It worked and still works the same…
It worked and still works the same…
Are not available
To the dreamers,
To the singers.
In some lands
And cold steel
But the dream
Will come back,
And the song
Russia: “Speak out for Freedom” – show of solidarity against repression
Amnesty International has launched a Week of Action, from 6 to 12 October 2014, to show solidarity with independent voices in Russia who speak out against the pernicious creep of repression in the country.
To mark the start of the Week of Action Amnesty International is publishing a new briefing, Violation of the right to freedom of expression, association and assembly in Russia, which focuses on the following areas of concern:
The week of action coincides with the 8th anniversary of the murder of Russian investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, one of the all-time staunchest critics of the Kremlin and once a prominent free voice of the Russian media.
( Russia, 1990s )
Photo by Dimych
We stopped for lunch not far from Balagoe – a small township located half way from St Petersburg to Moscow.
“Take care. There are lots of Gipsies living in this area. Don’t stare at them, otherwise they might think that you are ‘challenging’ them. They are very hot-blooded and quick to grab their knives and axes. A young lad from St. Petersburg was killed here last year,” – said Ivan, unpacking the bag with our lunch.
“Well, this is a long story. Gypsy lads are not allowed to touch Gipsy girls until they marry them. They still have a tradition of hanging out bloodstained sheets after the first night, you see. And gipsy girls are not allowed to bare their bodies in public, even arms and legs. Only their faces can be seen. However before Gipsy lads settle with Gipsy girls they like having fun with local Russian girls, who are perceived as easily accessible. Look at the way Russian girls are dressed, exposing everything they possibly can. They like getting male attention, don’t they? Unfortunately they are playing with fire. As the result, from time to time Gipsy lads get into troubles with local Russian guys.”
“Gosh, sounds more like a story about wild beasts rather than human beings. And it is only 300 kilometers from St. Petersburg!!!”
Ivan was just about to take the last sandwich from the bag, when I quickly grabbed it and took a big bite.
“Well, we were much wilder ‘beasts’ in the past too. A few generations ago the bride’s virginity was a matter of communal importance in Russia and, until it had been confirmed, either by the finger of the matchmaker or by the presence of bloodstains on the sheets, the honour of her household would remain in doubt.” He gave me a wink.
“Yuck! This fact has never been mentioned in our school textbooks! I bet cows were treated nicer in those days than girls. At least, cows did not have fingers poked into their private parts.”
“And at the wedding feast guests sometimes acted as witnesses to the bride’s deflowering” – continued Ivan.
“What?!” – a peace of sandwich stuck in my mouth. “Right, I see. You are telling me all of this only because you want to get hold of this sandwich, don’t you? Don’t even hope – no matter what our ancestors did in the past, I am going to finish this sandwich.” I bravely took another bite and inspected my shabby jeans and short-sleeved top.
“Would you mind to take your shirt off?”
“Come on, take it off. Believe me, Gipsy lads won’t get into fight with me over your beautiful arms,” I put Ivan’s shirt on.
“Can I borrow your cap as well?”
“Go for it.”
I tucked my long hair under Ivan’s cap.
“Can I have a go at the steering wheel now?”
“Are you sure?” Ivan did not seem to trust my driving skills.
“Not, but just want to get a taste of it. Please.”
“All right. Just a little bit.”
We packed our bags and hopped onto Ivan’s moped. We did not get far, when suddenly the front wheel skidded and we both flew into the air.
“Ouch”, – something hot touched my leg.
“How are you?” – asked Ivan.
“Fine,” – I slowly got up off the ground, checking my bruised body.
“Look what you’ve done?” – Ivan was almost crying, inspecting his moped. I managed to pull out every single wire on it.
“And what on earth happened to you? Why did you drive it right into this heap of sand in the middle of the road?”
“I could not see it.”
“Why could not you see it?”
“Because I did not have my glasses on?”
“Where are your glasses then?”
“In my bag?”
“Why are they in your bag?”
“They did not look good with my new outfit.”
“What?” – Ivan gasped in disbelief.
“They did not look good with that cap.” …
( Photo by Sfa )
“People speak sometimes about the “bestial” cruelty of man, but that is terribly unjust and offensive to beasts, no animal could ever be so cruel as a man, so artfully, so artistically cruel.”
* * *
A few days ago, two Indian girls were gang-raped and murdered after doing what half a billion women and girls are forced to do every day – go outdoors to try to find somewhere discreet to go to the toilet. Those two cousins were just 14 and 16 years old.
“The father, a 45-year-old agricultural laborer from a low-ranking caste, said in a telephone interview that the two girls were last seen alive on Tuesday evening in a mango orchard, in the company of a man named Pappu Yadav. (The man’s surname is the same as his caste.)
The father said a relative saw the girls with Mr. Yadav and two of Mr. Yadav’s brothers and that, for reasons he did not explain, the relative tried to intervene between Mr. Yadav and the girls. One of the Yadav brothers pulled out a pistol “and put it to the head of my cousin-brother,” the father said, using a common term in India for a close relative. “He got scared and ran away.”
When he heard what had happened, the father said, he went to the local police station and asked that Mr. Yadav’s house be searched. But the police officers, who are members of the Yadav caste, “took the side of the culprits,” the father said.”
The girls were members of the Dalit community, India’s lowest caste once known as the “Untouchables”.
* * *
One old nobleman, along with a band of spongers, moved to his countryside estate and took to hunting with hounds. One day, a peasant boy (the nobleman had three thousand souls there) accidentally hit a hound from the landlord’s kennels in the leg with a stone. When he saw that his Nalet was limping, the landlord became incensed and asked, “Who injured the dog?”
The kennel attendants had to reveal the little boy’s identity. They produced the boy. He confessed.
