Friday, June 03, 2016

Why doesn’t people’s suffering translate into freedom?

"My grandmother saw so many changes during her own life" the visitor from Europe said.  The grandmother lived through Hitler's maniacal swallowing up of the Sudetenland and the big war after that, the Soviet tanks rolling in, and the barbed wire fencing and the guard dogs to make sure nobody could leave.  Fortunately, she lived a life long enough to also experience freedom after the fall of the Communist Bloc.

I remember the excitement when the Berlin Wall fell.  To this day, I am amazed at how the experts never saw that coming.  History just happens, more often than not.  The man who was behind that historic collapse, Mikhail Gorbachev, has authored a new book, which provides the context for this NY Times report:
In his twilight years, Mr. Gorbachev has become an isolated figure. Most of his contemporaries are dead. He is just critical enough about the lack of democracy under Mr. Putin that state-run television channels avoid him. His death has been announced more than once.
A once tremendously powerful and feared man is now "an isolated figure."  
Mr. Gorbachev enjoys no immunity from prosecution, and hence like many government critics, feels increasingly uneasy as the Kremlin chips away at civil liberties. He said he feared being declared a “foreign agent,” a revived Stalinist label that basically means “spy,” and that is now being used to shutter dozens of civil society organizations.
“There are quite a few reactionary-minded people in this country who are already declaring me a foreign agent — they think that I am working for someone,” he said. It is quite a statement from a man, who if he had changed nothing, might still be the supreme leader of the Soviet Union, as previous leaders tended to rule for life.
And here in the US we are very close to electing America's Putin as the President!

Svetlana Alexievich, whose Secondhand Time is one of books that I have ordered for this summer's reading, has an interesting observation about Putin:
“In the West, people demonize Putin,” Ms. Alexievich, who turns 68 later this month, said in a recent interview here, speaking Russian through a translator after a conference on her work at the University of Gothenburg. “They do not understand that there is a collective Putin, consisting of some millions of people who do not want to be humiliated by the West, ” she added. “There is a little piece of Putin in everyone.”
Apparently there is a little piece of Putin within quite a few million Americans too :(

Alexievich "has never considered writing fiction."  Why?
Life is much more interesting.
I am sure the European visitor's late grandmother, too, would have agreed with that. 


Ramesh said...

People have a hierarchy of needs - freedom is surely one of them, but safety, order, opportunity, are also equally valid. Everybody has their own hierarchy and not for everybody is freedom at the top of the list. As the world is never perfect, people have to make choices.

The Chinese made their choice of economic well being over political freedom in the aftermath of Tiananmen (incidentally today is the anniversary). In today's China, Tiananmen is simply not relevant and most people, of their own free will, would endorse what happened.

Ditto with Russia. Putin is a thug and a thief. But he brings order to what might otherwise be chaos (remember after Yeltsin). Putin will win a free and fair election hands down. Its not the love of a strongman alone but the need for stability and order

Ditto Egypt. A plausible argument can be made that al Sisi is worse than Mubarak. And yet Egyptians prefer this when they experienced the chaos post the overthrow of Mubarak.

India is different. When Indira Gandhi imposed emergency, the electorate threw her out. There is a desire for strong governance, but not at the cause of the cacophonic freedom that Indians love. That may change if we face a Middle East style crisis, but for now, that's the mood.

In your country, because order, safety, opportunity (at least relative to the world) and freedom are considered a given, people are flirting with the "little piece of Putin". When (If) they taste it, they will quickly revert back to tradition .

Sriram Khé said...

Your comments are one depressing statement after another :(
"not for everybody is freedom at the top of the list"
"Tiananmen is simply not relevant and most people, of their own free will, would endorse what happened."
"Putin will win a free and fair election hands down."

I understand that you are being a realist in those--it is not that you are necessarily endorsing those positions. It is that reality that I find to be so discouraging. And then to think that there are millions here in the US who would gladly vote into power a maniac is even more depressing.