THE PEDAGOGY OF SUFFERING AND THE LESSON OF FREEDOM
On 9 February 1945 a young captain of the Red Army artillery is arrested following the interception of his conversations with a friend and sentenced to eight years in prison for "disrespectful remarks on comrade Stalin”. It was the case of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who in prison will discover his great literary talent that would make him one of the greatest writers of the 21st century. Through the huge force of persuasion that literature possesses, the Soviet gulag drama will be known by the whole world. However, the above mentioned event represents but a tiny piece in a diabolic mechanism, in which the communist dictatorship has replaced the fundamentals of civilization by ideological surrogates, in a tenacious attempt to transform the history of half a century into a tragic ordeal for the entire humanity. On the other hand, that event shows that the so-called unfreeze of Stalin’s repressions that took place during the war had come to an end before it was really over. The criminal actions that had already made millions of innocent victims in the USSR would start again, with even greater fury. This time, they would cover a much wider space, also including Central and South Eastern Europe.
The atrocities of the two world wars during in the first half of the 20th century were not sufficient enough to understand that the western civilization cannot be strengthened only by the assertion of a certain cultural superiority or by maintaining a permanent state of conflict.
At the end of the Second World War, the United Nations General Assembly adopted and signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the first document with universal vocation, meant to defend the real values of humanity. The large number of agreements signed by different countries seemed to indicate a stabilization of society and of its rights after the chaos caused by the two World Wars and the ideologies they were based on. Russia, Ukraine, Poland and Yugoslavia were among the United Nation founders. Romania, like other countries under the Soviet influence, would also join them. Only few would have suspected that this document and its principles would be brutally violated in the communist countries. But what caused such an attitude?
The answer lies in the contrast between the surface politics of those states and the new communist ideology that they had adopted. The human person has been replaced by an un-individualized one whose existence is entirely dependent on their affiliation to a group. Any counter-reaction to the group principles attenuates up to dissolving their identity and exiles them to the periphery of society. The utopia of equal rights, the elimination of a constructive competition, the removal of the right to freedom of speech have led to the emergence of an amorphous form, which claimed itself society; here ideology replaces feeling, the freedom of speech is transformed into a mere slogan, religion is replaced by the communist one-party creed and more or less concealed forms of terror are substituted for freedom. All these transformations have resulted in a new face of Eastern Europe, furrowed by the pain of millions of people. The result: the establishment of communism in Eastern Europe by violent means and by the bloody repression of anti-communist resistance. The elimination of real or potential opponents was achieved by incarcerating them in centres for torture-based re-education prisons with extermination regime, forced labour camps, political assassinations, summary executions, mass deportations. Final count: millions of deaths, tens of millions of ruined human lives .
Beyond the Iron Curtain, the countries spared from the red scourge could do nothing but watch, most of the time helplessly, at the convulsions of the countries where communism had become a state of fact. The only way to help them seemed to acknowledge the human rights to all those for whom the only reality was that enforced by the dictatorial communist regimes. Nowhere else in the world did the Declaration of the Human Rights hold such influence and power as in the former communist countries. It is the lever that led to the dissolution of this system in the Eastern Europe countries. Where did this influence come from? From the fact that the Declaration’s principles represent the fundamentals of human existence, regardless of race, religion or political affiliation. Their "politics" promotes the natural way of life in which each person is unique by what they do, think or feel. When the communist oppressions, censorship and terror seemed to ensure a peaceful future for this system, the suffering it had caused turned into a true pedagogy of freedom, thus forming strong characters, able to dissolve this state of fact.
