tā kā mēs varam iedomāties, cik grūts darbs gaida nākamo ASV prezidentu, un cik nozīmīgi būs viņa lēmumi gan iekšzemē, gan ārlietās. Protams, ka vajag aizlūgt par viņu un par viņa padomdevēju komandu, jo bez gudra padoma un gudriem lēmumiem tā būs neiespējamā misija. Un vēl var iedrošināties no tā, ka ASV ir tik apbrīnojami attīstīta un norūdīta demokrātiska sistēma, kur visa vara nav viena cilvēka vai vienas kliķes rokās (atšķirībā no patreizējā režīma Krievijā).

Taču šīs vēlēšanas tika pagrieztas tā, it kā visas cerības jāliek uz vienu cilvēku, kurš visu salabos un izglābs. Tāda cerība liks vilties.

Bet pāri visam ir kaut kas tikko notikušajās vēlēšanās un sabiedrību pamatīgi sašķēlušajā kampaņā, kas man liek tiešām dziļi sērot. Tā ir ASV politiķu, ievērojamu personu, masu mediju un arī baznīcu (jā, mums jārāda pirksts arī uz sevi) bezatbildība, tuvredzība un liekulība, veicinot šo šķelšanos starp “mums” un “citiem”, piemetot “malku ugunij”, manipulējot, stāstot puspatiesības vai pat melus, lai nākamajā dienā pēc vēlēšanām teiktu, ka “tagad visiem jābūt vienotiem un jāciena vienam otru”.

Jā, cilvēkiem un nācijai ir jāvienojas. Jā, ir jāciena citādi domājošie un arī tie, kuri vēlas citādu virzienu valsts politikai. Jā, ir nepieciešams ieklausīties pretējos viedokļos. Jā, ir jādziedina sāpinājumi un jābūvē attiecību tilti. Jā, ir jāatbalsta un jālūdz par valsts vadītāju.

Bet ko darīt ar visiem tiem briesmīgajiem vārdiem, kas tika pateikti par imigrantiem, citu rasu un reliģiju pārstāvjiem, sievietēm, cilvēkiem ar kustību traucējumiem? Ko darīt ar to briesmīgo un uzputīgo uzvedību un attieksmi, kas tika demonstrēta vairāk kā gada garumā? Ko darīt ar to slikto piemēru, kas tika rādīts visiem, ieskaitot bērnus un jauniešus, kuriem jāmācās vērtības (skat, tikumība)? Kurš uzņemsies atbildību par to visu? Kurš būs tik pazemīgs, lai iesāktu ar atvainošanos un pateiktu, ka “man patiešām žēl, ka es biju daļa no šī milzīgās problēmas”? Kurš no uzvarētājiem pateiks, ka tās nav amerikāņu vērtības?

Un tikmēr pasaule turpinās skatīties, pārrunāt un mācīties no ASV…