In the morning, the landlord ordered preparations for the hunt in full complement. They went to the field and took their places near the forest, the hounds were let out, and the borzois were held on leads. There they brought the boy. The landlord ordered that the little boy be stripped of his clothes and set loose in the field to run. Then they let out the dogs from all the packs to chase him—literally to hunt him.
The borzois approached the little boy, sniffed at him, but did not touch him… His mother got there in time; she had run through the forest. She clasped her child in her arms. They dragged her back to the village and again set the dogs loose until the little boy was torn to pieces. The mother went insane and died within three days.
However don’t put all the blame on men. As history shows, women in power are as cruel as men. Take as an example Darya Nikolayevna Saltykova, commonly known as Saltichikha who made her infamous mark with the atrocious killings of her serfs. She enjoyed torturing and mutilating her victims. Saltichikha was the epitome of boyar abuse of serfs in pre-reformation Russia. She pleaded guilty to the murder of at least 138 serfs at her estate, and the torture of many more. The name Saltychikha became a synonym for bestial treatment of the peasants.
I wonder sometimes where such cruelty originates. Is there a template for cruelty laid down in the human brain? Is it something that is unique to our species? Why do human beings find pleasure in deliberately inflicting pain on other living things? And what can we do to stop it because…
“Not much we can do about that,” you might say.
I think we can. The stories presented in this post have one common theme: these cases are the product of certain beliefs (or memes) held in the society. The stories from Russia happened at the time, when surfs were not perceived as human beings – they were perceived as property and therefore their owners believed that they could do anything with them, including torturing and killing them. Russian writers and artists were the first to object that deeply ingrained belief. Book after book, painting after painting, they slowly changed that ‘meme’ and eventually serfdom, like slavery, has been abolished.
This clearly demonstrates that even the most deeply ingrained memes and beliefs can be changed. We just need to keep talking about such cases and spread positive beliefs to combat mind viruses and memes that cause cruelty and violence.
Don’t close your eyes to ‘Hell on Earth‘. As Martin Luther King once said, “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”
Have you noticed how often people are blaming ‘those who are in charge’, ‘the bigwigs’, ‘the CEOs’, ‘the fat cats’ for all sorts of things? I had a few such comments on my blog in recent months, which made me think a bit more about that. Are all ‘bigwigs’ and ‘fat cats’ so bad?
Stereotyping (i.e. putting people into groups and categories) is based on a normal cognitive process: the tendency to group things together. In doing so we tend to exaggerate:
I never trusted faceless stereotypes and generalisations when people get assigned to a particular group on the basis of one characteristic or one of their identities. The group of ‘the bigwigs’, ‘the CEOs’, ‘the fat cats’ might in fact include very different people with varied life experiences, values, beliefs and views. Take, as an example, Sir Angus Tait, the founder of Tait Communications and The Tait Foundation that donated millions of dollars over the years to a variety of causes. As Michael Chick, Tait’s former CEO, said: “Angus was an immensely determined yet compassionate man, a great innovator and mentor for so many.” He might have been the ‘bigwig’ in his company but a truly admirable one.
The same in the past. Among wealthy people from the noble class there were some who cared about others and were trying very hard to push for changes in the society. In Russian history, there were Decembrists – noblemen united in an attempt to release their motherland from the chains of autocratic oppression, that was keeping Russia in poverty. There were hundreds of them, inspired by the constitutional governments of Western Europe. Members of the aristocracy, they were the first to rebel and attempt to overthrow the absolutist regime of the Tsar. However their uprising was a failure. They were condemned as criminals of the state. Five of them hanged, others incarcerated. More than a hundred sent into exile, sentenced to thirty years of hard labor in the mines of Siberia.
Decembrists’ wives followed their husbands into exile, leaving everything behind: their families, their children, their possessions, their lifestyle. One of these women – Maria Volkonskaya, the quintessence of class, a princess – had a newborn son. All she wanted to take with her was her little baby – the Tsar did not allow her even that. They were never allowed to return…
If only the Decembrists won on that cold winter day and changed the course of Russian history – then, may be, there would have been no revolution, no civil war, no Stalin, no loss of millions of lives, no floods of blood, no tears and pain… 😦
‘The bigwigs’, ‘the fat cats’ – let’s try to see real people behind all these stereotypes. Some of them might be very bad, but a few might make us pleasantly surprised. 😉
“The paradox of our time in history is that we have
taller buildings but shorter tempers,
wider Freeways, but narrower viewpoints.
We spend more, but have less,
we buy more, but enjoy less.
We have bigger houses and smaller families,
more conveniences, but less time.
We have more degrees but less sense,
more knowledge, but less judgment,
more experts, yet more problems,
more medicine, but less wellness…
We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values.
We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often.
We’ve learned how to make a living, but not a life.
We’ve added years to life not life to years.
We’ve been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbor.
We conquered outer space but not inner space.
We’ve done larger things, but not better things.
We’ve cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul.
We’ve conquered the atom, but not our prejudice.
We write more, but learn less.
We plan more, but accomplish less.
We’ve learned to rush, but not to wait.
These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion,
big men and small character,
steep profits and shallow relationships…
Remember, to spend some time with your loved ones, because they are not going to be around forever. Remember, say a kind word to someone who looks up to you in awe, because that little person soon will grow up and leave your side.
Remember, to give a warm hug to the one next to you, because that is the only treasure you can give with your heart and it doesn’t cost a cent.
Remember, to say, “I love you” to your partner and your loved ones, but most of all mean it. A kiss and an embrace will mend hurt when it comes from deep inside of you.
Remember to hold hands and cherish the moment for someday that person might not be there again. Give time to love, give time to speak! And give time to share the precious thoughts in your mind.”