On August 1st, 1975, thirty-three heads of state and governments from European countries along with leaders of the United States and Canada signed the final act of the Helsinki Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe. It ratified the inviolability of the borders, as they had been established at the end of the World War II, but it also contained a so called "third basket", regarding the free circulation of people and ideas. The Helsinki Act was considered by the leaders of the USSR and other communist states in Eastern Europe a great victory that consecrated the new borders of the Soviet empire. The democratic intellectuals seized the chance they are offered: in August 1976, the KOR is created in Poland, that is the defence committee of those persecuted by the communist regime. In Czechoslovakia in January 1977, 238 persons signed Charter 77, which required the application of the basket 3 in the Helsinki Accord. In 1978, also in the Czech Republic VOWS is founded, that is the defence committee of those who subjected to unjust suffering. In 1978 reflection circles centred round writers and philosophers, scientists or dissident artists are initiated in Hungary, in the Baltic countries as well as in Russia.
The fall of communism was, above all, an ideological collapse, that had prepared the political fall of the dictatorial regimes within most of the former Soviet bloc countries. In this context, culture played a fundamental role. At the same time with the official jargon, an „underground” discourse appeared, aiming to denounce imposture and mendacity, as well as to reject those which, as the well-known anticommunist dissident Doina Cornea said, "have ceased to think." For the Soviet empire, over-armed for a "cold" or "warm" war, the peril did not come from the West, with which it was dealing in a successful manner. The peril did not come from the "American missiles”. It came from their own countries’ intellectuals, despised by the "men of the system". "Who is that musician?" Gorbachev asked when a professor from the University of Vilnius, Vitautas Landbergis, dared to proclaim Lithuania’s independence on behalf of the Sajudis civic movement in defiance of the KGB troops. The peril came through the democratic intellectuals "speech" and through their "writing", illegally spread by rudimentary means.
In 1999 I awarded the Presidential Gold Medal “A decade since the fall of communism in Central and South Eastern Europe” to the former president of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev. I added him to such recipients as Walesa, Havel, and Pope Joan Paul II, for the role his „Glasnost” politics have had for the reawakening of the oppressed nations within the USSR. Mikhail Gorbachev's attempt to reform communism had lamentably failed, by the end of the 80s,confirming the certitude that many intellectuals from the former Soviet bloc had from the beginning, that the communist system cannot be reformed, but only done away with.
The effects of the democratic intellectuals’ humanistic discourse did not take long to materialize. Movements like the "Polish Summer” or the “Prague Spring" prepared the ultimate fall of the communist regimes during the early 90s. An ideology where human rights are almost non-existent cannot last forever. The students’ riots in Poland in the spring of 1968, or the Prague Spring showned that young people cannot stand the communist lies. Echoes of these movements were felt in Romania, too, through the miners’ riots in the Jiu Valley in 1977, or that of the workers in Brasov in 1987. Suffering, long used as a terrible instrument for control and oppression, became the gateway to freedom. When, in 1989, millions of workers marched through this gateway the communist dictatorships that had been claiming to rule on their behalf suddenly collapsed through a peaceful revolution. Only in Romania, the communism regime set up through murder and violence was ended through murder and vioelence: 1,200 dead persons, 3,500 seriously injured and thousands of tortured people paid the price for freedom in Timisoara and Bucharest.
When looking into these events almost twenty years after thecollapse of the Soviet bloc they do confirm that asserting human rights is synonymous with the expression of an authentic human identity. Not taking them into consideration means the inevitable return to a condition that the entire Eastern Europe tries to forget. The pedagogy of the past suffering has undoubtedly achieved its target, but in the new context of accession to the European Union, it should teach the lesson of freedom and openness to the authentic values of humanity.
For the young generation, freed from the communist constraints, their parents’ torments might seem a topic related rather to a past tributary to suffering and lack of freedom, than to a present characterised by another type of political, economic and social crisis . However, those who still bear the live memory of that epoch are the main originators of a new attitude that tries to tackle the human rights issue from a contemporary perspective. The horrors of the bygone epoch have left their marks upon the collective mentalities within the ex-communist area. Their new approached is characterized by balance, well-tempered realism, seeking to avoid the reiteration of such a deviation. The millions of dead people in the communist camps may seem for some of our contemporaries mere statistics, but the moral effect remains overwhelming. The contemporary society in the former communist countries refuses to accept any totalitarian approach, regardless of how it is packaged.
Human rights are perceived today in the new key of mutual understanding and acceptance, without excluding the sad memory of communist times. The intransigency against any attempt at discrimination, against freedom of speech, against any anti-democratic attempt at leadership, the condemnation of the ultra-nationalist political discourse and the actual fight against terrorism, all this is nothing but the sequel of this new way of understanding the reality. Briefly, the human person has regained got back its rights, occupying the central place from where it had been dislocated through the communist ideology. Beyond this optimistic image of the post-communist society, we should not overlook the fact that the perception upon the ideal of freedom , achieved through so much and hard suffering can also be distorted: the excessive idealization may transfer the fundamentals of freedom such as they appear in the Declaration of human rights to utopian spheres. Ignoring this ideal and particularly the pedagogy of suffering may cause an irreparable break between the values of the past and the desire of the present to assert itself; making it formal can move the interest and poles of action towards an area characterized by pseudo-values, falseness and imposture. For each of the former Communist bloc countries understanding this lesson of authentical freedom represents the great stake of shaping their own identity within the new United Europe. Without ignoring the past, we should not let overlook the fact that this is rather a guide, than a goal which we must achieve. It is not viable to hold on to a condition that is no longer actual , just as it is equally wrong to adopt an attitude totally independent of the great lessons of history.
What can we do to avoid such situations? It is enough to look carefully at the history woven around the ideal of freedom, as it is formulated in the Declaration of Human Rights. Each country and each people have brought their contribution to conceiving it and, ultimately, it is this story that makes the document have a universal, perennial vocation. It is not text itself, but the idea conveyed that motivated the action of tens of nations to defend liberty.
The transition in Eastern Europe has not bee a the only transition during the last twenty years. The whole world passes in fact through a transition. The strategic alliances have formed fragile constellations. The diplomatic priorities are changing in the light of an ever-moving geopolitical configuration. The shifts of this ending millennium do not exclude any area of life: the forms and the substance of knowledge are rapidly evolving, the technological revolution effects become more and more tangible, and the sphere of telecommunications practically spans the entire planet. Economic practices and financial instruments evolve under the impulse of a fast dynamic and the fluctuations on the capital markets are triggered by an almost unpredictable logic. At the same time, traditional models are overshadowed by unusual behaviour and more and more often we have to respond to bioethical dilemmas inconceivable a few decades ago.
Our present world faces a series of paradoxes: underdevelopment does not exclude arming, democracy does not eradicate corruption, and market economy fails to prevent ecological disasters and unemployment. 50 years after it was adopted, the Universal Declaration of the Human Rights is systematically defied, either on ideological pretexts, or under the endemic burden of poverty.
It would be inappropriate to leave out of this short analysis what might be called the globalization of vices. Organized crime, traffic of drugs, weapons, radioactive substances or human organs, child prostitution, paedophilia, underground economy, tax dodging and forced emigration are the most striking, but not the only aspects of world-wide ills that governments, law forces or humanitarian organisations have to do battle against, often admitting their inefficiency.
The past teaches us that no civilization or social structure in the history has just vanished, like the mythical Atlantis. The source of the above mentioned disorders belongs more to time rather than to space. On a smaller and smaller planet, deeply heterogeneous collective periods confront each other. The West has stepped into the so-called post-modern and post-industrial age. The Eastern Europe countries cross post-communist times, meant to provide their full evolution into modernity. On the other hand, many societies of our contemporary world rely upon a pre-modern mentality.
Politics and economy have succeeded in organizing the planet space, but not also its time. Through agreements, governments can bring together geographically far distant countries. In their turn, the world economy players can build the infrastructure necessary to ensure any type of connection between human communities. Physical distances thus become very relative; however, this is not the case when talking about the time perception gaps. These gaps generate contradictory horizons of expectations. Western man wants a 'green' vacation, while the Indian in the Amazon forest, living in an unpolluted environment, dreams about a motorboat. One individual wants to return to nature and another tries to enter technological modernity. No one would object if diversity of time perceptions would lead only to different personal ideals. Unfortunately, from this point on not only our personal desires split, but also community attitudes, expressed through political offensive options. All kinds of misunderstandings occur today mainly because the different branches of the world live inside parallel histories. The big challenge of the next millennium seems to be related to the question: what can we do for all the planet's inhabitants to become truly contemporary?
How can we explain to those outside the democratic Western world the fact that it seeks to progressively free itself from the fascination of modernity and that it is looking for a spiritual alternative that does not exclude a dialogue with the traditional values? How could we persuade the West that the pre-modern or the post-totalitarian societies can pass directly to post-modernity, without being confronted with the excesses of the industrial age? We are facing a communication problem and I believe that, at this level, a better understanding of the "human rights" concept plays a fundamental role.
The Oslo Freedom Forum is a good opportunity. First, we can try to make a distinction between the "human rights" and its related concepts such as democracy and the rule of law upon which is focussed the energy of civil society. From our experience during the communist regime, we can understand the easiness with that the totalitarian regimes may accept the "rule of law" principle. I could see how the "free elections" slogan, shouted in front of the tanks and weapons belonging to the communist repression system could be used for the seizure of power by the former communist nomenclature and the new oligarchs. I did see how the “shop window democracy" could disguise itself into a real democracy. I did see how manipulating the public opinion through the oligarchs’ "free media" can be more effective in the market economy and in democracy times, than the communist propaganda spread by the official media of the totalitarian regime, in which no one believed any more. I did see how the commanders and the authors of crimes against their own people could fend off criminal responsibility through prescription, because the agreements regarding „genocide” do not apply to their situation and the general recognition of "crimes against humanity" is thus delayed. After all, can we actually give "human rights" a generally accepted defition?
We live in a more or less the same 21st century world, thanks to international law and by virtue of technological progress. We will not really have a dialogue until we live in a same type of time. But, in order to stand before one another with our particular affinities and needs, it is necessary to establish a universal consensus referring to those moral values that protects not only each community, but also each person. How could we initiate a real dialogue to discover it?
It's risky to establish such a consensus around the idea of good. We can surmise that, for centuries from now on, every society will have its own views about its spiritual or earthly welfare. Trying to standardize these concepts means to advocate the establishment of a single type of thinking and to ineffectively multiply the outbreaks of tensions. Political doctrines, symbolic contexts, local traditions and belief systems are irreducible. There are therefore legitimate suspicions of any syncretistic project able to relativize the uniqueness of these discourses and representations. No one – a politician, thinker, religious leader or ordinary man - is willing to sacrifice his identity. We cannot talk effectively if the interlocutor feels the danger of having his identity maimed. Nothing allows us to pretend that our offer is superior, in absolute terms, compared to one made by others . On the other hand, nobody can claim today to reduce the whole human family to the denominator of his own political, economic, cultural or religious options. Therefore, if we cannot always perceive the common good, it seems to me more reasonable to begin with identifying the common harm. It is in the interest of all nations to meet on the same ground in order to reject what they all reckon to be intolerable.
I am confident that everyone here refuses from the very beginning the idea of war, terrorism, torture, pollution, crime of opinion, xenophobia, racism, and genetic manipulation, exploitation of children, social exclusion, hunger, professional discrimination on sex, religion or ethnic affiliation. We have the duty to diagnose together these diseases, so that we can heal together the wounds that they continue to make.
Moreover, we cannot forget that we paid a toll of tens of millions of human lives for the experience of the communist regime, which tried to alienate us from our natural humanistic European vocation. The freedom regained through human sacrifice has given us all not only rights, but also responsibilities that we are gradually getting used to, under often difficult social and psychological conditions. For half century the citizens of the former communist countries were deprived of all their rights, including the right to life. The lesson of their suffering and struggle is a first step for understanding the great lesson of every individual liberty within the boundaries of respect for the other individuals’ liberty.